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November 13, 2003 Columns No Comments

Are You Excited Yet?

by Phil Kasiecki

College basketball fans, it’s that time of the year again. Midnight Madness has come and gone as teams have begun preparing for the 2002-03 college basketball season. The Road to the Final Four leads to San Antonio this time around, and it is about to be occupied by 326 teams. 325 teams will take an exit somewhere along the way, some later in time and closer to the desired destination than others. Only one of them will reach the promised land at the end of the road: college basketball’s national championship.

As always, the new season brings many changes, from players who graduated and the new kids on the block in the form of freshmen and transfers to coaches who opted to take on new opportunities and ones who did not get the job done for a particular school. As players continue to leave school early or bypass college altogether to try to make it in the NBA, junior college recruiting is becoming more and more important, as some coaches choose not to go for players who may leave school before their four years of eligibility are used up. Additionally, freshman are asked to contribute sooner on many teams as a result, with fewer teams having the luxury of bringing them along under the tutelage of a veteran. The presence of fewer experienced stars also leaves many of the best freshmen among the best players in the country, as opposed to just the best freshmen.

We enter this new season after an offseason rocked by scandal, and after the latter part of last season had its share of scandals as well. Events at St. Bonaventure, Fresno State and Georgia late in the season proved to be just the tip of the iceberg when we learned about the sad events surrounding Baylor University. We will not rehash those events in this space; rather, we will offer some alternative thoughts.

It would be easy to lament the offseason of turmoil in college basketball. Besides the scandal at Baylor, several major conference changes made news, which included some bickering between schools and conference officials. But now that the ball is getting tossed up, it’s water under the bridge. The games are ready to begin, and that means exciting action night in and night out. Proven talents like the Hoopville Preseason All-Americans will blend with some of the best players no one knows about (yet) and the many talented freshmen who will make major impacts this season to make for another great season of college basketball. While we could lament the many early departures for the NBA Draft or those who skip college to go straight out of high school, the better choice would be to look at the players we currently have in the college ranks. Waiting in the wings is a terrific high school class of 2004, with many players who will go on to be good college basketball players following this season.

Last season, we saw plenty of freshmen who came in and impacted college basketball. Most are back this season as super sophomores, ready to try and lead their teams to the promised land. Throughout the landscape of college basketball are young teams composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores – teams with plenty of talent, but not as much proven experience. But nowadays, sophomores and juniors are experienced players, often getting much experience as freshmen. The current sophomore class is loaded with talent, so it should not shock anyone if the final All-America teams feature a host of sophomores this season. Seniors are still around as well, and teams with seniors have an experience edge good enough to pull out some big games.

To be sure, the college game has many issues surrounding it. But all the same, college basketball remains exciting and there is plenty to love about it. That’s why we go to the arena and flock to the television to watch games throughout the season. On any given night, a team at the bottom of a poor conference could knock off a top 25 team; there are few “sure bets” in the world of college basketball today. The race for the Alamodome in March should be a joy to watch for any college basketball observer, as many teams are sure to put forth a good showing and make a run for the Final Four. Add in the usual excitement of conference tournaments and their impact on teams fighting to grab one of the last at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament or get an automatic one, and March Madness is sure to be as exciting this season as in any other season.

We at Hoopville intend to give you top-flight analysis of the excitement of this season, from tip-off to the final buzzer. Additionally, we will tell you about some of the next generation of college stars with some coverage of in-season high school tournaments. For me, this will primarily entail attending games at Boston-area schools, notably Boston College, Providence, Northeastern, Boston University, Harvard, Brown, and Rhode Island. It will also include games out of town, including a few high school tournaments.

Here is a look at my tentative season calendar highlights:

November 22-23, 2003: War on the Shore prep school tournament (Milford, DE)
November 28, 2003: Tip-Off Classic: Arizona vs. Florida (Springfield, MA)
December 6, 2003: Big 5 Classic at The Palestra (Philadelphia, PA)
December 26-30, 2003: Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament (Lewes, DE)
February 7-8, 2004: Prime Time Shootout (Trenton, NJ)
March 5-7, 2004: America East Tournament (Boston University, Boston, MA)
Championship Week: To be determined (last year was Big Ten, 2002 was Pac-10)
March 11, 2004: America East Tournament (TBA – home of highest remaining seed)

I hope you are as excited as I am for the 2003-04 season of college basketball. Let the games begin, and may the best team win.


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