What worries me about college basketball

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Reaction to 107-77 win over Savannah State/
Tom Groeschen

The appeal of early-season games in college basketball is. . . is. . .

For sadists, it’s a chance to see wings picked from flies.

For purists, it’s a chance to see if Johnny 3-Star (or 4-) can do more than jump outta the gym and dunk a hole in the rim. Maybe he can play a little basketball, too.

For coaches, it’s a real-time laboratory, with mice from Savannah State. (No disrespect to Savannah State, but you know what I’m saying.) UC mixed and matched players Monday v. Western Carolina. (From Cullowhee, absolutely beautiful place.)

For high-rolling boosters and well-heeled fans, it’s a trip to the Cayman Islands. (Do they still have the Great Alaska Shootout? Why? I covered it once, in ’87. Interesting. Beautiful. Dark. Cold.)

Oh, sure. There are good games. Xavier at Wisconsin Thursday, UK-Kansas. But it’s so early in the year, it’s hard to say what a W (or L) really means.

Related: Crosstown Podcast, Episode 2.

Some of us start watching the NBA June 1. We’re casual fans. Casual? We couldn’t name you 3 Indiana Pacers. Edmond Sumner and Edmond Sumner and. . .

Because I enjoy quasi-am hoops, I worry about its health. This season is stuffed with off-court sleaze that won’t end anytime soon. The FBI doesn’t schedule its indictments around Big Monday. Bagmen, corrupt assistant coaches, head coaches staring nervously at their cell phones. Rick Pitino.

And a governing body that becomes less effective and more hypocritical every day. The sport has to be great, to keep rising above the garbage that surrounds it.

Add that to the fact that the tournament is too good for its own good. You could liken it to NFL games on TV. The Madness is fulfilling to the point that even Carolina-Duke on a Saturday in February appeals almost entirely to fan bases and full-on junkies.

I’d rather watch a quasi-am basketball blowout than another Bengals game. And I think it’s interesting to follow how a team improves (or not) throughout a season. That’s coaching, and it’s easy to notice.

But that’s just me. I’m in the minority.

So, today’s essential question, Mobsters: How much does college hoops interest you, generally, beyond following your own team? Has the tournament detracted from the regular season to the extent that the college game has become a 3-week March passion?

What if somehow all Madness wagering were outlawed? If a sport falls on the hardwood and nobody hears it, is it still a sport?

Now, then. . .

JEREMY HILL ENDS HIS OWN SEASON. And very likely his career as a Bengal. Our guy Jim-O reported Hill’s strange departure from the Men:

“Jeremy thinks he needs to have ankle surgery,” Lewis said Monday. “Yeah, I think I would be (surprised). I think he’s consulted a couple physicians, both said that this was something that could wait until after the season but he just felt like it was causing too much discomfort.”

Hill said he had been dealing with the ankle problem for some time, but he had never appeared on an injury report.

Lewis, on the other hand, wasn’t as sure about that.

“I don’t think he had any instance of (a problem) since this August when he rolled his ankle in training camp, or whatever it was, training camp or warmups in a game — I can’t remember what it was,” Lewis said. “One of those times in the preseason. But that’s the only instance he’s had this fall.”

What?

Lewis’ disdain for all things injury is well known. If you’re not playing, you’re nowhere in his thoughts. He couldn’t recall when his starting RB rolled his ankle. Preseason sometime. Possibly.

Docs independent of the team told Hill surgery could wait. He said no, as a matter of fact, it couldn’t. I didn’t know players were allowed to make their own calls on stuff like this.

So what gives?

I’m not one to question a football player’s injury. It’s a brutal job. This just strikes me as a bit strange.

SPEAKING OF RBs. . . Giovani Bernard has gotten lost in the mix. Has Mixon been so good as to make Gio a forgotten man? Better yards per carry, better yards per catch. Has 45 touches this year. Five a game.

It doesn’t appear that his repaired ACL has cost him any speed or quickness. Then again, he plays so infrequently it’s hard to tell. Mixon is right at 3 yds a carry. Anybody can do that. Even behind a bad line.

When Hill was in the Mixon role, Gio got a decent amount of work. I know The Men aren’t exactly dominating possession-time stats. But c’mon. Seems to me Gio is being wasted.

THE MEN RANK 30TH in turnover margin, at minus-9. The two below them? Their next two opponents, Denver and the Browns.

HOW DO THE REDS COMPETE WITH THIS? Will Leitch at sportsonearth says Looie is the frontrunner for Giancarlo Stanton.

This is depressing on a few levels. If the Reds’ ultimate goal is to find 1st place again, it’s not just about passing the Pirates and Brewers. That’s a fair fight. It’s always going to be about being better than St. Louis and the Cubs. The Reds have been unable to match Looie’s organizational smarts. Few teams have. And they’ll never match Chicago’s wallet.

All the shrewdness in the world can’t compete with a checkbook. When you combine the checkbook with an ability to spot and develop talent, well. . .

Stanton makes more than exorbitant money, and what the Cards would have to give up would make the Future Is Now more than a concept. The point is, they have the wherewithal to even consider it. The Reds have to play that wherewithal 19 times a year. They have to be better than that wherewithal.

Thank goodness for wildcards, lightning in bottles and fireworks every Friday night.

WHAT’S WITH BEER PRICES? Anyone else getting a little twitchy? Johnny Thinwallet makes his routine trip to Jungle Jim’s, and he can’t find a decent quaff for less than $9.99/six. (Other than the great Keystone Light, currently trading at $14.99 a 30-pack. Sublime.)

Since when is beer a high-end purchase? I recall not that long ago paying $8.99 for six Great Lakes Xmas Ales and feeling like I needed to sell some blood.

Now, it’s what? $11.99? $12.99? Is that because the cost of ingredients has skyrocketed? Or because demand is that much greater?

Why should we have to pay $2 for a bottle of beer?

The argument is, you’d pay $6 at a bar. OK, but that’s a night out, an extra. At an establishment, I’m paying for lots of stuff other than beer: Salaries, utilities, rent, clean bathrooms. Having a decent barley at home is, you know, living.

Anybody else a little agitated about $12.99 sixers?

ALONG THOSE LINES. . . Chris and the other good people at JJ’s Eastgate’s cigar department have intro’d me to some great smokes over the years. The best remains CAO Brazilia Lambada, a fabulous cigar that comes in at a reasonable $5.79 per. The best value is a $2.79 stick made by My Father. If you like cigars that don’t annihilate your wallet, TML sez ckout My Father Tabacos Baez, Serie SF.

TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . I just really like this tune, OK? The tinkly country piano on the extended version is very nice. Don’t judge, people.

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