Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2004

Opinion: An odd battle for the North

November 18, 2004

Remember those Nike commercials a few years back that used the catch phrase, "Shhh...It's spreading." to promote the NCAA postseason basketball tournament?

Well, Tuesday night, as I ate dinner and set the mood with a little Providence-Niagara in the background, I found myself endlessly uttering that phrase. Only, I had adapted it. "Shhh...It's starting," I thought to myself over and over that night.

That's because the five-point thriller between Providence and Niagara signified, to me, the beginning of the college basketball season. Sure, I watched both of KU's exhibition games, including the squeaker against Division II Washburn. (I can assure you, unlike ESPN's Digger Phelps, I wasn't terribly alarmed by that close call.)

But Kansas' exhibition games included very little of what I love about college basketball.

The Providence game, however, had it all. Extraordinary effort. Unexplainable miscues. And a down-to-the-wire finish that would've made the voters in Ohio look decisive.

But I digress. There'll be plenty of time to talk hoops as the days grow colder.

Right now, I want to focus on football, particularly the Big 12's North division.

Seeing how Bonner Springs sits roughly 200 miles or less from five of the Big 12 North's six cities, I thought the race to get whooped by Oklahoma might be of interest to those of us in this area.

This much we know: the two Sunflower State schools are eliminated from the Big 12 North title. Nebraska's still alive, but just barely. Missouri has a shot, but doesn't deserve it. And Colorado, like Mizzou, probably doesn't deserve it either. That leaves us with Iowa State. What?

That's right, Iowa State is completely in control of its own fate. If the Cyclones win out, they'll be crowned the champions of the Big 12 North, an improbable, if not impossible, prospect considering this is the same team that finished 2-10 a year ago, including an 0-8 mark in the Big 12.

But therein lies the reason the Cyclones deserve the title, because they've earned it. Should they win out, they'll finish with a 5-3 conference mark, a five game improvement from last year. Most years there are two, maybe three, Big 12 North teams who finish 5-3 or better. And since none of those teams have been able to match that mark this year, they simply don't deserve it.

Perhaps the only other team in the North who even remotely deserves it is Kansas. The Jayhawks may deserve it for the way they've played and the way they've improved. But in order to deserve something, you have to earn it. Failing to finish off Texas Tech, Texas, Nebraska and, well, Iowa State, leaves the 'Hawks scratching their beaks wondering about what could have been.

So here we are, late in the season, and we're talking about the possibility of Iowa State playing in the Big 12 championship game. That may sicken most, but to me, it's beautiful.

And until the NCAA fixes that mess they call the BCS, this is the closest college football will come to matching the madness of NCAA basketball.

Shhh....It's spectacular.

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