Early hoops full of Heroes and Alpo’s

Published 7:38 am Monday, November 17, 2014

I get excited for a couple of reasons around this time of year.  I embracingly welcome the coming of the college basketball season (Full disclosure: the college football team I support isn’t winning very much this year; won’t say they stink, but they’ve certainly played down to my worst expectations). But college basketball time holds so much promise because it comes in sections.

The first section are the non-conference games.  With homage to the late Jim Valvano: these are the “Alpos”, the dog food, if you will, of the college basketball schedule.  These are the games that pack the arenas because: (1) everybody’s not a gym rat that was peeping around a corner when the team was still running wind sprints for conditioning, nor was lucky enough – or bold enough – to actually catch a shirts-on-skins scrimmage before the managers and trainers came over and ran you out of the gym; and, (2) you get to feel like a fat-cat alum with the plush seats reeeal close to the floor where you can actually hear the coaches or players cuss during those long radio/TV time-outs.

Yes, these early games usually are a glimpse at what’s wrong with the team in November that you’ll have three-and-a-half months to correct, rectify, disguise, or give up on by March.

–       “If that kid puts on a few more pounds, he can really move some people around down there in the paint.”

–       “He’s never even had a consistent eight-foot jump shot – why are they now letting him take all those “three’s”?

–       “He couldn’t guard that guy if he was wearing his jersey.”

For the rebuilding teams, this period – usually from November to the end of December, with an occasional conference game thrown in for good measure – let’s you see who the top-seven or eight best players are and which combinations work best on the floor.  The big schools usually go 12-1, 10-2, or sometimes even unbeaten during this time. It’s also the time when you hope the selection committee is noticing that you played ‘big-bad-number 5-in-the-country’ even-up at halftime (something like a 19-19 score usually, because you played for the shot clock and the other team just wasn’t hitting), even though you got blown out by 40 before the final horn sounds.  Your instant excuse for why we didn’t make the field of 64.  Or is it 69?  70?

This is also the time of year you see teams on TV against the Kentucky’s and the Kansas’, Carolina’s and Duke’s that are just there to take a 30-plus point thumping, collect a big check from the home team’s coffers, and then head home.  I mean are you really going to look back on that win over Grande Valley State, and call it an epiphany moment in the schedule?  When you found out ol’ All-American what’s-his-name can’t shoot off his back foot off the pull-up (or something like that!)

What I’m seeing more and more are these made-for-TV match-ups. The ACC-Big 10 Challenge, the SEC-Big East Challenge, the Puerto Rico Mama-Samba Shootout, and the Cold-as-a-Welldiggers Toes Challenge, played on a steamer somewhere along the Bering Strait.

Don’t take this time for granted, hoop fans, that first meeting with good ol’ Green-and-White wearing hated rival is just around the corner; like right when you’ll be taking Grandma’s gift necktie back to Belk’s to get it exchanged.

Come to think of it, there’s another reason I like this time of year:  I can go to some high school football games that really have some meaning and I think somebody down at the VFW is putting up posters for the Turkey Shoot.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.