'Tis the season for college basketball
Another college basketball season has sneaked up on a public engulfed in football's last big weeks. This overlap of seasons is always a bit confusing, though one ultimately realizes that UCLA couldn't have beaten Notre Dame 94-81 in football.Skip to next paragraph
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There are other telltale signs, such as major headlines for a Kentucky-Indiana game; national polls declaring football-less DePaul No. 1 in the nation, and game results from the Great Alaska Shootout and Peach Basket Festival.
This latter event actually kicked off, er, tipped off, the men's season by pitting Louisville, the reigning major college champion, against DePaul's impressive Blue Demons. That Louisville lost this contest, plus its next two to Tulsa and Oklahoma State, illustrates how quickly the high and mighty tumble these days.
Since fourth-ranked Maryland is up next, the Cardinals could quite easily drop to 0-4. This certainly would rank as the dreariest start ever for a defending national champion, particularly one with four returning starters. The fifth, of course, was consensus All-America Darrell Griffth, whose pro career with the Utah Jazz has begun on a high note.
Many of last season's other top teams, however, are right back up there again as the quest for 1980-81 honors begins, including Kentucky, DePaul, and Oregon State.
The team drawing the most raves right now is top-ranked, undefeated Kentucky, which draws crowds of 23,000 and regularly sets national attendance records. The Wildcats haven't had a losing season since 1927 and should turn in another victory-laden campaign. With Louisville slipping, KU expects to return to the bluegrass spotlight behind 7 ft. 1 in. sophomore center Sam Bowie.
DePaul returns Mark Aguirre, last season's College Player of the Year. The Demons learned a bitter lesson about NCAA tournament play last spring, losing to UCLA in the first round after compiling a glittering 26-1 record.
The Bruins, who continued all the way to the final before bowing to Louisville, appear to have another strong club. Other teams to watch include Maryland, with forward Albert King, and Virginia, with the nation's most visible pivot man, 7-4 Ralph Sampson.
All of the aforementioned players could have dropped out of college to turn pro, a path Michigan State's Magic Johnson chose with spectacular results last season.
Their reasons for staying in school may vary, yet none feels compelled to take the money and run. They certainly don't lack competition at the amateur level. The performance the US Olympic team turned in against a changing cast of pros last June is proof of that. Some also would say colleges play a more interesting brand of ball, where strategies vary widely and baskets don't come easy.
And for those seeking national exposure, TV is offering college players more of it than ever before -- and on prime time, too. This season, the Madison Square Garden Communications Network is syndicating a package of eight national telecasts called "Prime Time College Basketball." In recent years, NBC has even aired big games opposite the NBA's traditional Sunday afternoon offerings, confident it would win the ratings battle.