With November turning to December, we’re on what is easily the quietest month of the college basketball season. There are good reasons for that, of course (final exams) and not so good ones (far, far too many guarantee games).
TV programmers try to add some spice to the month, but from here it still falls flat. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge opened last night, and have just never been able to work up much excitement for it.
Maybe it comes from growing up during the original challenge event, the ACC/Big East Challenge held from 1989-91. At that time, those conferences were top to bottom as strong as any in college basketball history. The Big East sent six teams of its nine teams to the NCAAs in 1990 and seven in 1991 (and it could’ve easily been eight). The ACC sent five of eight to the tourney in 1990 (may have been seven if not for probation/looming probation for N.C. State and Maryland) and six in 1991. That excellence flowed through the ACC/Big East Challenge, which was loaded with one fantastic game after another.
The ACC and Big Ten now both have a good number of strong teams, maybe even more total than those league did due to their size. They also both have a far higher percentage of middling teams and weaklings. Losses to teams like Appalachian State, St. Peter’s, Delaware State and Winthrop say as much. The current event is too large, which one guesses is appropriate since both conferences (and so many others) are too large.
There are some terrific games, but also some real chaff. Duke/Wisconsin or Ohio State/Louisville? Absolutely, more please. Rutgers/Clemson or Virginia Tech/Penn State? No thank you.
Duke and Wisconsin also can play non-conference games without a conference “challenge” event. These are schools with ultimate scheduling leverage, and TV networks would help them make it happen in a second.
If TV really wants to create an interesting ‘Challenge,’ put together an ACC/ Atlantic 10 pairing of 4-6 games, with the ACC teams traveling as much as they host. Have the Big Ten or Big 12 and Missouri Valley split some home games. Let’s see some top Pac-12 teams not just host but also go play at the Mountain West, or WCC.
Duke and Wisconsin can still play. But we also would get to see consistently intriguing and rare non-conference matchups that truly would add some spice to December.
Monday nights’s action. A very quiet night:
- Nebraska held off Florida State 70-65, hanging on after a big rally by the Seminoles. Terran Pettway and Shavon Shields are carrying Nebraska-combined 46 points in this one. FSU is struggling, but still a road win for the Cornhuskers to feel good about.
- Rutgers topped Clemson 69-64. These two did play one of the most competitive games of the night, and the Scarlet Knights got the road win by committing just three-THREE-turnovers. Rutgers found some firepower: Junior Etou scored 20 and four tallied in double figures.
- South Carolina won at Marshall 77-59. Duane Notice-great name-scored 27 for the Gamecocks.
- Early yet, it’s still hard to identify the most anonymous undefeated team, but a vote here goes for Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are now 7-0 after an 83-52 win over NAIA member Marygrove (Mich.). Former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy has done a nice job establishing an identity at EMU, which plays the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Three of the Eagles’ seven wins are over NAIA schools, but we’ll find out how good Eastern Michigan is in the next few weeks, for up next is a four-game road swing including games at Dayton, Michigan and Michigan State.
- East Tennessee State is 4-1 after a 63-59 win at Morehead State. The school of Skeeter Swift and Mister Jennings, ETSU is one of those quietly successful programs that never stays down for long, and now has back-to-back road wins at Winthrop and now Morehead State. Keep an eye on the Bucs back in the Southern Conference this year.
- Fordham has been a team in turmoil but circled the wagons and got its first win of the year, beating a decent Siena team 69-67 despite 31 points by the Saints’ Marquis Wright.
- Bucknell won the night’s only overtime game, topping Fairfield 72-65. Somehow, the Bison and Stags combined for more points in a 5-minute overtime (44) than in 20 minutes in the first half (42).
- Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin hit a three-pointer with four seconds left to give the Wildcats a 62-61 win over Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles led 60-54 with under a minute to play, but missed four free throws in the final minute. Not quite as heartbreaking, but somewhat reminiscent of this game nearly 28 years ago, when ORU blew a 7-point lead in the final 14 seconds to lose to Memphis State.
- Former Kansas guard Connor Frankamp is transferring to Wichita State, per the Wichita Eagle. Frankamp is a Wichita native who played well for the Jayhawks at the end of last season but got shuffled behind a number of players this year. He will enroll at WSU for the second semester, which will make him eligible at the end of the first semester next season. Perception-wise, it’s not a bad thing for the Shockers to beat out Colorado and Creighton for a transfer from such a high-profile program. On the court, we’ll see what happens. Frankamp was a talented scorer in high school and had a pair of good games in the NCAA Tournament last year, but he’s also just 165 lbs. The Missouri Valley is a very physical league, something many a transfer from larger schools has found out, and anyone expecting him to run all over the conference may be in for a big surprise.
- San Diego State guard Aqeel Quinn broke his hand in the Aztecs’ Maui Invitational final loss to Arizona and has had surgery, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Unfortunate for Quinn, who was the team’s second-leading scorer at 9.7 ppg through six games and is one of the team’s top defenders, and while no timetable has been announced, the estimated timetable for similar injuries is about a month. Fortunately for SDSU, it just got back guard Matt Shrigley, who missed the team’s first six games because of an arm injury.
Tonight’s Menu. Some of the best on a small schedule with a number of quality games.
Syracuse at Michigan (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) The Cuse had a bad game against California. Otherwise, opponents are averaging 47.4 points in its five wins.
Illinois at Miami (Fla.) (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Hurricanes have been impressive, while we knew nothing about the Illini until they beat Baylor in Las Vegas. A concern for the Illini, though, is their -14 rebounding mark in that game.
Ohio State at Louisville (9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) Buckeyes have taken advantage of one of their becoming-patented cream puff non-conference schedules to get to 5-0. We’ll get a whole lot better idea where they’re at after this one.
BYU at Utah State (9 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Other games tonight may feature better teams, but no game will have a rowdier atmosphere than the one for this in-state matchup.
VCU at Illinois State (8 p.m. EST, ESPN Full Court) Rams just lost to Old Dominion, whose only loss so far is to…yes, ISU’s Redbirds.
South Florida at Alabama Both are off to better-than-expected starts. USF has close wins over UAB, Hofstra and Jacksonville (game was much closer than the final 14-point spread). Bama is the only team to beat Towson so far, has a win over Arizona State and also gave Iowa State a good game.
Stephen F. Austin at Memphis ( 7 p.m. EST, ESPNews) SFA gets one more shot at a name win on the road in its non-conference schedule.
Have a terrific Tuesday.