column: The NBA lockout keeps premier talent in the college game

By on November 29, 2011

By Cameron Tillett–

It didn’t seem possible, but the chances of an NBA season are now being viewed with even more pessimism. However, basketball fans will find a season long reprieve in the college ranks. This year’s season is primed for special things, as talent returns to the game, unlike recent years. Likely lottery picks such as Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, and North Carolina’s frontcourt trio of Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson, are just a few who decided to spend another year in school. Add a new crop of freshmen that contains as much star power as did the 2007 class that featured Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo and this season looks to be on par with the magical 2008 season.

Though the talent level of the NCAA pool is on the upswing, the Top 25 is thought to be especially top heavy. In addition to returning its entire starting lineup, which features the aforementioned front court stars, UNC adds a highly touted recruiting class to what was already a serviceable bench. Heady point guard, Kendall Marshall may not be the highest scorer for the Heels, but he’ll be the most important player on the floor. UK adds yet another #1 ranked recruiting class to a group of their most talented returnees since Calipari’s stay in Lexington. Ohio State loses a little from a team that was expected to run the table last March, but adds a deep crop of freshmen talent to a group of savvy veterans. Meanwhile, National Champion Connecticut returns every key player except Kemba Walker and adds freshmen phenom Andre Drummond, who will anchor the interior. The basic formula for these teams is an experienced and talented group of returnees added to a promising group of freshmen who may turn into stars in their own right.

Outside of those top four, Syracuse has the best case to challenge for a No. 1 seed. The Orangemen return versatile forward Kris Joseph, in addition to one of the deepest benches in college basketball. However, Duke looked very impressive in their victory over Michigan St. in the Champions Classic and did everything a good Duke team is supposed to do, especially when it came to knocking down the three ball.

Our own Louisville Cardinals have an extremely deep bench which goes hand-in-hand with Coach Pitino’s style of play. Peyton Siva has steadily improved each year and many are expecting this year to be his breakout season onto the national stage. Look for raw, but rapidly improving big man Gorgui Dieng and the monster that is Chane Behanan to secure the inside on defense and offense respectively. Cards fans are just praying the gods of basketball will protect their team from further injury.

Baylor is another intriguing squad with a mix of raw athleticism but unknowns in forwards Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. Though the Bears disappointed last season, they have enough talent and skill to give any team a serious run, but their motivation lies in question.

An interesting and exciting season lies ahead. Fans could see some teams dominate, leading to a tournament where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all No. 1 seeds make the Final Four for the first time since 2008. However, enough talent is contained in the top 10 that any team will be able to compete come March and should make for some interesting matchups. College basketball couldn’t have a picked a better year to improve and it looks like it could only be onward and upward from here.

sports@louisvillecardinal.com
Photo: Cody Hibbard/The Louisville Cardinal

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