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One Big Thought: Lessons from 'The Lion King'

Gregg Marshall, Fred VanVleet and No. 9 Wichita State suffered an upset loss at Tulsa on Tuesday. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We don't hike, so we don't know. But we're guessing the main draw of hiking is the view from the top. Oh, sure, there's the solace of the outdoors, and the challenge of physical exertion, and blah blah blah. But really, when you hike -- at least if you hike uphill -- you're doing so with the destination in mind.

Then again, we don't know, because we don't hike. Come to think of it, our best reference for the feeling that comes on the Wednesday after the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon is a scene from "The Lion King." You know the one: Mufasa takes young Simba to the top of a rock somewhere and shows him that the kingdom Simba will one day rule encompasses "everything the light touches." Simba is rightfully blown away. "Everything?" Simba asks. The camera pans to a dark, foreboding area on the horizon, and Mufasa repeats the crucial caveat: "Everything the light touches."

It is both revelatory and ominous. That's how we feel today. After 31 marathon hours of hoops -- which closed with a series of high-profile marquee games -- and five days of regular-season play, our domain of knowledge is already vastly larger than it was this time last week. Yet at least some section of what we can now see is wrong. It is the confusing, murky part of the map.

For example, we now know that Duke is a major work in progress. Or we know that Kentucky is even better than previously thought. Or both. Or neither. We know that Virginia entered the season overrated, that they still can't shoot without Justin Anderson, that Darion Atkins can't be replaced defensively. Or we know that George Washington is the new favorite to win the Atlantic-10. Or both. Or neither. We know that Georgetown is bad enough to lose to Radford and good enough to lead Maryland for most of 40 minutes in College Park. We know that a widespread rash of first-week upsets -- Wichita State being the latest victim Tuesday night -- must mean that the wide open, no-great-teams landscape is less a selling point than an affliction. Or we know that it's college basketball and sometimes upsets happen.

You get the point. It's way too early for sweeping conclusions. Yet we can't help it. It's the Wednesday after the marathon, and the schedule is weak enough to offer a brief respite, and so we want to sit at the top of the hill and take a deep breath and drink all of that actual basketball in. We can't see how far the light touches. But we still can't help but try.

What we're thinking about today

  • Case in point: The aforementioned Wichita State Shockers. Was Tuesday night's loss at Tulsa merely what happens when you play one of the oldest teams in the country on its home floor in November? Or was it a sign of deeper problems? Mid-Major Madness does its best to find an answer.

  • We do know this much: If Denzel Valentine plays 75 percent of his games 75 percent as well as he played against Kansas Tuesday -- when his 29 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds made him just the fourth player in Spartans history (alongside Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell) to record a triple-double -- he is going to be the 2015-16 player of the year. Goodness.

  • The combination of Kris Dunn's return to Providence and the Friars' otherwise total (and largely unexpected) roster decimation has created a situation wherein Providence's best chance of winning basketball games is for Dunn to do pretty much everything. That was the hope before the season, anyway -- that Dunn would morph into a collegiate version of the mid-aughts Kobe Bryant who shared a backcourt with Smush Parker and Sasha Vujevic and ferociously raged against the futility of it all, and would start putting up accordingly bonkers box scores. Last week, Dunn opened the season against Harvard with 32 points, eight steals, six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. So far, so good! On Wednesday night, Providence will face an Illinois backcourt so thoroughly wiped out by injury that coach John Groce was genuinely happy when he learned that one of his players would only be out for four weeks. With all condolences to the Illini, we can't wait to see what that recipe produces.

  • Myron wonders whether it's fair to go ahead and say No. 2 Kentucky is as good as they looked against No. 5 Duke Tuesday night, and we're inclined to agree: "So perhaps Kentucky's shutdown of Duke, the defending national champ, should not shift Wednesday morning's conversation toward ideas we'll eventually regret or lead to assumptions about [the Final Four in] Houston. It's too early for that. Unless it's not. Because it's Kentucky. And at Kentucky, coach John Calipari has led four of his last five squads to the Final Four. And they've all thrived on the same qualitative elements: elite talent, cohesion, length and depth inside, gutsy ball handlers and strict defense."

  • And, last but not least, the king of topics it's too early to talk about: How the new rules changes are affecting the game. If on Monday you already felt like the game was faster, or at least more high-scoring, Ken Pomeroy had the data to back you up. Anecdotally, at least, Monday and Tuesday felt in line with the apparent statistical trend. Will it last?