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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

CBS Sports Gary Parrish - Hoops opener lacks intrigue, but offers plenty of yawns

Hoops opener lacks intrigue, but offers plenty of yawns
Nov. 6, 2007
By Gary Parrish Senior Writer

MEMPHIS -- We've had a countdown clock on our college basketball page for the past month or so, one designed to mark the start of the season. On Monday afternoon the digits all turned to zeros, and that's when Maine and Richmond tipped-off inside FedExForum.

I was there.

If it was up to Memphis coach John Calipari, things would be very different on opening day. (Getty Images)
So were 32 other people.

"It's 32 exactly," said Memphis assistant John Robic. "There are 27 on this side, five on that side."

And this is how the college basketball season began.

With a game between Maine and Richmond.

On a Monday afternoon.

In Memphis.

It was sad, really, dismal and depressing. And as I sat there in the stands -- with Section 105 all to myself -- it occurred to me that there has to be a better way to do this, a better way to get things underway than with some irrelevant game between two insignificant teams. I mean, Opening Day in Major League Baseball is a celebration, and the NFL kicks off with Peyton Manning against Reggie Bush coupled with a performance from Kelly Clarkson.

But college basketball starts differently.

There is no Kelly Clarkson around.

There isn't even a Sanjaya.

The best we can do is a doubleheader with an opening game between two teams nobody knows and a closing game so one-sided that UT-Martin assistant David Draper turned during an early timeout and offered some insight into how the Skyhawks could upset Memphis.

"If we make all our shots, we're going to win," Draper said with a smile. "That's all we've got to do."

Alas, the Skyhawks did not make all their shots.

They missed 68.8 percent of them and lost to Memphis 102-71. And while the debut of the Tigers' sensational point guard Derrick Rose (17 points, six rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes) was alone worth tuning into see, it's doubtful a large audience outside of the 16,555 fans that showed up for the nightcap actually saw it given how it was played on a channel (ESPNU) many cable subscribers do not get, including all cable subscribers in Memphis.

"How many people have ESPNU?" asked Memphis coach John Calipari.

Short answer: Not enough.

So what's the solution to all this, to ensuring the season starts with the bang it deserves? Calipari suggested a season-opening event where the top eight teams in some preseason poll are matched against each other at, say, Madison Square Garden in a two-night extravaganza with back-to-back doubleheaders.

One night could be Tennessee vs. Louisville and Memphis vs. Kansas.

The next night could be Michigan State vs. Georgetown and North Carolina vs. UCLA.

"I'd do it," Calipari said. "It would be great."

Indeed it would. But we're instead left with the same thing every year -- a bad game here, a bad game there and a way of doing things that invites one fan after the next to casually join a season already in progress. It's awful, and this is a sport that deserves better, deserves a true national audience for a season-opening game between true national powers featuring fireworks and music and Jim Nantz and Billy Packer.

Oh, to dream.

Maybe one day, huh?

But in the meantime, Maine vs. Richmond in Memphis will have to do.

And only the sport's diehard fans like Paul Cooper will bother to show up.

"I love college basketball," Cooper answered when asked what made him attend the unheralded season opener. "Plus, I had money on it."

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