In a sport where lack of quality exposure is regularly decried yet creativity and innovation are so frequently lacking, the Big East and Fox Sports 1 deserve a call as a welcome exception to the norm.
The same partners that brought forth the sweet idea of a New Year’s Eve quintupleheader a couple years ago revived the concept again this year, this time on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Five Big East games in one day, all televised, back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
It’s a ton of basketball, and on a day when many are at home anyway, it’s a brilliant idea. It certainly beats watching 24 hours of SportsCenter, and while not something we’d suggest for the bloated 14-16 team monoliths, it works with the Big East’s size as well as its combination of quality depth and some of the sport’s biggest name programs over the last 30-plus years.
The marathon also started out in fine fashion with a pair of superb games. Butler spotted Marquette a 18-point lead before roaring back, eventually overtaking the Golden Eagles for an 88-80 win on the strength of 70% shooting in the second half. That was followed by Creighton earning a major league road win, taking down Xavier 72-67.
The latter game was marked by some bad news, as Bluejays star guard Maurice Watson-the nation’s leader in assists-went down with a knee injury. He did not return, and while reports were there was no ligament damage, many now hold their breath waiting to hear if Watson will return this year. If he can’t, it’s a huge loss for the Jays, but also for college basketball.
The final three games of the Big East-a-thon were not as good, and Villanova did its part to make the night session a stinker with a 76-46 destruction over suddenly hurting Seton Hall. At least the Pirates were on the road against the defending national champions; Georgetown had no such excuses in a very concerning 74-56 loss at home to Providence that was every bit as decisive as the final score indicates.
Regardless, the day was a success as a television event, even if it came from what some might consider an unexpected source. When it comes to quality programming, FS1 is too often far, far down the list of options. The network that was launched with the intention of being a direct competitor to ESPN has far more than not been a major disappointment, and its recent emphasis on trash TV faux debate shows has done nothing to change that.
Its college basketball coverage, however, has regularly been excellent. From hiring the unparalleled Bill Raftery for the Big East, to good studio work with guys like Steve Lavin, to the creation of the Pearl Harbor Invitational in Hawaii, FS1 has produced quality content and good ideas. It has a niche in the sport. Like NBC Sports Network-another that doesn’t cover college basketball a ton, but when involved does a really nice job-It really should consider exploring that niche more.
- Another nice touch on MLK Day was ESPNU resuming its Monday night schedule with a MEAC/SWAC doubleheader. North Carolina Central knocked Hampton from the ranks of MEAC undefeateds in conference, winning 64-51, and Texas Southern dominated Jackson State in the second half to win 67-44 and improve to 5-0 in the SWAC.
- Roy Williams became the ninth NCAA Division I coach to reach 800 wins in his career after the Tar Heels handled Syracuse 85-68 last night. He reached No. 800 in his 29th season as a head coach…it really does seem like it wasn’t that long ago when Roy was taking over for Larry Brown, after Brown took off for the San Antonio Spurs following Kansas winning the 1988 NCAA title.
- Williams’ former home base also won Monday night, as Kansas picked up another of its methodical wins on the road in the Big 12, holding off Iowa State 76-72. The Jayhawks withstood a terrific game by ISU All-American candidate Monte Morris, who threatened a triple-double with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
- A clash for first place in the Metro Atlantic went to Monmouth, which went to western New York and won at Canisius 76-72. Big Chris Brady was nearly perfect with 22 points on 11-for-12 shooting plus 10 rebounds. The Hawks have taken a circuitous path to get there but are now where most expected them to be at this time, at the top of the MAAC.
- Like Monmouth, it took some time for Valparaiso to get to the top of its league, but the Crusaders now are tied for first in the Horizon League after an 80-56 pounding of previously HL undefeated Wisconsin-Green Bay. Alec Peters: 20 points, 16 rebounds. Just another night for the Valpo star. Also in the Horizon, Oakland took its second straight curious loss at home, falling to now 6-13 Cleveland State 76-65.
- A full day in the America East included league leaders Vermont and Stony Brook both winning on the road. The Catamounts are now 5-0 after an impressive 71-59 win at New Hampshire, while the Seawolves continue to surprise and are now 4-0 in the A-East after an 86-75 win at Massachusetts-Lowell.
- More Hoopville content from Monday: Ray Floriani drops in again with a box score breakdown of St. Bonaventure’s win over Fordham on Saturday.
- Also, Paul Borden nails it with his story about Notre Dame and its penchant for coming up clutch in crunch time, a trait for the Fighting Irish that is no accident.
- A schedule with 24 games really has no highlighted contest, with nothing close to two top 25 teams matching up. Perhaps the most important game features two teams that have mixed occasional flashes with some serious bumbles of late, as Pittsburgh is at North Carolina State (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU).
- Michigan seems primed to continue its nearly two-year run on the bubble; the Wolverines may not ‘need’ to win at Wisconsin tonight (9 p.m., ESPNU), but a good showing is highly advised.
- The SEC has ESPN catering to Kentucky again with another primetime spot on its main network, this one at Mississippi State (7 p.m.), while other games include Vanderbilt at Georgia and Tennessee at Mississippi.
- Another busy Tuesday in the MAC is led by a biggie featuring the league’s top two teams. Ohio is at Akron, but this one may have a pall cast over it as Bobcats star Antonio Campbell may miss the game with a foot injury.
- Neither team is up to its standards of a couple years ago, but Iona against Manhattan is still the premier rivalry in the MAAC and New York City right now and a bucket list game for anyone who enjoys rivalries.
- The enigma that is New Mexico is at Mountain West co-leader Boise State (11 p.m., ESPNU).
Have a super Tuesday.