It’s quiet in college hoops land. That’ll change very soon as we are now on the eve of a new season.
On our soapbox for a moment
A new college basketball season is almost here, and on the occasion we are reminded yet again just how poorly this sport brings in a new season.
While there has been slight improvement in the past few years with at least a single starting date for the college hoops season, even avid fans likely still will be surprised when those scores start showing up on the ticker Friday night.
Even acknowledging that college basketball falls somewhere between a niche sport and a national obsession, there is no prominent sport in our country that comes in with more of a whimper.
Football has Labor Day weekend. Baseball has the start of April. The NBA has right around Halloween. College basketball has…mid-November? This year’s open is Nov. 14, which is connected to…what? Jack Sikma’s birthday?
(No disrespect, the big man with the curly hair and sweet jumper was a Division III All-American and an excellent pro with the Supersonics and Bucks. But still…)
With every one of these sports and so many others there is a defined open, and in many cases a natural transition to the sport from other sport seasons. Good luck finding the same for college basketball.
There is no identifiable starting point, and no season-opening “buzz event” for the sport. (ESPN’s 24-hour marathon, while a lot of fun, doesn’t count when it takes place several days into the season, and on a random Monday or Tuesday in mid-November.)
This wasn’t the case even that long ago, and it’s an easy fix now. The sport used to have an unmistakable opening weekend, as Thanksgiving weekend was the open of the college season for a number of years, which was as close to perfect as could be.
In the past, by the time Turkey Day passed, college football had pretty much finished up its regular season. The weekend also allowed the natural opportunity for holiday “classics” to open the basketball season, events to generate some interest. The Great Alaska Shootout and Maui Classic (now Invitational) were the two biggies for a long time and became holiday traditions where you could routinely find the best teams.
In the mid-1980’s, the preseason NIT was formed, giving the sport a singular showcase event to start the year. A standalone tournament with some juicy matchups to whet the appetite, satisfying the fanatics while also reminding the casual, NCAA Tournament-centric fan that “hey, we’re just around the corner.” Solid.
No reason why the preseason NIT can’t be the opening event again. You can feature top teams as well a number of conferences. The NIT can end the day after Thanksgiving when everyone else is starting up, on the holiday weekend. Boom-you have your lead-in event.
It makes plenty of sense. Surely it would be a much more intriguing open than we have now, more exciting than leading with…Presbyterian playing Duke? (This was the best game ESPN could come up with to open its TV schedule??)
Some will claim the season needs the extra week or two it has now before Thanksgiving due to longer schedules. Nonsense.
At worst, it may require a few more of those ol’ four-team tournaments that it seemed almost every team used to host. Some seemed to host as many as they could. (Indiana had the IU Classic and the Hoosier Classic in the same season; UAB once hosted the UAB Classic and UAB Invitational just one week apart)
Football will still stage its unnecessary “championship” games between the winners of a pair of six- or seven-team divisions in December, but the meat of the college football season is finished by Thanksgiving weekend. It makes for easy transition from college football to basketball.
There is not just potential for college basketball to do better with its opening-there is a proven blueprint. The solution is right there, and it isn’t that hard to access.
- Various outlets reported last night that SMU forward Markus Kennedy will be ineligible for the first semester. That’s a blow to the Mustangs, who face a tough non-conference schedule.
- Oklahoma State‘s Michael Cobbins will miss the Pokes’ first three regular season games as a result of playing in a couple games several years ago before redshirting. The usual carping about this NCAA rule has followed, but again, and whether the punishment is too harsh or not, this is a rule the schools agreed on, so there’s really nothing to complain about.
- Yesterday was a signing day for college basketball, one that once was a major event but now is pretty low key. But in one bit of notable recruiting news, South Carolina received a verbal commitment from Perry (P.J.) Dozier. The news was something of a surprise, but his father Perry and uncle Terry both played for the Gamecocks.
- There still are a few exhibition games being played, and one of those shockers took place as Christian Brothers (Tenn.) defeated Memphis 74-70 in overtime last night. Take that one however you want, as just a mostly meaningless exhibition, or as a reason to label the Tigers a bust already this year. We’ll find out soon enough where Memphis stands; it faces Wichita State next week.
Tomorrow we’ll look at a couple of the biggest games on opening night, but in anticipation, here is a prelude of five more good ones on tomorrow’s schedule:
- Houston at Murray State Nice home game for the Racers. This one has entertainment written all over it, think 96-91 or so.
- Boise State vs. San Diego Game being played at Loyola Marymount’s Gersten Pavilion. Interesting opener for a Boise team some have as one of the final at-large teams in preseason bracket projections. San Diego also could challenge for a top 3-4 finish in the WCC with Johnny Dee. Two excellent backcourts.
- Georgia-Georgia Tech Neither is expected to be especially good this year, but always good to start the season with a real rivalry game.
- Cal State-Northridge at San Diego State The Aztecs aren’t expected to drop off much this year, even without the terrific Xavier Thames, but they should get a good challenge in the opener from the improving Matadors.
- Morehead State at UNLV Upset possibility here, Morehead State is experienced and has some D-I transfers coming aboard while the Runnin’ Rebels will likely need time to jell.
Have a great Thursday.