Greetings all! It’s been a minute since I wrote an article [Ed. Note: Yes, yes it has been. - MNW] I haven’t really been watching much basketball this spring, except for Nebraska, and they didn’t play for... well, a lot of it. It’s also been a minute since I did a Power Poll, but for you, lovely readers, I’m back in the saddle.
There has been a lot of reminiscing lately, now that we’re a solid year into #pandemiclife, and while we’re all so very ready to get over it already, we’re not quite there yet. It’s strange that it’s been a year - as you probably recall, last year’s Big Ten tournament ended unceremoniously with Nebraska fielding some football players in basketball uniforms and Fred Hoiberg going to the hospital and then there not being any basketball for a long time.
But for good or ill, basketball was back this season, and so is the NCAA tournament - it’s not like that $$$ juggernaut was going to get canceled for the second year straight. Here’s hoping people are able to be safe during it, and that most of those at risk and involved were able to get vaccinated.
Anyway, on to my total buzzkill of a Power Poll—maybe I should have done something less overtly Covid-related. On the other hand, it would be cool if the next time I write a Power Poll, Covid is less of a timely topic. So on that happy thought, let’s get on with the pressing question: which face mask would my team be?
(No graphs because I f*cked up the spreadsheet, sorry! The world is an imperfect place.)
Illinois: Ye Olde Disposable Surgical Mask - #1
First place votes: 7
I admittedly haven’t watched a lot of basketball this season in which Nebraska wasn’t playing (which meant I didn’t watch any for an entire month), and the snippets I overhead from our Slack channel from Thump indicated to me that Illinois was garbage/awful/an embarrassment/etc. I also know that Nebraska forced them to overtime once, which isn’t a stellar sign for an opposing team. So imagine my surprise when I went to join the Off Tackle Empire Bracket Challenge (which you should also do!) and found that Illinois was… a #1 seed?
So Illinois is the now-ubiquitous blue surgical mask. Is it perfect? No. Is it often found in gutters and parking lots like garbage/Illinois (source: Thump)? Yes. But does it mostly do its job? Also yes. Maybe it’s best not to expect too much of this mask (they don’t fit very tightly, after all), but used appropriately, they can do a fine job. And so too, can the Illini.
Michigan: Clear Window Face Masks - #2
Do these look goofy? Yes. But are they also more useful than you might expect? Also yes. While masks are a necessary public health move in a pandemic, standard masks make things exponentially more difficult for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Not only do masks make it more difficult to hear what is being said, but they also take away the ability to read lips and take in facial cues.
So masks with “windows” serve a real purpose, even though they look very weird. While I’m not sure I can argue in good faith that Michigan also has an important purpose (let’s not get carried away here), they have been effective this season, and currently have a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. For a team that faced a lot of skepticism when it hired Juwan Howard in 2019, that’s a pretty good outcome.
Ohio State: F*ck Off Face Mask - #3
I can’t say this attitude is particularly nice to read on a face mask, but there are certainly times we all feel like yelling it. Turns out, it’s super un-fun to be in a global pandemic, and it’s made us all a little cranky.
Know what else makes us cranky? Ohio State being good at another sport. Do you know who is already too good at a lot of sports? Ohio State. Even their first-year volleyball coach has fielded a legitimately good team poised to haunt the Big Ten for years to come. The rich get richer. The poor things are only a #2 seed in the NCAA tourney though. Boo freaking hoo, am I right?
Iowa: Worn by FORCE Not by FEAR - #4
While I was getting my first shot last week (Moderna, 3/11, WOOHOO!!!) I saw a guy at the vaccination center wearing this mask. I was definitely impressed by what a rugged and manly individual he was, and also by the fact that a year into this thing, he still seems to believe that masks are worn primarily because people are “afraid” of getting Covid and not because it’s important to do so for the health and safety of one’s community. Oh yeah! He was such a bad bitch! I was extremely turned on by this oozing display of masculinity and badassery.
Anyway, does this facemask work? Yes, presumably. Is it also obnoxious AF, much like listening to announcers verbally fellate Luka Garza for two straight hours whenever Iowa is on TV? Also yes. Iowa may be getting the job done this season in commendable form, but Iowa is still fundamentally as unlikeable as a guy trying to prove his masculinity with a sassy mask.
Purdue: Space Jam Mask - #5
I do not know a single thing about Purdue basketball at the present time. I know that some years ago they had a couple of very tall men who were quite good, but that can be said about a lot of teams. So instead, I’m leaning on another thing I know about Purdue, and that is that they have produced many astronauts as a school. The basketball team has been less successful in that respect, but it is hard to achieve across-the-board excellence.
Basketball + Outer Space naturally leads one to think about not Purdue, but Space Jam. A reboot of the cinematic classic is coming out soon, this time with LeBron James instead of Michael Jordan. The film has been notable mostly for making a cartoon bunny babe less voluptuous, leading a very sad portion of America to be loudly outraged that a cartoon rabbit no longer has DDD-cup breasts. But that’s where we are as a society. Anyway, I can’t find anything that indicates that Purdue has been anywhere near that controversial this season, so good luck to them, I guess.
Wisconsin: Cheese Face Mask - #6
I was going to go and do something meaner here, but 1) googling “dick face masks” is a terrible idea (do not do this, it is all NSFW or Ron Johnson) and 2) I should be nicer to Brad Davison because he’s only 21 years old and it’s not his fault his entire affect is that of the villain in a Disney sports movie set in the 1950s-1970s.
So I went the obvious route. It turns out, there are a LOT of options for cheese face masks. You can make it look like you’re wearing cheese on your face, as you see above. You can get one that celebrates macaroni AND cheese. Chuck E. Cheese has a line of kids face masks, presumably since their main revenue stream of diving into germ-filled pits of child spit has taken a beating during the pandemic.
This concludes my thoughts about Wisconsin.
Maryland: Maryland Flag Face Mask - #7
Me: Haha, I wonder if the Maryland flag is a face mask.
OF COURSE. We all knew they’d do this, right?
I’ve got to say though, blinding the Coronavirus into submission is at least a novel approach to the problem. Good innovation, Maryland.
Rutgers: Sarcastic Face Mask - #8
This is the kind of wit-less slogan that people who think they are witty but aren’t often resort to. You know the type- their penchant for what they perceive to be sarcasm is mistaken by them for an actual personality trait: “Sarcasm is my love language!” “Fluent in sarcasm.” They truly believe themselves to be offering a dazzling display of humor, offering mockery with unsurpassed eclat, the envy of all. While sarcasm can be funny, 97% of the time, the self-proclaimed sarcastic person is just an asshole who is unrepentant about it. Yeah Chad - we’re talking about you.
What does this have to do with Rutgers basketball? Probably nothing, except that I can see a lot of Jersey guys preening about their deftness with sarcasm (though to be fair, this is not behavior that is limited to one state.) I guess like the guy who gets a bit of your pity because he truly believes he belongs on Comedy Central with his sarcastic “comedy,” Rutgers also gets a bit of your pity. After all, last year they would have been in the tournament after a long drought… and then there was no tournament. This year, they’re just another mediocre team probably thinking they’re a little better than is warranted. On the other hand... they did lose to Nebraska by like 30 points, and that’s not great (no sarcasm).
Michigan State: Plague Doctor Face Mask - #9
Once the beau ideal of plaguewear, the birdlike plague face mask is no longer the standard for prevention that it once was. At once striking and terrifying, one can imagine that earlier generations of the ill may have simply curled up into a ball and died after seeing that standing over their sickbed. The masks weren’t terribly effective for the doctors either—the “beak” held dried herbs whose pleasant smell was supposed to ward off diseases. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t really work - after all, no matter what your local MLM-peddler tells you, shoving a bunch of lavender in your face isn’t going to stop you from getting sick.
Michigan State has held court (heh) in the Big Ten and the national college basketball conversation for decades, a powerhouse of talent and tradition. But this year, some new cracks started to show, and for once, the old standbys didn’t get it done. Now that the pleasant smell of success is starting to wane for the Spartans, next season will prove an interesting one. Either Tom Izzo still has some tricks up his sleeve, or he’ll be peddling Lavender Oil for Young Life before he knows it.
Penn State: Nicolas Cage Face Mask - #10
I should probably have given this one to Minnesota, because I think Richard Pitino kind of looks like Nicolas Cage, though it’s probably just the hair. However, I stand by this choice. Not only was Nicolas Cage born in central Pennsylvania,* but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. And my gut says that if Penn State was a face mask, they’d be this one that has two dozen faces of Nicolas Cage collaged onto it. Sorry Nittany Lions. Look at that craft table mascot of yours and tell me I’m wrong.
Anyway, this was always going to be a challenging year for Penn State basketball after they parted ways with HC Pat Chambers in October 2020—once allegations about some racist things he said hit the light, Chambers was Gone in 60 Seconds. Interim Coach Jim Ferry actually did a pretty decent job given those difficult circumstances, but the result was certainly no National Treasure. Penn State just announced the hire of Micah Shrewsberry (recently a Purdue assistant coach) - hopefully he’ll have some luck with The Croods. (Sorry—I meant the ‘cruits.)
*haha, jk. He was not.
Indiana: No Boyfriend, No Problem - #11
Look, I get that dating in 2020 was even more of a shitshow than it is during normal times. Dating apps had to get creative, urging us to not only include our voting activity next to our “holding a fish” pics, but to clarify our preferred Covid-19 dating practices as well. I guess it’s no surprise that someone might decide to cut to the chase on their mask. But this one feels… a little desperate, right? It kind of reminds me of those t-shirts you see occasionally in the checkout line of a Wal-Mart, covered with a wall of text and a festival of fonts that provide way more information than anyone asked for:
Instead of wittiness or flirtation, this mask lands instead on… sad. Indiana basketball also landed on sad this year, and like whoever bought this stupid mask, they too are currently single and ready to mingle (with a new coach).
Minnesota: Mesh Face Mask - #12
It’s a uniquely pandemic-era dilemma: you know you’re supposed to be wearing a face mask, and you’d like to comply, but you’d just like it to be a little more fancy than the typical face mask. (The other part of this dilemma is that you fundamentally don’t understand how viruses work and/or you believe they are the size of marbles.) Enter: the sparkly mesh face mask, like this pretty number worn by singer Lana del Rey.
Now, she’s got the fit down, but there still is something majorly amiss here—namely, that that mesh ain’t doing jack shit for preventing the spread of viral particles, you know, the only reason for wearing a mask. This is sort of how Minnesota basketball was this season. There was some sense that the Gophers had some idea of how the game worked and what their goal was, but the execution was often lacking, and often glaringly so. The Minnesota AD apparently agreed—Richard Pitino is out the door.
Northwestern: Face mask you found crumpled under your car seat when you forgot to bring one to the store - #13
Last Place Votes: 1
I know, I know. Northwestern grads don’t go to the store. They have a delivery service, or in a pinch, they can send out their butler to pick up some caviar. But these are metaphors, so work with me here. Northwestern basketball was… not great this season. It had its moments, and much was made of the three-game winning streak to start the season and another to end the conference season, but that does neatly evade the 13-game losing streak sandwiched between, which is not as cool of a streak.
Likewise, the ratty old mask you keep in your car just in case is probably not your best bet. You shouldn’t dwell on the thought of all that is touching your face when you run into the store for a carton of eggs and some milk. But is it better than nothing at all? Yeah, probably. So congrats on those six conference wins, Wildcats.
Nebraska: Mask Worn Under Your Nose - #14
Last Place Votes: 6
You know, I have faults aplenty, and I’m old and mature enough to be able to admit this. One of my faults is that I can be a liiiiiiittle judgy. And you know what makes the BRTjudgment fire up? People wearing their masks like this. Whether it’s in my classes and I have to stop and “remind” students to put them over their noses (AGAIN), or when I’m going about my business in the grocery store and someone strolls by with their nose hanging free, I’m definitely concluding certain things about these inconsiderate freebreathers. I talk for hours each day while wearing a mask that properly fits my face. It was annoying at first, and then I got used to it. Because I’m an adult. So I’m sorry, Darryl, that you find it annoying to wear your mask properly while you’re picking up Busch Lite and hot dogs at the supermarket, but GET IT TOGETHER.
Sure, it’s a little bit like Nebrasketball, in that perhaps I should be more sympathetic to the effort. After all, they did put the mask on, and it’s covering half of their face holes. Isn’t that better than nothing? I mean… yeah? But is winning three games really a triumph worth celebrating? Like Darryl, the Huskers made some gestures toward doing the right thing this season, but ultimately are still pretty damn far off the mark.
That does it for Big Ten Basketball as far as this fan is concerned! However, as far as many of your teams are concerned, there is still much to play for. Good luck to most of you, kind of.
Stay healthy, and keep wearing those masks!
Have you been able to get The Shot yet?
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