By Cameron Tillet–
There’s some sort of atmospheric shift that occurs when college basketball season arrives in the Kentuckiana area. Or it might be a kind of alien pollen in the air, only released during the months of November through March. Whatever the case, it causes people to act a little bit crazier here than they do anywhere else, except maybe North Carolina.
In case you didn’t hear from a friend or family member, that team in Lexington won the national title last April. And that’s allright. Louisville has one of the most tenacious and relentless defenses and a team that has a huge potential to become explosive offensively. Mark down the game between the two Bluegrass schools, as if you haven’t already, as a chance for revenge.
1. College basketball’s power shifts to Ohio Valley area
Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky are the preseason top three. All are coming from different situations. IU, after just returning to the national spotlight last season, is picked as the top team. There’s a little pressure on their shoulders from the second most rabid fan base in the country. After a magical postseason run, Louisville has the battle-hardened vets who have been there and know what it takes to get back. But where will our offense come from? Finally, the Cats are coming off a pretty incredible title run, but the story is always the same. Will the freshmen live up to expectations or will they crumble?
2. UCLA’s return to national prominence
After a discombobulated and downright ugly season last year, Coach Ben Howland and the Bruins weren’t really expected to do much this season. That is, until they signed the No.1 recruiting class, featuring explosive swingman Shabazz Muhammad and point forward Kyle Anderson, two top-10 prospects in their class. However, Shabazz is yet to be cleared by the NCAA and his presence will be needed badly on the court. The Bruins have the necessary pieces to make some noise this year, but a lot of these pieces were part of the team last year. Either way it will be an interesting season in L.A.
3. North Carolina State’s climb to the top of the ACC
Crazy things are happening down in the ACC. Duke and North Carolina, perennial ACC title contenders, find themselves ranked behind someone in the preseason? Weird. But Coach Mark Gottfried has NC State in the driver’s seat after squeaking into the tournament field last season. The Wolfpack return some major contributors, including C.J. Leslie and playmaker Lorenzo Brown. In addition, a terrific recruiting class bolsters their roster, headlined by a familiar name, Rodney Purvis. Purvis briefly committed to Louisville in 2011 before later changing his mind.
4. The dissolution of the Big East
So officially the Big East isn’t done. But losing a powerhouse like Syracuse and contenders like Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, isn’t exactly going in the right direction. West Virginia has already moved on to the Big 12 this season, but the rest of the teams have one season left to play in the Big East. Will Syracuse emerge victorious in their final season in a conference where they were one of the building blocks? How will Kevin Ollie do as new head coach, stepping into the big shoes of Jim Calhoun? Enjoy this season, because it won’t ever be quite the same.
5. Mid-majors being major contenders
Last season we witnessed some crazy things from the mid-major ranks, and it’s a trend that many of those same teams are looking to perpetuate this season. Murray State, the last unbeaten of 2012, returns do-it-all point guard and All-American candidate Isaiah Caanan along with the core of solid players that made last year’s team so successful. Creighton, ranked in the top 20, returns one of the few players who has a chance to beat out IU’s Cody Zeller, in multipurpose forward Doug McDermott. Memphis is entering year three under the reign of John Pastner who seems to have inherited some of Calipari’s recruiting prowess. And don’t forget the lesser known teams come March. Duke and Missouri did last year, and they paid for it.
Photo: Tricia Stern/The Louisville Cardinal