In the past week and a half, college basketball unofficially tipped off with exhibition games, many of which raised funds and awareness for the foundations supporting the Maui wildfires.
It was a sight to see after past years only included secret scrimmages and Midnight Madness events for the most part.
UConn men’s basketball used to play one to three exhibition games every season. During the Jim Calhoun era, the Huskies would face American International College, the Hall of Famer’s alma mater. During the 2017-18 season, the Huskies opened with Providence in an exhibition match supporting the American Red Cross. The last time Connecticut had an exhibition game was in 2019 when they hosted Saint Michael’s.
There are many benefits to holding televised exhibitions in front of fans. The schools would make money off of tickets, concessions and advertisements. It would give the fans a better look at what the team can do. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing the group split into two teams for a Blue and White Scrimmage, but I think I speak for everyone when I say the team needs to show what they can do as a whole group.
This season showed multiple exhibition games, including some big-time matchups.
No. 1 Kansas faced off against No. 25 Illinois at the State Farm Center. While the game doesn’t count on both teams’ records, we had the opportunity to see what former Michigan center Hunter Dickinson could do to help the Jayhawks, who are on the hunt for their second national title in three years. However, Illinois, led by Coleman Hawkins and Terrence Shannon Jr., knocked off the preseason top team 82-75.
No. 4 Michigan State hosted No. 9 Tennessee in another charity exhibition game providing financial support to Maui. The Spartans, led by guards Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard, staged an 18-point comeback to tie the game with five seconds remaining. However, the Volunteers had the help of transfers Dalton Knecht and Jordan Gainey, who combined for 38 points. Tennessee beat Michigan State on a last-second free throw trip, 89-88, with Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo claiming that Tennessee is a Final Four team.
Even a non-blockbuster matchup turned into madness.
Coming off a historically abysmal season, Louisville began the season with yet another exhibition loss to a Division II school. Last season, the Cardinals began the Kenny Payne era with a loss to Lenoir-Rhyne University. However, this year was different. It was not different in terms of the outcome but in terms of the opponent. Louisville saw another horrific loss at the KFC Yum! Center as Kentucky Wesleyan College showed how low the expectations are in Derby City.
That wasn’t even the craziest result from an exhibition game in October. St. John’s, now led by Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino, saw a rocky start to a new, promising era. Despite former Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim calling the Red Storm a top-25 team, they lost to Pace University at Carnesecca Arena. Not only did they lose to a Division II school, but St. John’s did not lead for a second the whole game.
When the charity exhibition games that included Michigan State hosting Tennessee and Illinois hosting Kansas were announced, I was ecstatic. These games are great for college basketball; they show some of the top teams put against each other early. Plus, they raise money for various charities, which is more important than the game itself.
Former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski sees more importance in these exhibition games than most people do. “We’ve done the two exhibitions instead of playing the scrimmage because you can’t simulate the crowd,” he said in 2017 to The News & Observer. He emphasized that all levels of basketball are important.
Enough of the secret scrimmages. I’m sure everyone would agree that finding out the final score of the UConn-Virginia scrimmage with unofficial box scores from beat writers isn’t ideal. While secret scrimmages have benefits, such as stopping the game to teach while also setting up different scenarios for the team to be in, college basketball needs to give the fans what they want and televise these and raise money for good causes.