Truth be told, there was a long period of time where I cared more about College hoops than pro ones. Probably all of my teens and part of my twenties. The balanced shifted over the years, in part because it’s somewhat of a niche sport and only a few of my friends follow it even casually. I’ve never bought the “inferior talent” nonsense that some people tout as their reason for not watching. It’s Basketball, and it’s still played at a level that 95% of the basketball playing world will never reach. Not exactly the High School JV game or anything. And Jesus, our whole fucking country is obsessed with College Football, so there goes that argument. Yeah, there’s about 713 division one hoops teams (actually 345, but close enough), and much like Jazz music it can appear overwhelming and too hard to follow for the average fan, but most College hoops fans know you can disregard all but about 50 or so schools. Well, until March rolls around, that is.

Hey, the game has wobbled a bit since 1995 when the kids starting jumping to the NBA from High School and deleting the ranks, and the fact that the new rule forces the elite players to go to school for at least one year has more or less turned some of them into mercenaries-for-hire and created a cottage industry for the used car salesman coaches like John Calipari. Still, the game isn’t dying or anything. The NCAA tournament is still the greatest annual event in American sports, and the pageantry and atmosphere of the college game still gives it a unique personality that sets it apart from the NBA.

Now is your time, wayward NBA follower, to let the “amateurs” take you into it’s warm bosom and protect you from all that might harm you and stuff. It’s easy, really. First step is to go out to the newsstand and pick up one of the College preview magazines. Get familiar with the big six conferences and the dozen or so other teams that are being picked to make noise. ESPN does such a great job of laying of covering and promoting the game that there is always something to be paying attention to. It’s a swift and smooth transition from pre-season Tournament mode to Conference play to rivalry week and so on. If you like Basketball, you’ll get a ton of it, literally wall-to-wall from mid-december until Luther Vandross belts out that last word on the first Monday of April.

Just be aware that the College game is more a Coaches’ game than the NBA, and that every coach has his own style, just like Football. Oh, and the same goes for the conferences. the ACC is where it’s at, especially now with the re-alignment. It’s gonna be just brutally competitive this year. If you like up-tempo play you’ll wanna watch North Carolina because nobody does it better. The SEC plays an athletic game, as does the Pac-10. The Big Ten looks like Football, and not in a good way. Unless you enjoy scores in the forties, suffocating defense and watching squatty looking white guys set picks and hoist threes, stay away whenever possible. The Big 12 is like the Big Ten, except with athletic black guys and more scoring. Not sure what the re-tooled Big East is gonna look like just yet, but it’s safe to say the glory years are history now. Really, that covers it.

Like I said, it’s simpler to follow than you think.

Just know this is gonna be a good year for the kiddies. The specter of the lockout scared alot of talented players into remaining in school until the NBA sorted itself out. Thanks to that, North Carolina returns a disgustingly talented squad that basically consists of McDonald’s All-Americans from the last few years, and Kentucky isn’t far behind, talent-wise. UConn will be back to defend their championship without Kemba Walker, which is to say they have almost no shot at repeating,  Brad Stevens will return a Butler team that is missing most of the major pieces of the teams that made it to the NCAA title game in the last two seasons (an unheard of accomplishment for a non power-conference team) but is now attracting real star recruits as a result of his success, and Shaka Smart spurned a ton of major offers to return to Virginia Commonwealth after his Cinderella run to the Final Four, which may or may not have been a foolish decision, career-wise.

Oh, and Duke has THREE brothers playing for them this year. Three. The ballin’ Plumlees, or something like that.

So yeah, most years I ignore the NBA for all of March anyway, and if get back into the college game I’m probably not gonna miss it all that much. Hopefully. Neither should you if you are willing to let it step in and fill the void for you.

And yeah, I feel shitty about a year without the Jimmer, but I’ll get over it.

John Hathwell


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