Ranking the 10 Greatest Traditions in College Basketball
College basketball is rooted in tradition.
From the unique to the absurd, we tried to capture the top 10 traditions that contribute to the essence of college basketball.
Some on this list are simply annual occurrences that nonetheless need to be appreciated, while other traditions of less notoriety have become the calling card of various programs.
Herein lies the top 10 traditions in college basketball.
Honorable Mention: Championship Week
Championship Week, so dubbed by ESPN’s clever branding team, is as exciting as any singular week throughout the entire college basketball season.
The week preceding Selection Sunday is filled with wall-to-wall conference tournament action and is the final chance for numerous underperforming teams to earn an automatic berth to the tournament.
For fans, it’s also the last chance to catch a glimpse of various non-power conference squads and garner any last-minute information. Oftentimes Championship Week is where hoops fans spot a tournament dark horse, monitor their momentum and then ride them deep into the tournament.
Of all the tournaments though, none is as iconic as the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, where teams (like the 2011 Connecticut Huskies) have a chance to win five games in five days to earn an unlikely berth to the tournament.
Unfortunately, thanks to conference realignment and the (football) powers that be, the Big East and Championship Week frankly won’t be the same next season as teams like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh depart for the ACC.
10. Cutting Down the Nets
Call me old school, but this tradition never, ever gets old.
Whether it’s for a regular-season title or for something as momentous as a national championship, cutting down the nets is equally as important as receiving the championship trophy.
According to the Mercury News, the tradition began in Indiana (where else?), when legendary high school coach Everett Case began snipping the twine in the 1920s. Case brought his tradition to N.C. State where, as the head coach in 1947, he elected to cut down the nets after winning a Southern Conference title.
In a recent ESPN 30 for 30, it was revealed that former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano dedicated one practice each season to literally cutting down the nets. The practice paid dividends, as the 1983 Wolfpack would go on to shock Houston in the championship in one of the sport’s greatest upsets.
9. Cameron Crazies
There’s not one singular chant, tradition or wave that defines the Cameron Crazies, but it’s the collective chaos from Duke’s supporters that helps them crack this list.
From Krzyzewskiville to the iconic Blue Devil logo, the Crazies are integral to what consistently makes Cameron Indoor one of the toughest venues in college basketball. Students camp out in tents for days just to have a chance to watch Duke face hated rival North Carolina or a few of the other elite ACC foes.
Once inside the compact arena (Less than 10,000 seats), students are jam-packed along the sidelines where they’ve been known to heave clever, well-researched insults at opposing teams. It should come as no surprise that under Coach K, Duke’s record is 413-55 at home.
8. Saint Joseph's Hawk
The Saint Joseph’s Hawk isn’t your run-of-the-mill college mascot.
Whichever student dons the famous Hawk costume has to flap its wings throughout the entire game at both home and away contests. It’s symbolic of Saint Joseph’s motto: “The Hawk Will Never Die.”
ESPN once estimated that the hawk flaps its wings around 3,500 times per game.
In return for the intense workout, the student, who also doubles as a team manager, earns a scholarship to Saint Joseph's.
7. Philadephia's Big 5 Series
Five Philadelphia schools – La Salle, Pennsylvania, Temple, Villanova and Saint Joseph's – compete each year in an informal, round robin tournament dubbed the Big 5, a series that no other city can boast.
Beginning in the 50s as a way to showcase Philadelphia basketball, the Big 5 (played at Penn’s famed Palestra arena) has endured numerous conference shifts and scheduling obstacles.
Since the 2011 season, four of the five schools (Penn as the exception) have won a share of the unofficial city title. This past year, La Salle and Temple tied for the title with a 3-1 record.
6. Rock Chalk Jayhawk
As iconic as any cheer in sports, Kansas’ Rock Chalk chant is synonymous with the Jayhawks’ program and the allure of Allen Fieldhouse.
The cheer dates back more than 100 years when initially the chant went “Rah, Rah, Jayhawk, KU,” but a professor suggested the adoption of “Rock Chalk” instead, symbolic of the limestone around the Lawrence campus.
As good as the video is, it doesn’t compare to being in Lawrence before a rivalry game as the chant rumbles through the crowd.
5. Midnight Madness
College basketball usually lacks a significant start date, but for die-hard fans, Midnight Madness officially kicks off the college season.
The NCAA declared that on the Friday closest to Oct. 15, teams can officially start practicing, although few coaches actually use the allotted time for drills and such. Instead, Midnight Madness, which began with Lefty Driesell at Maryland in the early 70s, has transformed into a circus of dunk contests, intra-squad scrimmages, concerts and contests.
Coaches use the event as a selling point to recruits while also building buzz amongst the existing fanbase. Some of the most famous “practices” include those at Kentucky and Michigan State. Big Blue Nation often stuffs Rupp Arena with more than 23,000 fans while Spartans coach Tom Izzo has become known for his dramatic entrances.
This past year, he entered the Breslin Center dressed as Iron Man.
USAToday recently reported that the NCAA is considering adding two weeks to the preseason schedule which would bump Midnight Madness up and allow for more rest throughout the grueling preseason workouts. No matter, Midnight Madness will still be awesome.
4. John Brown University's Toilet Paper Game
Few traditions are as unique as John Brown University’s “Toilet Paper” game.
At the first men’s home game of the year, fans pack Bill George Arena in Arkansas armed with various rolls of toilet paper. Upon the Golden Eagles’ first field goal, they fling their single-ply, quilted trajectories onto the court, drawing the first technical foul of the season.
The display has been dubbed, “The best technical foul in all of sports,” according to USA Today.
Despite the ensuing free throws, the athletic department has embraced the tradition that’s gone on for more than 30 years.
3. Taylor University's Silent Night
In terms of holiday parties, Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, may take the top prize.
Every December, just before students hunker down in anticipation of final exams, the Trojans host their annual “Silent Night” game, which is both spooky and chaotic at the same time.
The crowd, clad in the most ludicrous costumes a college kid could imagine, waits patiently in compete silence until Taylor scores its 10th point of the game, which ignites the crowd into sheer chaos.
Finally, Taylor fans finish off the evening by singing—what else?—Silent Night.
Current Illinois head coach John Groce, a former player and coach at Taylor, adopted the tradition at his new position in Champaign, but we’ll always remember where the tradition started.
2. Utah State's Fans
In terms of creativity, there is no better student section than that of the Utah State Aggies.
By and large, their deafening, intimidating and sometimes annoying chants have played no small role in creating a massive home-court advantage at the Spectrum. It's no coincidence that Utah State has won four of the last six WAC regular-season titles.
At the start of each game, the Aggie faithful begin the “I believe that we will win,” chant (a must click), which rings throughout the arena. The chant reportedly originated with Navy in the early 2000s, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
As if cheers led by Wild Bill (another must click) weren’t fun enough, at the end of games, the students begin a rousing chant of “winning team, losing team,” that further demoralizes the opponent.
Utah State doesn’t have the history of programs like Duke or Kansas, but its students make the venue every bit as intimidating.
1. One Shining Moment
At the end of every long and exhausting NCAA tournament, there still remains one tradition more satisfying than all the rest: One Shining Moment.
Dave Barrett’s composition, which was initially scribbled on a bar napkin, has become the backdrop for tournament highlights since 1987. In fact, the song was initially meant to conclude the broadcast for Super Bowl XXI, but fortunately, it’s been inextricably tied to the end of each college basketball season instead.
Check out this profile of Barrett and how One Shining Moment became the heralded anthem of college basketball.