“Perhaps addressing the magnitude of the game in longer form at a later day is in the works, but for now put a reminder in that smart phone of yours. I’ll be in somebody’s bar. You should, too.” – Me, 11/29/2013
What do the Colt Revolver, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the Internet, toilet paper and the “three-day weekend” have in common? They all received their starts here in America.
A three-day weekend that falls in line with the AFC and NFC Championships? Well, that’s just God showing off. Perhaps the most sent text message this weekend – aside from the always intriguing “hey stranger ;)” – will be between friends deciding where to take in Broncos/Patriots and Seahawks/49ers. And as the second biggest football weekend of the season, the overdose of coverage is warranted.
Yet, it’s not just names like Brady, Manning, Belichick, Kaepernick, Harbaugh, Carroll and Sherman making Martin Luther King weekend one of the better spreads on the sports calendar.
Kansas plays host to Big 12 rivals Oklahoma State.
What’s so provocative about the matchup that a person should be settled in a bar or on a friend’s couch at 4:00 p.m. Saturday?
1. Day drinking with friends is a time-honored tradition and should be upheld whenever the opportunity presents itself.
2. These are two of the top 15 teams in the country and the top two teams in their conference.
…and the one the NCAA actually gives a shit about…
3. High-level talent will be at a premium in Allen Fieldhouse.
For Kansas there’s Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden, Jr. For Okie State, there’s LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown. They’re the type of players capable of putting together games going point-for-point or rebound-for-rebound with their higher profile teammates. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise if one or more of these names spawn a visual portfolio on Saturday that help put their respective squads over the top. But here’s what separates OSU/KU apart from any other game Saturday. It could very well feature three of the top five picks in the 2014 NBA draft.
Behind-the-scenes last week, the Crew engaged in a brief discussion on the topic of college basketball. In particular, how a great majority of sports media single-handedly employed the sexiest adjectives grammar could birth when speaking of the potential 2014 draft class prior to the season.
Now, with their projections of “Canadian Jordan” gone awry or Jabari Parker’s recent struggles magnified, an uncomfortable sentiment seems to portray some receiving sick enjoyment out of tearing kids down with each mistake. You know, as if current NBA scoring champions and All-Stars never encountered their own struggles while still learning to grasp the game at ages that wouldn’t allow them to legally purchase an alcoholic beverage (and yet be the face of powerhouse programs).* Bansky noted, “What they did with the draft is basically what the media has become in a nut shell. Obsess on something until it’s a story, then over obsess on it again until the flaws become fatal. Rinse. Repeat. Sports media is weird.”
Yet, it doesn’t take Jay Bilas to explain the main course with Oklahoma State/Kansas is Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Big-time players use big-time platforms to produce big-time games. And with conference play well underway and only three football games left until August, mid-Janauary is the time when basketball’s profile begins to solidify itself atop sports’ hierarchy of importance.
Saturday doesn’t make or break a draft stock, but having those “remember when” games on the resume always works well from a legacy standpoint. For Embiid, the rising infatuation with his name and the story of how basketball crept into his life full-time only two years ago already make him the most enigmatic figure on hardwood. And his, as Grantland’s Mark Titus coins it, “mean streak” makes hip captivating to watch as does his willingness to never shy away from physicality in an area foreign to basketball in recent years – the post.
That being said, I’m still attempting to come to a conclusion on Embiid. The best case scenario has him materializing all the buzzwords pegged on his broad shoulders (“high ceiling” being the most popular). My personality likes to see people succeed. I want Embiid to realize the hype that automatically surrounds a talented seven-foot man playing basketball. I’ve just…just…just seen Hasheem Thabeet lure the masses in and get drafted ahead of James Harden and Stephen Curry (you don’t think Memphis wouldn’t kill for a shooter right now?).
And so the remainder of the buzz falls squarely on the prize fight that is Smart vs. Wiggins, a battle anticipated since Andrew committed and one where neither combatant was alive to see the Chicago Bulls’ first three peat (if perspective is needed). What really doused gasoline on to an already blazing fire were Marcus’ comments in October to USA Today’s Eric Prisbell that forced me to circle January 18 on the calendar and place a reminder in my phone.
“They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet. Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet.”
At 6-foot-4, Smart wants nothing more than an opportunity to guard the sinewy 6-8 Wiggins.
“Definitely,” Smart says. “I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said, you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up.”
And here we are. The quiet storm of college basketball if there was one.
Smart, the bulldog capable of dropping 25+ on a given night and resemble a seasoned vet doing so. Wiggins, the silky smooth freshman – who posted an eye-popping double-double against a top 10 team last we saw him – coming into his own after taking the expected lumps** while adapting to a faster, stronger and more physical college game on the fly. Both enter Saturday leading scorers on their team, impressive given the laundry list of options as teammates (18-6-4 for Smart; 16-6-2 for Wiggins).
But it is on the defensive end, as Smart alluded to, where this meeting of the minds could truly excel pending the refs swallow their whistles and let these two have at it. Marcus takes this to heart, as he should. He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year. He’s was the crowned jewel of the conference. A year later, he’s forced to share the spotlight with this soft-spoken, quiet kid billed as the best Canadian export since Drake. Wiggins, on the other hand – as preached repeatedly – is so far along defensively for an 18-year-old it’s not only ridiculous, but the best part of his game.
They should guard each other quite often, too. Smart’s already made it clear he wants Wiggins. Meanwhile, Andrew practically begged Bill Self to put him on Jabari Parker in the second half versus Duke in November. The result? Wiggins helped hold Parker in check with eight points after Jabai nearly blew the roof off the United Center with 19 in the first half. Anybody expecting him not to request this assignment? Didn’t think so either.
What team wins makes not a bit of difference. There’s no dog in the fight for me. Plus, the two meet again March 1 in Stillwater. And if we’re lucky, the Big 12 Championship. To OSU and KU, all we ask for are fireworks. Those magical moments when we’re all reminded being a sports fan is the greatest obsession on Earth. Give us drama. Give us the best players making the best plays at the absolute most critical junctures. Freeze us in time. Have us temporarily forget the best slate of NFL conference championships in years are the true main event of the weekend.
And to whomever my bartender is this Saturday at 4:00, please understand when a Jack and Coke is ordered, it’s really Jack and splash of Coke.
What more could we ask for on a three-day weekend?
Previously — On Sports Illustrated’s Top 10 Freshmen In College Basketball | Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart’s 39 Points Vs. No. 11 Memphis Made A Defiant Statement | Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins Star In Thanksgiving Victories For Oklahoma State And Kansas | Naadir Tharpe, Andrew Wiggins And Joel Embiid Lead No. 15 Kansas Past No. 8 Iowa State
* – As Luke DeCock notes, “Kevin Durant’s streak of 20-point games to open his career ended with games of 10 and 11 points. He shot worse than 40 percent five times in January and February 2007, including a 4-for-15 night in a loss to Villanova. Carmelo Anthony went almost a month without a 20-point game in January 2003, going 25-for-65 from the floor over a five-game span. They both turned out OK in the end.”
** – Including having the social media world label him “overrated” and a “bust” following his first half of college ball versus Duke after only tallied six points because of foul trouble.