There is a sentiment that seems to be shared by most of the population that this is the worst portion of the year on the sports calendar. Certainly the loss of football is difficult to deal with. After enjoying the sport that has become America’s passion in our lives every weekend for the last five months, people had to face the stark reality of a Saturday and Sunday without football. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a void, but there is a perfect alternative that can at least fill some of the empty space created by the gridiron closing its doors for the season.
People need to give college basketball another try.
Many have given up on the sport, considering it to be of little use to them outside of the thrilling three weeks in March when they follow the fortunes of their bracket. There was a calculation made by the masses that because the tournament became so exciting, the regular season paled in comparison. In many ways the sport has been relegated to the way most sports fans feel about hockey: love the postseason so let me know when the regular season ends.
For a while there was some truth to this sentiment. The game had been damaged by early departures by underclassmen to the NBA and rule changes that allowed defenses to physically overwhelm offensive players.
The exodus to the NBA continues, but thanks to a change in the league’s collective bargaining agreement a half-decade ago, every player is forced to spend at least one year in college, meaning even the most talented players have to come through the college game. That has led to better basketball, because the sport is always stronger when its played by incredibly talented players.
Those players had struggled to show off the full potential of their talent since being shepherded to the college game however, because officials had stopped calling fouls. Coaches were teaching their teams to clutch, grab, bump and nudge anyone that presented a threat along the perimeter because if they weren’t going to penalize you for it, why wouldn’t you do it?
The result was a product that started to become unwatchable. The passion still remained allowing fans to enjoy their own team’s games, but it was tough to sit through anyone else’s contests. Even showdowns between top-10 teams were deteriorated into ugly slugfests. Something had to change and it finally has.
During the offseason the NCAA put into place several points of emphasis to clean the game up. Essentially touching someone along the perimeter has been banned. Even the slightest of contact on a hand-check is supposed to draw a whistle. The officials don’’t always call them all, but they have whistled enough fouls that players have begun to adjust the way they defend. Instead of using their hands and their torsos to slow people down they are moving their feet to try and beat players to the spot. The easiest way to see the difference is to flip on a game from 20 years ago. Check out ESPN Classic and you’ll be amazed how little contact there was in college basketball. Now watch a game from last season. If you are missing football this might help because you could argue that what you’ll see looks more like it than basketball. Now tune into a game between two good teams this year. It doesn’t look quite like it did in 1993, but it’s a lot closer to that than it is to what we witnessed last season.
The game is fun again and when you combine that with the passion that accompanies a college basketball game you can’t help but get enthralled by it.
Making it even easier to embrace is the fact that two local teams along with a local kid are enjoying special seasons. The University of Delaware has won 12 straight games including their first 10 in conference play. The Hens are favored to make their first NCAA Tournament in 15 years. Meanwhile, 45 minutes up the road on the mainline, Villanova is a legit threat to reach the Final Four. Jay Wright’s Wildcats have only lost two games all season and have wins over top-10 teams like Kansas and Iowa.
They are for real as are the Hens, but no one looks more legit than the top-ranked team in the land, the Syracuse Orange. One of the big cogs in the ‘Cuse’s offensive attack played his high school ball in the First State at Sanford. Trevor Cooney is shooting 44 percent from three-point range and has been as key a reason as anybody why the Orange are one of only two undefeated teams left in the nation.
There will be local flair come March. People should jump on board now, it will help ease the wounds from football’s end. If you do it, I guarantee you your talk of this being the worst time of the year will disappear.