November 8, 2012

College Basketball: Teams, talent ready to emerge

Mid-major teams and players may have a drastic say in who takes the spotlight in March.

By JOHN MARSHALL The Associated Press

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.

Cody Zeller
click image to enlarge

Cody Zeller is expected to make the biggest impact on an Indiana team that’s finally a contender again, ranked No. 1 in the preseason.

The Associated Press

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.

TOP TEAMS

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.

TOP PLAYERS

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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