College Gameday Lineup Sizzles, But Can Show Stand To Improve?Posted by BHayes on August 15th, 2013
em>Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
During these trying summer months away from the hardwood, a favorite pastime of college basketball fans is putting together the jigsaw puzzle that is the schedule for the season ahead. We still don’t have all the pieces in hand here in mid-August, but over the past few weeks we have heard announcements regarding in-season tournaments, multi-conference challenges, and select non-conference match-ups. The next shoe to drop in the schedule release process came Wednesday, when ESPN unveiled its 2013-14 College Gameday schedule. This new delivery of hoops action to come is a mouth-watering series of match-ups with a pretty comprehensive geographic blueprint (games in seven different conferences are included, plus a Gonzaga vs. Memphis non-conference tilt), and in all likelihood, even more complete coverage of the top of the preseason polls. There is a distinct possibility that every single team in this season’s preseason Top 10 will make an appearance on Gameday. Excited for Saturday nights in 2014 yet? It’ll be hard for that slate to disappoint, but if you will allow for a little nit-picking, we have a few good ideas on how to make Gameday – already a great thing – even greater.
With the original and (still) most popular version of College Gameday coming to you from college football’s most famed venues each fall Saturday, there are a few things we wish the hoops variety would steal from their gridiron counterparts. For one, what’s the rush with scheduling? My Wednesday afternoon may have been a little less exciting yesterday, but why not wait until a couple weeks out (like the football guys do) to set the games? That way we avoid providing disappointing teams a national stage (for example, Southern Illinois entered its January 2008 Gameday spot against Creighton with a losing record), and also potentially allow fans to enjoy games featuring surprise teams that may not have been on the preseason radar. Plus, if nothing better materializes, these brilliant original match-ups can stand. Michigan will still be visiting Sparty on January 25, Duke and UNC will still be facing off at Cameron on March 8, and life cannot be any worse!
Another element of football’s Gameday that basketball’s version has failed to capture is the sizzling on-set chemistry of the crew. I’ll hazard a guess that even if you aren’t a regular watcher of college football on Saturdays, you are vitally aware of Gameday’s signature moment. College football does not kick off on Saturday until Lee Corso has selected his headgear, period. It’s a simple moment that delights fans across the country every single time, and succinctly explains why the show is so popular – while viewers appreciate the astute weekly analysis, they also truly like Corso, Herby, Fowler and Dez – as well as their obvious chemistry. The college basketball crew has been a bit of a revolving door over the years, and in what is a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma, ESPN has failed to find a combination that even begins to replicate the charisma of the football crew. The individual pieces are far from from a disaster; Rece Davis is a solid host, Jay Bilas is Jay Bilas, and even Digger Phelps has some appeal as a Corso-type. Hubert Davis was a tolerable wingman for half a decade (before taking his enthusiasm to the UNC sideline), but the additions of Bob Knight (2008-12) and Jalen Rose (last year) never really seemed to fit. Most notably, Rose’s work at the NBA level seems to have left him at a bit of a knowledge deficit for the college game, but somehow that never seemed to prevent him from disagreeing with many of Bilas’ points. That relationship in particular felt a bit clumsy a season ago, and there are no indications that Rose won’t be back on set for the upcoming season. I can’t claim to have the perfect solution to this one – chemistry is difficult to predict, but alternatives like Dan Dakich and Sean Farnham sound a lot better to me than another year of Rose on set.
Talk of improvements and comparisons to its forefather aside, college basketball’s Gameday is a staple of every January and Februrary hoops weekend. A morning check-in with Davis and company whets the appetite for the afternoon slate ahead, and the evening hour of banter both recaps the day that was and looks forward to the prime time match-up still to come. Don’t worry though – no need for you to wait on the Gameday crew to look forward to these nine games – that exercise can begin right now.