Does anybody really care about college basketball’s regular season anymore? I don’t even think Dick Vitale is that interested anymore. Saturday’s Louisville-Georgetown game from Freedom Hall was turned into a Dickie V talking informercial. I am happy that Vitale is healthy again after having ulcers removed from his throat, and nobody is a bigger cheeleader for college hoops than Vitale. But, let’s be honest. Vitale drops more names during a telecast than the Germans dropped bombs on France in 1940. Furthermore, he is a lousy game analyst. If shouting counted for intelligence, Vitale would be the best. Vitale makes you pray for the I-think-I-know-it-all Billy Packer.
The regular season in college basketball has become a virtual wasteland. There are no more must-see games before March anymore. Last week, Duke played North Carolina, but the outcome really didn’t matter. Both teams are good and both will play in the NCAA tournament in mid-March.
Why is the regular season meaningless? Let us count the ways.
1) Every game is on TV. Every game. ESPN shows college hoops every single night. That doesn’t make for appointment TV. There used to be a time when you had to wait for the weekend to see a game, or maybe one or two weeknights. Now, it’s beyond oversaturation.
2) Conference Tournaments. It’s better to get hot for four days than to dominate the regular season, particularly in one bid leagues. A team can go 23-5 in the Atlantic Sun, but if they lose the conference championship game to the 15-13 team, they will stay home when the tourmanent begins. The 23-5 dominates the league for two months, but if they can’t win three games in three days, they’re done for the year.
3) If you’re in, tank it. Some teams actually claim that once a March Madness spot is secure, winning the conference tournament is actually detrimental. In 2006, Syracuse ran the table in New York, winning four games in four days. Their reward was a number 5 seed and they were flatter than a pancake, losing to number 12 Texas A&M in the first round. Jim Boeheim was rumored to say that a team that is already in the NCAA tournament is best if they lose a close game in the conference tournament semifnals, because they can go home and get rest before the NCAAs begin.
4) The Roy Williams Factor. There is no coach who is better in regular season games than North Carolina’s Roy Williams. His teams run up and down the court, play little defense and win games 99-92 and finish the regular season 28-4. When the NCAAs begin, the teams slow it down and play the half-court style. Less chances for the Tar Heels (and previously, the Kansas Jayhawks) to score the ball. And, if you finish 28-4, and don’t get to the Final Four, the fans don’t care about the fantastic 28-4 record. That’s wrong, but the NCAA tournament has created a monster.
5) John Chaney, Pete Carill and the Gimmicks Temple never won a title under Chaney and never even made a Final Four, but nobody wanted to play the Temple Owls in the dance. His unorthodox matchup zone was tough to figure out and one bad night, and you’re done. Temple made several regional finals with sub-par talent because the NCAA is all about matchups. Pete Carill and Princeton gave everybody fits as well, especially if you had to play them two days after your previous game, with only one day to practice for them.
What are the solutions? What can college basketball can do to remedy what they have ruined?
1) Less games on TV. It will never happen, but that’s what you have to do. Make people want to watch a game. Create demand. See: NFL
2) Get Rid of the Conference Tournaments. If you want the regular season to mean something, this is a no-brainer. Of course, with the money at stake, this too, will never happen. Eliminating the conference tournaments would mean that the NCAA tournament could start a week earlier and you could even expand from 65 to 72 teams.
3) No more neutral site regular season tournaments. Who cares about the Maui Inviational, the Great Alaska Shootout and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge? Make these games go away. Make Maryland visit Indiana and then Indiana visit Maryland. Watching Maryland play Indiana on a neutral court is about a sterile an environment one could have. Some of the best regular season basketball games were UCLA at Notre Dame and vice versa in the 1970s. On campus, hostile environment, real emotion. When they play these neutral court games, there is no emotion. Could you imagine Notre Dame ending UCLA’ 88 game wining streak in Chicago? Or San Francisco? What about Houston beating UCLA at the Astrodome in 1968?
I would love to see Duke play UCLA home and home on a four year contract. And, rather than go to Madison Square Gardem for away games, let’s see Syracuse visit Kansas or Oklahoma State and then have those schools return the favor.
Of course, I won’t hold my breath waiting for these things to happen. I also won’t be watching regular season college basketball games either.