Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome, written about here by Gerry, is a terrible affliction with which we here at Batter's Box are all too familiar. The cures, sadly, tend to wear thin and provide only temporary relief. I have flirted with all manner of substitute addictions in my attempts to find one that will stick: academics, hockey, politics, the Olympics, literature, the NBA, Jack Bauer, theatre, Cuban rum... nothing worked. What do Americans do to prevent the rabies-like, Trainspotting-style withdrawal lunacy that I am on the brink of confronting? How do they stave off the November, December, January, February and March madness? By staring the beast down and - much like naming your new dog after your old girlfriend - calling the cure March Madness!
Here at Superfluous U, you will be brought up to date on the favourite Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome cure of our glamourous, colourful and honourable neighbours to the south: college hoops. Not only that, this is the primer specifically for Jays fans and other Canadians.
Before getting into which teams that we should consider rooting for at this crucial time in the season, there are some preliminary points to be made:
You can already feel the Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome melting away, eh? In order to fully derive the curative benefits of college hoops, it is absolutely essential that one forms a rooting interest in one team or another. With conference tournaments only two weeks away (and March Madness to follow), we will take a look at a vast array of choices for Jays fans and other Canadians.
Of course, you do not need help choosing a team to root for if you, like many Canadians, either already have a favourite, have attended a Division I school in the past, or are an illegitimate offspring of Kansas alum Wilt Chamberlain.
For the rest of us, here are some bases upon which we can initiate new rooting interests.
There really is only one choice here, the Creighton Bluejays. The Bluejays are 18-7, including 11-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Despite losing senior guard Nate Funk (17.0 ppg) to injury only six games into the season, Creighton appears to be in good stead regarding a Tournament berth. The MVC is particularly strong this season and could potentially get more teams (four) into the Tournament than some traditional power conferences, particularly the Pac Ten and Big Twelve.
For Atlantic Canadians, the geography-based choice is clear: the Boston College Eagles. In their first season in the ACC (they moved over from the Big East at the end of last season), the Eagles (7-4 in conference play) are battling North Carolina State for second place behind Duke. Ranked #18 in the AP poll and #15 in the coach's poll, Craig Smith, Jared Dudley and company will try to avenge last year's disappointing second round Tournament upset loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Fredericton, NB to Chestnut Hill, MA: 699 KM.
The Connecticut Huskies, sitting atop the best conference in the nation (the Big East) and indeed the nation itself, are poised to garner a #1 seed in the Tournament barring a complete collapse in late February. Huskies' forward Rudy Gay may be one of the best players in the country outside of likely Co-Players of the Year Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) and J.J. Redick (Duke). UConn has a deep bench, headed by dynamic sixth-man and Torontonian Denham Brown. Montreal, QC to Storrs, CT: 575 KM.
The Michigan State Spartans are ranked 16th in the country and are likely headed for an at-large bid to the Tournament. The Spartans' quartet of capable scorers - Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager, Drew Neitzel and Paul Davis - should be able to provide ample offence for a run at the Big Ten title in late February. Though currently tied for fourth, the Spartans have at least one remaining game with each of the four teams that they either trail or are tied with in the Big Ten. Toronto, ON to East Lansing, MI: 474 KM.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are languishing near the bottom of the Big Ten and have virtually no hope of making the Tournament, save for sort of miracle on par with me making the Canadian curling team for the 2010 Olympics*. There have been some satisfying moments for the Gophers, though, such as Saturday's 69-55 upset victory over nationally ranked Michigan State. Winnipeg, MB to Minneapolis, MN: 733 KM.
*Given my physique, curling remains my best shot at the Olympic team despite the fact that I have never curled before.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, currently ranked fifth in the nation, have relied heavily on high-scoring/pre-pubescent-moustache-wearing Adam Morrison. Morrison has averaged 28.8 points per game and, according to hoops stats guru Ken Pomeroy, accounts for 36.7% of the Bulldogs' shots while he is on the floor (he ranks tenth, nationally, in this ball-hogging category). Gonzaga is 10-0 in West Coast Conference play and will be looking for a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Though the WCC is relatively weak, Gonzaga boasts non-conference wins against traditional powers Maryland, Michigan St., Oklahoma St. and Stanford. Calgary, AB to Spokane, WA: 717 KM.
The Washington Huskies are 2.5 games out of the Pac Ten lead with six conference games remaining, which would be less troubling if did they not trail four teams (UCLA, California, Stanford, Arizona). Barring a run to the conference championship, the Huskies are probably looking at a middling Tournament berth: ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi currently has them as a #9 seed. Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA: 226 KM.
Relations (non-Clintonian definition)
Bobby Frasor, a guard with the North Carolina Tar Heels is averaging 4.6 assists per game and single-handedly defeated Miami on Sunday night with some clutch shooting late in the game. Why should we care? He is Jays' reliever Jason Frasor's cousin, that's why. 23rd in the nation and 4th in the Atlantic Coast Conference, North Carolina is Tournament-bound.
The Jays have had two players with Division I basketball experience. Dave Winfield was the goldenest of Gophers at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970's (see Prairies, above). The other is Danny Ainge, who starred at Brigham Young - a Mormon University in Utah - and won the John R. Wooden Award as collegiate player of the year in 1981. This season, the BYU Cougers are 15-7 and unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. They do, however, lead the Mountain West Conference in wives per player.
Current Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield was a two-sport star (baseball and basketball) for the University of Maine in the mid-1970s. The Maine Black Bears are currently in eighth place in the America East Conference.
Though there are no Ainges (thankfully) or Winfields (sadly) on the current Jays roster, many of the players have attended Division I schools.
Player Alma Mater Conference Record S. Downs Kentucky Southeastern 15-9 J. Frasor Southern Illinois Missouri Valley 18-7 S. Marcum Missouri St. Missouri Valley 16-7 S. Schoeneweis Duke Atlantic Coast 23-1 J. Speier Nicholls St. Southland 8-14 P. Walker Connecticut Big East 22-2 R. Adams North Carolina Atlantic Coast 15-6 T. Glaus UCLA Pac Ten 20-5 A. Hill LSU Southeastern 16-7 E. Hinske Arkansas Southeastern 16-7 J. McDonald Providence Big East 11-10 L. Overbay Nevada Western Athletic 19-5 J-F. Griffin Florida St. Atlantic Coast 15-6 R. Johnson Cal. St. Fullerton Big West 11-10
Schoeneweis, Walker, Glaus and Hill all have legitimate shots at having a significant rooting interest in this year's Final Four. Downs, Frasor, Marcum, Adams, Hinske and Overbay will likely be interested in the Tournament, though perhaps not beyond the first two rounds.
There are ten Canadians getting "starter's minutes" (twenty or more per game) with teams in either major or mid-major conferences.
Player Team Conference Hometown A. Atuahene Arizona St. Pac Ten Mississauga, ON J. Balderson BYU Mountain West Magrath, AB D. Brown Connecticut Big East Toronto, ON J. Anderson Fordham Atlantic Ten Toronto, ON P.M. A-Cespedes Gonzaga West Coast Montreal, QC S. Thomas Kentucky Southeastern Montreal, QC M. Hachad Northwestern Big Ten Montreal, QC L. Kendall Pittsburgh Big East Vancouver, BC J. Bucknor Richmond Atlantic Ten Edmonton, AB M. Pompey Texas A&M Big Twelve Toronto, ON
Some interesting options there, with Connecticut, Gonzaga and Pittsburgh currently sitting in the AP top 25 (1, 5 and 9, respectively).
If Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome has not completely incapacitated you, if you can still read this, I implore you to avail yourself of this BWS cure. I have taken it myself and it seems to be working. Pick a team, any team. This is the only thing standing between you and severe mental distress. If you, my fellow Jays fan, Canadian and/or BWS sufferer, learn only one thing from Superfluous U, let it be that you must confront the beast and turn your madness in March into March Madness!
Please be honourable by spreading the teachings of Superfluous U to your favourite neighbours.