Hooping it up too much too soon?


The first national publication previewing the college basketball season went to press in August, which is right around the time football teams were beginning their game plans for the season opener. The stories and predictions contained therein were probably written in July.

Here we are just about finished eating turkey in its varied and mouth-watering forms of presentation and already the defending champion and preseason No. 1 Razorbacks of Arkansas have been skunked. Not to worry, they got on the tube yesterday and shelled Georgetown.

North Carolina's 96-92 win over Texas over the weekend was a fine watch, just one of seemingly thousands of terrific ballgames between and among the elite to date. And, as someone once said, it has only just begun.

This very day, for instance, coaches from Duke, Michigan, Purdue, Florida, Missouri, Connecticut, Arizona and Boston College will be spreading the gospel of the "Great Eight" tournament being contested outside Detroit the next few days. These are teams that made it to at least the "Sweet Sixteen" in last year's NCAA tournament, known in some precincts as "The Show."

Last week, we had the Maui Classic containing a field of about "final 32" quality and, for true insomniacs, the showdown in the Alaska Shootout Saturday night saw Minnesota and Brigham Young stretch out the last 77 seconds to "Ben Hur" proportions before the Gophers prevailed, 79-74.

You sometimes forget how the foul-for-possession strategy at the end of the college game can make a typical 10-minute "two-minute drill" in football appear as if a tornado just swept by. Minnesota dropped nine of 10 foul shots at the end to prevail as 3 a.m. loomed here in the East.

Currently, the Fry's Invitational, Lapchick Memorial and Pepsi-Marist tournaments are either under way or threatening . . . and let's not forget the Big Island Classic, the San Juan Shootout, the United Airlines Tipoff and the Lobo Classic.

All this, remember, even before the gridders from Army and Navy have drawn their weapons to determine which is going to win this year's 95th meeting by a field goal on the last play Saturday in Philadelphia. Don't forget, we have all those Christmas and New Year's tournaments to plow through soon.

What all this, plus the far-flung activity of a reasonably strong 16-team field in the recently concluded Preseason NIT, leaves one to wonder is, what's planned for an encore?

Besides fulfilling television's insatiable desire for attractive games, most coaches this side of John Thompson of Georgetown will tell you they like a few "toughies" early to ready them for rugged conference play.

Which, in turn, readies them for doubly-rugged conference tournaments.

Which, in turn, readies them for triply-rugged games months down the road when "March Madness" (with an overlap into the first week of April) is upon us.

Still, one asks, what's the rush? For instance, it's conceivable rivals could meet as many as a half-dozen times in a season considering preseason tourneys, out-of-country classics and shootouts, conference regular season and tournament and the NCAAs. Even the most devout Blue Devils and Tar Heels fans might become slightly jaded at such a prospect.

Again, besides television's insatiable desire for revenue-producing games, there's also the matter of the length and the number of games contained in the collegiate season. A couple of years ago, it was suggested that the 28-game campaign be pared just a bit and the coaches screamed as if four of their toes were being amputated without benefit of anesthesia.

So, the 28-game "limit" was retained and it's amazing what some coaches and schools can do despite this restriction. An appearance in a tournament outside the contiguous United States, for example, counts as one game, although if it's an eight-team tourney you play three games. Season-ending conference tournaments also count as just one game. And when's the last time Duke or North Carolina played just once in an ACC tourney?

Add the two exhibitions that are allowed and occasional fall tours of Europe set up by the U.S. State Department for name teams or coaches and you could see where a team going all the way could end up playing as many as 40 games some years.

Doubt it? In 1990, when Nevada-Las Vegas won, Jerry Tarkanian's lads were 35-5. In 1991, victorious Duke was 32-7, same as Louisville in 1986. It would be OK with rabid fans if the good teams played every night. Maybe the fact so many of the big games are on the tube (somewhere) so consistently makes one feel full already just as someone says, "Bring in the second turkey."

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