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Stop overreacting to college basketball exhibition games

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Should it be shocking that fans and media are taking fancy college basketball scrimmages and making them into something bigger? Of course not. That is what everyone does. Even if the sample size is smaller than a single celled organism, people want something to nitpick over.

Still, we have already reached the high-comedy portion of the college basketball exhibition “season.” This is a place in time where folks lose their marbles as blue-blood programs struggle to defeat Division II schools, and many of the scrimmages we hear about are secondhand accounts of games reporters were not allowed to see.

Despite that, a box score will inevitably make its way to whatever social media device we use, and people fawn over it as if it were Sacred Scripture.

It is rather odd. As everyone in basketball has been more closely leaning toward combining advanced stats with the always delightful eyeball test, it is patently absurd we would use numbers without context as a gauge for a team heading into the season.

Without calling out anyone individually — many have been doing it — we have all witnessed tweets about “the promise coming out of School X” due to a scrimmage, or the “issues in the frontcourt for Team Y” forecasted after a glorified practice.

Heck, many of the teams currently being evaluated — many of them exclusively through numbers — are less than a dozen practices deep. Variations of the team are not only less than fully formed, but even the coaches fail to realize what they have at their disposal.

It is mind-boggling that we have reached this point.

Yes, I do get some of it. People are dying for anything college basketball-related at this juncture, but to conjure narratives that a team which hasn’t had much practice time is struggling (relatively speaking) because of exhibition games would be like watching the first rehearsal of a Broadway play and judging it off the performances of an understudy.


It is worth looking at the opposite end of the spectrum in this discussion, a place where the analyzing of scrimmages makes more sense. It circles back to the reason people are so firmly embedded in their favorite program’s recruiting work: hope.

Exhibition games generate hope — often a false or misleading hope, but hope nonetheless. That’s why these events can exist on a pedestal.

A fan of a struggling program, yet one that has nothing but positive reports coming out of scrimmages against Marathon Oil and other classic “exo” opponents, drinks up the hope that narrative provides. It is reason enough to cling to the idea that these games matter.

The opposite end holds true for negative reports as well. Fans of annual world-beater programs could be glass half-empty observers who need question-laden reports to quench some thirst for sadness or skepticism.

Even while acknowledging this aspect of the college basketball calendar, it remains odd we are doing this season after season, especially after having annual proof that previous “reports out of scrimmages” turned out to be inaccurate on November 15.

Have your exhibition games fun. Simply absorb this message from one lover of college basketball to another: We need not drool over meaningless games to the point of making them into things they are not.

Now, you if you will kindly excuse me, the St. John’s Red Storm are set to play something called the Baruch Bearcats on ESPN3 later tonight, and I need to get errands done so I don’t miss this must-see, super-revealing, life-altering event.

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