Is Kentucky ruining the NCAA or saving it? Are military-base games hallowed tradition or just hokum? Can anything compare to the glory of being a Jayhawks fan?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) catch up on the college hoops season so far.
Tipping off on a U.S. military base? A 24-hour hoops marathon on ESPN (6 a.m. ET: Stony Brook vs. Rider!) that ends with four past champions? Yep, it's college-basketball season again.
The season started off as last one did, with a made-for-TV event on military soil, this time UConn-Michigan State at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Despite the obvious gimmicky nature of the event, it remains a heartwarming and meaningful tribute to our men and women in uniform, especially so close to Veterans Day. UConn may have won the game behind the artful play of guard Shabazz Napier, but the lustily cheering soldiers in attendance stole the show.
As for the tip-off marathon, what more could you ask for than Michigan St.-Kansas followed by Duke-Kentucky? MSU bounced back impressively from its Germany jetlag with a second-half comeback against the Jayhawks that undoubtedly left Hampton gnashing his teeth. Meanwhile, the latest batch of freshmen in John Calipari's Grand Experiment at UK played like a bunch of freshmen against Duke, which is led by senior sharpshooter Seth Curry. But as Dick Vitale noted, the Wildcats will only get better as the season goes on, and Nerlens Noel is a manchild with the body of Chris Bosh and almost limitless potential.
As for the season itself, I'm gonna go all homerism on you guys and wax eloquent about the Big Ten for a minute (I refuse to call it the B1G on principle). The conference of my tragically flawed Northwestern Wildcats has produced just one NCAA men's basketball champion in the last 25 years, but this season may be different. Tom Crean's resurgent Indiana Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 in the early pools and have a legitimate player-of-the-year candidate in sophomore power forward Cody Zeller. Ohio State and Michigan are also ranked in the top five, and you can never count out the Spartans because of the leadership of Tom Izzo. With the rest of the NCAA elite in rebuilding mode (UK, UNC) or unproven (Louisville, N.C. State), look for a Big Ten team to bring home an elusive national title for the conference come April.
I know you've been busy excoriating Jeffrey Loria, Patrick, but come away from the train wreck that is the Miami Marlins for a minute and give us some college hoops thoughts.