I've always said that, if James Naismith had been around seventy or so years earlier, that Abraham Lincoln, born 204 years ago today, would have been a basketball phenom.
Lincoln was 6'4", tied with Lyndon Johnson for tallest US President in history, and he lived at a time when the average adult man was only 5'7". He was an expert wrestler, an unstoppable handball player, and could allegedly triple jump 40 feet. Imagine Chris Bosh in a stovepipe hat, and you'll begin to imagine the imposing figure Abraham Lincoln was during his time as American statesman and visionary. The 16th President of the United States was also a prolific public speaker, and one of the most often-quoted Americans. And with Pac-12 basketball regular season sprinting to the finish, the confluence of the two subjects was inevitable. So this week's question for discussion is: If Abraham Lincoln was asked to sum up each Pac-12 basketball team, what would he say?
I'm sorry for choosing such an obvious topic this week, it won't happen again. Next week I'll write about sea turtles, robots, and Tony Woods, or something.
Stanford - "The Lord prefers common-looking people. This is why he made so many of them."
Stanford basketball is an Impressionist painting; pleasing to the eyes, wholly unremarkable, and ridiculed and envied at the same time. There has been a never-ending supply of the same key parts on every Stanford team since forever; scrappy point guard that is always better at hoops than he looks, is good for one backbreaking three a week, and seems to play for the Cardinal for nine or ten years - I swear, Chris Hernandez was on the Cardinal when I was 8, and he was still there when I was a sophomore in college. Vampires, the lot of them. Throw in at least one big white guy that's a good passer and has a decent outside shot, a couple fringe NBA-talent guys, and one lanky small forward with an Afro, and you've got a Stanford basketball team. And when one graduates, another jumps in to take their place. After the robots rise up against us, they will be ultimately undone by their inability to deplete the world's supply of Stanford basketball players.
UCLA - "You have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."
At the beginning of December, UCLA sat at 5-3. They had lost to Cal Poly, and needed overtime to beat UC-Irvine. 2011-12 was a mess of a season, and Ben Howland's job was disappearing fast. But the team grew up, in a hurry; non-conference wins over Texas and Missouri were part of a ten-game winning streak. With wins last week over the Washington schools, UCLA moved into a tie atop the Pac-12 standings. My theory: Reeves Nelson sucks even more than we previously thought, and his leaving the UCLA program looked a lot like how the pridelands magically regrew grass and antelope after the hyenas killedScar and Simba took the throne.
Oregon - "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
The Ducks were one of many out-of-nowhere stories in college basketball this year, and much of their success this year has been under-the-radar; it wasn't until January 14th, after the sweep of the Arizona schools that took their record to 14-2, that the Ducks found themselves ranked. Two weeks later, Oregon was a top-10 team for the first time since 2007. What happened next? Three losses, and an ugly grinder of a win over Utah. Oregon is competing for the Pac-12 title and a high NCAA tournament seeding. Will they start playing like it?
Colorado - "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
No Pac-12 team is more befuddling than the Buffaloes in 2013. The 2012 Pac-12 tourney champs, a team that hung around with a very good Baylor team in Round 2 of the NCAA tournamant, came into this season mostly intact, and looking like a title contender. But this team is maddeningly inconsistant. Win over Baylor? Lose to Wyoming. Three game conference winning streak? Loss to Utah. The Buffs sit at 6-5 in Pac-12 play, with games against the Arizonas and Oregons, and a trip to the Bay Area still to go. This team has the talent to win out, but will they get in their own way?
Oregon State - "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle."
Here's the question: will Oregon State fire Craig Robinson while his brother-in-law holds the nuclear launch codes? There is no reason a team with the talent Oregon State has should be 2-9 in conference play. The Beavers have only lost one game by more than ten points. So they're competitive. But they aren't winning. That must be frustrating.
Utah - "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on."
Utah is not very good. But dammit, they keep trying. And that's...something.
Arizona - "No matter how much the cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens."
Arizona is very good at basketball. That has nothing to do with this quote. The quote is merely an excuse to plant the thought of Wilber and Wilma Wildcat having angry, depraved, post-fight makeup sex on the scorer's table of the McKale Center. Blood. Fur. Yowling. And then cigarettes.
USC - "I am not concerned that you have fallen - I am concerned that you arise."
Since firing Kevin O' Neill, the Trojans are 4-3, with two of those three losses being a two-point loss to Oregon, and an overtime loss to Arizona State. USC heads to the Bay Area next, but the Trojans have the talent to be a scary opening game in the Pac-12 tournament for any team.
Washington State - "You can not help people permanently by doing for them what they could, and should, do for themselves."
You hear that, Brock Motum? You're having a big time season; 18 points and 6.5 rebounds per game is nothing to scoff at. But the rest of the team is only averaging 45 points! They weren't learn how to score if you keep doing it for them! How selfish.
Arizona State - "A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have."
The Sun Devils, who currently sit only a game behind Oregon in the Pac-12 standings, play both Arizona and UCLA in the final two weeks of the regular season; wins over both teams would provide a much-needed boost to Oregon's chances at holding on to the conference regular-season title. Herb Sendek's team has been one of the best defensive squads in the conference, and freshman Jahii Carson is a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.
California - "I fully appreciate the peril the country is in, and the weight of the responsibility is on me."
For Allen Crabbe, who somehow manages to average twenty points a game despite seemingly disappearing for long stretches during games. He's always been regarded as an NBA-caliber talent, but he's possibly the quietest on-court superstar I can remember. I've never been worried about Allen Crabbe flipping a switch and taking over a game, but he still manages to get his points - double digits in all but one game this year. At the end of a game, I'm far more concerned with Justin Cobbs, but the Golden Bears would be nothing without Allen Crabbe.
washington - "A tendency to melancholy...is a misfortune, not a fault"
I would call losing six of the last seven a "tendency to melancholy". But as Oregon heads to Seattle for a Wednesday night tilt, we must remember that this is a talented team, not a faulty one. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, we must be cautious. And to quote Matt Daddy, fuck the huskies.