Indeed, it's shaping up to be a two-horse race between Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough, and the infamous question is again rearing its ugly head: How does one delineate between the best player and the most valuable player? Good question, but the answer to both is Beasley, who's elevated his team to national relevance and entrenched the Wildcats on the dangerous list of Teams That Could Destroy Your Bracket. Factor in his numbers --more than 26 points and 12 rebounds per game -- and you've got your winner, though Hansbrough's had a fine statistical season and came through in the absence of Ty Lawson. Hansbrough should be commended on his work, but Beasley needs to be the landslide victor.
I am still floored that both Beasley and Kevin Durant actually played on the same rec team growing up in Maryland. How is this possible? When I played, we were lucky if we had a guy who could touch the rim -- imagine taking your team of pimply-faced teenagers to play against a squad with two future lottery picks? Wouldn't your only chance of winning hinge on a convoluted, Tonya Harding-style plot?
So ... to update you on the latest happenings in the Tennessee State Basketball Championships: Previously unbeaten Memphis lost its first game of the season (and its No. 1 ranking) to Tennessee, which had a cup of coffee as the top-ranked team before stumbling to another in-state opponent, Vanderbilt. Now, all three teams seem destined for next week's top 10 and I'm trying to figure out how Tennessee became the nexus of the college basketball universe.
It wasn't long ago Memphis was struggling in the post-Penny Hardaway era, Tennessee was reeling from a 17-loss season under Buzz Peterson and Vandy's formula for success was Billy McCaffrey's long-range jumper. All of a sudden, Memphis is back, Tennessee's got its guy in Bruce Pearl and Vandy's court is as disorienting as a house of mirrors. It makes us wonder if Tennessee has become the most underrated state in the Union. Think about it: budding NCAA hoops programs, big-time SEC football, a stable NFL franchise, sans Pacman Jones, animated Volunteers announcer Bert Bertelkamp, great food, good music, bizarre stories in The Tennessean, southern belles, and warm hospitality. (We'll leave the Grizzlies out of this.) What's not to love?
By my calculations, the only real concern about living there is the tornado risk, but that can be mitigated with a little Jack Daniel's. Problem solved.
When I heard this was "Judgment Week," my first inclination was to clean my room, apologize for all those snide Nick Saban jokes and make a few trips around the rosary. When I realized it was being sponsored by Jockey ... well, I almost made the switch to briefs.
We only have ourselves to blame for the growing trend in collegiate athletics of wrapping every event in a catchy ad campaign. That's what happens when companies crave overzealous eyeballs and networks see easy money. And it's the only way you can transform an otherwise normal slate of basketball games into a ground-shaking, drama-inducing affair -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience called "Judgment Week." What exactly is being judged? Who's doing the judging? What's the criteria? A whole new calendar of slogans has been branded before our very eyes -- none of which mean a thing in the way of basketball. Did "Student Spirit Week" actually give anybody the goose bumps? Would it still have been "Rivalry Week" without a title sponsor and post-football lull? And wouldn't something called "Feast Week" have been more appropriate following the 20th anniversary "Shark Week"? These are questions that will never be answered.
In order to stay sane, you need to recognize these little marketing ploys for what they are: manufactured excitement for extra advertisement. Ultimately, the big matchups promote themselves without needing any snappy phrases or themes. And while it's the funding of the coverage that fuels our fandom, it's easy to see how the dollars behind the game often make the least amount of sense.
Question of the week: When ESPN set out to create the world's largest hyperbole by teaming up Brent Musburger and Steve Lavin, do you think it considered the long-term impact such a decision would have on the planet Earth? By pairing up Musburger 's announcing theatrics (not to mention his drinking game) with Lavin's penchant for flowery commentary, the Worldwide Leader may have inadvertently triggered a marriage of proverbial "Gatekeepers" and "Keymasters," affecting the pull of the moon and, in turn, the tides of the Indian Ocean. It's the announcing equivalent of the 1992 Dream Team.
Earlier this season, Campus Quick Slants set out to chart the hyperbolic statements of our national basketball commentators. But I had no idea that Lavin would be as dominating as Tiger Woods. Quite honestly, he's blown the idea to smithereens, obliterating the competition and locking the trophy in his personal safe. So, I've been opting to ignore the idea as if I never came up with it.
But last weekend's quip was too inventive to ignore. In his old stomping grounds, as UCLA played host to Oregon, Lavin went on a healthy rant about Oregon's Tajuan Porter, mentioning among other things that Porter had "waterbug speed." Yes, "waterbug speed." What does that even mean?
1. Better web browser? Internet Explorer / Firefox
2. Better One Shining Moment version? Luther Vandross / Teddy Pendergrass
3. Bigger 90s fad? Magic: The Gathering / Pogs
4. More underrated announcer? Ian Eagle / Dave Pasch
5. Better Nintendo hockey game? Blades of Steel / Ice Hockey
6. More dangerous tourney team? Butler / Kansas State
7. More effective fitness apparatus? Bowflex / Soloflex
8. Smarter Elite Eight pick? Louisville / Xavier
9. More underrated sneakers? New Balance / K-Swiss
10. Better Bill Raftery phrase? "Man-to-man" / "With the kiss"
With all due respect to Bill Maher, here is another rule for society.
New rule: Movie stars should no longer be considered "brilliant" for merely winning some kind of award. Sure, Javier Bardem winning an Oscar is the equivalent of Indiana Jones finding the grail, but with a Hollywood awards season more drawn out than the NBA Playoffs, I fail to see why I should care. Did you know that Britain gives out its own version of the Academy Awards? As does the Screen Actors Guild. And MTV. And the American Film Institute. And the introspective minds behind the Critics' Choice Awards, the Peoples' Choice Awards, and, for all I know, the Healthy Choice Awards. Apparently, the only necessary prerequisite to win a pretty trophy is to appear in some movie's credits. So forgive my lack of excitement the next time Daniel Day-Lewis strolls home with a trick-or-treat bag of Golden Globes and FINDIEs. In Hollywood's never-ending quest to feel important, it's created an unforeseen glitch in its own Matrix: the most impressive feat is not winning at all.
Ty Hildenbrandt writes Campus Quick Slants every week. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments, questions and random observations.