Three Fifty One is a weekly blog covering the 351 teams of Division 1 college basketball.
by Connor Vasu
College basketball season, believe it or not, has arrived. Tuesday night’s exciting Champions Classic marked the first real action of the season, and games (mostly major powers facing creampuffs) line the weekend schedule. So with the start of the season, let’s take some time to appreciate why college basketball is unique and exciting.
1. The sheer number of Division I teams. 351 to be exact. With that many teams, there’s a good matchup on every day of the week (except maybe Friday). Almost every night for the next four months, you can turn on the TV and watch the last 3 minutes of an exciting game between two ranked ball clubs.
2. Hope. Yeah, it sounds corny, but unlike other sports, 68 teams is the perfect number to make the playoffs. If you win your conference, you’re in. If you’re one of the best teams, you’re in too. So even in early March, before the conference championships, almost every team still has a shot, however, slim, to win the national championship.
3. The quest to go undefeated. Every year, the prospect of an undefeated team is bandied about for months, but it usually never happens. Last year’s Wichita State was the exception—the Shockers were undefeated until the third weekend in March, and it was heartbreaking when they lost to Kentucky. But if a team ever ran the table—boy, would that be incredible.
4. The blue-bloods. It’s easy to hate the college basketball royalty (I count five of them—Kentucky, UNC, Duke, UCLA, and Kansas—in that order, but that’s for another column). One of them seems to win it every year (31 titles combined in the past 70 years), they have Hall of Fame coaches, and their fans are obnoxious. But villains make the regular season more compelling, and it’s always fun to taunt a fan of these “power five” whenever their team loses. Like when Austin Rivers ripped out the hearts of UNC fans three seasons ago (his only good moment in Duke blue).
5. Homecourt advantage. I’m sorry, but rich people sitting courtside at NBA games might be great for owners’ bottom lines, but they sure make for terrible atmospheres. The NBA games I’ve been to have had the decibel level of a library. The worst part of NBA stadiums is that they use lame tactics like decibel meters and artificial noisemakers to pump up the crowd during games. In comparison, the best college stadiums (Cameron Indoor, Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Assembly Hall, etc.) have massive student sections right next to the court. The fans don’t need to be prodded to get on their feet and yell “D-Fense” by the Jumbo Tron, they actually come up with their own original chants and keep the volume level up throughout the game.
6. The 35 second shot clock. Yeah, I know, if you’re an NBA fan, you probably disagree. I’ve heard the complaints: “Too much standing around.” “Borderline unwatchable.” “Watching Bo Ryan’s team is as exciting as watching eight hours of golf.” But the 24-second shot clock in the NBA is much worse. Every play ends the same—the team’s best player isolating and hucking up a contested midrange jump shot.
7. Kenpom.com. If you don’t know this website, you have to check it out. Ken Pomeroy’s insightful blog and statistics are must reads. He loves to skewer conventional basketball wisdom in blog posts, and his metrics-based rankings are
8. Storming the court. This one has become a little overused over the years, but when done properly, there’s nothing better than a home ’dog defeating a ranked opponent.
9. The rivalries. Duke-UNC, Kansas-Missouri, Louisville-Kentucky, Georgetown-Syracuse, Michigan-Ohio State. The passion and hatred of these rivalries are what makes college basketball great. Students camping out for weeks in Krzyzewskiville in the winter for the Duke-UNC game at Cameron? That’s dedication.
10. March Madness. There’s no better way to determine a champion.