Are You Ready For Some Basketball?

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The men’s (and women’s) college basketball season is just getting underway, a season that starts early, but really doesn’t start to get going until after the New Year.

Men’s basketball is a strange beast with strong teams scheduling weak teams in a bid to pad their win totals going into league play. By the time January rolls around, College Basketballmany teams already have at least ten wins with just another ten or twelve needed to qualify for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. But beating up on the little guys is no proof of later success — how many times have we seen a team start off with a 10-2 record only to end up with a losing season or falling short of a post season berth? Plenty!

This year the odds on favorite is the UNC Tarheels, one of three terrific teams in my area (Duke and NC State being the other two). North Carolina is the unanimous choice in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Polls, a testament to just how good the team is this year. After losing to the Kansas Jayhawks 84-66 in the last championship game, Carolina is ready to rebound and take it all. And, thanks to ongoing great recruiting, future teams look to be topflight as well.

As dominating as the Tarheels appear on paper, the conference with the strongest teams appears to be the Big East. This year, the conference has four pre-season Top Ten picks with UCONN and Louisville #2 and #3 respectively followed by Pittsburgh at #5 and Notre Dame coming in at #9 (AP poll). Marquette, Georgetown, and Villanova are three more Big East teams in the Top 25, reflecting just how deep the conference is.

Davidson, which was the Cinderella team the last season won’t be surprising anyone this year. Pollsters have pegged the Wildcats to finish #20 which would guarantee a fairly high seed in the tournament. Credit Stephen Curry with the Wildcats success, a team that nearly knocked off eventual champion Kansas in the Final 8 last year.

Early season games are often played within tournaments which are created to stir up fan interest and give fans a warm place to travel to. A noticeable exception to a warm place is the annual Great Alaska Shootout, a one-time big time contest that got a lot of attention and brought in teams from all over the country. Alas, cold temperatures and difficulty getting to Alaska has taken its toll on the tournament and this year ESPN has decided not to show the tournament. Give it one more year and it’ll be R.I.P.

By the beginning of the year, you’ll start to see endless ads touting the “Road to the Final Four” which will be played in Detroit in April. Games will be played on a court plunked down in the middle of Ford Field (home to the NFL Lions) which will allow a record 70,000 people to watch all three games. Naturally, viewing any game from the nosebleed section will require binoculars but for rabid sportsmen, they’ll take all of that in stride.

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