Someone needs to defend college basketball in Oklahoma, so here goes

Someone needs to defend college basketball in Oklahoma, so here goes

I skipped two Thunder games to watch OU and OSU lose this week, which either makes me a sadist or one of the last Oklahoma investors in college basketball.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Jan 26, 2024, 6:00am CST

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Jan 26, 2024, 6:00am CST

OU lost to Texas Tuesday night, then OSU lost to TCU. It was hard to pick the more depressing sight — the Sooners in the second half or a barren Gallagher-Iba Arena. 

I watched both games, which either makes me a sadist or one of the last Oklahoma investors in college basketball. I prefer the latter.

I watched the Sooners and Cowboys instead of Thunder-Blazers, a closer game played at 10 times a higher level. Wednesday night, I chose Kansas State-Iowa State over Chet vs. Wemby

K-State-Iowa State didn’t matter much in the scheme of the season because it’s January, and the only meaningful college basketball month is March. I still watched because Thunder-Spurs mattered even less. 

The NBA playoffs are a lot of fun, but they don’t start until mid-April. We get 82 games until then, which makes the NBA’s regular season more tiresome than the 31-game version in college hoops. Especially when everyone makes half of their 3-pointers in the NBA in front of spectators as interested in checking their stock portfolios on their phones as watching something that happens in every other arena every night across the league. 

Someone making half of his 3s in the college game is on a heater, and that sends his teammates into hysterics because the students in the fieldhouse are in hysterics, and now the coach is in hysterics, too, and then the band starts playing but nobody can hear it through the pandemonium and that includes ESPN so they go to break without commentary, and when the commercial starts you might not care about the teams in this game but are still delighted to have tuned in.

OK. I’m delighted. The rest of you are watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander make half of his 3s with such effortless grace that you wonder maybe he should use his left hand only against the Pelicans for the sake of a challenge. I get it. 

But if you have read this long without calling Sellout Crowd’s hotline to tell co-founder Mike Koehler “Come get your boy,” maybe you’ll indulge me further. 

There are five worthy reasons to choose college basketball over the NBA in January. Hear me out…

Students

Who turned the Lloyd Noble Center into an intense homecourt advantage Tuesday night? Students.

Who turned Gallagher-Iba into one of the loudest basketball venues in the country in its heyday? Students. 

Why did Texas and Baylor upgrade by moving into downsized hoops homes since last year? Both schools did something brilliant — they put students just off the court behind the benches. 

The soul of the NBA belongs to LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and the league’s legendary performers.  

The soul of college basketball belongs to the kids who share their universities with the performers. Who show up most faithfully and cheer loudest every January but also every November, December and February. Until March arrives and the games switch to neutral sites.

Pro basketball is a players’ enterprise. College basketball still belongs to the fans, because the most important fans are college students.

Chance

If the 16-28 Raptors beat the 28-14 Clippers Friday night, it will probably be because James Harden, Paul George and/or Kawhi Leonard sat out to rest. “Load management” is the term for the NBA’s only path to regular-season upsets. 

If No. 2 Purdue goes down at 2-wins-in-Big Ten-play Rutgers Sunday afternoon, it will probably be because the Scarlet Knights caught fire that Boilermakers non-load-managing star Zach Edey couldn’t contain, and then Scarlet Knights’ student section caught fire, and then… 

Coaches

Coaching counts for a lot in the NBA, but we don’t notice that because the players are all so good and so marketed that it takes Gregg Popovich saying something in a press conference for us to remember “Oh yeah, those guys.” Or it takes the playoffs. 

Coaching counts for so much in college basketball that it can be excruciating, whether it’s egomanics calling three timeouts over the last 20 seconds of a game they’re going to lose by 15 points, or studio/color analysts who used to be coaches fawning over peers like they ought to be sainted. 

But at least these guys add flavor. It’s usually spice. Billy Tubbs did that around here for years, bless his heart, with the help of Norm Stewart, Johnny Orr and Eddie Sutton. 

If the black hat doesn’t fit Bill Self, Scott Drew and Kelvin Sampson quite as snugly, at least they’re bringing some heat to their games before the press conference, and before the postseason.

Buildings

There are at least 50 college basketball arenas where you can turn on ESPN and know immediately where you’re viewing without having to look at the giant mascot in the middle of the court. It’s the distinction of the building, a true home court. This is a precious commodity until the games shift to pro-style arenas for March Madness. 

There used to be several NBA arenas with varying characteristics. Now there is only one — Madison Square Garden. Otherwise, to turn on the NBA right now is to see the same crowd in the same space, with the same venture capitalists showing up late to their same lower-bowl seats. 

Frailties

Ninety percent of college basketball teams start a kid who plays like his scholarship depends on it. He has too many holes in his game to count, so he busts his tail the best he can and hopes the egomaniac on his bench doesn’t yank him.

This makes the night he scores 10 points or grabs 8 rebounds or blocks 5 shots about the best thing that’s ever happened. Especially if that sparks an upset and some of the students who know him from Comms 101 in the morning or The Boom-Boom Room at night rush the court and lift him onto their shoulders. 

The fifth starter in an NBA game might not be as good as one through four, but he still makes enough money to own Vermont, which means he doesn’t try quite as hard and isn’t quite as likable. If he puts up 10 points, 8 rebounds or 5 blocks and his team wins, it won’t be because of anything he did but everything the other team didn’t. 

At least until the playoffs. In the NBA Playoffs, everybody is all in. Me included.

But right now I’d rather watch the college game with all of its faults. Its fun and frenzy, too. 

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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