I'm typing today on my new computer. Sure, I had only had my old computer for about two years, but it simply didn't have the speed and memory necessary to live up to Blogging the Bracket standards. Championship Week, in particular, was a difficult time to deal with its issues while attempting to run multiple programs. So, I released it from it's scholarship and got something with a hard drive that's three times bigger and has about three times the RAM. This should help things out considerably.
What does this have to do with Tom Izzo and Roy Williams? Nothing. However, these two will be seeing each other again in the 2009 edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This will be the third meeting between Michigan State and North Carolina in the space of a calendar year.
The Big East/SEC Invitational matchups were also released this week. This event is especially hard to schedule because of the discrepancy in league size (Though, really, who is going to matchup with the Big East when it comes to size?) and the event's very setup (doubleheaders at "neutral" sites). So, this year's event gives us two likely clunkers in DePaul-Mississippi State (making a repeat appearance after last year in Cincy) and Georgia-St. John's; a nice matchup in Connecticut vs. Kentucky, which sounds like it would be a common event, but actually isn't: and, much to my disdain, Syracuse vs. Florida. The Gators and Orange met for the first time in 1987, in a regional semifinal. They could've met for a second time in the 1990 Carrier Classic, but UF lost to Charlotte in the semifinal and faced Alaska-Anchorage in the consolation game instead. My two teams didn't meet again until 2005 in the Coaches vs. Cancer final. After meeting again in the CBE Classic this past season, this is sadly (for me) turning into an annual event.
I can't say I'm a big fan of the conference challenges as their currently formatted. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is beyond silly at this point, as the Big Ten hasn't been able to win even once. The Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series has some promise, but the fact so many games are on Fox Sports Net hurts its potential (as does the fact that some teams play two games). Format-wise, I like the Big East/SEC Invitational the best, as I like the "neutral site" doubleheaders. But it's difficult to get good matchups and everyone involved. (I'm looking at you, Arkansas.)
But my biggest problem with conference challenges is when they happen. As someone who spends more time than many watching teams below the Red Line. I love BracketBusters weekend. Wouldn't it be great if the major conferences started their league seasons a week earlier and took a break at some point, say early February, to play the challenge series? Matchups could be set on a similar timeline to BracketBusters, namely a couple of weeks in advance, giving teams an opportunity to play a similarly-matched team with the entire country (and the Division 1 Men's Basketball Committee) watching. This could even be a great way to settle many bubble questions on the court.
Additionally, moving these challenges to midseason might serve to better promote the sport. Just think, right out of the Super Bowl, attention can be focused on big inter-sectional matchups on the hardwood. Given how many people just get into college hoops after football is over, this could be a good introduction to the season for them. The games themselves should be better as teams are in midseason form, and the matchups would provide a welcome break from the grind of the conference season.
I'm curious to hear what you think about conference challenges and their impact on the NCAA tournament.
I've also updated the early season tournament page to reflect some new information on fields (Charleston Classic, NIT Season Tip-Off hosts). I also added information about an event Andy Katz wrote about in a blog post over on ESPN.com. It seems the Hall of Fame is getting into the Hybrid Multi-Team Event business. On November 17, there will be a doubleheader in St. Louis, featuring Kansas playing Memphis and Arkansas facing Louisville. You have to like the team selection for this event, as all four of the schools are reasonably close. The atmosphere for the final doubleheader should be quite good
Before meeting in St. Louis, the two teams playing each other in St. Louis will each play the same three schools from leagues below the Red Line. That accounts for the power teams' four games. Their non-major brethren, however, will also get four games, thanks to the two played against the power schools along with a home and an away game against similar (aka not going to St. Louis) teams.
This actually isn't a terrible idea, as the non-power schools each get the opportunity to knock off a power school on their homecourt. The downside is that they don't get the opportunity to play one at a neutral site, where they'd have more of a chance at pulling such an upset. However, this format isn't as inherently unfair as the one that Gazelle Group-run tournaments have gone to, as there's only one game played in St. Louis and the pretense of it being an actual tournament with rounds is diminished.
I'm curious to see which six schools sign up to join this event and if we'll see more events with this rather peculiar format in the future.
I'll be back with the next part of my tournament reform series tomorrow.