The human condition is a fickle beast. While there’s absolutely no reason to choose in a situation that doesn’t call for A or B, we tend to do it anyway. Between ranking subjective things to sifting through the semantics of relatively unimportant moments in sports history, we can’t help ourselves — we’re obsessed with choosing one thing over another even if there is no reason to.
So here we are: Would you, as a college basketball fan, rather see the Harvard Crimson or Western Kentucky Hilltoppers become the mid-major who consistently battles near the top of the national hierarchy?
Obviously, we can want both, but that’s not a choice offered within the context of this column. Also, for those who do not follow the recruiting trail, this likely appears as though two random programs were plucked from the mid-major underworld to be compared and contrasted. I promise, that is not the case.
Western Kentucky landed Mitchell Robinson in June. He is a top-10 recruit in the 2017 recruiting class. This one commitment has given the Hilltoppers the nation’s 22nd-ranked class, according to 247Sports. Coupled with newly-employed head coach and ace recruiter Rick Stansbury, Robinson’s arrival means the idea of Western Kentucky dominating Conference USA and becoming a “Bluegrass Gonzaga” isn’t all that far-fetched.
Obviously, it is worth noting that Western Kentucky will need to do far more. One top-tier recruit does not make a program. Plus, Robinson has very real NBA Draft aspirations, and if everything goes according to plan, he can be a one-and-done player.
As for Harvard, this build has been coming for some time. The premier program in the Ivy League this decade — save for last season — the Crimson have the 24th-ranked 2016 recruiting class. It features two highly-regarded four-star prospects and more three-star players than one can shake a stick at.
There’s even more to the story of Harvard’s growth under Tommy Amaker. Although nothing is official, and by no means will it play out in the team’s favor, the Crimson are in the running for Wendell Carter, who is a top-five recruit in the 2017 class. Make no bones about this: Carter is sincerely considering the Crimson.
In reality, Amaker has Harvard much closer to becoming a (low) mid-major that is nationally relevant than Stansbury does at Western Kentucky — which makes total sense. The latter hasn’t even coached a game at his new stomping grounds.
However, what if a magical genie (are there any non-magic ones?) popped in front of the college basketball community to ask us all the question: If you can have only one, which of those two programs would you want to ascend to a patently absurd level of greatness on a yearly basis?
There is no correct answer to this question. (Remember, an answer is being forced upon you.) Moreover, there’s really not even enough context to make one want to fully embrace one over the other. Save for Harvard’s lauded academic standards and its somewhat new but still limited history of success, there’s very little to separate one program from the other.
That is, unless one wants to make this into a comparison of the rights and wrongs of college basketball. That pursuit is nearly always fruitless, since there’s no law which states that a player, coach or program has to be “morally good” to be worthy of success. Moral compasses are not needed in big-money college sports — just ask the dozens and dozens of successful programs regularly immersed in scandals.
Still, one might be tempted. Stansbury has some issues in his history that might make NCAA devotees weak in the knees. On the other hand, Harvard is Harvard, and many will ignore its own issues and instead focus on its academics to make it a white knight in the sport.
Which program would it be, reader? If you can pick only one of these mid-major darlings to ascend to the top of the sport, would you turn to New England and the Ivy League, or to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and C-USA? Sure, Harvard is far closer to elevated status, but Western Kentucky’s nickname is the Hilltoppers — imagine that being whispered on ESPN every day.
If the answer can’t be both, I’ll go with WKU. The chances for anarchy are much higher if Stansbury is able to turn the program into something special. If Harvard ends up being overwhelmingly successful, it’ll just be a nice story that will fully morph into “Duke of the North” comparisons.
Give me the anarchy … even if it’s only the mere idea of it.
Hilltoppers seem like better “Sons of Anarchy” than Ivy Leaguers, right?