College basketball, TigerBlog fears, is doing everything it can to destroy itself.
The sport has become more about the coaches, refs and TV broadcasters than it is about the players. Think about it for a second. How many coaches can you name? How many refs? Especially how many TV on-air personalities? Now ask yourself how many players on Top 25 teams you can name? More than 10? More than 25? Unlikely.
It's also not because the best players all leave early and go to the NBA after one season. It's because the players are not what's marketed in college basketball; it's the coaches.
Still, that's not the biggest problem as TigerBlog sees it. In fact, there are two of them. Second is that the regular season (which begins three weeks too early) that spreads out now from mid-November through early March is essentially meaningless. Look at Rider. The Broncs opened with a win at Mississippi State, which is great, but for the team to get into the NCAA tournament, it almost surely needs to win the MAAC tournament over a three-game stretch in March, as only once has the MAAC sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament.
For the power teams, the regular season is about getting into and then getting a good seed in the tournament. And, because matchup means everything once the tournament is announced, it can sometimes be better to be the three-seed in one region rather than the two-seed in another.
But the No. 1 problem is television. There is such an oversaturation of games available that it has vaulted past "wow, this is great exposure" into "wow, every game looks the same" mode. It's only Nov. 19, but how many games have already been on? How many times can you watch North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State - and especially Duke - before it's numbing. The only exception for TigerBlog is Georgetown, because it's coached by John Thompson with Mike Brennan on his staff.
The ESPN-driven 24-hour basketball event that happened the other day isn't even the problem. At first thought, TigerBlog reasoned that it was idiotic for teams to agree to play at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m., all in the name of getting on TV. After he thought about it more, TB changed his mind.
The 6 a.m. game was between Monmouth and St. Peter's. Had that been a normal, run-of-the-mill 7 p.m. start, who would ever remember it?
Take last night's Princeton-Manhattan men's game. It was a nice win for the Tigers, who twice looked to be in trouble (early on and then midway through the second half) before turning it around. Still, it's unlikely that this game will be etched in anyone's memory for very long.
But the Monmouth and St. Peter's players will never forget the day where they got up at 2:30 ("I can say without a doubt that I've come in at that time a lot more than I've gotten up at that time," said Monmouth coach Dave Calloway, one of TB's favorite coaches.) and played at 6 a.m. Yes, it was driven by the chance to play on ESPN, but ultimately it will be remembered more as an experience by itself rather than for a TV show. And good for the people at Monmouth and St. Peter's for having that experience.
Getting back to Princeton, it's been a pretty encouraging start to the basketball season, as both the men's and women's teams are both 2-0. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it's only happened four times since the women's program started in 1971-72 and not since 1995-96 (the other three were 1989-90, 1974-75 and 1973-74).
The women have gotten 18 points in each of their two games from freshman Niveen Rasheed and had four players in double figures while taking apart American Monday night. Princeton will be heading off to California to take on UCLA and UC-Irvine next week before returning to take on, among others, Rutgers before the Ivy League starts.
Dartmouth was the preseason pick to win the women's title, but Princeton has to be happy with the progress it has made. The same is true of the men's team, who like the women feature a good balance of young players and veterans and who are flying a bit under the radar in a league where all preseason attention has been focused on Cornell.
The men have defeated Central Michigan and Manhattan to start their season, reversing two losses of a year ago. More importantly, Princeton won games that could have gone either way, a pair of games in which the Tigers trailed either in the final minute (CMU) or late in the second half (Manhattan).
Ian Hummer already looks like quite a player (his ability to pass and see the court particularly impressed TigerBlog), and Princeton has all kinds of options, including the ability to put big men Pawel Buczak and Zach Finley on the court together.
In short, it's a good time to be a fan of Princeton basketball. On top of that, as TigerBlog sat in Jadwin last night, he couldn't help but think of what a great place it is to see a game these days. Tickets are affordable, fans can sit right on top of the court and there's plenty for kids to do there. Last night's game started at 7 and ended at 8:40, so it wasn't too late on a school night.
Also, it's two teams that play hard and are getting better. What more can you want?
The next chance is Saturday, when you can see both on the same day. The men host Army at 2, followed by the women against Delaware.
Best of all, it's not on TV.