The old saying, "Time heals all wounds," has never been more true than this college basketball season.
Back in December I whined and moaned to anyone who would listen (mainly my dog, who then licked himself and went back to sleep), that this was the least inspiring group of teams, coaches and players that I could ever remember watching in college basketball. And it still might be.
But with Championship Week upon us and Selection Sunday only nine days away, I'm still more than ready to throw myself into March Madness. The teams, the upsets, the 5'9 3-point shooting white guys, everything. Bring it on.
Before we get to the NCAA Tournament though, there's still a lot to be decided, and a lot of questions that need answering.
Here are 20 of those most pressing questions:
1. How Mentally Tough Is Kentucky?
All year we've been waiting for Kentucky to slip up, and while they've had their moments of weakness, for the most part, they've beaten everybody they're supposed to. Which is the sign of any championship team.
But now, the pressure is different. It's one loss and you're done. And for all the talk about Kentucky being a freshman heavy team, people forget that they didn't make the NCAA Tournament last year, and lost in Round 1 the year before. Meaning that, forget the freshman, NO ONE on this roster knows what it takes to be successful in March.
Which raises the question: What happens when some upstart won't back down in the second round? What happens when a team from the Big XII or Big East punches back in the Sweet 16? The window for this Kentucky team is 2010, and 2010 alone. The truth is, this group isn't going to get another chance next year.
Either way, all the important questions will be answered in time. For now though, winning the SEC Tournament would be a good start.
2. Does Duke Want to Prove to Everyone How Great They Can Be?
It's one of my favorite spring time traditions, right up there with pitchers and catchers reporting and moving our clocks forward. It's America overrating Duke, and then watching them fall on their face come tournament time. Honestly, it should be its own national holiday (Kidding of course).
Only this year it's different. Like Pavlov's dog, through sheer muscle memory, we've been trained not to believe in the Coach K hype machine. We just weren't going to get sucked in this year, like last year, and the year before that.
And even as the wins continued to pile up and Duke forced its way into the discussion for a No. 1 seed, we as a nation have remained divided about them, like we're arguing over health care or something. Is Duke once again overrated or is 2010 different? Are they a bunch of un-athletic stiffs, or a group that can actually beat the best of the best?
Personally, I've seen them a whole lot this year (Seriously, every game is on TV, how could you miss them?) and quite frankly think they're really good. They've got great guards, competent post play, and nobody defends for 40 minutes better than they do. But just because I'm buying it, doesn't mean everyone else is.
Even though Duke may be 25-5 as I write this, their real season starts Saturday against North Carolina and continues into ACC Tournament play. If they dominate like they should, I believe they should get the fourth No. 1 seed. If they stumble, and lose to someone their not supposed to, all the "Duke is overrated AGAIN," chatter will begin.
The ball is in their court.
3. Are Evan Turner's Teammates Ready for the Bright Lights?
I don't do this often, but I've got a confession to make, I was wrong. There I said it. Hell has officially frozen over, pigs are officially flying, and John Mayer is officially apologetic about calling Jessica Simpson sexual napalm. Ok, maybe not the last one.
Anyway, last week, in my artcile the "40 Most Valuable College Basketball Players of 2010," I said this about Ohio State superstar Evan Turner:
There's only one guy who can single-handedly carry his team to the Final Four... That's Evan Turner.
Well, since I wrote that, I've watched Ohio State very closely, and boyyyyyyy was I wrong. Big time.
If Ohio State makes the Final Four, it will be in large part because of Turner, but he won't have done it alone. William Buford is a big-time player. Jon Diebler can hit shots from anywhere inside 40 feet. Dallas Lauderdale plays harder than the last towel waiver on the bench. And David Lighty does a little bit of everything.
And what I noticed in the last few games, America is going to get to know by the end of the Big 10 Tournament: Ohio State is a really good team.
Which raises a question. The focus has solely been on Turner all year, and probably rightfully so. But for a group who's flown under the radar as a whole all year, what's going to happen when all the focus is on them. When they're expected to make big shots, rather than defer to Turner.
Are they ready for the bright lights?
4. Does Anyone In The Pac-10 Even Care Anymore?
Way back in the day (like 2009 for example), one of my favorite college basketball traditions was staying up late on Thursday night's to watch the Pac-10 Game of the Week. Seriously, what better way to wind down a tough week (well, I guess there was still technically Friday, although nobody ever actually does anything on Friday's, do they?), than hanging out with Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chase Budinger and my basketball playing West Coast homies.
Unfortunately, because the Pac-10 has been so abysmal this year, I just couldn't watch very much in 2010. It was like a horror movie that you could take 10 minutes of before having to change the channel. Honestly, I was so disgusted one time, that I almost switched to Grey's Anatomy over watching another UCLA-Oregon snoozer. Almost. (Ok, that's a lie, I never even came close. Despite what you may have heard. But seriously, what does it say about the state of Pac-10 basketball that we're even having this discussion. This would never have happened if Tim Floyd was allowed to pay for players)
Either way,the whole thing completely turned me off to Pac-10 basketball, and I was pretty sure that the teams themselves had given up too. Except all of a sudden Cal has won three games in a row, and Washington too. Arizona State has won three of four. Which most likely means that the way this season is going, we're headed for all three losing in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament.
If anything though, Pac-10 basketball has at least been entertaining this year. Then again, some would say that watching a person fall down a flight of stairs is entertaining too. That doesn't mean it's a good thing.
5. Will Anyone Emerge From the Quagmire in the Middle of the Big XII?
We know Kansas is the best team in the Big XII, and Kansas State isn't far behind. But after that? I'd argue Texas A&M. Some might say Baylor. Others Texas. Hell, Oklahoma State just beat Kansas a week ago. How about Missouri?
The point is, there's quality, but because the Big XII has been so good, none has been able to separate themselves. Well with all the teams gathering next week in Kansas City, they might be able to once and for all.
Now the questions can start to fly, in a good way. Will any of those teams be able to overtake Kansas? Will any get some momentum heading towards the NCAA Tournament? One way or another we'll find out. And I guarantee there won't be a better conference tournament anywhere.
6. Speaking of Kansas State, Can They Get Over the Mental Hump of Not Beating Kansas...Again?
Look, I love what Frank Martin has done in Manhattan, KS. Seriously, I've been to the town of Manhattan. The fact that he can get good basketball players to go there (without kidnapping or drugging them), is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
But you've got to think that in the back of their heads, after all the good they've had this year, they're still pretty bummed they weren't able to beat Kansas...Again.
Honestly, how much sweeter would an already sweet season be, if they could win a Big XII title and beat their biggest rivals in the process?
Big enough for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament? I think so.
7. Can Syracuse Survive the Next Four Weeks With A Seven Player Rotation?
To any Syracuse fan who may be reading this, please understand, I'm not knocking your team. Quite the opposite, I love them. They are my single favorite story of the year in college basketball, just narrowly edging the Rick Pitino sex scandal. They play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Everyone likes each other. Just being able to follow them has made this season about seven percent more enjoyable for me.
But as someone who has watched them closely, I also know that Jim Boeheim doesn't choose to only play seven players, circumstance forces him to. His bench is shorter than Verne Troyer.
What happens in March when Arinze Onuaku gets into foul trouble? Or when Wes Johnson loses his touch? What if he team goes cold? I hate to be a party pooper, but somebody had to ask.
Ultimately though, this team ran through the Big East regular season, which is no easy feat. And if they can do the same in the conference tournament, they'll be ready for anything in the NCAA's.
That's a big if though.
8. As For the Big East Tournament, Does Anyone Want To Earn An NCAA Bid The Old Fashioned Way?
Any "Glass is half full," Big East fan will tell you that what makes the league so great is that "On any night, anyone can beat anyone." And that's cute, it really is.
Except I watch these teams all the time, and they're just not that good. Last year, when the Big East was the clear top dog, you had good teams losing to better ones. This year it seems like more often than not, you've got average teams beating mediocre one's.
Now that's not to say that there isn't talent at UConn, Louisville, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, whoever. UConn's beaten Villanova and West Virginia, Cincinnati beat Vanderbilt and Louisville beat Syracuse. These teams can clearly play. And on any given night they can beat anyone. Unforutantley, on others, they're tougher to watch than a marathon of My Name Is Earl on TBS.
But again, all of them still have the talent to make a run in the Big East Tournament, and earn an NCAA Tournament bid the old fashioned way. Of course, from what we've seen, is there any reason to believe that any of them will?
9. Speaking of UConn, Might The "Curse of Aaron Torres," Finally Come to An End In 2010?
The "Curse of Aaron Torres," ranks up there with the Lock Ness Monster, Big Foot and John Calipari's hair as one of the great unanswered mysteries in modern historical folklore. All the thing needs is it's own hour long TLC special.
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (and why would you), "The Curse of Aaron Torres," started back in 2006, and is going strong until this day. I've gone to three Big East Tournaments in the last four years, and seen UConn lose three times in a row, each more excrutiating than the last. I was even in the Garden for all six overtimes against Syracuse last year. I wish I was kidding.
And this year, once again, one of my buddies has convinced me to again go the Big East Tournament. I don't know which session I'll be going to or who will be playing, just that I am definitely going next Wednesday (Promotional Plug: I'll be tweeting all day from the Garden, make sure to follow me on Twitter @Aaron_Torres).
It's yet to be determined if UConn will even still be in the tournament at that point. All I do know, is that if they are playing, put money on the other team. A lot of it.
10. How Do Austin Freeman's Diabetes Effect Georgetown Going Forward:
For those of you who might not know, earlier this week, Georgetown's leading scorer Austin Freeman announced that he'd been diagnosed with diabetes. He'll be ok health wise, and in time will be able to return to playing basketball. Which is what's most important.
In basketball terms though, Georgetown can't win without him, they just can't.
Like Syracuse they aren't a deep team, and rely on their starting five more than anyone. Greg Monroe and Chris Wright can hold them over for a game or two, Jason Clark can provide some spot offense, and as a team they can pick up their defense. But in terms of everything, Freeman is truly irreplaceable.
A week ago, I thought Georgetown might be a Final Four team. They better learn to live without Freeman, or their NCAA Tournament stay might be just one game.
11. What's Going On With Villanova?
Look, I can't blame Villanova for losing at Syracuse last Saturday night. It's like I said at the time, the way the Orange played that night, no one in college basketball would have beaten them. Hell, I'm pretty sure a few NBA teams would have lost too (I'm looking at you, New Jersey Nets!).
At the same time though, that one loss doesn't explain away poor performances against UConn, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the last few weeks either.
The truth is, this team just isn't rebounding or defending like a championship caliber team right now, something- that despite their deficencies- they were doing earlier in the year.
Like so many other questions on this list, Villanova needs to find an answer during Championship Week...Or else.
12. Does Anyone Really Like Pittsburgh Going Forward?
Because I don't. Despite wins against Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia.
No matter how you feel about them though, make sure you read this article on their senior guard Jermaine Dixon. Touching stuff.
13. How Good Is The Atlantic 10?
I've got to admit, I'm smitten by Richmond. Temple, not so much. I could take or leave Xavier. Rhode Island? If history tells us anything, the Washington Generals are a safer bet.
Regardless, with those four teams plus Charlotte, St. Louis and Dayton duking it out for what will like be four NCAA spots, the Atlantic 10 Tournament will be nothing, if not entertaining.
Besides, it's not like you needed an excuse to go to Atlantic City? Did you?
14. How Good Is New Mexico?
To answer your question (or was it mine?), really good.
If they win the Moutain West Tournament, they should be looking at no worse than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
15. How Worthy Are This Year's Mid Majors?
I think by now I've made my point pretty clear: I'm not a big fan of the middle of the pack teams in the ACC, Big East or Pac-10. Get me some Listerine, because I just threw up in my mouth thinking about them.
Either way, with those teams struggling, it's opened the door for St. Mary's, Northern Iowa, Siena and others to steal at large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Now, are those schools more worthy than a 12 loss Big East team, or 10 loss Pac-10 team? I'm really not sure, and quite honestly I'm not sure the NCAA Tournament Committee is either.
But at the very least, they did beat everyone on their schedule that they were supposed to, which is more than Washington, Cincinnati or Florida State can say. So why not give them a shot?
16. Speaking of St. Mary's, Did They Learn From Last Year?
For those of you who might not remember last season, St. Mary's ended their season with a 26-6 record, and three of those losses coming without their best player, guard Patty Mills. When they lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference finals, many, including myself, thought they'd get into the NCAA Tournament, especially since half their losses were without their best player. But much like me on Prom Night, the Gaels were left out in the cold the night of the Big Dance.
In 2010, it's a similar story for the Gaels. They're 24-5 and 11-3 in conference play. They enter the West Coast Conference tournament squarely on the bubble, with a potential third matchup with big, bad Gonzaga standing in their way.
Personally, I think they should be in the NCAA's this year even if they don't beat Gonzaga. Then again, I thought the same thing last year too.
Hopefully, this time around, they're smart, and don't leave it up to chance.
17. Who Will Be This Year's Overzealous Media Darling?
We all know the team.
Something just isn't right with them all season long, something you just can't quite put your finger on. They finish up the regular season poorly, and limp into their conference tournament with their tail between their legs, like your dog after he decorates your couch cushions with urine. We call them "underachieving," and "overrated."
Then they win their first conference tournament game. And beat somebody really good in the second round. By the time they end the conference tournament by falling just short in the final, we've all gotten a little too excited and pegged them as "the team nobody wants to play," and a "Darkhorse Final Four candidate."
Then Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament hits, they fall flat on their face, and are done by the end of the first day. And we feel like idiots. It happens every year, and there's nothing you or I can do.
So who's it going to be this year? Georgia Tech? Texas? Mississippi State? Cal?
Stay tuned to find out.
18. Will Bruce Pearl Continue To Wear His Orange Blazer?
Really, more than just Championship Week, this might be one of the most 20 burning questions in all of America right now.
Either way, the legend of the Orange Blazer has taken on mythic proportions, as the blazer has helped lead Tennessee to upsets of then No. 1 Kansas and then No. 2 Kentucky. Sure Scottie Hopson, Wayne Chism and Pearl himself might have had something to do with those wins. But really, the blazer did most of the work.
Now the question is, does the blazer have any magic left for Championship Week?
19. What's Purdue Going To Do Without Robbie Hummel?
Poor Purdue. Ten days ago they were cruising through the Big 10, looking like they were not only going to wrap up a conference championship, but make a run at the National Championship too. Then their second leading scorer, rebounder and unquestioned leader goes down with a torn ACL. Ouch.
More than just Purdue though, it shows you how fragile a season can be. Not only does everyone have to be on the same page. Not only does everyone need to know their role and execute it. Not only does everyone need to stay out of trouble off the court and avoid bickering on it. But you've got to avoid freak circumstance and injuries like Hummel's as well.
To Purdue fans I'm sorry and only wish you the best going forward. Without sounding like a stupid cliche (which I will anyway), I really hope that despite Hummel's injury, Purdue can somehow turn this into a new beginning, rather than just the end.
20. Can Anyone Beat Kansas?
You didn't think I was going to get through this whole article without mentioning the Jayhawks did you?
They're deep. They're talented. They're experienced. They're well coached.
But none of what they've done so far means anything if they don't close things out over the next four weeks.
It starts Saturday at Missouri and runs through April 5 in Indianapolis.
Rock, chalk, Jayhawk?
Just one of the many questions we'll be asking over the next few weeks.