On Halloween night, in a roadhouse bar north of Topeka, two old college buddies met for beers. They started talking basketball, as they always do. One is a die-hard Creighton fan, the other a die-hard Wichita State fan.
They argued Xavier McDaniel vs. Paul Silas, Greg McDermott vs. Gregg Marshall, CenturyLink Center vs. Koch Arena. Then the conversation took an interesting turn.
The bartender walked over and said he’d been eavesdropping. You sound like basketball fans, he said. Years ago, former Kansas coach James Naismith visited this same bar and left his drink half-full on the bar. Now, 100 years later, it still has special power.
“It works kind of like the Showcase on The Price is Right,” he said. “I know that sounds weird, but Dr. Naismith and Bob Barker were old friends. Same graduating class, I think.
“Anyway, one of you takes a drink, then I present a full package of prizes for the 2012-13 season. You can choose to take it, or give that package to your friend and take your chance with the second drink.
“So who’s going first?”
I will, Bluejay fan said. He took a drink. And the bartender started going through the first prize package.
A victorious weekend in Vegas. A 17-1 start. A 41-point performance by Doug McDermott on Senior Day. All-America honors for McDermott. Beating Wichita State two of three, once for the regular-season crown, once for the Missouri Valley tournament crown in St. Louis. An NCAA tournament date with Duke in the round of 32.
“Do we win?” Bluejay fan said.
“Not with your backcourt,” the bartender snickered. “But I have something even better. The new Big East Conference. A place where your 18,000 fans get their money’s worth every night. A place where you don’t have to act like Southern Illinois and Drake are rivals. A place where you can be a national program.”
Bluejay fan was floored.
“I’ll take it,” he said.
Shocker fan was distraught. His team was going to lose both the regular season and Valley tournament to Creighton? And he’d never get a chance to avenge those losses? How could the second prize possibly compete?
Just then, the bartender showed him a photo of the Georgia Dome.
The Final Four! The Mecca for mid-majors! The best two weeks of your life. You’ll beat a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. You’ll go farther than Kansas. Dick Vitale and Charles Barkley will praise your players on national TV. National columnists will come to your campus. You can use it all as a recruiting tool for the next decade. Better yet, your coach will stay in Wichita and — like Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and Mark Few — start building one of the best mid-majors in the country.
Shocker fan was floored. “Wow. That’s even better than the Big East.”
Bluejay fan sat stunned, his mouth open. “The Final Four? I could’ve had the Final Four!?!” The bartender grabbed Dr. Naismith’s drink, tapped it against the counter and considered his options.
“You know what?” the bartender said. “I rarely do this, but I like you. So how ’bout I sweeten the pot.
“You can have Doug McDermott’s senior year.”
>> Should media outlets have shown footage of Kevin Ware breaking his leg? I’m torn on this one because I know that many consumers don’t want to see it. But I do think it was such a critical part of the news Sunday that CBS — and others — should’ve presented it with a warning that the image was graphic.
>> Trey Burke, the indisputable best player in the country, saved the Big Ten by rallying to beat Kansas. I still think the league was far and away better than the Big East, Big 12, ACC and everybody else. But Indiana wasn’t big enough, especially on the perimeter, to beat Syracuse’s zone. Wisconsin didn’t have enough firepower to make a run. Ohio State’s and Michigan’s State defenses surprisingly broke down.
The Wolverines weren’t the trendy pick to get to Atlanta. But they perhaps benefited more than anyone by getting away from the league. Remember, Michigan is 12-7 against Big Ten teams. And 18-0 against non-conference foes. I like their chances against Syracuse.
>> Someday I’m going to take a coaching class. And the instructor will convince me why college coaches — in the midst of a rally — use all their timeouts after made baskets. As good as Michigan’s comeback was Friday night, John Beilein used his last two timeouts after Michigan scores. Following his final timeout, the Wolverines fouled after KU crossed half-court. How does this make any sense? When did it become protocol in the last 3 minutes of a game? Isn’t it smarter to save a timeout?
>> Totally agree with this. It’s time to take Final Fours out of domes and bring them back to arenas.
>> Tim Miles picked up a recruit today from junior-college power forward Leslee Smith. Who knows if the kid can play? But I’m skeptical of late additions like this. Yes, NU desperately needs frontcourt help for 2013-14. But it’s not wise to award a scholarship out of desperation. I’d rather see Miles devote his resources to signing a big class this fall, which helps him long-term.
>> Who needs an at-large bid? Go win the dang conference. Nebraska baseball’s terrible non-conference performance closed the door on an NCAA tournament at-large. But it may have served as excellent preparation for the Big Ten. How tough do Northwestern and Illinois look after going to Fullerton and Irvine?
If the Huskers can keep building momentum — this week, they go to Iowa — they may look back on that 6-13 start as the best thing that could’ve happened.
>> Bret Bielema thinks very highly of himself. So highly that he compared Nick Saban’s record at Michigan State to his record at Wisconsin. The Hogs travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 19. I think ‘Bama just scored its first touchdown.
>> In recruiting, Stanford’s David Shaw emphasizes … vocabulary? That’s spellbinding.
>> Chadron State left tackle Garrett Gilkey suffered from bullying as a kid. Now he’s an NFL prospect. Nice work by Liz Merrill.
>> Matt Flynn to the Raiders? That’s a game changer. Literally. The Raiders will now go 6-10 rather than 5-11.
>> Is it the Royals’ year? Finally? James Shields could make a statement this afternoon to all those (like me) who questioned Kansas City’s offseason blockbuster trade. Shields won’t take the Royals to the playoffs by himself. But K.C. probably can’t get there without Shields winning 15 games.
>> After all his twists and turns, Alex Gordon has become the face of the franchise in Kansas City.
>> 20 ways to improve major-league baseball. I don’t agree with all of these, but I do like the DH in both leagues.
>> Do you realize how exhausting ESPN’s fixation with the Yankees and Red Sox is going to be this year if both teams are .500?
>> Why is LeBron James having one of the best seasons ever? It has a lot to do with shot selection. An outstanding analysis by Grantland.
>> The primary function of Lamar Odom’s charity was to support his AAU basketball teams. He’s not the only one with a sketchy “foundation.”
>> Seven weeks after losing her husband, an NAIA coach in California gave birth to a girl. Then she won a national championship. Incredible story from Bill Plaschke.
>> Why Ndamukong Suh is eligible to win a Big Ten players tournament, I have no idea. But the fact that he did isn’t surprising. You don’t mess with Husker fans in online polls.
>> Finally, a branding suggestion for Nebraska athletics. It’s obvious the department needs an image change. Football hasn’t won a conference title in 14 years. Basketball has been irrelevant. Now the Huskers are in the Big Ten, where it’s easy to be forgotten.
What can NU do? Get on the phone with Adidas. Suggest a uniform change. But I’m not just talking about design, I’m talking about color scheme. The Big Ten currently has three other schools whose primary color is red. Wisconsin. Ohio State. Indiana. Now Rutgers and Maryland are coming, too. That’s simply too much red.
Nebraska should take a bold step. Ditch the scarlet and cream. Embrace something unique like green and gold. Can you imagine how cool Memorial Stadium would be with a Sea of Green?
And that …
April Fool’s Joke.
Thanks for reading.