NBA Lockout: The NBA's Loss Is College Basketball's Gain

Matt RyanCorrespondent IINovember 16, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 27:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against Terrence Jones #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the east regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Prudential Center on March 27, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

November is the heart of football season. The championship contenders have been determined in both college and the NFL.

While many sports fans are focused on which two teams will play in the BCS National Championship Game or if the Green Bay Packers will have undefeated season, interest is gradually shifting toward basketball, especially during the middle of the week (unless you're a die-hard MAC football fan).

Television starting times and discussions normally filled with NBA games are on hold for the foreseeable future, now that the current lockout has now led to the cancellation for more than 25 percent of the regular season games.

Although more sports fans are probably more preoccupied at the moment with the BCS rankings and the record of their favorite NFL teams, the NBA's success over the last few years has made it arguably the second most popular league in North America.

Attention normally saved for April and May was present during the months of November and December.

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers' three-peat attempt, the polarization of the Miami Heat, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls' resurgence and the arrival of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in the Big Apple—these things all helped the Association achieve record television ratings this past season.  

The chances of the success and popularity experienced over the last 12 months carrying over in the short term seems less likely every day this lockout continues.

Basketball fans may not be able to see LeBron James or Kevin Durant suit up for the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder, but the lockout will do little to stop the interest level for hoops.

College basketball will fill this void for many, as long as David Stern and Billy Hunter continue to fight during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Attendance on campuses won't change too much since pro and college teams generally have different fanbases, but there could be a substantial impact for television.

College basketball TV ratings increased nearly 28 percent during the last NBA lockout during the 1998-99 season. A similar boost could occur this year for ESPN and regional sports networks.

The threat of an NBA lockout was a big reason why many players who would be "one and dones" in most years decided to go back to school for another year (or two). Many of them are already familiar with hoops fans.

Kemba Walker may have graduated, but UConn will still be in contention for another national championship. The rest of the core group returns and sophomore Jeremy Lamb may be the best guard in the nation. They may be even be better this year with the addition of 5-star center recruit Andre Drummond.

Jared Sullinger was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season and helped Ohio State secure the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ohio State is once again a favorite to win the Big Ten and ranks third in the country behind North Carolina and Kentucky.

The Tar Heels were preseason Final Four favorites and this may be the most talented team that Roy Williams has ever coached during his nine years at Chapel Hill. Harrison Barnes could be the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft and will be on the Naismith watch all season.

John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are experiencing a lower turnover than usual because of the lockout. They have the No. 1 recruiting class for the third year in a row and still have some of last year's crop left, unlike years past. All five of their starters could be NBA lottery picks in June. 

North Carolina and Kentucky will meet on Dec. 2 in what will likely be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown and Final Four preview.

High-profile matchups like this and others such as Florida-Syracuse on the same day, the Duke-Ohio State game on Nov. 29, and Louisville-Kentucky on Dec. 31 will have more national significance than usual.

A lot of fans who normally don't tune in until March will have more interest this year in these bigtime non-conference regular season matchups and even inter-conference games this winter if the NBA lockout prolongs.

The NBA may have gone away, but interest for basketball games won't. 

With no Kobe or LeBron in action, attention and discussion normally reserved for NBA superstars could shift to the defending Final Four champions, the big man campus in Columbus and the pro-caliber lineups in Lexington and Chapel Hill.

The NBA may be in a lockout, but at least college basketball is always in session.