‘Embarrassing’ pre-season losses ground teams with high aspirations.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Ask Jim Boeheim how losing to a Division II team last pre-season impacted his young, but talented Syracuse team. After dropping an exhibition game to LeMoyne, the underrated and inspired Orange jumped out of the gate quickly and never looked back on their way to the Big East regular-season championship.
While Boeheim would probably prefer to avoid that situation again (he’ll have his chance to exact his revenge on the mighty Dolphins of LeMoyne Tuesday night in Syracuse’s final pre-season tune-up), he’d also be the first to tell you that exhibition games are a) purely teaching tools, and b) meaningless… win or lose. The greatest benefit from these contests is simply the dozens upon dozens of early season mistakes that can be caught and, ideally, corrected without consequence.
Right now, while Tennessee, Auburn and Xavier basketball fans obviously don’t want to hear any of this glass half full baloney, losing these games is not only not the end of the world, but it might actually help a team in the long run. These three teams provide examples of contrasting scenarios the college basketball fan might face. Tennessee and Xavier are two teams coming off impressive NCAA Tournament runs a season ago, entering the season as contenders in their respective conferences, and having extremely high expectations. An ugly exhibition loss doesn’t change the fact that these teams are thought highly upon.
For teams with high aspirations like the Vols and the Muskateers, only good can come of a losses to schools like Indianapolis and Bellarmine. Best-case scenario: with a few brutal film sessions and practices (my legs are cramping just imagining being on one of those teams now) Bruce Pearl and Chris Mack will emphatically extinguish their team’s inflated egos and hope the humiliation of losing to a Division II squad registers in time for the season opener.
Not surprisingly, it appears the shame of their defeats is already gnawing away at members of both teams. Xavier star guard Tu Holloway (that’s right…Tu. I know at least one person thought that was a typo) already told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was going to lock himself in his room for two days following the game: “Nobody’s going to see me until I go to class [on Monday],” he said.
Tennessee guard Melvin Goins honed in on one key word in particular to describe his emotions following their loss to Indianapolis. “Mostly it’s embarrassing,” the senior said. “Just an embarrassment to ourselves and our fans.”
Auburn basketball fans (the few who are actually paying attention to Tigers exhibition basketball in the midst of Auburn football’s in-progress undefeated season and Cam Newton’s potentially disastrous NCAA issues) might get some closure from their team’s loss to Columbus State. Unlike at Tennessee and Xavier, Auburn was working with very low expectations to begin with. With a roster that is talent-poor by SEC standards, first year head coach Tony Barbee is expected to stay in the SEC cellar for the season. Those prognostications were simply confirmed by the exhibition loss. Now Barbee and his staff can teach and mold a young team under absolutely no pressure. Losing to a Division II school is never great news for a BCS conference team, but at least Auburn fans know for certain their team stinks now.
Despite the immediate feeling of bafflement that comes out of a loss to an “inferior” opponent, losses in these games can’t break a season. Just like winning them obviously doesn’t make one…unless you happen to be the Division II team.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.