The Golden Bear Classic is tonight and tomorrow, and I gotta say, what’s the point? This has got to be, consistently, one of the least important, and least exciting tournaments in all of college basketball. Typically, the Bears get up out of bed, wander over to Haas Pavilion, beat up on a couple schools you’ve never heard of, and head home. And barely anyone else notices. *yawn*
My main complaint with the tournament is that the field is typically weak and fairly anonymous. So, if the Bears win two, nobody cares, but if they get upset, well, hope you guys make the NIT. It’s not even on TV this year (at all! not even one of those crazy premium comcast channels or anything!), and so the games basically feel like any other two non-conference chump games.
Now, let’s compare the Golden Bear ‘Classic’ to a tournament people actually care about, the Maui Invitational. The Maui tourney has 4 things the GBC doesn’t (and may never) have: a trip to Maui in late November, national TV coverage, a compelling field, and a virtual guarantee that the host won’t beat you. Now, a Cal-hosted tournament will never have the first or last items, but there’s no inherent reason it couldn’t have the other two, and I think they go hand in hand.
Some research on the internet (this information was a lot harder to find than I thought it’d be) turned up the past participants in the Golden Bear Classic. The first team listed for each year is the opening round chump. The second team is the team the Bears played in the finals, and the third team is the one the Bears did not play. The scored of the games played are next to the team name, and a * is next to a team if it won the tournament.
Northern Colorado 83-59
Air Force* 44-49
Prarie View A&M
Grambling State 84-65
Penn State 76-73
Boston University 76-45
Eastern Kentucky 84-49
New Hampshire 75-67
Virginia Commonwealth 66-57
Cal Poly 77-59
Holy Cross 75-64
Kansas State* 58-65
Alabama* 73-76 (OT)
Maryland - Baltimore County 80-48
The first thing I noticed about this list is a decided lack of teams I’d ever heard of. Or, if I had heard of them, it wasn’t due to their basketball team (6 Ivy League schools have participated in the tournament). Only 4 participants are from other ‘Big Six’ conferences, and after Cal lost the finals in ‘94 to Alabama and ‘95 to Kansas State, we only see 2 in the next 10 years, one of whom (Mississippi State) was upset in the first round. Sure, I’d love to see the Bears win their own tournament, but rolling over Tulane, Virginia Commonwealth, or LaSalle just doesn’t get my blood pumping.
I’m actually OK with the Bears getting an easier opponent in the first round (it would be terrible to not make the finals of your own tournament), but a little challenge would be nice (the average margin of victory for the first round is 22.5 ppg, and only New Hampshire in ‘97 got within single digits). As it is, I seriously doubt tonight’s opponent (Chicago State) can buck this trend, and I seriously doubt I’ll bother tuning into the radio broadcast.
The finals have been closer the last few years (Northeastern and Pepperdine both gave the Bears games, and Air Force won in ‘03 in one of the worst excuses for a ‘basketball game’ I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness), so the finals might be worth listening to the radio. I’m sure Braun would like to even his career record against Eastern Michigan after last year’s debacle, but he might be the only person who thinks such a matchup would be even mildly intriguing.
Now, I know it’s tough to get top-flight programs to participate in someone else’s tournament. That’s the realities of college basketball scheduling. Perhaps you return the game in their house next year. But I still think the Bears can get a more interesting tournament going. Schedule some local programs. Make it a ‘best of the bay’ tournament. Get it on some kind of television (god knows there are enough channels now). Play St. Mary’s, or San Jose State, or UC Davis, or San Francisco, or Pacific, or something. Maybe invite the same teams back every year. Give local basketball fans a reason to care, cause the likes of Chicago State, Hampton, and Prairie View A&M sure ain’t cutting it. Then maybe the tournament would have some claim to use the word ‘Classic’ in it’s name.