CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The college basketball season is officially here.
From North Carolina’s “Late Night With Roy” event to Kentucky’s “Big Blue Madness” that drew a packed crowd to Rupp Arena, Friday night featured a busy schedule of Midnight Madness-style events around the country that stand as the ceremonial kickoff to the 2016-17 season.
Similar events took place at Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland, Iowa State and Connecticut among other schools.
Coming off a loss in the NCAA championship game on a last-second 3-pointer to Villanova, the Tar Heels held their “Late Night” event featuring the men’s and women’s basketball teams in front of a crowd of more than 15,000 fans at the Smith Center. Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams drew a standing ovation as he walked onto the court ahead of player introductions for a veteran squad, while the players quickly commenced with a series of skills contests and dancing for fans before capping the night with an intrasquad scrimmage.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good structure out there: guys knew where to go,” Tar Heels junior Theo Pinson said. “It was good playing in front of a crowd, to get used to it for the freshmen and us getting the feel of it again. It was fun.”
In Lexington, Kentucky, the Wildcats stepped out on the blue carpet to offer the first look at John Calipari’s latest heralded freshman class. The school also unveiled a new scoreboard above center court and a newly designed playing court, part of renovations at Rupp Arena for its 40th anniversary.
Actors Steve Zahn and Josh Hopkins, along with former Kentucky standouts and NBA first-round draft picks John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were also in attendance. Renowned boxing announcer Michael Buffer introduced the players with some of the newcomers displaying dance moves to the delight of those in attendance.
“Wow,” Calipari said. “You people are crazy. Look at this place. Only you, only here.”
The Midnight Madness tradition was based on teams holding open practices at the earliest opportunity on the first day the NCAA permitted teams to open practice. Rule changes in 2013 gave teams more flexibility on when they would start their practices, which also scattered the Midnight Madness type events — many now being held in more family-friendly evening hours — across the calendar.
Kansas was the first of the marquee programs to hold its event on Oct. 1, while others — including Duke, Syracuse, Indiana and Virginia — are scheduled to hold public scrimmages or similar events next weekend.
Here’s a look at some of the Midnight Madness events Friday night:
UNC: Senior Isaiah Hicks scored 13 points according to unofficial statistics to lead Blue past White 40-37, though the Tar Heels needed a 1-minute overtime after the 20-minute scrimmage to decide it.
KENTUCKY: Buffer played off his trademark phrase by announcing “Let’s get ready for roundball!” ahead the Wildcats’ 10-minute scrimmage matching the newcomers against the veterans. Bam Adebayo had 14 points on seven dunks to help the freshmen win 25-21.
UCONN: The Huskies drew about 8,000 fans to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs to catch “First Night” with the men’s and national championship women’s teams, which evenly divided both team’s players for the 20-minute scrimmage featuring alternating 5-minute segments for men’s and women’s play.
ARIZONA: Five-star freshman guard Rawle Alkins had quite a moment en route to winning the team’s dunk contest, plucking the ball from coach Sean Miller as he leaped over his back and then threw it down in one motion.
IOWA STATE: Senior Deonte Burton won the team’s dunk contest, junior college transfer Donovan Jackson won the 3-point contest, and the men’s and women’s squads played a 16-minute co-ed scrimmage in “Hilton Madness.”
This story has been corrected to show Buffer said ’roundball,’ not ‘rumble.’
Freelance writer Keith Taylor in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.