Are we already at the midway point of the 2011-12 college basketball season? Are those seed lines and brackets coming into view? Before we ready ourselves for the home stretch to March Madness, here are my awards for the best and worst -- and everything in between -- from the first half of the season.
A look at the biggest college basketball stories of a year that, depending on your preference, belonged to Kemba, Jimmer, Coach K, or mid-major magic. (And we can only hope that, after a scandalous November and December, the sport can produce as much positive drama in 2012's NCAA tournament as it did in 2011's.)
Is this a weak draft? NBA scouts and GMs are fond of saying so. Their uncertainty about nearly everyone other than Duke's Kyrie Irving is why so many picks from No. 2 on down have been floated on the trade market. But for NBA dreamers whose time has yet to come -- college freshmen who've just arrived on campus to begin summer school, or high school seniors- and juniors-to-be who are heading into the AAU summer -- this draft offers a powerful message.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Four foreign-born lottery picks for the first time, the fourth straight year a John Calipari-coached point guard (Brandon Knight) lands in the top eight and a ninth straight year the son of a former NBA player (Klay Thompson) has had his name called. Let's break down the 2011 NBA Draft.
This NBA draft may have been short on All-Star talent, but it could be strong in leadership. Many of the lottery picks earned their way to high first-round salaries because they were able to overcome deficiencies in athleticism or size -- which says a lot for their character as basketball players.
The ongoing labor negotiations combined with uncertainty over the top picks have set the stage for altogether entertaining night of reality TV when commissioner David Stern takes the podium in Newark, N.J., on Thursday.
Jimmer Fredette is not the best player in this NBA draft, or the tallest, or the quickest, or the fastest, or the shortest. But he is the most controversial. It's not his fault. Fredette draws opinions like he drew defenders at BYU -- two come from opposite directions at the same time. He is a gunner and one of the most entertaining college players of the last decade, and this and plus there is the fact that ... he is white?
How much does a strong showing in the NCAA tournament help an NBA prospect? The question has never been more relevant, as more than a dozen potential first-round picks had led their teams into the Sweet 16 convening Thursday night.
NEW ORLEANS -- Jimmer Fredette may have scored 32 points, but his last college game was one he'd probably rather forget. In BYU's 83-74 loss to Florida in the Sweet 16 Thursday night, the final three stats of the season's biggest scoring sensation were a turnover, one missed three-pointer and a foul. As he walked off the court to applause with 36 seconds left, Fredette shook his head in frustration, the waggling bandage on his chin -- earned when he hit the floor and cut his face after being tripped in the second half -- the badge of a physical, frustrating night.
A well-aged pro hoops chronicler such as myself is liable to get a "what's wrong with the NBA?" question at any time during the year, but the advent of March Madness seems to throw the inquiry into sharp relief.
This has probably been the most ... well, let's be kind and just say "ordinary" -- the most ordinary college basketball season. First of all, as the Super Bowl drifts into February and NFL television ratings soar, poor little college basketball gets ignored for longer and longer. Didn't you have the feeling this year that Dick Vitale didn't arrive in our consciousness until he suddenly appeared like a bald Cupid on Valentine's Day?
Since Duke was the latest team to lose its No. 1 ranking, it's only fitting that we begin this week's mailbag with a pair of e-mails from Blue Devil Nation, one searching for hope, the other expressing concern.
The exact moment cannot be pinpointed, although it was somewhere between when BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored 39 against UNLV, 47 against Utah, pulled up for a 30-foot three against TCU, and dropped 42 on Colorado State, that he became a national cult figure who no longer needed a last name. Just "Jimmer," or "The Jimmer." My colleague Seth Davis is a proponent of the latter, having tweeted during that Colorado State game, "The Jimmer has 21 pts and it is not even halftime. Halftime is the only thing that can guard The Jimmer."
It's ironic that BYU basketball is caught in the crosshairs of the latest athletic conference shakeup where, depending on the day, things can look radically different and not add up at all. For several seasons, the Cougars have been that kind of enigma: an imposing regular-season team with postseason production that has failed to match. Now, with its basketball future possibly hanging in the balance, this would be a good season for BYU to deliver on its annual promise.
For non-seniors testing the NBA draft waters, 2010 was the Year of the Scramble -- to declare for the draft by April 25, gather information about their stock, try to schedule workouts between April 29 and May 7, and then make a major life decision by May 8. This mad rush was the result of the NCAA pushing up the draft deadline from its traditional spot in mid-June, in hopes of solidifying the college landscape just one month after the season's conclusion.
It's not easy to come up with good ideas for column leads. (I only make it look easy.) So I am always grateful to all you Hoop Thinkers for coming up with terrific suggestions to start the day off right. So let's tip off this week's Mailbag with an intriguing question from Shane Hale of Las Vegas:
PHILADELPHIA -- Among the enduring themes of March Madness is that Somebody has improbably arrived Here from Somewhere Else. From an urban ghetto. From a farm. From a distant foreign country. Rosters are filled with unlikely journeys to center stage of the sports world for an hour or a weekend or a fortnight.