It’s a little strange to be talking about Midnight Madness celebrations during the first full week of October, but with the NCAA’s new rule allowing teams to begin formally practicing in late September, that’s the world we now find ourselves in. For reasons not limited to an overlap with football, local marketing, continuity and several others, many schools have decided to continue holding their rowdy open practices during the traditional mid-October window approaching the start of the regular season (ESPNU, for example, will show portions of nine Madness events during a four-hour telecast on the night of October 18). So while we’ll need to wait to see the next-generation basketball extravaganzas at the likes of Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, Memphis, Connecticut, Michigan State, North Carolina and a host of others scheduled in the next few weeks, a couple prominent basketball schools took advantage of the new calendar and got an early start Friday night.
Kansas‘ “Late Night in the Phog” and Indiana‘s “Hoosier Hysteria” celebrated the return of balls bouncing on the hardwood at a pair of schools where such a thing never really leaves fans’ minds. And while the cheesy dances, the campy skits and the promotional giveaways at these events has a carnival barker feel to it, fans tolerate all the nonsense just to catch a glimpse of their new team in action. Did the talented but slight power forward put on that additional 20 pounds during the summer? Has the point guard’s sometimes shaky decision-making improved? Were all those rumors about the transfer wing dominating practice look legitimate? And what about those freshman — are they as good as advertised? These and many other questions are nearly impossible to answer only a few days into the start of a long college hoops season, but fans know talent when they see it, and they saw it in spades in Lawrence and Bloomington over the weekend.