Good morning, and welcome-officially-to the 2016-17 major college basketball season.
The NCAA Division I season starts today, at 11 a.m. Central time, on Friday, Nov. 11, still in the heart of football season. The team leading off the year with hosting duties is Middle Tennessee State, the team that captured hearts in the NCAA Tournament in March as a 15 seed, shocking the nation by knocking off one of the tourney favorites in Michigan State.
The Blue Raiders’ opponent? The Milligan College Buffaloes, an NAIA program from the Tri-Cities region in eastern Tennessee that went 16-11 a year ago in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
Later in the day, 23 games will be played involving teams in the Associated Press’s top 25 preseason poll. Only two of them will involve two ranked teams playing each other: No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 12 Michigan State, then No. 11 Indiana against No. 3 Kansas, both in Hawaii.
The third-best game is Nevada on the road at No. 17 Saint Mary’s. A couple other games (ex. rebuilding Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky, Lehigh at Xavier, a few others) appear moderately interesting. The rest are pure guarantee game fodder. Not a single one of those ranked teams will play an on-campus road game.
This is how major college basketball opens its season.
No offense meant to Milligan, and that is genuine from one who has worked at the NAIA level in the past and knows it is better basketball than many realize. And we know probably better than most that a team like Lehigh or Wagner (at No. 18 Connecticut tonight) certainly could make their games respectable, maybe even put a scare into a ranked team.
Still, if this schedule doesn’t indicate just how poorly this sport continues to flop the open its season, then nothing does.
We’ve carped about it in the past at about this time (last year, and two years ago), so there’s not a whole lot new to be said, but we’ll continue to point out how this sport needs to make major changes in its early season.
Ideally, the season’s start date should be two weeks later than today, pushed back to the day after Thanksgiving. That allows time for college football to be nearing the end of its regular season, and also brings attention to the sport on a free weekend for many.
A season-opening event leading into that opening day would be perfectly acceptable. Get back to a 16-team preseason NIT, with strong teams from 16 different conferences playing a true bracket-not this automatic advancement to semifinals nonsense that so many of these phony tourneys have now. Have it conclude on that opening night.
Have longtime pacesetting early season events in Maui and Alaska lead off that first weekend. Other tourneys can be held as well, or schools can go back to the four-team holiday classics that they used to conduct regularly.
Some of these recently established exempted tournaments might be hurt by this. So be it. There are too many of them already.
We’re glad to have real games here, and will enjoy them just the same today. But if the movers and shakers in this sport really want to increase interest in it, then it’s time for major changes in November. Opening with 48 teams playing non-Division I opponents, an endless buffet of football schools playing buy games, and TV even featuring some of those buy games nationally-seemingly trying to begin the year with a whimper-is a pathetic way to get people into the sport at the start of the season.
- Florida got some good news as 6-foot-11 freshman center Gorjok Gak was cleared by the NCAA to play this season, ruled eligible upon appeal after initially being ruled ineligible this summer.
- The NCAA announced that the 2022 Final Four will be held in New Orleans at the Superdome, which will host the event for the sixth time.
Tonight’s Menu: In addition to the games mentioned above,
- Seton Hall has a tricky opener as it hosts Fairleigh Dickinson, an NCAA Tournament participant last year and a team that returns four starters. The Knights don’t necessarily have the size to battle the Pirates, but they do have the guards, the experience and moxie.
- In a notable contrast to most major conferences, SEC teams are playing some quality opponents to open the season. South Carolina hosts Louisiana Tech, Tennessee-Chattanooga is at Tennessee, Georgia goes to Clemson and Florida meets Florida Gulf Coast in Jacksonville. Alabama also hosts Coastal Carolina and even Auburn should get a challenge with North Florida at home to open. The Ospreys won at Illinois in their opener last year.
- Another game to keep an eye on: Eastern Michigan at Pittsburgh. The Eagles have terrific sophomore center James Thompson, play a mean 2-3 zone with some length, and could cause trouble for the Panthers if they can get a big game from Raven Lee.
- A Big 5 game is never a bad way to start the season, and La Salle is at Temple.
- Boston University and Northeastern battle in a heated city rivalry game, while on the opposite coast San Diego is at San Diego State. The Toreros stunned the Aztecs in an ugly one at Petco Park last year.
- Montana at USC and Utah State at UC Irvine are notable games out west. The Grizzlies could surprise the Trojans, while the latter matches two former Big West rivals.
- Finally, Harvard and Stanford square off for a game in China that could turn out to be one of the best games of the whole night.
Have a terrific Friday.