Tabbed the “most important midterm of our generation,” Election Day is this Tuesday. Baseball just finished up another splendid season, where the Swocks won their fourth World Series championship since 2004. College football and the NFL are in the middle of churning out their respective seasons and determining which teams are in the playoff hunt. And buried somewhere in the midst of all of that treasure is a king’s ransom of college basketball, which cranks up this week.
The question is, “Does anyone care?”
Sure, basketball junkies are foaming at the mouth, but your average Joe Schmo who hangs his hardhat on a peg, punches his time clock, goes home and nukes his supper…does he really care about early season college hoops? Probably not.
Over the last few years, as the multicolored leaves tumble to the ground across the 48 contiguous states, college basketball becomes synonymous with Hawaii and flowery shirts. At the Maui Invitational, legendary coaches like Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski have donned their suntans and directed traffic—McDonald’s All-Americans rather than automobiles—in a diminutive gym no bigger than many high school arenas. That tournament will occur for the 35th consecutive year, but there’s plenty of basketball to be played before Hawaii gets here this time around.
Throughout the last few years, the basketball gods have added a few flavors to the ice cream shoppe of college basketball treats, and it seems like every year, the competition gets better and better. This week’s college basketball slate looks like something out of the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Tuesday offers an all-you-can-eat evening of hoops, as Michigan State plays Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis (6 p.m. CST, ESPN), Florida plays at Florida State (8 p.m. CST, ESPN 2), and Duke plays Kentucky in the second game in Indianapolis (8:30 p.m. CST, ESPN).
Repeat: Duke. Plays. Kentucky.
If that isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, you might need to check your pulse.
On Wednesday, Ohio State visits Cincinnati, and on Friday, Texas and Arkansas square off in a rootin’-tootin’ border affair in the ESPN Armed Forces Classic at Fort Bliss, Texas. Also on Friday, Washington and Auburn open their seasons in similar fashion to their football teams: by playing one another.
The next week, sixth-ranked Tennessee opens the doors of Thompson-Boling Arena to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 13, and a rematch of last year’s national championship is going down on November 14, when Villanova hosts Michigan at Finneran Pavilion. The Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18 in Charleston, South Carolina) features eight teams, four of whom were in last season’s NCAA tournament: Alabama, Purdue, Wichita State, and Virginia Tech. And then old Big East foes Syracuse and UConn tie up on November 15.
UCLA and Michigan State tangle on November 22 as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. And the other two teams—North Carolina and Texas—are by no means patsies.
The NIT Season Kickoff classic, held on November 21 and 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, pits Louisville and Tennessee in one bracket and Marquette and Kansas in the other.
Gonzaga, Seton Hall, and Miami (Florida) provide the marquee for the Wooden Legacy tournament, held in Fullerton, California, from November 22-25.
The ACC/Big 10 Challenge has been offering an array of excellent sectional games since 1999 and this year will be no exception. On November 27, the Crazies of Cameron Indoor will welcome Archie Miller’s Indiana Hoosiers, who are expected to be one of the top teams in the Big 10 with freshman phenom Romeo Langford. Louisville and Michigan State tussle on November 27 in Louisville, and North Carolina travels to Ann Arbor for a meeting with Michigan the very next night. Also on November 28, Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers ease into College Park to spar with Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins.
But is anyone really that interested?
College basketball falls way down on the November pecking order, below college and pro football, Christmas shopping, and Thanksgiving. The reasons for this are varied. Games with playoff implications often take precedence over games that fans perceive don’t matter. And perhaps because we’re so exhausted from trying to keep up with the names of the players who come in and out of a program like a turnstile, versus the old days when the fellas hung around for three or four years, we’ve grown a bit disinterested. And maybe our increased obsession with college football leaves us depleted and spent. Besides, life sometimes makes it difficult to wedge one more thing into our daily routines.
Whatever the reason, college basketball just doesn’t electrify the circuits like the other sports against which it competes in the fall.
But maybe it’s time to give the college hoops game another shot. Maybe this is the year we start watching again. November gives us plenty of reasons to do that. H&A
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Cover Photo: Kentucky vs. Transylvania. Photo by Chet White. Courtesy Kentucky Athletics.