Thursday, September 27, 2012
College Basketball Day 1 Preview
I pride myself on having the earliest Week 1 previews in the industry in college football and college basketball, and by my standards, I am quite late with this college basketball preview. This is to my shame.
There's been a slight change in how the season will start compared to previous seasons and as a result this will be a Day 1, rather than Week 1, preview. For the last several years, while the first full day was the second Friday in November, the 3-4 days prior to that would also give us early-round action in what used to be Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, now the 2K Sports Classic.
This year, that tournament is starting on Friday November 9th just like everyone else, and early-round coverage of the tournament seems to have been deemphasized by ESPN. Last year, tournament organizers really had to scramble to fill out the field, reaching down not only to Division II (which they will again this year), but even a first-year DII program, Indiana-Kokomo.
Another new change is the NCAA welcomes two new teams to Division I, although one simply took a hiatus of a few years before deciding they liked Division I better than Division III after all. That would be New Orleans. UNO gave the world Eric Rasmussen and Ledell Eackles, and the Privateers begin the year at home on the 9th, against San Jose State. Not bad getting a school from a sort-of major conference to rechristen your arrival.
The other school making its initial foray into Division I is Northern Kentucky University, the "Norse." While UNO has several other non-conference home games besides the SJSU game, NKU plays nary a single home game until conference play begins in the Atlantic Sun conference.
The Norse was decent last year in Division II, going 23-7 and making the DII tournament, where they lost in the first round. All things considered, it may not be too bumpy of a transition for them considering the Atlantic Sun is arguably the worst conference in Division I basketball.
In other changes, I guess last year's Michigan State/North Carolina game on an aircraft carrier must have been wildly successful, because there are three games on aircraft carriers on Day 1 alone. All three games are between two teams in the preseason AP Top 25, so happily we will have quite a few games to start with that will actually be compelling and hopefully competitive.
First up is No. 2 Syracuse against No. 22 San Diego State on the USS Midway at 7 EST on FOX Sports. As the Midway is docked in San Diego, this is a de facto home game for the Aztecs. SDSU has been very good the last few years, making a Sweet 16 berth and climbing as high as number No. 4 in the nation, but has yet to pick up a real signature win to get everyone's attention. This would do it.
Then we have No. 7 Ohio State taking on No. 11 Marquette on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. I'm an OSU homer but I fear they are ranked too high with Jared Sullinger gone. I wouldn't go as far as saying this would be a "signature win" for Marquette — they won the 1977 National Championship and have made it to the Big Dance the last six years, knocking off many Big East giants in the process — but they haven't made it beyond the Sweet 16 in that span, and I'm drawing a blank on their big non-conference wins. It will also be at 7 EST on the NBC Sports Network.
Once that game is over, NBC Sports will fire up another aircraft carrier game, No. 15 Georgetown vs No. 25 Florida on the USS Bataan in Jacksonville. This game sees two teams trying to regain some of the bloom they've lost off their rose in the last few years, with neither team making the Final Four since 2007, although Florida has been just one game short of that the last two years. Since Georgetown is ranked slightly better, but Florida is much closer to home, this could be a good one. Interesting trivia: during the Gators' 2006 title run, the only team in the tourney to stay within single digits of them was Georgetown, who fell 57-53.
Other games of note: It's not on an aircraft carrier, but Michigan State continues to honor the military by opening the season against UConn at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany. It will be strange to see Jim Calhoun not patrolling the Huskies sidelines or righteously ripping a reporter to shreds (my favorite part is when the scribe gets on his high horse at 40 seconds in and the other reporters jeer). Best of luck to his replacement, former player Kevin Ollie. They will not be favorites in this game. It's at 5:30 EST on ESPN.
Then there's No. 1 ranked Kentucky vs. Maryland in the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Yet again, a chance for a once-great team to get a signature win to demonstrate they are back in business. 8:30 EST on ESPN.
Finally, if you want to be a real junkie and say you watched the first first first game of the season, there will be a Noon EST game with Eastern Michigan taking on Rochester College, an NAIA school. In fact they are even new to NAIA, and EMU has no business scheduling this game, but it will probably be on MAC-Sports.com. Enjoy!