College basketball came down to the blue bloods last season, with Kentucky adding to its Hoops Rushmore resume in a Final Four that included Kansas, Louisville and Ohio State.
The mid-majors figure to play a major role this season.
While Indiana is the preseason No. 1 for the first time in 33 years, and big names like Duke, North Carolina and Arizona are loaded with talent, it’s the little guys who could make the most noise this season.
Just look at the preseason All-America team. It features Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, players who could be stars anywhere.
The Top 25 also is littered with mid-majors, including Creighton, UNLV, San Diego State and always-there Gonzaga.
With so many good teams and players from smaller conferences, it should be a fun season.
Indiana: The long climb from the embarrassment of an NCAA phone-call scandal appears to finally be over. The Hoosiers have 7-foot center Cody Zeller and a team that could make a title run.
Kentucky: The Calipari Method: Sign future NBA players, win, lose them to the NBA, repeat.
Louisville: Rick Pitino flexed his coaching muscles with one of the best jobs of his career last season and may not be done with most players back.
Ohio State: Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone. Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are not. Thad Matta rarely leaves the cupboard bare.
Michigan: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. make up a backcourt that could help the Charlotte Bobcats win more games. They certainly will in Ann Arbor.
Creighton: Can’t tout the mid-majors and not include one team to watch. Coach’s son Doug McDermott is an unstoppable force and the Bluejays have plenty of returning players to help him out.
Baylor (women): Brittney Griner and company are good enough to be mentioned here. Might give a men’s team or two a run for its money.
Cody Zeller, Indiana. Might be the best player in Clan Zeller, which is saying something coming from that family.
Tim Burke, Michigan. Led Wolverines in scoring and assists last season. Don’t expect a sophomore slump. He’s too good to have one.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. Played in the shadow of Jared Sullinger last season. Won’t this year, especially after a confidence-building run through the NCAA tournament.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. Missouri Valley player of the year, third nationally in scoring, preseason All-American — just might want to keep an eye on this guy.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh. Score, score and score some more. Pretty good rebounder and can dish as well.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State. Not many players from Murray State can — at least realistically — say they bypassed the NBA to return to school. Canaan did and could be a national player of the year candidate.
BEST NONCONFERENCE GAMES
Syracuse vs. San Diego State, Nov. 11, on the USS Midway in San Diego. The original Battle on the Midway was spectacular. This one might have a tough time matching the magic of that game — a president in attendance, that purplish twilight — but two ranked teams on an aircraft carrier just has to be cool.
Kentucky vs. Duke, Nov. 13, Atlanta. Two heavyweights get an early test in the season. It may not have a moment like Christian Laettner’s jumper in the 1992 NCAA tournament, but there’ll be enough talent to make this a must-watch game.
North Carolina at Indiana, Nov. 27. Another power-program showdown, this one will be a gauge for the Hoosiers to see if they live up to the hype.
Florida at Arizona, Dec. 15. They played a memorable overtime game at Florida last season, won by the Gators. This one will feature some of the best groups of big men in the country on the floor at the same time.
Kansas at Ohio State, Dec. 22. Rematch of last year’s Final Four game won by Kansas will feature plenty of new players for the Jayhawks and a couple of familiar ones for the Buckeyes.
Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 29. Another rematch of last year’s Final Four with two teams who don’t like each other will be a nice late Christmas present.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky. The bluest of Coach John Calipari’s blue chippers this season, the 6-foot-10 forward has an elevated game and the hair to match it.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State. Sun Devils fans have been waiting a year for Carson to be eligible and the sophomore point guard isn’t likely to disappoint with that wicked crossover and super hops.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA. Bruins Coach Ben Howland landed a stellar recruiting class this season, led by the left-handed Muhammad. The key is getting him on the court; the NCAA is still investigating whether he received improper benefits from boosters of an AAU team.
Grant Jerrett, Arizona. Arizona Coach Sean Miller said Jerrett is as far along as any incoming big man he’s seen, and he’s seen a few good ones.
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh. The former rugby player from New Zealand should fit right in with the Big East bangers.
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut. Replacing a three-time national champion (Jim Calhoun) won’t be easy. Doing it as a first-time coach on a one-year contract will add a degree or two of difficulty.
Larry Brown, Southern Methodist. Of all the options for the 71-year-old Hall of Famer to end up, few saw this one coming.
Frank Martin, South Carolina. With one of the more surprising moves in the offseason, Martin will try to rebuild another program after making Kansas State relevant.
Danny Manning, Tulsa. Danny probably won’t need a miracle in his first coaching job. Learned from one of the best as an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas.
Richard Pitino, Florida International. Rick’s son has proven to be pretty sharp himself.
TRANSFERS TO WATCH
Mark Lyons, Arizona. He went to the NCAA’s final 16 three times before graduating from Xavier. He’s reunited with the coach who recruited him there, giving Sean Miller a heady, quick point guard who won’t wither under the spotlight.
Alex Oriakhi, Missouri. Was a key contributor to UConn’s 2011 national title run. The powerful big man could have a similar impact on the Tigers.
Aaric Murray, West Virginia. One of the three transfers landed by Coach Bob Huggins, he could have the biggest impact after leading La Salle in scoring at 15.2 points a game and in rebounding at 7.7.
Ryan Harrow, Kentucky. In case the Wildcats didn’t have enough talent with another top recruiting class, they added Harrow from North Carolina State. After a year of waiting, he gets his turn to run the show in Lexington.
Trey Zeigler, Pittsburgh. A former McDonald’s All-American, he was allowed to leave Central Michigan when his father, Ernie, was let go. Dude can shoot, too, averaging more than 16 points the past two seasons.