Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011-2012 College Basketball Preview: Introduction

This is the year to go all in with college basketball.

For one thing, the NBA is probably going to be locked out all season. Games are already canceled well in to December and the players simply do not understand that they are mostly a group of young adults who never finished (or, in many cases, started) college going up against some of the wealthiest and best businessmen in the entire country in matters of business. Thus, they have decertified as a union months after they should have if they were ever going to make such a move and should continue digging their own grave until sometime in the spring or summer of 2012. Maybe we'll get lucky and this thing will end in January or so like 99 did so we can at least get an abbreviated season and the playoffs, but we haven't gotten lucky once in this whole thing and the players seem like they're going to keep burying themselves until the entire season is gone. Oh well.

Anyway, the NBA's loss has been college basketball's gain. Basketball is basketball and while the college game lacks the NBA's quality, it more than makes up for it by dressing up the game far better with its atmosphere that prefers screaming student sections to club beats during play, among other things. Furthermore, the lockout led to an abnormal amount of talent staying in college so the college game should be higher quality this season. Last year, a team that was a 9 seed in its conference tournament won the title, both an 8 seed and an 11 seed made the Final Four, the number one overall seed didn't even make its regional final and of the 14 lottery picks in the 2011 NBA Draft, exactly four came from top 3 seeds and three of those were Kansas' Morris twins as the last two picks of the lottery and BYU's Jimmer Fredette going 10th (the fourth was Duke's Kyrie Irving going number 1 overall, of course.) There simply wasn't much talent in college hoops last year and the teams that did have the most talent - Connecticut and Kentucky - did not harness it until March.

Expect different this year. Each of the top six teams in the country are absolutely loaded with star power, depth and legendary coaching. There are sleepers in the top 15 with nasty collections of shooters (Vanderbilt), scorers (Florida) and athletes (Memphis.) As usual, the Big East is the best top-to-bottom league in the country and will get the most bids to the NCAA tournament, including a few national title contenders who will fight it out for # 1 seeds, but it's the ACC who is home to the best team in the country: North Carolina. The Big 12 should be a four way dance between top 20ish programs battling in the league's first ever true round robin for the title and so should the SEC, which is officially a single table (but the East schools still play each other twice and the West once and vice versa) and might be the deepest it's been in years. And then there are the expansion boys - the Big Ten and Pac-12 - both with one clear favorite and a whole lot of fluidity underneath.

And that's just the BCS leagues. Among the mid majors, the Atlantic 10 (Xavier, Temple), CAA (VCU, one of Old Dominion/George Mason/Drexel), C-USA (Memphis, one of Marshall/UCF/Tulsa), Horizon (Butler, one of Detroit/Wisconsin Milwaukee/Cleveland State), Missouri Valley (Creighton, Wichita State, maybe Indiana State), Mountain West (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State) and WCC (Gonzaga, St. Mary's, BYU) all have multiple legitimate at-large threats and of the low majors, the Atlantic Sun (Belmont), Big West (Long Beach State), Ivy (Harvard) and MAC (Kent State, Akron) all have rare opportunities to send at large teams to the NCAA tournament. I can't ever remember a season where this many mid and even low major leagues had at least one team who has the talent to win 25+ games, likely a base requirement for at large consideration for any team from the non BCS conferences.

That leaves fourteen leagues that appear to be certain to send only their conference tournament champion to the Big Dance - America East, Big Sky, Big South, MAAC, MEAC, NEC, Ohio Valley, Patriot, SoCon, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sun Belt and WAC. Of course, if Belmont, Long Beach State and one of Kent State/Akron win their conference tournaments and Harvard wins the Ivy title then those bids will be one league as well and obviously not all of the mid majors who have at large threats will send an at large team.

So buckle up for this mammoth multi-part season preview that will end with a whole bunch of words and a mock bracket that will be fun to look back at in March and laugh at.

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