Five things to watch for college hoops season
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
1. Where is the epicenter of college basketball this season?
Any reference to a geographical triangle usually brings to mind the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Make no mistake, North Carolina and Duke will be Final Four contenders once again. And North Carolina State, fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance and the recruitment of three McDonald’s All-Americans, is well positioned to win its first ACC regular season title since 1989. There also are off-court issues at Duke and North Carolina. Investigations continue into a widening academic scandal that has ensnared the entire university at North Carolina. And at Duke, the NCAA is investigating an allegation that Lance Thomas may have received an improper loan from a jeweler in December 2009.
That said, the triangle connecting Bloomington, Ind., Lexington, Ky., and Louisville is where the best basketball will be found this season. Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville are all strong national championship contenders. The Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller might be the nation’s best overall player. Louisville returns Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and a healthy Wayne Blackshear. And the only thing Coach John Calipari knows how to do at Kentucky is reload: A star-studded crop of freshmen, led by shot blocker extraordinaire Nerlens Noel, bolsters the Wildcats’ hopes of repeating as national champions.
2. What is the nation’s best conference?
The Big East will get a lot of respect, and rightfully so, before Syracuse and Pittsburgh take off for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. The ACC is top-heavy but lacks depth. The Southeastern Conference is stronger and deeper than most expect. The Pac-12 is, if nothing else, improved. And the loss of Missouri hurts the Big 12.
But this debate should have a clear answer this season: the Big Ten, whose strength compensates for its lack of strength in football this year. With Deshaun Thomas and league defensive player of the year Aaron Craft, enough talent remains at Ohio State to give the Buckeyes a strong chance to return to the Final Four. Michigan has one of the nation’s best starting backcourts with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Michigan State won’t be far from the … [For more on Five things to watch for college hoops season, click here.]