- Dana O'Neil, College Basketball Reporter
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The ball is tipped.
Those are the first four words of "One Shining Moment," college basketball's unofficial anthem. The implication being that the shining moment begins when the game starts.
Which is so true in March. No one does the end of the season better than college basketball.
And no one, until this season, had done the beginning worse.
Baseball has Opening Day. Self-important enough to warrant capital letters, it is a holiday for those who sit cooped up in their homes through the long winter months, yearning for the crack of the bat and the boys of summer to return.
College football and NFL allow for a few stragglers to get a midweek jump for TV purposes, but there is at least an opening weekend.
Meantime for the last bit of eternity, college basketball lollygagged its way to the start of the season. You want to play on Monday? That's cool. We'll take Tuesday. Eh, we've got next week.
The end of the seven-month layoff between games came with about as much fanfare as National Grandparents Day (Sorry, you missed it in September). Think of one of those guns that shoot out the word Bam! instead of actually making the noise.
Last season, there were three games on Monday, Nov. 7, none on Nov. 8, four on Nov. 9, none on Nov. 10 and then a full slate on Nov. 11.
That's an Opening Muddle.
Somehow -- perhaps by careful planning, communal agreement and good sense but more than likely by a stroke of dumb luck -- this season the game is getting it right.
Friday, Nov. 9 is Opening Day in college basketball. The NCAA isn't declaring it that way -- probably because it couldn't get a sponsor -- but we are. Capital letters and everything.
At noon, Eastern Michigan hosts Rochester College in the first official opening tip of the season.
OK, it's not the Yankees-Red Sox but it's a start.
No, it is The Start of the 2012-13 season, which is why, NAIA opponent be damned, we're welcoming Wally the Warrior (that's Rochester's mascot) with a high-five.
Of the 338 schools in Division I basketball, 222 of them will be playing basketball Friday, including 15 in the Top 25. Syracuse and San Diego State, both in the preseason rankings, were scheduled to play aboard the USS Midway tonight until Mother Nature, staking her claim for MVP among the fairy creatures, postponed the game until Sunday.
Granted the games aren't all great. There is more of the RC-EMU variety. Milwaukee, for example, is playing the University of Mary.
Not Maryland. Just Mary.
But this is not the dog days of opening days. As starters go, Nov. 9 offers up a pretty hefty plateful for your viewing enjoyment, one that warrants remote control finger warm-up sessions, good food, a cold beverage, a comfortable sofa, a TV, a computer and a plan.
You're on your own for the warm-ups, food, beverages, TV and computer.
We've got the plan (all times are ET):
5 p.m. Turn on your laptop or desktop to track Lehigh at Baylor. This is a cruel first draw for Scott Drew's team. Reconfiguring after losing three starters, the Bears now must contend with All-American C.J. McCollum and the team that upset Duke in last season's NCAA tournament. Basketball folks appreciate how hard this game is for Baylor.
5:30 p.m. Flip on ESPN and say "Guten abend, Germany." That's good evening, which it will be on the Ramstein Air Force Base, when Michigan State and Connecticut tip off six hours ahead of the American East Coast. The Spartans, who we expect to play atop a blimp floating over the Eiffel Tower next season, are something of a curiosity, a team loaded with talent but without Draymond Green. The Huskies are even more of an enigma. New coach, shredded roster, no postseason. Are Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright enough for Kevin Ollie?
7 p.m. MIT is at Harvard. Yes, it's the egghead bowl, but a mildly intriguing egghead bowl. The Crimson, after all, are without their co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Both were implicated in the university-wide cheating scandal. The Engineers (what did you expect their nickname to be?) are the preseason No. 1 pick in Division III.
7 p.m. If you must watch more traditional intriguing hoops, go to NBC Sports Network for Marquette-Ohio State. Despite losing the Big East Player of the Year and the conference's leading scorer (who weren't the same guy), expect Buzz Williams to have something up his sleeve to counter Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Of course this is the Carrier Classic, which means it will be played on the non-traditional court built atop the USS Yorktown, which is based in Charleston, S.C. As an attendee of the first classic, I can attest that no matter how good the game, it will have a tough time matching the atmosphere.
7 p.m. Miami (Ohio) versus NC State will be on at the same time, on ESPN3. Why watch? To see what all the fuss is about over the Wolfpack, namely, and to see just how good freshman Rodney Purvis is. And because MAC schools love to give BCS-member schools fits. (Also at this time: Fellow ACC contender Duke hosts Georgia State on ESPNU, CAA-favorite Drexel travels to Kent State and Purdue faces a tricky opening challenge from Bucknell.)
8 p.m. You can get your first look at the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and preseason player of the year over on the Big Ten Network. But tune in fast. Indiana's opponent, Bryant, won two games last season, so odds are Cody Zeller will be a spectator early.
8 p.m. North Texas at Creighton. The best game no one outside of Omaha will see (unless you want to fork over some cash), and that's a shame. Doug McDermott may not find a more worthy mano-a-mano foe than the Mean Green's Tony Mitchell.
8:30 p.m. The game between Kentucky and Maryland on ESPN could have been billed as the Day Care Dandy, thanks to the baby-faced rosters of both squads. Combined, the Wildcats and Terrapins have four seniors but only one (James Padgett) who played a significant role a season ago. This interesting game got even a little more intriguing this week when the NCAA surprisingly cleared Xavier transfer Dez Wells to play immediately.
9 p.m. The nighttime tip will be interesting aboard the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla., for Georgetown and Florida, which should make for some pretty pictures on NBC Sports Network. But this will also be an interesting early test for the Gators. They'll be without starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended by coach Billy Donovan, when they face an under-the-radar Hoya squad. (Also at this time: Switch over to ESPNU to see what All-American candidate Nate Wolters of South Dakota State can do against the always-tough defense of Anthony Grant's Alabama team.)
11 p.m. Time to head out west for the Pac-12 Network and maybe the biggest enigma in college hoops this season -- the UCLA basketball team. Will Shabazz Muhammad play? Will Josh Smith play hard? Is Kyle Anderson good enough? Will Ben Howland keep his job? Honestly, it's a Westwood soap opera. A young Indiana State may not offer enough of a foil, but really the Bruins don't need one. They have themselves.
Now you may go to bed.
It's a long season, after all.
This is just Opening Day.
The start of college basketball season usually missed the special qualities of an Opening Day. That's not the case this year.