Thursday, July 30, 2009

Week 1 College Basketball Preview

By Kevin Beane

Over the last few years, I have carved an enjoyable niche both for my column and for my own idiosyncratic tendencies by previewing the first week of both college football and basketball months in advance, well before anyone else previews the season in that context (week one only), and then refusing to look ahead to week two until the completion of week one.

For basketball, that has meant the Coaches vs. Cancer classic, which has carved its own niche as the sole occupiers of the first week of the-games-count-now college hoops slate.

It was a 16-team tournament split into four "pods" where three big boys of college basketball would host three chihuahuas, and the winner of each quadrant would head to Madison Square Garden for the finals.

You might have noticed I wrote, "was." The tournament has decided to maximize revenue by sticking to the most tried and true method of realizing profits in the NCAA — sticking it to the little guy.

You see, they've changed the format this year, and well, the four host schools will be guaranteed the semifinal slots in New York City. It doesn't matter if they lost both the games in their pods, it's more like a round-robin tournament now, except you don't play everybody and they pre-ordain the semifinalists before the tournaments starts.

It's not like David never slayed the Goliath in this tournament. Two years ago, it was Gardner-Webb punching their Garden ticket after beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena. But make no mistake, the tournament producers didn't take this step despite such upsets, but because of them. No one outside of greater Charlotte and upset connoisseurs like myself are going to the Big Apple to watch Gardner-Webb.

So congratulations to Ohio State, North Carolina, Cal, and Syracuse. You're in the little dance.

To make up the revenue the smaller schools have no chance of earning now, I hereby encourage the players and student bodies of those schools to straight-up engage in gambling fraud. Offer some ignorant sucker 100-to-1 odds against any but those four schools making the semis, but make the minimum bet something like $100.

Those schools (and besides the schools above, there are eight; they pared four teams from the field under the new format) are Murray State, North Carolina Central, Florida International, Detroit, Alcorn State, James Madison, Albany, and Robert Morris.

Who is hurt the most by this? Robert Morris, who returns two of their top three scorers from a team that ran away with the NEC regular season crown, won the conference tournament, and went to the Big Dance.

Who catches the biggest break? No one, really, these are four top-25 teams most likely. Perhaps Ohio State. Two years ago they failed to make the Big Dance, didn't nail down their spot until the last week or two of the regular season last year, and lost their big-impact center, B.J. Mullens.

They haven't announced who will play whom in these "semifinals," but it would be interesting if they paired Ohio State with North Carolina, a great matchup two years ago that I live-blogged for Slant Pattern, and will again if this matchup happens.

North Carolina and Cal would be interesting too, since Cal's stock in the Pac-10 is soaring and they return every major contributor, while UNC is practically starting over from last year's championship team.

It should be interesting, but without the likes of Robert Morris or Murray State to crash the party, this tournament has deflated their spirit even if they've inflated their pockets (all of which better indeed go to cancer charities).

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