Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between. Today: The regular season matters more than ever before.
Next Tuesday night, arguably the best November event in at least a decade -- best four teams, highest-profile matchups, most lasting intrigue, however you want to define "best," really -- will unfold at the United Center in Chicago. The Champions Classic, a rotating four-game series between Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky, is part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Both were conjured for one reason: To alleviate college basketball's Regular Season Problem.
The Regular Season Problem was, for years, college basketball's biggest. The downside of producing one of the world's most culturally dominant, and inclusive, postseasons is that people can tend to ignore what comes before it. The tournament selection committee didn't help: For years, it codified and prioritized a team's performance in its last 12 games over all others.
The result was the Regular Season Problem. Sure, games started in November. But who cared? Why would they? Jump in in February, the committee said, and you'll be caught up.
The committee did away with that rule a few years back, and the rest of the sport got the memo. Our mother network helped lead the way, and the Champions Classic put up a marquee event, but it was the removal of the last 12 games as a determinative (as opposed to secondary) selection consideration that truly brought change.
Perhaps the most misunderstood thing about college basketball is that the size of the NCAA tournament field nullifies the regular season. Every game from November to mid-March now matters not only to the teams directly involved but to their opponents, and their opponents' opponents. The effect of every win or loss bounces outward dozens, or even hundreds, of times.
These effects are hard to notice. But they add up, one tile beside another, until each season's mosaic comes into greater focus. And then it's March, and everyone's sweating out their seeds or their selections or both, and those two ugly losses in November that weren't supposed to "matter" loom very large indeed.
Thank goodness. November used to be so boring.