Cross-posted from SBN for your enjoyment
The 2011-2012 NBA season was supposed to kickoff on Tuesday with a slate of games highlighted by the defending world champion Dallas Mavericks hosting the reigning league MVP Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls.
That, uh, that did not happen.
With college basketball's season set to tip-off in just five days, one of the major questions that will be asked until action resumes in the league is what effect, if any, the NBA lockout is going to have on the college game.
The truth is, the largest impact has almost certainly already been made.
"One and done" has been a phrase as synonymous with college basketball as any other since the NBA added the rule requiring players entering the draft to be 19-years-old or have completed their freshman year of college in 2006. Over the four succeeding seasons, college basketball has seen freshman after freshman star for four months before making the move to get paid to play the game.
This year, for the first time since the institution of the rule, a solid chunk of the preceding season's top freshmen are still in school. None of them mentioned it by name during their speeches centered around loving school and wanting to win a national title for their fans, but the lockout - which already appeared imminent by the time last spring rolled around - certainly deserves at least partial credit for the decisions.
The result is the youngest preseason AP All-American team in history, one featuring four sophomores and a single senior. The squad is led by Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, a first team postseason All-American from a year ago who would have undoubtedly been a lottery pick had he elected to take that plunge. The second-leading vote getter on the team is North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, a player who made waves 12 months ago by being the first freshman to earn preseason All-American honors since 1986. In an era where a first-year averaging 11 points has provided more than enough motivation for said teenager to at least "test the NBA waters," Barnes still being a Tar Heel is every bit as stunning as Butler and VCU crashing the Final Four last April.
So star power is back in college basketball, thanks in no small part to a lockout that is poised to make the sport the only roundball show in town for at least the first half of winter. But is that enough to make NBA purists morph into temporary college hoops converts?
The smart money is on no.
As Dana O'Neill points out, during the last NBA lockout in 1998-'99, the average attendance at more than 4,000 college basketball games rose by a grand total of six people (5,193 to 5,199). It would probably be unwise to predict a more drastic upsurge this go-round.
The sports, and their respective allure, are simply too different for there to be a significant population of dual diehard fans. It's student sections, full-court presses and 50 three-point attempts per game versus rap beats played during possessions, two-man basketball and a collection of the greatest and highest-paid athletes in the world.
How many times have you heard an NBA fan/coach/analyst say, "I'd rather watch the worst two professional teams play than the best two college teams play" or a college hoops fan say something similar? Sure, there's probably some hyperbole there, but not nearly as much as you'd find if the statement were being made by a fan of another major sport.
Of course a lot has changed since 1999, and the hardcore NBA fan who begrudgingly becomes a casual college basketball fan for the next couple of months will stumble into one of the more exciting preseasons in recent memory.
North Carolina and Michigan St. are going to play in front of the President on an aircraft carrier. Every team in the Maui Invitational outside of Chaminade has a legitimate shot at making the field of 68. There could realistically be six or seven first round draft picks on the floor when Kentucky faces UNC on Dec. 3 in a game featuring the top two teams in nearly everyone's preseason rankings. An NBA fan whose attention can't be at least partially pilfered during non-conference play this year is essentially a lost cause.
One thing that would help this crusade - and something many fans have been clamoring for - would be for college basketball to put together an organized and significant event to usher in the start of the season. Let last year's Elite Eight squads or the top ten teams in the preseason AP poll duke it out as part of an all-day event on ESPN. Do something, anything, to let the football-focused world that college basketball is back.
As it is, opening night comes, goes and leaves an Eric Valentin-sized dent on the national sports landscape. A handful of elite teams have been scheduling major opponents for the first week of the season in college football for years, and there is about 1,000 times more on the line in those games than there could ever be in a pre-December hoops clash. Teams "not being ready" to face elite competition so early is an excuse that doesn't hold water. So what if it's relatively bad basketball? It's bad basketball featuring the best teams in the country. When that's the case it's usually hard to notice anyway. Of course none of this matters unless Kevin Durant is still playing flag football on college campuses in 12 months...which I suppose is a possibility.
Even without a marquee opening night, this is about as close to a perfect storm as college basketball could hope for. You've got more pre-New Year's games this season than any other in recent memory, you've got established stars who will be lottery picks come next June playing in those games, and you've got zero professional basketball to compete with.
In five days, college basketball takes center stage without a co-headliner or opening act. If it can't attract anyone other than the usual suspects to this show, then it's probably something that's never going to happen.