So the mantle of the top college hoops team in the land has changed hands again. Nothing surprising there--except, maybe, for the fact that it changed hands in Anaheim--since the mantle comes with a 72-hour warranty and after that you're on your own.
That final score again:
Smart Guys 81, Team Thick As A Brick 75.
That was how the opening game of Saturday's John R. Wooden Classic doubleheader was billed, wasn't it?
Kansas, the team with "the backcourt with the highest grade-point average in America," according to Coach Roy Williams, the program that had received the John R. Wooden seal of approval for playing the best team basketball in the country, against Skip-Class UMass, the team reputed to own six GPAs lower than the ERA of Greg Maddux, including one curve-buster of 0.75, which must mean the student-athlete in question passed Breathing 101 and nothing else.
Along the corridors of academia, these are supposedly very minute men. UMass Coach John Calipari has been fending off the body blows for weeks, but as if to reinforce the image, The Pond scoreboard, located mere feet above the UMass bench, displayed a trailer for the new Jim Carrey movie late in the first half.
"Dumb And Dumber" is the movie's title.
Kansas beat UMass by six points in this one, so, according to the formula, Kansas out-thought UMass.
"Our team got beat and outcoached," Calipari said, hammering the stereotype over the head a little harder.
"They milked the lob play. Roy Williams is a great coach and he knew our kids couldn't make the adjustments, so he kept going to it."
Outside the Jayhawk dressing room, Williams praised--what else?--the thought processes of his starting guards, Jacque (No 'S,' Only One 'B' In Four Years Of High School) Vaughn and Jerod Haase, who spent his 1993-94 redshirt season in Lawrence amassing semester GPAs of 3.3 and 3.6.
"They must have the highest GPA of any backcourt in America," Williams said. "They're good kids to be around."
It's a simple plot line, but it falls apart just as easily.
If the Jayhawks are so smart, what were they doing turning the ball over 14 times in the first half, compared to five for the Minutemen?
And if the Jayhawks are more can-think than can-do, how does one explain the very UMassian lob-and-dunk game plan that had virtually everyone in the Kansas lineup hanging on the rim at one time or another, the 6-3 Haase included?
You don't beat the No. 1 team in the country if you have no game. The Jayhawks may relish their reputation as cerebral overachievers--amazing how many Top 20 teams they seem to sneak up on--but even the Wizard himself will admit that brain cells alone aren't what made Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton champions.
Wooden has said he admires the Jayhawks for "subordinating themselves for the welfare of the team," but there can be no subordinating the fact that this team features an All-American-caliber point guard in Vaughn, a formidable shot-blocker in center Greg Ostertag and the potential of starting a mountainous front line measuring 6-10, 7-2, 6-11 across.
"Pretty big team, huh?" Ostertag said.
Yes, and, as they say, that's tough to teach.
Kansas beat UMass primarily by utilizing the 7-2 Ostertag, his 6-10 backup Scot Pollard and 6-11 forward Raef LaFrentz to their fullest--by lobbing the ball inside and having them reach up slightly and either lay or slam the ball through the hoop.
Minuteman forward Lou Roe got his 33 points, but LaFrentz's 18, Pollard's 12 and Ostertag's 9 more than compensated.
"Our guys may not jump as high as UMass,' " Haase allowed, "but they're \o7 big guys\f7 . They're easy to lob to. They're large targets."
And Vaughn, who skimmed all over The Pond, passing off for 11 assists, scoring 14 points, may well have been the best player on the court.
"Wow," was how Ostertag described him. "Jacque's unbelievable. The way he sees the floor, how he dishes it out, who he dishes it out to, how he draws the foul when he needs it."
Ostertag went on and on, finally unable to resist: "He's very smart."
Here we go again.
"You can tell by the way he talks."
Someone asked Ostertag to provide an example.
Finally, a Kansas basketball player with a perplexed look on his face.
"I don't know how to say it," Ostertag answered. "He's floor smart, I guess. He just knows what to do in every key situation . . ."
Ostertag's voice trailed off, and he shrugged and laughed.
"I don't know," he said in summation.
Easier to answer was the No. 1 question. As in, if UMass became No. 1 after beating No. 1 Arkansas, shouldn't it follow that Kansas would do the same after beating No. 1 UMass?
"Naw," Ostertag said. "I couldn't care less. No. 1 doesn't mean anything right now. We're two games into the season. A lot is going to happen between now and April.
"You could be No. 1 all year, go 35-0 and lose in the Final Four and it means nothing. 'The No. 1 team in the country'--that could end at any time.
"We were there last year and our next game, we lost to Kansas State. No, we could be No. 7 all year and stay quite happy."
Look what happened to No. 1 on Dec. 3, Ostertag noted. And who could argue the point?
Smart team, Kansas.