Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Ohio State v Michigan State
Updated: March 15, 2012 2:48PM
The Dance floor is being polished, and away we go:
◆ Michigan State keeps on waltzing. The Spartans were not a preseason top-25 team, and here they are now, the No. 1 seed in the West Region. Their opening game against the Long Island University Blackbirds (a great name, by the way) should be a win, which could lead to a third-round Big Ten showdown against Indiana.
◆ Remember Kelvin Sampson at IU? He was the scandalized head coach who came in from Oklahoma with baggage in 2006 and left in 2008 with even more baggage while leaving Indiana on three years of NCAA probation.
Was that the end for hoops at ‘‘Bobby Knight U’’? Of course not. New coach Tom Crean simply came in and let the fumigation take place, swept up the carcasses, and now Indiana is back where it belongs. You can’t kill roundball in the state the gave us ‘‘Hoosiers.’’
◆ Harvard is in. The school that has given us John Adams, John Updike and John Hancock — not to mention George Bush, Al Gore, Helen Keller and the current president of the United States — is going to the gala. A No. 12 seed, the Crimson might not last too long against No. 5 Vanderbilt, but here they are, brainiacs in shorts.
I find it interesting that Tommy Amaker is the Harvard coach because I remember him literally begging for the Northwestern job a number of years back. Amaker has matured, certainly, but when then-NU athletic director Rick Taylor rejected Amaker out of hand, I always thought it odd.
If Harvard can do it, logic wants to know, why can’t Northwestern?
◆ OK, Northwestern.
Once more the Wildcats (18-13) did not get asked to the party. NU has officially passed from pouting wallflower to hapless orphan in the doorway, shivering in the dark as tuxedoed men step over and around him.
That the Wildcats have never been to the tourney is their own fault. They could have made it this year. Forward John Shurna was first team All-Big Ten. The Cats beat Mississippi Valley State, a play-in team, by 25 points. They beat Michigan State by seven.
But they maddeningly lost two overtime games to Michigan and then petered out in the first round of the Big Ten tournament against lowly Minnesota. Their bubble didn’t so much blow up as it dissolved into a wet spot.
Maybe Shurna, who has the worst-looking jump shot since Bill Cartwright, has just been over-achieving. Hard to say.
But if Harvard and Vanderbilt can make it, and Stanford often does, and even Rice gets in here and there, Northwestern has to wonder what’s wrong. Smart can’t mean bad — not forever.
◆ Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Commodores won their first SEC tournament in 61 years by beating the monstrously talented Kentucky, 71-64. It helps when you have a fellow like the wondrously named Festus Ezeli, a 6-11, 255 immigrant from New Benin, Nigeria, clogging the middle. Against No. 1 seed Kentucky, Ezeli had 17 points and six rebounds and held his own against manchild center Anthony Davis.
◆ Kentucky is now officially known as ‘‘One-and-Done U’’ for coach John Calipari’s ability to bring in freshmen, lose them all to the pros, then bring in a new bluegrass crop of freshmen to take over.
‘‘Initially, when we had young kids and they left, [people said], You can’t win with young kids!’ ’’ Calipari said in a recent interview. ‘‘Now that we’re winning with young kids, it seems to be my rule. It’s not my rule — it’s a bad rule, the one and done. It’s a bad rule.’’
Calipari is right. And he’s the perfect man to prove the point.
◆ I’m always glad when the West Virginia Mountaineers make the tourney. Their coach, the wild Bob Huggins, is a delight to watch. And so is their mascot, a bearded, buckskin-clad mountaineer with a real, old-school musket. I always wonder how the dude makes it past the ramped-up security.
◆ Tips for teams who would like to advance:
1. Pray to the god of three-point shots. He’s the one who makes upsets.
2. Get angry. See the unpredictable Ohio State Buckeyes, and do the opposite.
3. Rejoice when a top seed gets knocked out in an upset. That helps everybody up the bracket.
4. Think NCAA, not NBA. A lot of you guys are taking off after the tourney. Remember, this may be the biggest moment of your life, unless you think it’ll be great playing in Peru or for the Yakima Sun Kings.
5. RPI-BPI? Those mind-numbing acronyms are gone. it’s simply ‘W’ or go home.
◆ Finally, I hope Festus Ezeli goes far. His name sounds like Latin for ‘‘Party time!’’