The primarily storyline of the 2019-20 men’s college basketball season was one of chaos. It seemed nightly there was a massive upset – the unexpected became the expected. We had great stories unfolding and were set up for an epic NCAA tournament. And then, well, you know. We’re determined not to say the name of the thing that canceled all our sports. It’s kind of like when a drunk runs onto the field – tv cameras don’t show him in order to not to draw attention to it. So, maybe if we just don’t talk about…you know…it will go away. That’s how you solve something like this, right? Just totally ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening?
Anyway, if you don’t follow college basketball that closely, a brief look at the Final AP poll will give you an idea of how different this basketball season was. Dayton – Dayton – was ranked 3rd. San Diego State and Creighton were in the top 10. Florida State was the highest ranked team from the ACC. In basketball.
There was some normalcy – Kansas won the Big 12 for the 100th straight year and held a season-opening celebration complete with Snoop Dogg, pole dancers and the guy in the green hat shooting money out of cannons in the general direction of recruits, all while embroiled in an FBI investigation into paying players through adidas. You stay classy, Kansas.
Kentucky was rounding into form, but also lost earlier in the year to Evansville. At home. And Evansville fired their coach in the middle of the season. Duke’s typical brutal non-conference schedule of playing directional schools at home for two straight months caught up to them when something called Stephen F. Austin beat them on a last second shot. Ohio State was ranked #1 in the nation at one point, and then proceeded to lose 6 out of 7 games. North Carolina, as usual, dominated NC State twice…and that’s all we have to say about the Heels’ season. (Not really – more to come on the UNC season).
Anyway, we’re here to present the Work Hangover College Basketball Awards presented by Charmin (please send toilet paper).
Player of the Year – SNACKS! Thomas “Snacks” Lee from Jackson State. A student manager who dressed for Jackson State’s final game against Arkansas Pine Bluff and drilled a three. Just watch the video.
Runner Up – Obi Toppin, Dayton. Obi was must watch television, and will be missed next year when he’s in the NBA. Hate that this edition of Dayton didn’t get the opportunity to see what they could do in the tournament.
Best Conference (High Major Division) – Big Ten. Maryland and Michigan State were the class of the conference, but those stinkin Badgers still managed to finish atop the conference. What really made this conference good this year was their depth, bolstered by some teams that aren’t usually good having historic seasons. Penn State and Rutgers were both NCAA tourney bound for the first time in forever. Michigan, who finished with a .500 record in conference, had double-digit wins over Creighton and Gonzaga (two top ten teams at the end of the season) on their resume. But don’t worry. Nebraska and Northwestern were still garbage. Honestly not sure how Chris Collins keeps his job – yes he made the NCAA tournament for the only time in Northwestern history. That was four years ago. How has he followed up on that tourney appearance? 15-17, 13-19, 8-22. Moving in the right direction!
Best Conference (Mid Major Division) – Southern Conference. Honestly, this is just an blatant excuse to brag on the SoCon and the quality of basketball. But last we checked, this is our website and we can do what we want. Plus, no one’s reading anyway. Regardless, ETSU was the class of the league, and would have been a very popular pick to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament. But the league featured wins over LSU, Georgetown, and North Carolina, as well as close losses on the road at FSU, Auburn, Alabama, NC State and Virginia Tech. Plus, if you watch games on ESPN+, the color analysts at places like The Citadel, Mercer and Western Carolina would give Jimmy Dykes a run for his money on obscure fishing references (is there such a thing as non-obscure fishing references?) incorporated into the broadcasts.
I’m not even mad, I’m just impressed Stat of the Year – North Carolina enjoyed a win probability over 90% in second half and lost 4 times this year. If that wasn’t enough, they also lost on last second shots in two other games. We were journalism majors, so math’s not our strong suit, but that seems pretty unlikely. All of which happened while injuries across the roster forced over 100 missed games combined from players expected to play this season. The 2019-20 edition of the Heels was never going to be a great team, but still feels like a lot of what might have been.
Best Story that Didn’t Happen – Penn State, Lamar Stevens & Pat Chambers. While Rutgers tourney drought has lasted longer, the story of Penn State, senior Lamar Stevens and head coach Pat Chambers struck a few more of the heartstrings at Hangover Headquarters. I mean, there’s a section on the Penn State basketball wikipedia page titled, “Overcoming Historical Irrelevance.” That’s not an even a joke.
With apologies to the Crispin brothers, Lamar Stevens is the greatest player in Penn State basketball history. After exploring the NBA draft alst year, he returned for his senior season with the goal a returning Penn State to the NCAA. Along the way, he kept scoring points and entering the Big Ten tournament, was 7 points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Penn State history. 7! And the best part about this guy – we’re confident he was more upset about his team and his coach not being able to play in the NCAA tournament than not setting that record.
Pat Chambers has been the head coach since 2011 and candidly, for the first six seasons of his tenure, Penn State wasn’t good. And if he was at a school whose program wasn’t “historically irrelevant”, he probably wouldn’t have kept his job. But, he did and made the most of it, with a 26-13 season and an NIT title. Progress. Last year, was a step back and some were calling for his job. He stayed and this year was going to be the redemption long deserved for one of the best people in the business.
How do I know he’s one of the best people in the business? Allow a brief personal story. Mrs. Hangover (a Penn State alum) was scheduled to be induced with our first child on February 3. That morning, she receives a text from a State College area code. It’s Pat Chambers congratulating her on becoming a mother. This is notable for two reasons. 1. We don’t know Pat Chambers. 2. He was traveling that day with his team to East Lansing for what turned out to be the biggest win of their season, a road win vs. MSU which likely sealed their NCAA tournament bid. Anyway, he’s got fans for life at Hangover Headquarters.
Our Favorite Game of the Season – Chattanooga Mocs vs. UNC-Greensboro. Our other, slightly more lucrative job, allows us to attend many sporting events throughout the season. It’s a pretty good job. We are particularly close to the Mocs, and Mocs Head Coach Lamont Paris. Paris came to Chattanooga in the spring of 2017 after Matt McCall departed for UMass. To say the locker room was a mess is an insult to messes. Paris began the slow, painful process of rebuilding the program. During his first season, there was a player he referred to as “a zero-minute guy” that was starting and playing 30 minutes. If you ever come across Coach Paris, ask him to tell some stories from that first year. You’ll be blown away.
Anyway, UNCG has been one of the best teams in the SoCon for a few years, and Coach Wes Miller has not exactly endeared himself to other coaches in the league. In the regular season finale, at THE McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, it appeared to be another long day for the Mocs. The Spartans jumped out to an early lead, and were up by 11 with six minutes to go in the first half. From there, the Mocs battled back and pulled out a 2 point win when a Greensboro game tying attempt rolled off the rim at the buzzer. It was a great culmination of not just a season, but a 3 year process.
There are probably hundreds of stories like this that we’re not aware of because, frankly, we have things to do. This baby isn’t go the change his own diapers (to my great surprise and frustration). But, that’s what makes college athletics so special. Whether you’re playing on the Final Four stage in front of millions of people, or getting a defining win in front of 3,500 people. It matters. It’s not the most important thing in the world – that much is clear these days – but it matters. And when that buzzer went off in THE McKenzie Arena on February 29th, if you were able to see the joy on the faces of the young men in the Mocs basketball program, you’d have a hard time not getting a little choked up. Or, maybe that’s just all the mold in the building. #midmajorproblems