Is this the longest regular season in college basketball history, or does it just seem that way?
I’m asking because March arrived over the weekend, and March is the month college basketball fans finally have an actual reason to storm the court.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. There still are games remaining on a regular-season schedule that began Nov. 14, when the Kentucky Wildcats were regarded as overwhelming favorites to win the national championship.
Three and a half months later, nothing much has changed. Kentucky is perfect — its first five players off the bench are better than every other team’s five starters — and the interminable slog toward the tournament is making me wonder if this abomination of a regular season ever will be put to bed.
Washington’s free fall can explain some of the restlessness. Remember when the Huskies were ranked and shot-blocking specialist Robert Upshaw turned his rotations on defense into must-see TV? Then the third-year sophomore — a transfer who’d had off-the-court problems at Fresno State — was kicked off the team, underscoring the hazards of signing Fresno State transfers.
In any case, the Huskies have deteriorated from must-see into impossible-to-watch, and I can only hope coach Lorenzo Romar is able to survive the collapse. Give Romar this much: He’s handled his team’s wretched season with grace, which is more than can be said of Nebraska’s Tim Miles.
After the Cornhuskers suffered a 74-46 drubbing against Iowa last week, Miles announced they would be locked out of the locker room, part of a $19 million training facility that includes heated towel racks and plug-ins for iPods in the showers.
When asked where the players would go to shower, Miles answered: “Good luck. They’re creative young people.”
At least Miles’ frustration was steeped in losing. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings went bonkers following a victory the other night over archrival Tennessee. Exchanging handshakes afterward, a Vols assistant coach told Stallings that one of his players had behaved inappropriately at the final buzzer.
Stallings confronted his player on the floor, right there in front of the television camera, and screamed: “I am going to kill you!” That’s the G-rated account of Stallings’ rant. His version, replete with a word heard a record 506 times in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was spicier.
I’m not sure how many times Idaho coach Don Verlin used that word when he got into a tiff with assistant coach Chris Helbling during a defeat to Northern Arizona, but I figure it was spoken once or twice. Verlin grabbed the binder of play cards Helbing was holding and threw it into the stands, which the assistant took as a cue to go to the locker room, presumably unlocked.
The more somber news on the coaching front this season were the deaths — four days apart — of two legends who were polar opposites in terms of style and philosophy. North Carolina’s Dean Smith and UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian shared little in common but an unconditional affection for college basketball.
It’s fair to wonder how Smith and Tarkanian would have coped with the sport’s transformation into a temporary training base for aspiring pros. I suspect the coaches would’ve adjusted to the times, but I can’t imagine a seamless or particularly satisfying adjustment.
The Big Ten recently announced it was exploring the idea of forcing freshmen to sit out a season for a “Year of Readiness.” It’s an idea with some traction — the Pac-12 and Big 12 are thinking about it, too — and while the rule would apply to all sports, the Year of Readiness is about college basketball, a game whose popularity surely wanes if the top high school recruits decide a 12-month incubation period is crazy.
I don’t know if a Year of Readiness is the answer. All I know is that it once was easy to follow the bouncing ball between November and March, and this season, it hasn’t been so easy for for any of us.
We’re still talking about the wrong-number play call the Seattle Seahawks dialed up during the final minute of the Super Bowl. College basketball used to fill the void between football and baseball, but the void this season has become an endurance test.
An appreciation of monster jams might be in order. Northern Illinois’ Pete Rakocevic threw down a dunk Saturday night that did more than rattle the rim.
As Central Michigan’s John Simons was setting himself up for the inbound pass, the stanchion collapsed. Simons escaped a most bizarre injury — knocked out by a backboard — but the incident was symbolic.
A collapsing stanchion? A fitting way to recall the 2014-15 college basketball season, when showers with iPod plug-ins were made unavailable to those players the coach didn’t threaten to kill.