The 2012-13 college basketball season has now been going on for a month. Most league teams began play on Friday Nov. 9; tomorrow is Saturday, Dec. 8, and features 10 games involving conference teams.
That’s right, 10 nonconference games on a Saturday, a month into the season. A look at the schedule reveals that this might well be the dullest full day in ACC basketball history (leaving aside the first day of the ACC Tournament since the move to 12 schools).
To be sure, there is one game of legitimate national interest: Duke takes on unbeaten Temple at its satellite campus in East Rutherford, N.J. And there is one other game that fits what used to be called a “cross-sectional,” made-for-TV contest a rare matchup between nationally ranked Arizona and Clemson. Finally, I can imagine someone in western Virginia getting marginally excited about the matchup between West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Beyond that, you have a lot of fairly sorry games: Cleveland State at NCSU, East Tennessee State at UNC, South Carolina State at Maryland, Mississippi Valley State at Virginia, UNC-W at Georgia Tech, and St. Francis (NY) at Boston College.
How weak a lineup is that? Well, for starters, we might observe that for the first time in quite a while Carolina is playing a game that is not on broadcast or cable TV, anywhere, though it will be streamed online by ESPN3.
We might go on to observe the Sagarin ratings of those six visiting schools: Cleveland State (#136), East Tennessee State (#237), South Carolina State (#340), Mississippi Valley State (#319), UNC-W (#283), St. Francis (NY) (#225).
To be fair, Boston College is just No. 197 in the Sagarin ratings at the moment, and there is some interest I suppose in seeing whether they are a legitimate contender to be one of the worst teams in league history, a possibility raised by the double-digit loss to Harvard earlier this week.
And Wake Forest, bless them, host a a bona fide Top 100 opponent from a power conference, Seton Hall. Even so, I don’t expect many neutrals to go out of their way to catch the highlights of that one.
Taken as a whole, though, this is an incredibly weak slate of games. Here we are, the first full Saturday after college football, and this is the best the league can serve up? Duke fans should watch the Temple game, but otherwise I would advise other hard core ACC fans to spend Saturday shopping for Christmas, celebrating Hanukkah, working on your holiday card, checking your car for winter fluids, planning your dental appointments over the next year, and just about anything else that doesn’t involve paying attention to the league’s basketball slate.
I do have one question for the league, though: why? Specifically, why does the “preseason” last in effect for nearly two months? Why not instead start league play in December, then give teams a chance to play a marquee nonconference game in say mid-February in order to give the league a chance to boost its collective RPI and also give teams a respite from the rigors of league play? Alternatively, why not go ahead and move all the way to 20 league games?
To be fair, there is the exam schedule excuse. And it’s good that the league has moved from 16 to 18 conference games this season. Nonetheless there’s something odd about the fact that the league’s schools would follow all the high-profile tournaments, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and other attention-getting games with an absolute snoozer of a slate. Instead of taking the chance to start league play with a bang on a slow sports day, the ACC in effect is taking a pass, hosting a series of “contests” that will likely see the second half devolve into glorified scrimmages.
If you’re going to bother to play basketball in December, it might as well be meaningful. And if that’s impossible, why not move the start of the season back to its traditional Thanksgiving start? Frankly, a number of the teams in the league could have used the extra practice before taking their games public. And if the season had started later, fans would still be in curiosity mode about their teams. At this point, however, most teams pretty much have established their personnel and the basic parameters of how they are going to play.
(A year ago in this space, David Fellerath tore out his eyeballs writing about watching Duke beat Western Michigan by 40 points. His suggestion: eliminate the shot clock for these mismatches.)
In short, the novelty of the season has worn off and yet the meaning and passion attached to the league slate has not yet arrived. That’s a recipe for the basketball blahs—and a good reason to give almost all of this weekend’s league game a miss.