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Coaches vs. Cancer Classic to tip off season


Nov. 11 (updated with TV times -- first posted Oct. 8)
I can't wait for the season to start, baby! Let's get the balls out and tip it off! My juices get flowing when I think about the start of a new year.

A Short History
of the 2-in-4 Rule
The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic is a one-game format for each team -- not a tournament format with an eventual winner. Coaches vs. Cancer used to employ a tournament format but switched to one game for each team after the NCAA initiated its "2-in-4" rule.

Here's the lowdown on the rule's origin: The NCAA allows basketball schools a maximum of 28 games per season. But if a team plays in what's known as an "exempt" tournament to start the campaign, all games at that tournament count as only one game toward the 28-game limit (even for three-game tourneys like the Preseason NIT and Maui Invitational). Schools once were able to play in an exempt tournament each year.

However, in 1999 the NCAA implemented the 2-in-4 rule, which limits a school to two exempt tournaments in a four-year period. Apparently, the NCAA is concerned about an excessive number of games and missed classes for its student-athletes.

In July, a federal judge struck down the 2-in-4 rule, calling it an antitrust violation by the NCAA (since the rule doesn't apply to the NCAA Tournament or conference tournaments). But in August, a federal appeals court restored the 2-in-4 rule, leaving tourney organizers scrambling to fill spots left vacant by schools forced to withdraw (so they would adhere to the recently restored rule).

Yes, some stars have left the college ranks early and others have graduated. As former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt once said, college basketball is all about the name on the front of the jersey.

I can't wait to get to the mecca of college basketball, Madison Square Garden, for the start of the new campaign. Once again, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will begin the season.

And once again, it has a solid field, thanks to the efforts of promoter Rick Giles and his staff. Giles does a super job year in and year out.

Let's look ahead a bit. It all begins Thursday, Nov. 13, with Memphis vs. Wake Forest and local favorite St. John's taking on Marquette. Hey, could this be a future Big East matchup? Marquette has been talked about as a possible future member of a new Big East.

On Friday, Nov. 14, Pittsburgh and Alabama square off (Big East vs. SEC, baby). Then in the nightcap, what an intriguing matchup: Gonzaga faces Saint Joseph's. The coaches, Mark Few and Phil Martelli, are two of the unsung stars in the coaching profession.

Here's a breakdown of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic action:

Pittsburgh has its first game under new coach Jaime Dixon. The defending Big East champ had a 63-12 record over the past two seasons. High-rising guard Julius Page should have a special season for the Panthers.

Meanwhile, coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide posted a great performance in last year's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, beating Oklahoma. It would have helped if the Tide had guard Maurice Williams back, but he left early for the NBA. The Tide needs a healthy Kennedy Winston (recovering from knee surgery).

This could be the best of the four matchups! Gonzaga comes East looking for respect and a big W. Coach Mark Few's Zags have reached the NCAA Tournament five straight seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 1999 and Sweet Sixteen appearances in 2000 and 2001. Gonzaga has the potential to make a run at the Final Four this season, and the addition of Errol Knight will help.

The Garden will be rocking and rolling with Saint Joseph's guard Jameer Nelson flashing his brilliance. The Hawks are coming off a 23-7 season, and coach Phil Martelli would love to start building early momentum.

Memphis began last season by defeating eventual national champion Syracuse in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and finished with a 23-7 record. Coach John Calipari's Tigers have potential, but imagine if he had Dajuan Wagner, Qyntel Woods and others he recruited?

Wake Forest is the defending ACC champion (13-3 in 2002-03), and coach Skip Prosser returns four starters from a team that finished 25-6 overall. Keep an eye on diaper dandy Chris Paul.

Marquette's road to the Final Four began last year at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with a win over another Big East member, Villanova. Coach Tom Crean's Golden Eagles always play hard. We'll see what life without Dwyane Wade is like.I love guard Travis Diener, and Steve Novak can shoot the rock from long distance.

St. John's is back at the Garden, where the Red Storm captured the 2003 NIT Championship.

Get the basketballs out and let's tip it off, baby!

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