Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 4, 2014

Schedules may get longer, but basketball season seems shorter

Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service

— How odd that the same weekend that featured the Super Blowout also offered the best the college basketball season has offered so far. Just as Sunday's Super Bowl turned into a dud between Seattle and Denver, collegians were giving fans one pulse-raising finish after another.

None was bigger than the Atlantic Coach Conference punch fest that had Syracuse defeating Duke 91-89 in overtime. “We’ve had a lot of games in here that have been great,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on TV afterwards. “But there’s never been a game as good as this one. I can’t say enough about the quality of this game."

Syracuse's win before nearly 36,000 fans came the same Saturday night that California knocked No. 1 Arizona from the unbeaten ranks, 60-58, on Justin Cobbs’ basket with less than a second left to play. Those two games were a fitting finish to a thrilling week that saw 13 teams in The Associated Press' Top 25 lose at least one game.

With football now packed away until next summer, it's time to enjoy what's become an all-too-brief college basketball season.

The long hoops schedule seems to get compressed - in terms of interest and relevance, if not the number of games themselves - for several reasons. One is that college basketball takes second-class status because it offers an unappealing list of early-season games. Then there's an ebb in importance in the conference tournaments and championships at the season's end because everyone is fixated on the drama-filled NCAA tournament.

All of this is a shame because college basketball players are some of the most gifted athletes around. Success requires power, grace, stamina, agility - and, finally, blending individual talents into a team.

Strangely, these ingredients that work so well for players can work against the best interest of the sport. Also limiting the luster of college basketball is the siphoning of its best rising stars. Multi-million dollar offers lure select freshmen and sophomores to the National Basketball Association and the chance to play against the world's best.

They're here in college one year, gone the next. That’s a tough marketing assignment for those trying to draw fans to the game.

Just take a look at the freshmen now tearing up the college schedule - but don’t wait long.

Kansas features Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, either of whom could be the No. 1 selection in next summer’s NBA draft.

Kentucky might scoff at that with at least four freshmen who could trade Wildcat blue for NBA gold after a brief stop in Lexington - Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron.

Making that move is their prerogative, and who would turn down a guaranteed contract?

Until then those freshmen and a half-dozen others like them will have a chance at college basketball glory - and we fans will have to enjoy it while we can.

If the NCAA tournament pairings were released today, the top seeds likely would be Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas and Wichita State. The second level would be Villanova, Michigan, Florida and Michigan State.

That probably will change. Injuries alter expectations, and upsets have a way of destroying big dreams.

While losing to California, Arizona sustained another major setback when forward Brandon Ashley broke a bone in his foot, ending his season. The Wildcats weren’t a deep team to begin with. Elsewhere, training rooms at Michigan and Michigan State have resembled an infirmary all year.

Wichita State and Syracuse are the last two unbeaten teams, though how long can that last? No team has had a perfect year since Indiana in 1975-76.

The season was shorter then; the Hoosiers played 32 games. Last year, when Louisville won the championship, the Cardinals played eight more games. The odds of running the table now are much longer.

With a month left in the regular season, followed by conference tournaments, basketball teams are expected to be performing at a higher level. That especially holds true for freshmen, most of whom have now played 20 or more games.

It’s taken a while to get here, but the too-short college basketball season is now about who can make big plays on big stages.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

- See more at: http://www.cnhinews.com/cnhins_sports/x714769278/Dating-scene-with-colleges-recruits-can-have-harsh-results#sthash.B1Gcxzgg.dpuf

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

- See more at: http://www.cnhinews.com/cnhins_sports/x1280771101/Super-Bowl-spectacle-crosses-into-the-absurd#sthash.GccQI0Eh.dpuf

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.