So, here’s a funny story: On Wednesday, a man didn’t want to talk to the media. When this man did talk to the media, he talked about how he didn’t want to talk to the media. The rest of the hour, he stood in silence.
This was, by nearly any metric, the biggest sports story of the day.
College basketball tends to get overshadowed by the NFL this time of year. The rules changes and scheduling tweaks the sport has made in recent seasons have been great, but competing with the galactically insane popularity of the National Football League, where Marshawn Lynch Goes to Media Day can be a thing, means some portion of the sports-loving populace is always going to miss out on college hoops.
This season, more than any in memory, that means missing out on a lot. Because as a jam-packed Wednesday night proved, the 2013-14 college basketball season has been amazing.
On Wednesday night, Arizona and Syracuse, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country and two of the last three unbeatens, stayed unbeaten. Syracuse pulled away from Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., 67-57, in Wake’s first home loss of the season. The Orange, thanks in large part to the brilliant second-half play of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, moved to 20-0.
Meanwhile out West, Arizona, the best team in the country and the best and most balanced group we’ve seen since Anthony Davis led Kentucky to a national title two years ago, staved off a Stanford team and crowd in Palo Alto, Calif., so rabid legendary broadcaster Bill Walton said at halftime that he saw a “revolution going on here.” Not quite: Arizona’s own brilliant freshman, Aaron Gordon, had a key dunk and a massive block in the closing minutes. National player of the year candidate Nick Johnson made a 3-pointer with less than a minute left. The Wildcats held Stanford to just two field goals in the final 10 minutes, guarding their way out of their first loss of the season.
On Tuesday night, Wichita State -- the third of college basketball’s three remaining unbeatens -- moved to 22-0. Which meant that after Wednesday’s results, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there are now three teams 20-0 or better for the first time since Indiana, UNLV and Rutgers did it in 1976. According to Ken Pomeroy’s projections, there is now a 51 percent chance one of those three teams will finish the regular season without a loss. We’ve officially reached the point where can discuss the prospect of a loss-less season and feel less ridiculous than realistic. How bonkers is that?
Almost as bonkers as what’s happening to Ohio State and Wisconsin? Both teams spent the first two months of the season talking up an unbroken string of victories. Both teams spent Wednesday night at rock bottom.
On Jan. 4, Ohio State beat Nebraska by 31 at home to move to 15-0 on the season. Since then, the Buckeyes are 1-5, losing Wednesday in overtime at home to Penn State 71-70. As of Jan. 8, Bo Ryan’s team was 17-0, with a group of wins as impressive as any team’s: Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia, Marquette, Iowa. Since then Wisconsin is 1-4, and on Wednesday night the Badgers scored 56 points in 68 possessions and allowed 43 second-half points in a loss to Northwestern at the Kohl Center. What? What?!
Ohio State is a guaranteed defensive beast suddenly not defending; Wisconsin is a clinically efficient offense that shot 26.7 percent from the field at home in a loss to Northwestern. None of this makes any sense.
And then there is Kansas. In November and December, the Jayhawks’ offense had whole stretches where it just looked downright bad, which was surprising, given that it had freshman Andrew Wiggins, one of the great young basketball talents in recent years, on the wing.
Look at KU now: Center Joel Embiid, who started playing basketball two years ago, has morphed into the sport’s best big man on both ends of the floor. Wiggins has posted two back-to-back career-high scoring nights -- 27 points, and then 29 -- in the Jayhawks’ past two games. On Wednesday, in Kansas’ 92-81 win over Iowa State, KU averaged 1.23 points per possession. That number is just a tick higher than its average output against Big 12 opponents to date. It’s an offense so good it almost doesn’t matter how often it turns the ball over, which is still probably too much. But who cares? A month ago, Kansas was supposed to yield the Big 12 title for the first time in nine years. Now it’s the easy favorite to win a 10th.
Wednesday basically summarized everything you need to know about the 2013-14 season: There are a handful of great teams, at least a dozen realistic Final Four contenders, as much young talent as the sport has seen in at least a decade, and the usual dizzying unpredictability that makes college basketball so much fun year in and year out.
So, yeah, if you’re a “casual fan” -- if you’re the type of person who spent most of your week catching up on all the latest Lynch “distraction” buzz -- then you should know you’ve missed a lot. But you should also know the best six freshmen in the country are all playing on Saturday. You should know that the Big Ten is tilting on its gloriously weird axis. You should know that not one but three teams will enter February undefeated. And you should know that Doug McDermott is chasing a historic 3,000 career points mark, and that you can set your browser to bookmark Creighton’s remaining schedule here.
That’s the good news, casual fan: You might have missed a lot, but there’s so much more to come. As one NFL player might -- or might not -- say, college basketball is in beast mode. And you made it just in time.