Friendly advice on a philosophy of watching college basketball from a Kansas grad:
Despite being a Michigan fan through-and-through, I attended KU as an undergrad. Why am I telling you this? Well, Mr. Spanish Inquisition, I am telling you this because it was while attending KU that I learned important lessons about following college basketball, lessons that I list below (and that you can of course take or leave). I've meant to post this at some point, and now seems as good a time as any given last night.
A quick note about KU: KU can lay claim to being the Michigan of college basketball. KU’s first coach, for example, was Dr. James Naismith himself, who course invented the game after the indoor dachshund fights that he had organized for his students led to the loss of a number of fingers and eyes. Kansas can also lay claim to Forrest “Phog” Allen (the father of basketball coaching), Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, and William S. Burroughs (the "Gentleman Junkie Jumpshooter"). More, KU has more than 2,000 college basketball victories, consistently dominates the Big 12 (and the Big 8 prior to that), has three national championships and numerous Final Fours to its name, and…you get the idea.
Naismith, moments before realizing that his over-sized ball fit into his basket:
KU fans have understandably high expectations for their team, and this is where the important point is for us: Hardcore Kansas fans are a largely joyless and unhappy bunch. The theory of hedonic adaptation posits (this is the short version) that humans will return to a certain baseline of happiness regardless of their circumstances, and, though hedonic adaptation is not universally recognized as a psychological reality, Jayhawk fans certainly seem exhibit it. They find little happiness in victories – even when those victories are in games that clinch a regular season conference championship or a conference tournament championship. These victories, after all, are expected. They happen most years. Kansas fans are accustomed to them, and what excitement is there in the status quo? The Kansas fan finds little to enjoy in the humdrum realities of simple excellence. Why should we clap when the sun comes up? It comes up every day.
KU fans suffer terribly, though, with almost any loss. Given that KU is supposed to win, it can only be the team’s own failures, the refs, or some cruel trickster god that could cause them to lose. Rarely is an opponent acknowledged as being better than the Jayhawks, and this leads to much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth among Kansas fans. Lose to Oklahoma State at home? How did that happen! Lose to Oklahoma? WTF – is this 1988? Lose to TCU? Is “TCU” even a thing?! These lows are rare, but they sting far more than the victories soothe, and they often last for the whole offseason. “There’s no success like failure,” Bob Dylan sang, “and failure is no success at all.”
Here is where my friendly advice comes to you, my fellow Michigan fans: Do not be like a Kansas fan. Think of every un-played game as a loss (it is, after all, not yet a win). Every game and every play must be won anew, and there is no guarantee at all that Michigan will win any of them. Remember that only five or six years ago Michigan was in the middle of a season that would see them lose to Harvard, Western Kentucky, and Central Michigan, all while winning only six Big Ten games. Remember that every team is like a snail walking on the edge of a straight razor, its destruction possible in any number of ways and its success possible in only a small few.
See this man for more on snails on straight razors:
Further, and for the love of all things holy, do not ever expect your team to make it to the Final Four. In 1996, Kansas fielded a 34-2 team that included Jacque Vaughn (2x consensus All-American), Raef Lafrentz (2x consensus All-American), and Paul Pierce (1x consensus All-American – and also Paul freakin’ Pierce). They promptly lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas then went 35-4 the next year but lost in the second round to Rhode Island. Rhode Island! The tournament is chaos, and you cannot expect anything of chaos. Not even a juggernaut can expect safe sailing.
I imagine that someone will say, “We should expect nothing less than championships from Michigan, or we’ll never get them.” To this I say that we as fans don’t have to have those expectations. The players and coaches do, but we as fans are doing our part so long as we show up to all of the games and yell really loudly. No one will know it if we roll with the punches and savor even victories over the Penn States of the world.
I am not trying to comment here on the status of the Michigan basketball program or make any predictions about it. I am, though, encouraging Wolverine fans not to get caught up in Kansas Fan Syndrome, where success and the expectations that come with it lead to almost nothing but misery. Relish every win or even good play if you can and consider any defeat to be only a return to the likely state of things. Don’t suffer the pain of having your expectations torn down – instead have no expectations.
I should say one more time that I offer this as friendly advice (and I also don’t mean to imply that I’m always able to follow my own advice). And if you don’t find this helpful, well…that’s cool, man. Here are some of Naismith’s fighting dachshunds for your troubles: