Do inter-league challenges mean anything?

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I’m not going to play coy and ask why we have these inter-league challenge series. It’s about money and television rights like everything else we have in college sports these days. For me, that ship of disillusionment sailed years ago.

But we, as consumers, have bought into the spectacle, providing the impetus for the TV and the money.

Do we honestly still care? Does an inter-league challenge mean anything any more?

There was a lot of cachet to the ACC/Big Ten challenge and the SEC/Big East invitational when they first started to appear on the schedule a few years back. These were long-established leagues with regional character. The basketball played by a conference like the Big Ten could be said to have a certain flavor, as could that played by the ACC. That began to erode even when the ACC brought in teams like Miami and Virginia Tech from one of the old-school Big East raids, but it will make even less sense when Maryland jumps to the Big Ten and the ACC brings in Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville. Quite aside from the fact that the Big East won’t be an appealing dance partner for the SEC any more, there’s hardly any bragging rights at stake with such a motley assemblage of league-hoppers in a new, passionless marriage.

At least the Big 12 and (then) Pac-10 canceled their series in 2011, sparing us the cognitive dissonance of watching a West Virginia/Colorado pairing this season.

These new leagues will be like seasons of The Real World or Big Brother. A bunch of cocky strangers chosen by a committee and thrown into a fancy house, with cameras trained on them in hopes they’ll do something interesting.

Athletic leagues are now little more than well-marketed corporations. Yamaha makes snowmobiles, semiconductors, stereo receivers, grand pianos and archery equipment. None of those things have anything to do with one another in the real world, other than the fact that the same company puts them in boxes, stamps a logo on them, and trades them for consumer dollars. There’s no meaning to their association beyond that. Sound familiar?

Will Maryland play Pitt in an upcoming ACC/Big Ten challenge? That would be like me asking neighbors from down the street to play flag football in my yard, and then declaring my family the winner because it was played on my grass.

I’d wager I love college basketball more than the next 1,000 people I’ll speak to (fellow CBT writers excluded), but conference pride is starting to feel hollow, meaningless and self-deluding. SEC fans crowed about the possibility of an all-SEC national title game in football this year (before that possibility faded), but would they have been so happy if it had been Mizzou vs. Texas A&M? or was the notion enticing because it was “old school” SEC teams in contention?  

I’ll continue to root for my favorite laundry (as Jerry Seinfeld pointedly tagged sports fandom) but I can’t bring myself to care much which stainless steel industrial washing machine it ends up in.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.