January and February belong to conference play in college basketball, and that’s how it should be. That doesn’t mean the sport couldn’t use a few more games like those furnished Saturday.
The move of the Big 12/SEC Challenge to late January has been a welcome shot in the arm for the college hoops season (as well as giving the event itself a far more distinct identity than it had before, when it was held right after, and therefore lost in the shadows of, the ACC and Big Ten’s own event). Of course, part of what makes it special is that the games played are rarities at this time of year, but it cannot be overlooked the mutual benefits games like this have for the participating teams and conferences as well as for fans.
The Big 12 took seven of the 10 games, emerging as the clear winner of this year’s event. At least on the scoreboard, that is.
The truth is, both leagues came out of Saturday quite well. The Big 12 enhanced its stature as arguably the premier conference again from top to bottom, as its bottom teams in particular showed strength while Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor all also picked up quality wins.
The SEC’s day wasn’t nearly as bad as the relatively one-sided nature of the final tally, though. For one, a number of the games were close-four were decided by five points or less or in overtime, while several others finished with slightly larger margins that were deceiving and pumped up by fouls in the final minute.
Texas A&M picked up another real quality win by beating Iowa State, while Kentucky and LSU both showed well in close losses to top 5 teams. Florida also may have helped itself more than any other team on the day, easily handling West Virginia for a win that should go a long way towards getting the Gators into the NCAA Tournament.
The games clearly generated excitement, which makes it obvious that college basketball could stand for at least a couple more like these. That they were contested at home sites also should not be underestimated, either, as certainly the excitement level is far higher than when games are played at antiseptic neutral sites.
Along those lines, we never understood why the BracketBusters event was so oft-criticized, or why it was cancelled. Though we have a decent idea of at least part of the reason for the latter (that its main TV sponsor really didn’t want to make time for it anymore, not with it promising ever more games to the few conferences it has recently made its biggest TV deals with).
We know BracketBusters wasn’t perfect, and an event really focused on helping non-BCS schools would be one that matches them up against those BCS (or self-titled without a hint of modesty as the “Power 5”) teams that are so afraid to schedule them. Still, a top 50-75 win is a plus whether it’s against an ACC team or a Mountain West one, and if even just a couple teams each year were getting a boost from it, then the event was worth it. And if TV wasn’t interested, it doesn’t means the games still aren’t worth playing.
Moreover, the games add spice for fans, giving them something different to look forward to at a time of year when the schedule can get stale. There was nothing stale about Saturday, though, which should be a lesson taken to heart, albeit with restraint. Then again, that’s a term rarely applied to major college sports, and if we start seeing more of these events, we’re likely to see a whole lot more, and the shine of them could wear off as quickly as it was found.
- Hoopville czar Phil Kasiecki has his recap of Saturday’s games.
- Also, another plug for Hoopville’s new podcast, as Mr. Kasiecki spends some time with Ted Sarandis, who might be remembered on this site for his excellent work with College Basketball Tonight on Sunday nights during the NCAA Tournament.
- Making Florida’s 88-71 win over West Virginia all the more impressive: the Gators were without starting forward Justin Leon, who missed the game due to a concussion suffered Tuesday against Vanderbilt. Leon is averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game this year.
- Some news from Friday that slipped under the national radar somehow: Cy Alexander has resigned as head coach at North Carolina A&T, apparently to pursue a broadcasting career. Alexander had a 43-80 record in nearly four years with the Aggies, leading them to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and has a career 386-386 record in 26 years coaching in a career that also has included stops at Tennessee State plus a successful stint at South Carolina State. Jay Joyner has taken over on an interim basis at A&T and in his first game picked up a 63-62 win over Savannah State on Saturday.
- The best game of the day is in the Missouri Valley, where we still have a month of the season left, but perhaps the only thing standing between Wichita State and the MVC regular season title is Evansville, which hosts the Shockers today (4 p.m. EST, ESPNU). WSU already has won at third-place Southern Illinois and recent nemesis Northern Iowa. The Purple Aces did lose by just three in Wichita earlier this month.
- Tricky road games for several other ranked teams. Villanova plays at St. John’s (Noon, FOX), a game the Wildcats shouldn’t lose but…also, Maryland goes to Ohio State (1 p.m., CBS), while Oregon needs to guard against a letdown when it is at Arizona State (8:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- Wake Forest has had plenty of time to stew after not closing the deal against Virginia on Tuesday, and curious to see how the Demon Deacons fare at Notre Dame. Also in the ACC, Pittsburgh needs to be on point at home against pesky Virginia Tech, which continues to slowly take on Buzz Williams’ personality (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- Richmond at St. Bonaventure is an interesting Atlantic 10 game between two of the teams just below that top echelon in the league.
- California will try again to get a road win of any kind, but it won’t be easy at Colorado (5 p.m., FS1).
- Wisconsin tries to continue its resurgence when it travels to Illinois (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Enjoy your Sunday.