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Nightmare of the Rankings

December 17, 2003 Columns No Comments

Nightmare Before Christmas

by Joaquin Mesa

Far from now, when my grandson awakes from a nightmare on a stormy night and asks me why life has to be so unfair, why we die, why there is such a word as sadness, I will take a deep breath, stroke his hair and begin to tell him the history of college sports. I will share with him the pain of Oregon’s football team not getting a chance to play in the national title game in 2002, having to settle for a Fiesta game against the team that crushed the team that got a chance to play for that elusive national championship. I will tell him of the excruciating shots made by Christian Laettner, Tyus Edney and Michael Jordan. I will excuse Bob Knight, Bill Walton and Dick Vitale, and imitate Chick Hearn so that he will know what a real basketball play-by-play announcer sounds like. USC was so lucky to have him for the short while that they did. If he asks about color commentary, I will refer him to anybody but Billy Packer. Thank you Matt Jones. I will share the pain of the split national championship, the insanity of the years before Title IX, and the evil that is the amateur athletic booster.

“See sonny, life is very complicated. Often, things happen that people will never understand.”

“But why grandpa?”

“Well, sometimes there is no clear answer. Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, in December of 2003 actually, there was a college basketball team that had once been ranked number one in both pre-season polls. This team was the Connecticut Huskies. They were a dominant team, a team that boasted a monster on the inside, a tiger on the outside, and brought with them the hopes of the Northeastern areas of the United States of America.”

“Did they have Shaq?”


“Did they have Duncan or Ewing?”


“Who was the monster grandpa?”

“Emeka Okafor.”


“You know, Emeka Okafor. He was a great CBA player, also he played in Europe.”


“Now let grandpa finish. This team played well, and they had just beaten three great teams.”

“Which teams grandpa? Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona?”


“Stanford, Texas and Oklahoma?”

“No grandson.”

“Who then?”

“Lehigh, Army and Quinnipiac.”


“See, Connecticut had lost an early game to Georgia Tech, a team that was undefeated and had followed their win over then number one Connecticut with a win over Bob Knight’s Texas Tech Raiders. This dropped Connecticut from the top spot in the polls, and that made the Northeast very sad. Connecticut had to battle back from adversity, and they crushed Utah the very next game. Then, with fury in their eyes, they slayed a mighty Lehigh team, the very same team that had lost narrowly to Sacred Heart.”

“Sacred Heart is good grandpa.”

“I know sonny. Next came Army, a team that had the will of a nation behind them.”

“What happened, what happened?”

“Well, the monster Okafor blocked ten shots and the military men couldn’t amass a single player in double figure scoring.”

“Wow, and they know how to harass third world countries, bomb weddings and find unruly dictators in holes in less then a year.”

“Connecticut had proven their abilities, but a tough Quinnipiac squad stood in front of them. Quinnipiac had beaten one of the oldest schools in the country, Dartmouth. Had it not been for a snowstorm, they would have probably beaten Central Connecticut State, and that’s just a hop skip and a jump from UConn. Connecticut was in for a ride, and they were prepared.”

“What happened?”

“Well, Okafor had come down with a bad case of back spasms, made famous by little girls in AYSO soccer games. It was a real problem in the 10 to 13 age group, remember? Anyway, UConn has to rely on the tiger on the outside, Ben Gordon, and his eight three pointers lifted the Huskies over a dangerous Bobcat team. Now, all the Huskies had to do was wait for the pollsters to name them number one again, reclaiming the spot they had lost only a few weeks earlier because of a meaningless loss to a Georgia Tech team that had since proven nothing with weak wins over Texas Tech, Ohio State, Tennessee State and Saint Louis.”

“Did they do it grandpa?”

“Almost sonny. See, the Associated Press put them at number one, edging undefeated Kentucky, but the USA Today/ESPN people put them at number two behind the very same team.”

“But how could they do that after such impressive wins? Who did Kentucky beat?”

“UCLA and Michigan State. Can you believe that? Those two teams are nothing compared to Army and Lehigh. It was a tragedy. People in Connecticut were stunned. It was declared a national day of mourning by those in charge of the East Coast Bias League.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, college basketball decided to institute a ranking system similar to college football. They would take the New York Times poll, the Chicago Reader poll, the Connecticut Post poll, the Hartford Advocate poll, the New Britain Herald poll and the West Hartford News poll and average them out to determine the number one team in America.”

“Did it work out grandpa?”

“Well, for a few season it did. Connecticut was ranked number one from 2000-2006. Then, after Arizona won the March tournament in 2007, the polls determined that Fairleigh Dickinson was the national champion. That’s when the NCAA decided to remove the New York Times form the polling equation. It was very controversial, but necessary. So, you see grandson, sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes a team that deserves to be number one isn’t always allowed to take its rightful place in history. This is a metaphor for life.”

“Life is a b…”

“Hey, don’t bring your grandmother into this. Now go back to bed son, everything will be okay in the morning”

I will tuck the little tyke back in, turn off the light in his room and leave a little crack in the door so that he knows that he is safe. I am glad to have a grandson who is just as sarcastic as me.

Closing Remark

Connecticut should have to prove itself to receive the number one ranking. Kentucky, Georgia Tech, North Carolina or even Oklahoma have all done this. They deserve the top spot more then UConn. Now go to bed everyone, everything will be alright in the morning.

Note: The No. 3 (Hoopville Top 25) UConn Huskies face Iona this Saturday.


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