OK, I've turned the page. College basketball season started Tuesday.
Well, it started in earnest and found my prism.
Let's review what we believe since a) the season just started and b) it's impossible to know much of anything since, well, the season just started.
-- Tennessee is elite defensively. Actually, we know this and have known it for a while. Two quick talking points about this fact. First, UT is top-three nationally in points allowed per game (third at 53.2) and field-goal % defense (second at 33.7%). That's elite.
Second, since we all can agree that every March projection includes a pretty large if for every scenario for every team in the country -- whether your team, like Auburn per se, would need to say, "If they can cut back the turnovers, they will be a tournament team" -- there are two if clauses that are much better than all others, especially when it comes to "So-and-so can make the Final Four if" statements..
The first is "So-and-so can make the Final Four if they stay healthy." That's a big picture confirmation that all the pieces are there for a deep run toward April. Kansas is assuredly in this photo.
The second is "So-and-so can make the Final Four if they can elevate their offense anywhere close to where their defense is." Tennessee and Houston fit into this conversation, and it's a pretty good if clause because referencing it -- "if the defense improves" -- is more difficult, especially in one-and-done scenarios against improved competition.
-- Kentucky is a work in progress with a Final Four ceiling and a floor of being a one-and-gone seven seed that could cost Coach Cal the best job in the sport. I watched most if not all of the UK-LSU game. (Side note: LSU has some super nice pieces, and yes, I'm sure Doug has some stat about how they lost to Prairie View or someone like that, but that team oozes talent and confidence. The moment -- down one possession in a cathedral like Rupp on ESPN proper -- was not too big for the Tigers, who are going to be in the SEC race until the end.)
First, since we had a little scratch on over-137.5 (hey, it was in Plays of the Day) -- so way to go banked in 3s -- which is nice. Second, I am intrigued by the Coach Cal soap opera. This team has underachieved this year. Cal's program -- considering the immense amount of talent he has accumulated over the last decade plus -- has underachieved for years now.
But if that Whosehishightops Toppin is what UK gets on a regular basis, and the way Oscar Tshiebwe shows up to work every single night, UK is top-10 good. Will they deliver top-10 results? Will top-10 results be enough for folks to cut Coach Cal some slack? We'll see, I suppose. Remember the season just started.
-- UTC's best basketball is still to come. And Jake Stephens is the truth. Actually, the first sentence of this graph is a belief; the second is a fact.
Yes, last week's effort at El Cid was disappointing, but it's one game in a season that has always been about steps and progress to March. That remains unchanged.
But Stephens is a dude, and has an NBA-ready game. And that translates into big dreams at any level, whether the season just started or it's two months old.
And they're off
We talked in this space Tuesday about the Monday night reactions and realizations from Damar Hamlin's collapse on the field during the Bills' game at Cincinnati.
It has reminded us of a lot of good. ESPN's in the moment coverage. The tsunami of support, both for Damar and for his causes. (As of this morning, more than $5 million from 200,000 donors had been added to his GoFundMe toy drive cause. Amazing.)
But in the aftermath, the reminders of what we can do better remain.
Which leads to two things in the media discourse that also need to be addressed.
First, Skip Bayless got a world-class amount of heat for a poorly worded social media post that came across as "angry fan wants the game to go on so he can drink an IPA and eat snacks."
I think Bayless' Tweet -- which forced the controversial Fox Sports personality to apologize for the "misconstrued" post -- had him trending as much as Damar over the last 36 hours.
The piling on was everywhere. And over-the-top. Yes, it's a career achievement for someone like Bayless, but still. And it's counter-productive, since when media goofs who are attention hogs and make a career on saying the most outlandish things to feed their attention cravings get attention for things like this, it only continues to feed the beast.
Which leads us to Bart Scott, the ESPN commentator, who a) I enjoy for the most part and b) certainly does not have the checkered history of over-the-top drool that has made Bayless pointless for normal folks.
Scott said Tee Higgins, who Hamlin was tackling, "used his helmet as a weapon."
That's not only wrong, it's so poorly timed that the clock-operator from the USA-USSR basketball game in 1972 is shaking his head.
Offensive players targeting or lowering their helmets is a real conversation that should be had by serious-minded rules officials at the highest levels of the sport.
But when a dude is fighting for his life -- and the lack of any updates feels like anything but a good sign, you know? -- Scott's assessment feels a lot like accusations, which in this case could be viewed even as criminal, especially using the word "weapon."
Maybe he misspoke, and that happens to all of us who use words for a living on platforms of all sizes.
If, however, Scott was trying to be the author of the hottest of hot takes to make the rail on Twitter or anything else, well, for shame.
And here's hoping that we can find a path in 2023 to where we treat carnival-barking acts as such.
Yes, that's an umbrella that could cover so many locales it's impossible to guess.
D.C.? Sure. Bristol? Yep. The border? Naturally. The options are truly limitless.
But this Madness is the one we all love in March. And an NCAA think tank -- and yes, that's so oxymoronic I need to immediately go shower -- issued a 22-page report Tuesday suggesting an expansion of the NCAA tournament to at least 90 teams.
Man, more is not better. More is simply more, and in this case, more teams may not mean more money since the NCAA men's basketball tournament generates well-more than 90% of the NCAA's total revenue.
More simply is more. And if expanding from 68 to 90 damages the most important part of the NCAA tournament, more will mean less. Less interest. Less investment. Less Madness, and eventually less money.
Plus, the committee already has a tough time finding 68 worthy tournament teams as it is. Now we have to find 90?
And let's not even pretend that this would alleviate controversy, because whichever team Seth Greenberg's coaching that is 89th in RPI but gets left out of the field of 90 is still going to complain.
If they do expand -- why do I insist on using if in matters like this knowing that it's truly when? -- the only way to start is making sure the regular-season conference champ and the tournament champ of every league gets in.
But do we really think the NCAA is making this move to make sure that we get more representation from MAAC, SWAC and MEAC schools?
This and that
-- Speaking of poor perception and the media's role in the broken place our conversations find themselves, how did we get to a place where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talking to Matt Gaetz becomes a deal? Shouldn't we be trying to find out why more members of Congress -- especially those identified on the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum -- aren't trying to chat with their philosophical opposites?
-- This of course happened in the utter debacle the McCarthy votes in D.C. have become. Heck, that Gaetz and even Paul Gosar were approaching AOC to get the Dems walk out of the vote to lower the threshold and try to save Kevin McCarthy's attempt to get the Speaker of the House gig is quite telling.
-- Did you see the story that the Masters invited the wrong Scott Stallings to play in this year's tournament? Of course, the other Scott Stallings -- who lives in Georgia and has a wife with the same name as the PGA Tour winner -- declined and was very gracious. Have I mentioned lately that I have played Augusta National? Twice.
-- You know the rules. Here's Paschall on how Georgia is embracing the role as heavy favorite in next week's title game.
-- If I were in the Will Levis support system, videos like this one with him throwing a football as effortlessly as anyone since Brett Favre was pitching pigskins rather than Ponzi schemes with state funds would be a daily occurrence. Levis' right arm is impressive.
Which way Wednesday starts this way, which is the perfect number of schools in the NCAA tournament, 64, 68, 90, 128, other?
Which SEC team is better pick for the Final Four, UT, UK, neither, other?
Which word is best to describe Skip Bayless? (And remember this is a family-oriented, internet-based sports conversation.)
Which bowl game -- not involving the playoffs -- was the most fun?
As for today, Jan. 4, let's review.
Derrick Henry is 29 today.
Rushmore of ball carriers you'd never, ever want to tackle? Go.