The most pressing questions in college basketball with practice soon to start would seem to be...Nah, not the usual stuff. Not how the NBA draft picks get replaced, or the freshmen fit in, or the new coaches work out. That all can come later. For now it’s:
How many tents will be up this week at Kentucky, for the campers in line to get tickets to Big Blue Madness?
Who’ll be in the NBA2K finals for Late Night in the Phog at Kansas?
And most of all, what getup will Tom Izzo be wearing when he walks onto the court for Michigan State Madness?
They’re all coming, the various fan-friendly events that make up the beginning-of-practice cabaret. You know the drill. Dunk contests, live entertainment, prize giveaways, player introductions, skits. Even some real basketball. The students party, the boosters cheer with new hope, and the recruits get good seats to (hopefully) whet their appetite for more.
There’ll be Musketeer Madness at Xavier, where the new name for the student section will be announced. Hoops Mania at Villanova, which will be outside in the football stadium, with the Pavilion under renovation. Ball Out at the Bookstore at Notre Dame, where players will have shooting contests with fans in the bookstore parking lot the night before the USC football game. Late Night with Roy at North Carolina, when the 2017 national championship banner goes up.
There’s Hoosier Hysteria at Indiana – #StandingRoomOnly is new coach Archie Miller’s Twitter hashtag on the event. Kraziness in the Kennel at Gonzaga, where it should be loud enough when the Final Four banner they waited on for so long is unveiled. Jam With Ham at Florida State, with coach Leonard Hamilton as host.
The past can verify how raucous it can get.
Penn State once had a pushup contest for students to win free laundry. Jim Boeheim arrived in a Humvee at Syracuse’s Orange Madness. Tubby Smith came in as Shaft at Texas Tech. UConn has had First Night – which is taking 2017 off while the arena roof gets repaired -- when both the men and women strolled in with national championship trophies. North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks brought down the house lip-synching a Whitney Houston song, “I Will Always Love You,” at Late Night with Roy.
A student at Drake’s Bulldog Madness had a chance to win a truck if he could hit a layup, free throw, 3-pointer and halfcourt shot in 30 seconds. He bricked his first two layups, and had an airball on a 3-point attempt, but ended up nailing them all, and when he buried the halfcourt heave, was piled on by the entire Drake team.
And recorded for all-time is Duke’s reenactment of scenes from famous movies at Countdown to Craziness. There was then-assistant Steve Wojciechowski as the Godfather. And Nolan Smith in the buff, doing the Kate Winslet portrait scene from Titanic.
That was October of 2009, by the way. The next April, the Blue Devils were cutting down the nets as national champions. That season in Durham went from Don Corleone to One Shining Moment.
The gold standard for this business is in Lexington, where students camp out three days just to get tickets to Big Blue Madness. They’re out there this week, and 270 tents were up soon after the 5 o’clock start Wednesday morning. The actual Big Blue Madness is Oct. 13, and its schedule is a closely guarded state secret.
One year, the entire Rupp Arena floor was turned into a video screen. Another year, there was a cell phone light show. And these words from John Calipari to the masses at his first Big Blue Madness in 2009: “My friends, we have an enormous mountain to climb.”
Last year, they had a blue carpet out for introductions and a “Main Event” theme, with Michael Buffer belting out a hearty “Leeeeeet’s get ready for roundballllllllll.”
Then there’s Izzo. Heaven knows what his wardrobe will be for Michigan State Madness Oct. 20.
Once, he came in dressed like a member of the band Kiss.
Another time, in gladiator gear as King Leonidas from “300.”
When it was on Friday the 13th, he was Dracula. Another year, Iron Man. Another, he walked in as a hippie in a headband. Another, an astronaut. He drove a miniature race car onto the court, and a Harley. He rappelled down from the ceiling. There was the year the Final Four was set in San Antonio, home of the Alamo. Here he came on a horse, dressed like Davy Crockett.
Then there was the October he rode in on a cannon. Next thing the crowd knew, Tom Izzo was flying through the air, shot out of the cannon into a distant net. Bravo. The place sounded as if the Spartans had just beaten Michigan at the buzzer. Except, it wasn’t Tom Izzo. At the last second, a stunt double filled in.
This year’s Izzo plans? Nobody at Michigan State is saying.