January 7, 2009
Coaches often say that the college basketball season is actually three-in-one;the non-conference schedule where they see what kind of team they have and prepare them for the nightly battles of conference play. The conference schedule where every game is a war and coaches do some fine tuning in preparation for March and post-season play. Finally, tournament time, March where anything can happen and usually does, it’s not called madness for anything. What we don’t hear is that the unpredictability of these seasons increases as the calendar turns, and that is certainly true in 2008-09 thus far.
In the first week of the season we had Mercer go on the road and upset Auburn and Alabama for a sweep of their SEC swing. Then for the second year in a row Billy Gillespie failed to endear himself to the Lexington faithful as VMI strolled into Rupp and played the part of Gardner-Webb and knocked off the Wildcats. In the very first game of the season Georgia Southern upset the Houston Cougars. Maybe it was something in the Kentucky water because a few days after the Wildcats fell, the Louisville Cardinals fell to Western Kentucky. Lastly, in December the Syracuse Orange succumb to the Cleveland State Vikings on a 3/4-court heave at the Carrier Dome.
January marks the begining of the conference grind, as usual with a spattering of games before everyone begins the grind this Saturday (1/10). But before things begin in earnest, conference play has already begun to show its teeth. On January 4th Portland State and Northern Arizona battled in a quarduple-overtime Big Sky thriller eventually won by Portland State 92-91. On the same night Boston College went into Chappel Hill, NC and took over the Dean Dome handling previously-unbeaten, previously No. 1, seemingly previously invincible North Carolina 85-78. In recent years the Missouri Valley has been one of the most volatile, topsy-turvy conferences in the country. January 6th previously unbeaten Illinois State traveled to Peoria to take on the Bradley Braves. The Jim Les led Braves would hand Illinois State its first loss of the season 56-52. Meanwhile in Omaha, Nebraska perennial conference favorite was falling to Northern Iowa 69-66. All of this in the first week of conference play sets the table for a crazy six weeks across the country.
If March is considered madness then November and December is certainly hoops hysteria and January and February can be considered conference craziness. While the upsets and cinderellas in March get all the pub, a closer look shows the delirium on the hardwood begins as soon as the first ball is jumped.