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Why college basketball season matters

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No, the regular season isn't as much fun as March Madness, but you can't properly appreciate the tournament without knowing all that went into bringing us there.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball season starts Friday, and there's a good chance you're indifferent about that. There has never been a better argument for ignoring every college basketball game that takes place before March than the orgiastic frenzy of basketball awesomeness that was the 2014 NCAA Tournament. And I get that.

March Madness has a well-earned reputation as the wildest sports tournament of the year, and this year's was perhaps the wildest ever, a month with a season's worth of thrills.  From the opening tip to the Final Four, the tourney was crammed with buzzer-beaters, overtimes, and upsets. It ended with a national championship game between two teams that weren't even ranked in the top five in their respective brackets. For a few weeks every year, Reason decides his supervisors won't notice if he huffs glue while sitting at the control panel. The results are amazing.

It makes the idea of dedicating time and attention to following college basketball all year long seem futile. Why waste time watching a team play for months when their season can vanish in an instant? What's the point of expertise if it can't even come close to predicting anything?

When two teams in the top 25 meet, chances are very high that both will end up the 68-team field, barring catastrophe. Playing better in the season will give them easier matchups in the first two tournament rounds, but even those are losable, and from there the playing field is pretty much even. We're salivating over the Champions Classic, which pits Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas against each other Tuesday, but the actual results of the games will dictate very little about the courses of those teams' seasons.

You can call these games "meaningless" in that they don't change the end result. But they do, in fact, ascribe meaning.

Kentucky's runner-up run in the NCAA Tournament was enjoyable regardless of how often you watched Kentucky last year. The 8th-seeded Wildcats knocked off undefeated Wichita State and rival Louisville, then a pair of Aaron Harrison buzzer-beaters got them to the championship game.

If you followed the Wildcats from Day 1, you saw the preseason No. 1 team in the nation crack. You saw the team once called the best in the nation floundering against middling teams. You wondered who messed up: The pollsters, for ranking Kentucky so high without having seen them play? The recruiting analysts who pegged these guys as supposed superstars? The players themselves, for carrying the hubris of star ratings and preseason rankings supersede their need to practice and play like their less-talented opponents? Or John Calipari, the coach who brought in all the talent, but failed to do anything with it?

Then you watched all those questions evaporate. You saw a team that didn't look like one of the top 25 in the nation make a case it was the best. You saw Harrison, the highly-touted recruit who'd struggled with his shot, rise up and drill cold-blooded buzzer-beaters as identical as he is to his twin. You saw Marcus Lee, one of those 5-star guys who amounted to nothing all season long, make a name for himself after being called in due to injury.

Anybody who watched this would know it was spectacular. But watching Kentucky's run colored by the context of Kentucky's crazy season added a level that further explained why it was so fascinating.

A lot of those "meaningless" games mean something. Exactly what isn't always clear at the time.

That's why I'll be watching starting Friday. There are 351 teams in college basketball, and over the course of the year they'll write 351 stories.

Tune in when the conference championships start, if you'd like. Watching sports is about enjoying watching sports, and there's no wrong way to do that. But tuning in for March Madness and March Madness alone seems like the orgasm without any of the foreplay, without any of the ups and downs.