Frank Stranzl

Just 128 more days until March Madness begins! Heck yes!

There is no sport I love to watch more than college basketball. Time-tested rivalry and tradition combined with team-oriented strategy and an emphasis on fundamentals makes the college brand of basketball the better brand of basketball.

While NBA highlight reels are fun to watch, the professional game is too much freelancing for me.

Poor shot selection and the concept of five individuals wearing the same jersey rather than a team of five, among other reasons, has tainted the flavor of what is supposed to be the highest level of basketball.

And, of course, nothing comes close to the storyline that is March Madness, the 65-team end of the season single elimination championship tournament. Fairy tale endings, Cinderella stories, upset specials and one month of the best brand of basketball, that’s what March Madness is all about.

I still remember watching the Stanford-Kentucky 1998 Final Four game. It was one of the most amazing games I’ve ever seen, and put me into a temporary state of depression.

Sad as it may be, I can remember Stanford’s starting five that year: Art Lee played the point and was nails on the free-throw line. Kris Weems trickled down treys at shooting guard. Pete Sauer and his afro-ish curly hair could do it all at small forward, the tenacious Mark Madsen banged the boards at power forward and Tim Young, a soft but crafty center, loved to set up at the high post and hit turn-around jumpers.

That Cardinal fell in 86-85 overtime to Kentucky. I think I cried that day.

Unfortunately I was a bit short of the 1500-plus SAT scores required for admission to Stanford (and didn’t get straight-A’s in high school) so my dreams of being a member of their infamous “Sixth man” would never come true.

Instead I’m at Cal Poly, watching games with the scantily filled bleachers at Mott Gym.

There are times I wish I had opted for the University of Texas (the Longhorns) over Cal Poly. In case you didn’t know, U of T has one of the top athletic programs in the nation, which includes a perennially top 25 ranked men’s basketball team.

I could be sitting courtside watching a top 25 caliber basketball team.

The only thing Cal Poly men’s basketball team had in common with the top 25 last year was the numbers “2” and “5” – they had 22 losses and five wins.

OK, so maybe I’m being a bit hard on the team. The season was doomed from the beginning. From the academic ineligibility woes of Kameron Gray, who would’ve been the Mustangs’ top returnee, to the lack of a low post threat, the team didn’t stand much of a chance from day one.

On the bright side, there is only one direction to go once you’ve reached the bottom. That’s right, the team has to improve.

The Mustangs have just one returning starter from last year’s squad, Dawin Whiten.

For those of you thinking, “Well, they lost four starters from a team that only won five games, aren’t they going to be worse this season?” There’s no chance this year’s team can be as bad as last year’s.

If anything, losing four players, starters or not, is a positive. It’s a blessing in disguise that this team can start the year with a clean slate.

I realize there’s only so much a 5-22 team can improve from one season to the next (unless you’re Cal Poly’s volleyball team), but this year, by default, has to be better, right?

You can’t determine this team’s success based on its exhibition games (My high school team could’ve played with Maritime Academy). But newcomers Gabe Stephenson, Titus Shelton, Derek Stockalper, Clayton Osborn and Coby “The Levitator” Leavitt will put this program back on track.

Though this year’s team probably won’t quench my thirst for top-notch college basketball, the team might be worth watching and could possibly surprise a few opponents.

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