The preliminaries are over. Basketball now begins in earnest.

Conference play for high school and college teams has begun — and not without glitches.

Hendrix College, which began its league play in December, was supposed to hit full steam this weekend with games at Oglethorpe and Berry College.

There was a bug — or many bugs.

Hendrix men’s coach Thad McCracken left seven players in Conway — all apparently suffering from the flu.

The University of Central Arkansas Bears and Sugar Bears began Southland Conference play Thursday night with one of the longest and most grueling road trips of the season. Both teams played Nicholls State on Thursday at Thibodaux, then will head to Hammond on Saturday to play Southeastern Louisiana. UCA has traditionally not had an easy time at either place.

But it’s a new dynamic this year. While the Bears and Sugar Bears travel separately, they will each play at the same site on the same day this season, according to a change in the SLC schedule. Under the previous SLC scheduling format, one college team would play a home game and one would be on the road, meaning every league member would have a home game on each playing date. Now, teams will play women’s and men’s doubleheaders at the same site on the same date. Instead of playing conference games on Wednesdays and Saturdays, teams will play on Thursdays and Saturdays.

It’ll be interesting to see how the change works out.

Many high school teams begin conference play Friday.

Conway’s boys and girls will have challenges right off the bat — even if they are technically against 6A schools. The Wampus Cats and Lady Cats will play Friday night at Russellville, then will open at home against Little Rock Hall of Tuesday night. Hall is ranked among the top teams in the state in both boys and girls and Tuesday’s games will furnish at early indication of the pecking order in 7A/6A Central. And if the Hall-Conway girls matchup in the Bank of the Ozarks John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational was any indication, Game 2 of the serious will be up-tempo and extremely physical.

And while conference play is intensifying, high school officials will be paying attention next week to an annual off-the-court development. The executive board of the Arkansas Activities Association will meet Thursday, Jan. 10, to determine state and regional tournament sites for basketball and spring sports.

At the beginning of one cycle, there’s an end game also.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or