Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Country Music-Themed Guide To College Basketball's Preseason Top 15

This Monday, excellence in country music will be celebrated at the 40th annual CMA Awards in Nashville. The festive occasion comes as college basketball fans gear up for another exciting season on campus. The preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll has already been released, offering an opportunity to combine these American institutions. Each of the top 15 teams relates in some way to a country music star of the past or present. Here is an analysis.

15. Boston College: Keith Urban. Married to Nicole Kidman, Urban can be overshadowed by the glamorous company he keeps. The solid, but under-the-radar Eagles get the same treatment around UNC and Duke.

14. Memphis: Garth Brooks. As a powerhouse stuck in Conference USA, John Calipari’s Tigers have “Friends In Low Places.”

13. Texas A&M: Merle Haggard. Haggard turned his life around after being released from prison. Aggie opponents will learn the same lesson about A&M’s backcourt star. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the (Acie) Law.

12. Alabama: Alabama. I completely racked my brain coming up with that one. Ronald Steele will make sweet music in Tuscaloosa.

11. Duke: Charlie Daniels. He brought us “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and the Blue Devils hope to be in Georgia for the Final Four. Just in case, Coach K is devoting extra practice time to fiddling drills.

10. Arizona: The Judds. Another group of Wildcats is famously cheered on by a Judd. So Lute Olson decides that he can do even better with two of them.

9. Wisconsin: Tammy Wynette. Best known for “Stand By Your Man,” the late Wynette would have loved the tenacious defense of Bo Ryan’s Badgers.

8. Georgetown: Rosanne Cash. As the offspring of a famous father, Johnny Cash’s daughter would fit in well with coach John Thompson III and forward Patrick Ewing, Jr.

7. LSU: Big and Rich. After another stellar season in Baton Rouge, Glen Davis will soon be a Big AND Rich Baby.

5 (tie). UCLA: Dolly Parton. The Bruins’ revival has come under coach Ben Howland’s deliberate style, so “9 To 5” could be a halftime score.

5 (tie). Pittsburgh: The Dixie Chicks. The Panthers are expected to battle Georgetown for Big East supremacy. So like the Bush-bashing trio, they’ll make enemies in Washington.

4. Ohio State: Kenny Chesney. Like Chesney’s marriage to RenĂ©e Zellweger, Greg Oden’s partnership with the Buckeyes will last four months. Oden hopes to win a national title in his one season at OSU – the only way Maurice Clarett should ever be his role model.

3. Kansas: Sara Evans. Evans withdrew from Dancing With the Stars while still in competition. Similarly, KU’s past two seasons have resulted in premature exits from The Dance.

2. North Carolina: Kenny Rogers. You might have expected Faith Hill, as there is much faith in Chapel Hill among Tar Heel fans. But the name Kenny Rogers seems appropriate when “Tar” is mentioned.

1. Florida: Carrie Underwood. The American Idol winner hopes to be honored Monday for “Jesus Take the Wheel.” The defending champs also believe in Biblical guidance, being led by Noah.

We’re still many months away from knowing how the brackets will look. However, there could be a little bit of March Madness in Nashville on Monday. So don’t be too surprised if the award for Male Vocalist of the Year goes to George Mason.