Thompson: Madness, A Month Early
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By Brad Thompson–
It has been said that February is one of the dead spots in the sports calendar. The wintry weather and a Packers Super Bowl win has many Chicagoans longing for the warm sunshine of spring and the crack of wooden bats at the Cell and Friendly Confines. While players have reported to spring training, baseball season isn’t here yet.
The struggling Blackhawks aren’t the team they were last season and neither their record nor their roster indicates a playoff run. The surging Bulls, lead by the incredible play of Derrick Rose and the return of Joakim Noah to the lineup on Wednesday, after missing 30 games, definitely makes them the best show in town, but for me the real NBA season doesn’t start until the playoffs.
College basketball has been my remedy for the post-football hangover and pre-baseball lull.
Analysts and commentators have been saying for weeks, if not months, that there’s not a great team in college basketball this season.
Can it be like this every year?
Each Monday there’s a debate about who should be ranked No. 1. This week no less than six or seven teams are worthy of the top billing and two of those teams are from the Mountain West Conference – BYU and San Diego State.
All I heard this past NFL season was how level the playing field was across the league and how parity in the NFL was one reason why it’s the most successful of the four major professional leagues. This parity led to unpredictable playoffs and a six-seed winning the Super Bowl. College hoops is following in the NFL’s footsteps this season.
The top four teams lost last week for the first time since the week of November 25, 2003. Duke vaulted from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. St. Johns, after beating fourth-ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday, is in the Top 25 for the first time in more than a decade.
Two other Top 10 teams (No. 2 Texas and No. 7 Notre Dame) lost on Saturday to unranked opponents (Nebraska and West Virginia, respectively) and No. 1 Kansas lost to unranked Kansas State last Monday. Third-ranked Ohio State, after walloping Purdue at home earlier in the year, fell to the Boilermakers on Sunday.
And in case you missed it, on Saturday afternoon at Allstate Arena fourteenth-ranked Villanova barely survived versus DePaul. The Wildcats needed a three-pointer near the end of regulation to force overtime. Villanova eventually prevailed, but struggled against a Blue Demons squad that has only one win in the Big East.
Seeing the passion of college students with painted faces, holding up pictures of oversized heads of players, coaches and commentators while dancing and performing chants has me enjoying February more than ever. This year you don’t have to wait until March for upsets of seismic proportions. The madness has already begun.
All this adds up to an extremely entertaining end to the college basketball season. The conference tournaments and NCAA tourney brackets will be here soon enough, but I can’t remember a February that was this unpredictable and enjoyable, which begs the question…who will be college basketball’s Green Bay Packers?
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.