It’s that time of the year: When college basketball turns to conference play. No more Tuesday night games versus state schools that aren’t states (Kennesaw St., Jackson St., Alcorn St.). No more Thursday nights wishing that ESPN had something better to show than Memphis-Austin Peay.
No, this is it! Conference play! Duke-Carolina! Syracuse-Georgetown! Creighton-Wichita State! In this, the first true week of conference play, there is so much to be excited about. These seven gentlemen of college basketball deserve praise for being particularly badass.
1. Michigan’s Trey Burke
Trey Burke is having himself a very, VERY good year of basketball. The Michigan guard is shooting 39.2% from 3-point range, and he’s one of only 11 players in the game averaging more than 7 assists per night.
Also: He tends to make plays like this.
This is him running full speed up court, then doing the Maverick-in-Top-Gun thing and letting the defender fly by.
This is him blowing by the Northwestern defender.
This is him finishing with his off hand over a much taller player and drawing the foul.
Thank you, Trey Burke. Thank you for making Big 10 basketball at least 38% more watchable this season.
2. VCU’s Troy Daniels
You remember the story of VCU. You remember Shaka Smart, and their incredible run to the Final Four in 2011. But you won’t remember Troy Daniels — now a senior on this VCU team. Why? Because in Daniels’ first — and only — start of that 2010-11 season, he broke his foot. He missed all of March.
But Daniels is back, and he’s one of college basketball’s best three point shooters. On Jan. 2 this year, against East Tennessee State, Troy Daniels scored 33 points — with every point coming from behind the arc.
And that’s not at all unusual for Daniels. This year, he’s shot 153 3s — and he’s made 44.4% of them. Meanwhile, he’s only shot 19 times from inside the arc, and only 5 free throws. Screw balance. Forget about the paint. Just keep shooting from deep.
3. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo
He used to be a glue guy for Indiana. Now he’s perhaps the best euphoniously-named player on a good team since West Virginia’s Kevin Pittsnogle. He’s excellent on the defensive end, and his shooting has been outstanding — 72% from 2, and 47.8% from 3.
4. Kansas’ Bill Self
Bill Self has more Big 12 titles (8) than home losses (7) at Kansas. Think about that.— Fran Fraschilla
I have been, Fran. And I still cannot comprehend it.
5. Mizzou’s Stefan Jankovic
Stefan Jankovic was born in Serbia. Raised in Canada. Schooled in West Virginia. And now, he’s brought his game — and particularly, his Drago-esque facial expressions — to mid-Missouri.
He even brings it when he’s sitting on the bench. Well played, Stefan.
6. Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung
Pierce Hornung is a 6’5”, 210 lb. senior for Colorado State. He plays small forward. He is not particularly big for his position. Some schools have point guards bigger than him.
But here’s what I love: Pierce is averaging 10.2 rebounds per game so far this season. Statistically, he’s among the 15 best rebounders in all of college basketball.
Most years, the Best Random White Guy From Out West Who You Rarely See Play is a scorer (your Adam Morrisons, your Jimmer Fredettes). This year, we’ve got a guy who grabs a lot of rebounds.
Also, a guy who occasionally makes hustle plays like this:
Nicely done, young man.
7. Duke’s Crazy Towel Guy
You won’t see Crazy Towel Guy on ESPN. You’ll never see him standing next to Dick Vitale.
And yet: Every Duke men’s basketball game, during a first half TV timeout, a few thousand Cameron Crazies go especially crazy for a dude waving a white towel. He is literally just a guy who waves a towel, and people chant his name.
The tradition of Crazy Towel Guy is strange and amateurish and semi-nonsensical and very badass. I don’t know exactly why I like it, but I kind of do.
Crazy Towel Guy is college basketball, and college basketball is Crazy Towel Guy.