Nov 08, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
So it’s college basketball season again, which means that Syracuse, a bedrock of the Big East, will be tipping off its season with nice, cushy home games against delicious cupcakes and….
Wait a minute, the Orange are going to the ACC next year? And they’re starting against San Diego State? And they’re traveling across the country to play it? And it’s on an aircraft carrier?
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the hoops scene circa 2012-13. Not a season goes by without a fair amount of conference shuffling from programs large and small alike, but the recent shifts are so numerous and profound that it’s bound to reshape the way we look at things.
Start, of course, with the football-driven moves of SU, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (to the ACC), Missouri, Texas A&M (to the SEC) and West Virginia (to the Big 12), but don’t stop there. There’s UNLV to the Big West, Butler and VCU to the Atlantic 10, Cornell leaving the Ivy League – okay, I’m kidding about the last one, but it’s no less chaotic.
Put together, this just drives fans crazy. Old rivalries are tossed aside, passions are forgotten, all in pursuit of ever-more TV dollars and a hope that your name gets called on Selection Sunday as the ninth team from a Big Ten that really deserves a mere five NCAA bids.
When all of these profound changes take place, it’s only fitting, perhaps, that the game’s power corridor has veered west, to a block of land on either side of the Ohio River where basketball is king 24/7/365 and no one has to play second (or third) fiddle to football.
Kentucky’s awesome run to the national championship last spring, done on the backs of one-and-done megatalents like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was a confirmation of John Calipari’s methods, which haven’t exactly drawn praise from quarters outside of Lexington.
Across the commonwealth in Louisville, Rick Pitino has taken a different path, more blue-collar than the glamour of Big Blue, but he’s reaching the same spot of dominance that could only get more pronounced in the Big East once Boeheim and friends are gone.
And now look at what’s going on in Indiana. Not since Bob Knight’s red-sweater heyday has the Hoosiers breathed the air of legitimate national contender status. Last season’s run to the Sweet 16, and the fact that everyone, including Cody Zeller, returns, has made the Hoosiers the chic pre-season pick to win it all for the first time since 1987.
In all three places – Lexington, Louisville and Bloomington – unlimited support and passion leads to unlimited expectations. They also represent three different leagues not named Big 12 or ACC, where at least there’s a semblance of conference uncertainty.
The former has a national finalist (Kansas) replacing a lot of parts, but still quite strong to fend off the likes of talented Baylor and newbie West Virginia. The latter, for too long a Duke-North Carolina stranglehold, might break with the fast rice of N.C. State before those guys from SU show up.
Oh yes, what of the Orange? Gone are Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, the core of a team that, in 2011-12, lost just three times and got to the brink of a Final Four amid the scalding Bernie Fine controversy that, thankfully, has drifted away.
What remains, though, is quite substantial, thanks to Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas. Add the imposing size and power of Jamesville-DeWitt’s latest contribution to the SU brand, Dejuan Coleman, and there’s reason to think that SU can challenge Louisville in its Big East swan song.
It’s that latter part that will be tough to digest for so many long-time Orange fans. The passage of each season was a comfortable one, from lots of early-season wins to the Big East grind where Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John’s, Villanova and the like were in the way, hated with the sort of hate that only love can explain.
That goes away after March 9. Fittingly, the last SU conference game is against Georgetown, for it was their seething rivalry that helped to build the original Big East brand. In that very first season, 1979-80, John Thompson, Manley Field House, closed, you know the rest.
If there’s any justice, SU, even in its new ACC version, will find a way, each December, to reunite with the Big East titans they had to leave behind. It would generate interest, ticket sales and excitement at a time usually reserved for mismatches. It would also have the side benefit of keeping the Orange tough for the bigger stuff ahead.
College basketball is getting more difficult to recognize and follow. In its rush to the future, all of the powers-that-be would be wise to acknowledge the gifts of the past that gave us so many reasons to cheer in the first place.