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Friday, October 13, 2006
Mad about midnight

By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

It's Thursday night … no wait, my clock just flipped to 12:00 a.m. It's midnight, Friday morning. "SportsCenter" just wrapped up, and I'll probably switch on Jimmy Kimmel in a few. Might turn the lights off -- but I'll still be up for a little while.

UConn fan
If he'd paint his face, he'd show up at midnight.

In other words, it's a pretty typical evening in my 28-year-old world. Except I'm a little more awake than usual at this hour. That's because the road to the Final Four is about to begin! In exactly 24 hours, hundreds of teams in my favorite sport will be eligible to begin practicing for the upcoming season.

Um … make that 19 hours.

Yes, for the second consecutive season, the NCAA is allowing college basketball teams to begin practicing at 7 p.m. Friday, five hours earlier than in the past. The goal, they say, is to make the tip-off of the season more fan-friendly, and let fans get to bed at a decent hour.

I'm sorry, but "7 p.m. Madness" just doesn't have the same ring to it. This is not what Lefty Driesell had in mind.

Don't get me wrong. I'm dying for the college basketball season to begin. But at 7 p.m.? "Jeopardy" is on at 7 p.m. "Extra" is on at 7 p.m. These are nice shows and all. But they can't compare with college hoops.

You know what else is on at 7 p.m.? NBA games. Again, nice shows and all. Featuring the best basketball players in the world, in fact. But we don't watch college basketball because it features the best players. We watch college basketball because it's more exciting -- especially come March. Every game means more. Most players want it more.

Chat about college hoops
1:30 ET: Duke's Josh McRoberts
2 ET: Villanova's Curtis Sumpter
2:30 ET: UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
3 ET: ESPN analyst Jay Bilas
3:30 ET: Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray

And sure, once the season really gets underway, there'll be college games on at 7 p.m. too. And 8 p.m. And 9 p.m. But don't forget those midnight (on the East Coast) games on ESPN -- you know, the ones that seem to most often feature Gonzaga beating up on some overmatched opponent. College hoops junkies know what I'm talking about.

Which brings us back to midnight -- where the Madness belongs. I remember, back in high school, gettin' all excited to stay up and watch Midnight Madness coverage on ESPN. College students? Please … how many college students are in bed anywhere near midnight on a Friday? As for the rest of you, the bottom line is this: Any serious college hoops connoisseur, whatever the age, should be willing and eager to suck it up for one Midnight Madness a year. Get thee to a campus arena, or stay up and watch it on TV.

Especially this year! It's shaping up to be one heck of a season. I've already got Kansas vs. Florida (Nov. 25), Duke vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21) and UNC vs. Arizona (Jan. 27) circled on my calendar, among many other games. I'm scouring the Web daily looking for Greg Oden rehab updates. And I can't wait to find out whether talent-stuffed squads like the Jayhawks and Tar Heels can stop the Gators from winning a second straight national championship.

Joakim Noah
Everyone's excited to see if Joakim Noah and Florida can repeat.
But thanks to the NCAA, things aren't getting off to the most promising start. For example:

"Late Night in the Phog" starts at 6:45.

"Late Night with Roy Williams" -- basketball action begins at 7.

But I knew some team would come through for me. "Mason Madness: The Big Dance Party" tips off at 10:30 p.m. Friday night. I'll take it. At least they should still be on the court at midnight. And that's only fitting for a Cinderella.

Wait … is George Mason still considered a Cinderella?

Oh, who cares -- let the games, er, practices begin.

Kieran Darcy is an associate editor at ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at kieran.d.darcy@espn3.com.