There may have been games before today. There may have been quality matchups with incredible finishes before today. There may have been monstrous dunks and mean mugs before today. There may have even been fabulous freshman debuts before today. But today, today is really the day where it all begins. College Basketball, 2013-14 Edition began at midnight this morning, for all intents and purposes, and I couldn’t be more excited.
By the time this article is up, we will be well into the 24-hour tip-off marathon that ESPN brings to the table at the start of every college basketball season. By now, Wichita State will have dismissed Western Kentucky. It’s also probable that Dunk City will have gotten their first win of the season over Hartford. But if you’re lucky, you’ll see this early in the day. Because today’s the day where the fun begins, and you won’t want to miss any of it.
Tonight we get Duke vs. Kansas (HELLO PARKER V. WIGGINS!). We get Michigan St. vs. Kentucky (HELLO No. 1 vs. No. 2!). But we also get OU vs. OSU, and Hofstra vs. Louisville or even South Carolina State vs. Michigan. And those lesser-hyped games are must-see television just as much as those top-billed battles.
Is 24 hours overkill? Certainly. I’ve been at a participating mid-major school, relegated to the dreaded early morning time slot and let me tell you, it sucked showing up to a student section at 7:30 a.m. At the same time, that was a memory I’ll never forget. It was a chance for my small school (Kent State) to showcase what they’re made of to the nation. This marathon was there moment to show what they could do, regardless the time of day.
The 24-hour marathon is a chance for mid-majors like Northern Colorado to get some time on the big four-letter network and receive national exposure. For many of those kids, it’s the biggest spotlight they’ll ever see. Do you think they care that they had to wake up at 6 in the morning Pacific Time? Probably not. They’re about to be on national television, playing the game they love and there’s a chance that if they make that incredible play, the entire country will see it in real-time instead of on the web.
There’s only two times of the year where teams like Illinois State or Utah Valley or Fordham will ever get this much coverage: The marathon and March Madness. For a lot of these teams, it’s the only time they’ll get their chance to shine, because making March Madness is extremely difficult if you’re a mid-major school. It’s even tougher if you’re a small school in a conference with a reigning tough guy champion, like Illinois State who would never make it past Creighton and Doug McDermott the last few years in the Missouri Valley Conference — luckily for them, McDermott and the Blue Jays are now in the Big East. So these schools get one chance to shine, and sometimes they make the most of it.
Last year’s primetime match-up of the marathon featured a veteran Duke squad dismantling the defending national champions, the Kentucky Wildcats. It wasn’t even a fun game, as Duke’s senior laden team picked apart an inexperienced and less-talented Wildcat bunch. The game of the marathon? UC-Irvine vs. UCLA in which the 13th ranked Bruins, led by über-recruit Shabazz Muhammad, barely escaped in their first game of the season. The rest of Irvine’s year was rather mundane as they finished with 21 wins before bowing out in the second round of the CIT. Yeah, the third string tournament that only the hardcore fans will watch (Mr. Giese, I’m looking at you). But for that night? Irvine had the attention of every college hoops fan, because they were given that opportunity to face one of the best teams in the country, on a national stage.
They say that a college basketball season that lasts at least 27 games is a marathon not a sprint, as the old cliché goes. Hell, even these 24 hours of non-stop basketball are labeled a marathon. But for these small teams, the UC-Irvines of the world, they’re not trying to last an entire season. They just have one game. If they end up turning out to be a great team for throughout the course of the season, then great, they get a second shot to be seen nation-wide in March. But now? Today? They want to make the most of their 40 minutes in the spotlight; they want to shine underneath the bright lights of a national broadcast. For these small teams, this marathon’s just the complete opposite. This is an all-out sprint for one game, and they’re trying to reach that finish line first.