For many big-time college basketball programs, March Madness is preceded by Midnight Madness.


On October 15, 1971, Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell sent his team out for a one-mile run around the school’s outdoor track just after the stroke of midnight.  More than 1,000 fans turned out to see this unorthodox practice session.  Little did the future Hall of Fame coach know that he had started a tradition that would endure for nearly five decades.


The 2019-20 college basketball season opens tomorrow night with a full slate of conference and non-conference games being played nationwide.  But the season really got underway September 24, the first day practice was permitted under NCAA rules.  Many coaches are so eager to get started they don’t even wait until morning, trotting out cheerleaders, mascots and pep bands to adoring fans who turn out in the middle of the night.

What started as a gimmick has become a major event.  Fans line up for hours then pour into arenas by the thousands to see their favorite teams launch the new season.  Some schools host top recruits at their event – then pull out all the stops in order to impress.  Last September, B.o.B performed at Marquette Madness, while rapper 2 Chainz made an appearance at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse.


Several programs opt for celebrity scrimmages.  Others hold slam dunk contests.  It seems everyone wants a chance to get in on the action, with entertainment and extravagance at the center of the chaos.  Here are some of the highest-profile Midnight Madness events in college basketball.


Late Night in the Phog signals the official start of the men’s and women’s basketball seasons at the University of Kansas.  Alumni and fans migrate to Lawrence for the entire weekend, which this year included a home football game against Oklahoma.  The 35th edition of Late Night in the Phog took place last month and featured music from the Jayhawk pep band, routines from KU’s spirit squad and dance teams, and skits by the basketball squad.


Duke kicks off its season with Countdown to Craziness.  The night begins with introductions of both the men’s and women’s teams, which is followed by a 20-minute Blue-White scrimmage by the men.  It must be a pretty big deal, as tickets for this event at sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium go for as much as $480 each.


The first practice of the season in Bloomington, Indiana, is known as Hoosier Hysteria.  Last year’s event happened the same day IU hosted Rutgers football and included a 3-point contest, dunk contest and scrimmage by the men’s team.  This season, Hoosier Hysteria took place on a Sunday afternoon.  Unlike Duke, admission is free, but IU asks fans to donate canned goods for admission.


Everything about Kentucky basketball is over the top and Big Blue Madness is no exception.  Fans line up for free tickets two days before they are distributed in late September, then return to Rupp Arena two weeks later for the show.  The 37thedition of this annual event was held Friday, October 11, and included men’s and women’s team introductions, videos and practice drills.  Seems like a huge bother for a bunch of youngsters who will never see their sophomore year in Lexington, let alone earn a degree.


Michigan State launches its new basketball season each year with MSU Midnight Madness.  Doors open at 8:30 p.m.  Festivities begin at 9:30 and end at…you guessed it…midnight.  The Friday night at Breslin Center is raucous and includes a team scrimmage, performances by the Spartan Marching Band and drumline,  the MSU dance team and cheerleaders, and Sparty.  The star of the show is undoubtedly coach Tom Izzo who, over the years, has dressed as a jet fighter, Dracula, Bobble Head Izzo and as a member of the rock band KISS.


Orange Madness was an annual affair in the Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome that featured musical acts, player contests, the introduction of the men’s and women’s teams and brief scrimmages.  But like so many things at P.C.-driven Syracuse [which dropped “Orangemen” for “Orange” in 2004], the school now plays host to “Basketball Fan Appreciation Weekend.”  The men play a docile little scrimmage while the women’s team is unveiled during an ice cream social dubbed “Hoops-n-Scoops.”


Head coach Mark Few has molded tiny Gonzaga into a perennial powerhouse.  Basketball is a big deal at Gonzaga, where the Bulldogs have reeled off 19 conference titles in the past 20 seasons and have received 20 straight NCAA tournament bids.  So it comes as no surprise that Kraziness in the Kennel kicks off each new season to a standing-room only crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center.


The Cathedral of Learning is one of the marquee landmarks at the University of Pittsburgh.  The Pitt basketball team welcomes its new season with Courtside at the Cathedral, a spirited affair that takes place at an outdoor court on Bigelow Boulevard, right in front of the Cathedral.  The event includes a player-versus-student shooting competition, a student half-court shootout for a $1,000 credit at the university bookstore and a fireworks and laser show.


Marquette Madness is a student-only event that introduces the men’s and women’s basketball players and staff.  This year’s show — held Friday, October 4 at the Al McGuire Center – featured a free concert by 12-time Grammy nominee T-Pain.  Students who are season ticket holders get first dibs.  The madness opens Friday night with bed races, a street fair featuring food vendors and a Ferris wheel, and the concert.  Saturday morning brings women’s and men’s practices along with an autograph session at the Central Mall Block Party.


North Carolina fans get their first opportunity to see the Tar Heels at Late Night With Roy, the annual season tipoff for Carolina basketball.  Admission is free and seating is by general admission.  Doors to the Dean Smith Center open at 6 p.m. with festivities beginning at 8.  This year’s event was the earliest ever, as Late Night With Roy took place Friday, September 27, just a day before the UNC football team hosted defending national champion Clemson in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

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