Midnight Madness festivities, a fall rite of passage for college basketball fans, have been going on for a few weeks now. A handful of top programs rolled out the red carpets this weekend, wowing fans with over-the-top, pricy spectacles to build a wave of optimism heading into the new season. And, by the way, recruits come on campus, too.
With adjusted NCAA rules this season, the schools that had their Madness pep rallies this weekend weren't kicking off practices for the season; schools have been practicing for a few weeks now. Still, it's how most fans cast away a long offseason, and two of the most talked-about title contenders—perhaps the top two title contenders in the preseason—kicked the hype machine into gear this weekend. Those two schools also happen to be two of the most extravagant when it comes to Midnight Madness.
Kentucky, No. 1 in the preseason coaches' poll a year after falling in the first round of the NIT, did not choose subtlety for its Big Blue Madness event Friday. John Calipari took the stage at Rupp Arena and essentially gave a State of the Union-type speech replete with grand hyperbole, references to 2012's national championship team and indirect jabs at last season's failure, and plenty of hype to this year's team. Among the highlights from Calipari's speech, from a transcript at CoachCal.com:
Our biggest opponent? Ourselves. At Kentucky, we are competing against ourselves every day. We can't let the strain and spotlight of this program affect you. We are the place to help you achieve your dreams. We don't just play college basketball, we are college basketball.
The spectacle didn't begin or end at Calipari's campaign speech. In all, Kentucky spent "just north of $400,000" on the event, Kyle Tucker reported at USA Today. That money included light-up suits as the players were introduced one-by-one from under a stage on slow-rising platforms, through fog and lights, and a giant, rotating video board above the court.
And Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell kicked off the night with a dance routine inspired by James Brown and Britney Spears:
Mitchell previously danced at Madness events as MC Hammer and Michael Jackson.
Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo hasn't danced to "U Can't Touch This" or "Billie Jean," but he's perhaps the highest-profile coach in America when it comes to Midnight Madness antics. Izzo eats it up, and his to-dos at Michigan State's Midnight Madness every year seem to raise the bar, as chronicled here by the Big Ten Network. A year after taking the court at the Breslin Center as Iron Man, Izzo rode in to the Breslin Center on Friday on a giant contraption labeled "#IZZOCANNON," and there it was: Izzo was going to be shot out of a cannon.
It turned out to be a stunt double—and one whose name is "The Cannon Lady," Diamond Leung of MLive.com reported—but still, a human was shot out of a cannon at Michigan State's Midnight Madness on Friday. After the cannon stunt, Izzo took to the mic and sold his team. From Leung:
"These guys have worked their tail off the whole summer. It's been an incredible, incredible summer for 'em. There's a lot of high expectations. I understand that, but not any higher than we have."
Kentucky and Michigan State play in Chicago on Nov. 12. Welcome back indeed, college basketball.
Syracuse's event wasn't nearly as extravagant, and the Carrier Dome's low attendance reflected that. Among the acts at Orange Madness, according to Jeremy Ryan at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, were a dunk contest, a multi-song lip synch contest and Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy. The lack of spectacle allowed—or forced, maybe—more focus on the basketball portion of the event, and Ryan said C.J. Fair appears to have spent good time in the gym this summer honing his game.