College Station Spring Break
It's a beautiful day in College Station. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of Texas A&M students here to enjoy it. They're all at the beach. That's right, spring has officially arrived in Texas. Today - Saturday, March 8th - marks the Aggies' first day of Spring Break.
But the Hoops Odyssey isn't jealous. With our fair skin, flabby bodies and receding hairlines, we don't really do the beach. We do college basketball. And these spring break revelers are missing out on a big time Big 12 ball game.
Yell Leaders are an intense species.
Kansas is in town to take on Texas A&M. It's not our first Big 12 basketball game of the trip, we've already caught three on our jaunt across the plains, but it should be our first competitive contest. So far, all we've seen have been Big 12 blowouts. Kansas demolished Texas Tech, Kansas State Beasley-ed Colorado and Oklahoma solidly beat up on OSU.
Hopefully, today's game is going to be different. Kansas enters at the top of the Big 12. A victory and the Jayhawks will lay claim to a share of the conference regular-season championship for the fourth straight season. The last time Cyrus and I saw the Jayhawks play they looked every bit the best team in the country. Without even appearing to try, they ran up the widest victory margin in Big 12 history on Texas Tech. In that game, 15 of the 16 Kansas players that played scored. It was utter and complete hard court annihilation.
The Aggies, on the other hand, are just fighting to regain the respect they'd earned earlier in the season before letting it dribble away. After winning the pre-season NIT and going 15-1, A&M is 7-7 since January 16th and has fallen into a tie for fourth in the Big 12 with Baylor and Oklahoma, two teams that were not supposed to play at the Aggies' level coming into the season.
They might not have cheerleaders, but the dancers make Texas A&M special.
It's our first time in A&M's Reed Arena and we're impressed, not really with the arena, it's too big and lacks collegiate character, but with the A&M fans. They are many and lack nothing in the collegiate character department. I was a little nervous that there'd be no students in attendance because of spring break, but my worries are unfounded. The student sections, which seep out from behind both baskets, are active, vocal and clad in all-white. The "Yell Leaders" - guys in white janitor outfits that long ago replaced cheerleaders in College Station - pace the endlines, whipping the students into a frenzy. This is a hard environment for opposing teams to play in.
But Kansas doesn't seem phased. Darrell Arthur starts off the game with a beautiful alley-oop and the Jayhawks never look back. Kansas bangs with A&M inside, where the Aggies are strongest. Kansas' Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur throw A&M's big men, Deandre Jordan, Bryan Davis and Joseph Jones, completely off their games. They drop entry passes and miss dunks.
The student section sews before the game.
As Kansas runs out to a 10-point halftime lead I can't help but believe that I'm watching the nation's best team. Here's why I think Kansas is the #1 team in the country.
-Three inside scoring threats. Jackson, Arthur and Kahn can all play with their backs to the bucket, but just as important, they can rebound and hit ten foot jumpers. These aren't just big bodies but big men that can change games. How many other teams in the country can boast three big men all of similar athletic talent?
-An even deeper lineup of guards. Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Russell Robinson can all penetrate at will and shoot as well. These are all guards that would be stars on any other team in the country and every night one of them doesn't even start.
-Tough defense. In today's game, the Aggies look discombobulated on the offensive end. Their spacing is bad and they can't hold onto the rock. A&M turned the ball over 11 times in the first half. Credit the Jayhawks defense. The Kansas guards are always in the Aggies' pockets. In the second half, Kansas doesn't allow A&M to score a field goal for almost seven and a half minutes.
-Ability to play through a tough environment. Like I said earlier, Reed Arena is a tough place for visiting teams to play. There's a reason the phrase "the 12th man" was first coined in College Station. The Aggies practically created the modern day college sports fanatic. And yet, Kansas seems comfortable playing in Reed. The Jayhawks never rush their shots and, with the exception of the Collins who barks with the student section throughout the game, are always calm and collected.
I know that UNC is ranked #1 right now, but I've seen both the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks play and I believe Kansas is the better team for one and only one reason - depth. If UNC loses Tyler Hansbrough or Ty Lawson, the quality of play dips. The Tar Heels simply don't have replacements for their star players. Look at what happened the first time UNC played Duke when they didn't have Lawson. Kansas has so many star players that it can afford to lose a Arthur or Chalmers without a severe decline in level of play.
Hoops Odyssey takes a rare night off.
Okay, enough on Kansas. We're here in College Station, so let's talk about Texas A&M, which is playing Kansas tough. Halfway through the second half and the game is still competitive, but the Aggies just can't get any closer than six. The problem's their guards. Besides the plethora of turnovers, which just kills the Aggies' momentum, the guards are helpless to control the tempo of the game. After watching Kansas survive multiple A&M runs, I begin to realize how important A.C. Law was to this Texas A&M team. He is exactly what the Aggies are lacking, a multi-faceted scoring threat that can not only shoot but drive to the hole, and is always in control of the game.
In the end, Kansas is too much for the Aggies. A ridiculous Brandon Rush dunk, where he soars to the hoop from what seems like the three-point line, punctuates a 72-55 Jayhawks' victory..
It's only in the parking lot after the game, having not moved for thirty minutes, stuck between a Ford F-150 with a Dallas Cowboys bumper sticker and a Dodge Ram that supports George W. Bush, that I begin to wish I was on spring break at the beach. It's a tough call on what's worse, parking lots or sunburns, but right about now I'd take the burn, baby.