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Patrick Hruby

College Basketball Crash Course

The Atlantic sports roundtable on the rebooted Big Ten, sympathy for Coach Cal, the timeless joys of Kansas fandom and the new season of NCAA hoops

The Atlantic online

From the deck of the USS Yorktown to, well, more traditional indoor arenas, college basketball is back. This week's Atlantic sports roundtable discusses the season to come:

Jake Simpson: ... I'm gonna go all homerism on you guys and wax eloquent about the Big Ten for a minute (I refuse to call it the B1G on principle). The conference of my tragically flawed Northwestern Wildcats has produced just one NCAA men's basketball champion in the last 25 years, but this season may be different. Tom Crean's resurgent Indiana Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 in the early pools and have a legitimate player-of-the-year candidate in sophomore power forward Cody Zeller. Ohio State and Michigan are also ranked in the top five, and you can never count out the Spartans because of the leadership of Tom Izzo. With the rest of the NCAA elite in rebuilding mode (UK, UNC) or unproven (Louisville, N.C. State), look for a Big Ten team to bring home an elusive national title for the conference come April ...

Patrick Hruby: ... You mention Kentucky. It's hard not to mention the Wildcats. Under prep star pied piper John Calipari, Kentucky quickly has become the nation's top program—and if fawning ESPN coverage is any indicator, the most glamorous, to boot. Many in and around the sport—moralizing sportswriters, mostly, but also fans of other schools—have reacted to the Wildcats' ascendance with a full-on moral panic. Why? Season after season, Calipari recruits the best high school players. By which I mean: just about all of them. As a result, Kentucky wins lots of games. Said players move on to the NBA, sooner rather than later. Rinse and repeat. Somehow, this is bad. Downright wrong. Fainting couch material. A violation of all that is good and pure and just about college sports. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land, and it is raining one-and-dones. Ahem. Please. Capliari and Kentucky's only real sin is honesty. Playing basketball for money isn't wrong. Amateurism is wrong. Treating a big-time, revenue-producing college sport like a campus marketing shingle and sports television entertainment product is utterly rational; pretending otherwise is insane ...

Hampton Stevens: ... chill, baby. We all loathe the NCAA, but there are still games to play. Some are on dry land. Some are even not Duke and Kentucky. My perspective, as you know, is Jayhawk-centric. My view of basketball is like that famous New Yorker cartoon showing how a Manhattanite sees the world. But with Lawrence, Kansas, is the center of creation. Being a Jayhawk, though, doesn't only mean watching the team play. They did that last night—winning ugly. It also means being part of a tradition.
That's a terribly overused word in sports. Still, what interests me most about the new season is a good illustration of what being part of a tradition can actually feel like for the fan. The season shows how, clichéd as it is, loving a team like KU can seem like being part of an extended family. It shows how being a fan can make something as huge and abstract as the entire sport of basketball feel like it's a living community of souls ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online