Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for, the college basketball season opener.
With that as a backdrop, we look at a few things we’re looking to see this weekend, and really in the first month of the season, as well as a preview of some of the top games tonight:
- Who wins the ultimate season opener? Texas Southern faces Eastern Washington at 11 a.m. EST, 8 a.m. on the west coast, in the first game of the season. (Advantage: EWU Eagles, who return four starters)
- Which freshmen are going to deliver early, and which are going to struggle? With as much as some certain networks hype them, one might think freshmen always come in and dominate, but that’s not the case. There is still a steep learning curve for some, and a learning curve for most all to a degree. (And that will be even more true when conference play rolls around)
- How good are the SEC and Big East? The former has been down for years, the latter had about everything go wrong last year and needs a good bounce back. Both will have a number of tricky games early that should let us know if they are improved.
- Will Syracuse and Michigan really struggle to be top 25 teams? It’s hard to imagine, even with the obvious personnel losses. Wouldn’t be a surprise at all if both of these teams are right back in the top 10 again this year.
- How long does Harvard stay ranked? The Crimson start the season 25th in the AP poll, but have a tricky opener vs. Holy Cross in Boston Saturday. Get by that and then through Houston and Massachusetts late in the month, and that ranking could be going up for a while.
- Where’s the beef in the top 25? Maybe this is just us, but after the top 12 or 13 teams, there seem to be a whole lot of teams one can plug in the rest of their poll. That’s a polite way of questioning if some of the teams ranked high early in the season really deserve to be there. Many of the teams in the back half of the top 25 have a lot of question marks entering the season. (For that matter, so do some of those top 12) Some of them have earned the benefit of the doubt, others have not, but it wouldn’t surprise us at all to see a whole lot of mobility in the rankings.
On our soapbox for a moment
Last year it was the issue that was the buzz of the preseason. This year, it’s the issue you might find under the rug if you’re sweeping the floor.
Did college basketball get cleaned up so much last year that the emphasis on freedom of movement is no longer necessary? No.
There was progress made early in the season, even if some of it was painful, as predicted. (That bizarre 73-foul Seton Hall-Niagara game will be remembered for years) There were still some games in the 50s, but there were also games like BYU-Stanford-a 112-103 Cougar win.
Much of that progress was undone as the season went on, though, as the game went back to its hand-checking, arm-barring ways that had become such an eyesore. By the end of the season, the games didn’t look a whole lot better than they did the season before. In fairness, some officials did try to clean up the action, but there were too many who were not.
The rules re-emphasis (remember: it never was a rules change, just an effort to get back to enforcing rules that were already there) was always going to face a tough road.
The players have played the other way so long that it was going to take a while for them to adjust. Officials, frankly, also don’t like having others tell them how to call a game.
Watching some games at courtside last year, coaches would work the officials about not enforcing the rules on contact. Officials would answer that they were being consistent so it shouldn’t matter.
Except it does. For one, consistency doesn’t just apply in game, but from game to game. It only confuses players and coaches alike when the standards are such for one game, but different for the next one.
Basketball is also supposed to be a game of finesse and movement, not a game won in the weight room. Fans want to see offensive players able to make plays. And, goodness gracious, we don’t need basketball players wearing more padding than an NFL wide receiver.
That’s what the rules re-emphasis was intended to do, to allow offensive players room to operate. This year, though, there is virtually no talk about freedom of movement. The rules on charging have been loosened back up to favor the defense again, a very questionable move.
No one wants to watch games with 73 fouls. At the same time, fans want-and deserve-variety in this sport. Variety is part of what makes college basketball special. Some games are played in the 50s, others in the 90s. But allow too much contact, and inevitably most games end up in the 50s and 60s, maybe the 70s if you’re lucky.
Take away variety, install a 24-second shot clock, and what do you have? A decidedly less talented carbon copy of the NBA. College basketball needs to aim higher than that.
- Connecticut will be without N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis for its opener Friday against Bryant, after it was ruled Purvis played too much organized summer basketball.
Yesterday we looked at couple of what might be called the undercard games tonight. Now, here are what we would call the headliners:
- Minnesota vs. Louisville (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) From Puerto Rico. Pa and Son Pitino square off. It may not be a matchup of top 10 teams, but this is a whole lot of fun, and don’t overlook the Gophers, either.
- New Mexico State at Wichita State Our first look at the Shockers after their historic one-loss season, and they take on an Aggie team that is strong in the area-up front-where WSU has questions.
- Tennessee vs. VCU (6:30 EST, CBSSN) from Annapolis, Md. The Rams really struggled early last year with heightened expectations, so will be interesting to see how they do in this one and others in a very challenging non-league schedule. If VCU is a top 15 team, they should win this.
- Long Beach State at BYU (7 p.m. EST, BYUN) The farewell season for the Tyler Haws Scoring Machine commences, while Kyle Collinsworth also is back healthy for the Cougars. The 49ers are never afraid on the road, though.
- Cleveland State at Iona This one features a pair of good teams among the favorites in their conferences-both could be in the NCAA Tournament in March giving an opponent fits in the Round of 64.
- William & Mary at Florida (6 p.m. EST, SECN) Don’t be surprised if the Tribe hangs around in this one for a long while against a young Gator team. Marcus Thornton is exceptional.
- UC Santa Barbara at Kansas Jayhawks should handle this one, but will be fun seeing Alan Williams take on KU.
Have a great Friday, and enjoy the hoops!