I blogged last year that college hoops fascinate me, because it seems almost possible to create any reasonably accurate set of predictions at the beginning of a season (here, in case you’re one of the few people on the planet who missed it the first time) . Well, here we are, another year later, and the point is even clearer.
We’re only a few weeks into the season, and, already, one of the pre-season top-10 teams has fallen out of the rankings, while a team that got zero pre-season votes for the Top 25 is now #7. (Here are the preseason rankings, and here are the current ones.) I’m talking about North Carolina, which was originally ranked #9 and now, having already lost to Minnesota and Vanderbilt, is not ranked, and I’m also talking about UCONN, who beat down a few “top 10 powerhouses” like they stole something.
I point this out again simply to note two things:
1. Personally, I don’t see any reason to start paying attention to college hoops until conference play begins. There are too many teams to keep track of, and, without any reliable sense of who’s worth paying attention to, there’s really no way for a fan who works during the day to have any idea what to pay attention to.
2. The reasons that are typically given for college teams’ successes are completely bogus. Often we hear about coaching. But, lots of proven winners are mired in funks. Roy Williams, to name one, seems to have lost the magic he had at Carolina when Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansborough were there. (Funny how that works.) Gary Williams, with a national championship on his resume, hasn’t done much recently. Nor has Tubby Smith. Or Rick Pitino.
I’m not saying that these guys aren’t good coaches, I’m just saying that, when we hear people praising coaches as if they’re brilliant geniuses who have figured out the magic formula for winning consistently, we should remember that lots of those coaches have trouble, well… winning consistently. It’s really remarkable how quickly the winning touch comes and goes.
And, separate from coaching, we often hear about “tradition” as the reason why teams get good. But “tradition” doesn’t seem to be doing much to help Carolina or UCLA, let alone other former powerhouses like Indiana, St. John’s, Michigan, or, come to think about it, the entire Pac 10 Conference.
In a nutshell, at the college level, there’s a very thin line between success and failure. Personally, I love watching the game, and seeing which teams are able to create a winning formula…. starting in January.
Until then, I’ll be monitoring college hoops, but watching the NBA.
While I see Tweener’s point, I would argue that these early season, non-conference college contests are much more important than the run of meaningless Bobcats-Nets, Cavs-Pistons, Warriors-Kings, etc. regular season games in the NBA. The NCAA tourney selection committee looks more and more at strength of schedule and non-conference wins, both of which are determined this time of year. Also, while college teams’ current level of play today may be vastly different come tourney time (at least I hope that is the case with respect to this year’s Tar Heels), this is the time of year when you can start to see teams develop and come together. Also, there are tremendous games this time of year, e.g., the Mizzou-Georgetown OT-thriller two night’s back, last night’s dook-Michigan State marquee matchup and last Sunday’s Princeton-Siena mid-major battle where Princeton forced OT on a last second shot and played soundly in OT to win a game that could go a long way towards earning the Tigers a decent seed for the NCAA tourney. Also, this time of year there are great non-conference rivalry games like the Big Five games in Philly and the annual Kentucky-Carolina game.
In short, the college basketball season is a fascinating journey every season, and fans late to tune in will fail to grasp the entire story and miss out on some great games in the process. I prefer the tradition and pristine atmosphere of college hoops to the NBA’s slew of games filled with piped-in music and players mostly going through the motions. I won’t be watching the NBA until after college hoops end and the NBA playoffs start.
TigerHeel! Nice to have you back!
Look, I’m not hating on the NCAA. When I have time, and there’s a good college game on, I’ll watch. Or, it one of my teams (Syracuse and Penn) are on, then I’ll watch. (For reasons I don’t understand, Penn isn’t on ESPN much these days.)
I’m just saying that the things I hoopserve early in the college hoops season don’t seem to have much of an impact on the way teams line up in March. I like to let the dust settle a little bit before I start to focus on it.
Hope you’ll be back soon!