Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Guard the Post: Why this College Basketball season will be the best ever

The 2013-2014 College Basketball season promises to be one of the best ever. National Letters of Intent combo-commitments, upsets,  growth of the mid-major, the best season-opening tournament in the history of season-opening tournaments, and the most highly anticipated Final Four ever. Sure, we have no idea what teams will make it there, but we do know, based on what we have seen through week 1, that it will be a crazy ride.

 Duke University this week acquired National Letters of Intent from the No. 1 and No. 4 prospects in the nation. As ESPN reported, "the top-ranked overall prospect in the ESPN 100, Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young), and the nation's top-ranked point guard, Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley), made college basketball recruiting history Friday with a coordinated commitment to Duke." The Blue Devils, that already sport the No. 2 recruit from this past season, Jabari Parker, are seeing a big change in their recruiting mentality. Sure, Duke has always gone after major candidates, but rarely do players like Parker choose Duke over programs like Kentucky and Kansas that are notorious for producing strong NBA candidates after of their freshman season. As recruiting season continues, it will be interesting to see where other big names high schoolers go, and if this coordinated commitment affects others decision to or not to head down to Durham.

This week, the first of the 20 week NCAA basketball season, is normally the week that big-name programs schedule "easy" wins to get into the flow of the season. Unfortunately, this also means that teams are subjected to the possibility of an upset early in the year. Larry Bird's alumnus, the Indiana State Sycamores, took down the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, previously ranked #21 in the country. #20 Wisconsin took down #11 Florida; previously unranked Iowa State beat #7 Michigan. Lastly, Belmont beat the North Carolina Tarheels, ranked #12 in the nation. In total, that is 3 unranked teams taking down top 25 teams in the first week.

These wins continue the plight of the mid-major school, which has grown more and more important with the explosion of conference realignment. With 4 teams from mid-major conferences represented in the AP Top 25, including Virginia Commonwealth ranked 10th, which is highest in school history, this year will be vital for conferences such as the Atlantic Ten, Missouri Valley, and West Coast Conference. With more and more conferences and individual schools receiving huge media deals, it makes it harder for these programs to recruit and win. Also watch out for teams like Creighton (#23) and Memphis (#11) who are playing their first season in major conferences, Big East and American Athletic Conference respectively.

ESPN's State Farm Champions Classic was held last Tuesday in Chicago, and was a four team showcase of the best teams in the country to tip-off the season. Not only were the number 1, 2, 4, and 5 teams in the country on display, the biggest freshman in the country got their first taste of the big-time national spotlight. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle proved to the nation that the 2014 NBA Draft might be the best ever. As mentioned earlier, the first week of the season is often looked at as a chance to get the new players feet wet. With the inclusion of this event, ESPN, the NCAA, and college coaches are proving that they want to start the season off with a bang. Michael Wilbon on ESPN, "The college basketball season, featuring unfamiliar freshmen, has pretty much been reduced into a six-week season, from the middle of February until the first week of April." Four out of the top five programs in the country together on one court, in one night, in the first week, playing on the biggest sport channel in the world, ever.

We are 5 months away from the 2014 Final Four to be hosted in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium. The anticipated attendance at each of the three games of the Final Four is over 85,000 fans, which would mark the third time attendance exceeded 75,000 in recent years. It is expected that this years men's Final Four will bring in $276M to the local Texas economy. Also, for the first time ever the Final Four will be spread across 3 different TV channels. TBS will hold the traditional national telecast of the semifinal games, while TNT and truTV will carry the same games at the same time with announcers and camera angles customized to each specific team, per Sports Business Journal. Surely with these market and team specific channels, higher numbers of viewers will watch compared to having just one network airing the game. This growth in TV output is a great next step for Turner Broadcasting as it, and all major TV networks, continue to fight against online broadcasters and "second screen" distractions. This simulcast represents the next generation of media representation of athletic events. Team focused programming, advertisements, camera angles, and announcers are what consumers want; they want the inside track on their favorite teams, and Turner Sports will be the first to provide that to consumers on the national championship scale.

Kevin Murray is a Pre-Junior Sport Management Major at Drexel University, originally from Havertown, PA. He worked in the Drexel Sport Management Department as a Research Assistant focusing on the Penn State scandal, equity in collegiate sports, and Title IX.  He completed his first co-op last spring with Drexel Athletics External Relations Department, where he still works part-time. He is currently a Resident Assistant in University Crossings, a member of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, and Vice President of SMTSU.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinj_murray.

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