Big Ten Basketball

College Basketball Preview

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Christmas jingles sweep local radio stations, Starbucks releases their holiday coffee cups, and Winter is coming; meaning college basketball returns to the hardwood. As old school powerhouse Indiana University returns to the top of the preseason polls there are questions that need to be answered.

Is this the year a mid-major team hoists the trophy in Atlanta?  Is this the year we see the “little guys” prove they can hang with the likes of Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and the rest of the perennial power houses? Only the season can tell, but one thing is for certain; the path to title town still runs through Lexington, Kentucky.  Losing six players to the 2012 NBA draft, critics wondered how Coach John Calipari would handle filling these vacancies. Calipari silenced the critics snagging the number one player in the 2012 class in Nerlens Noel.  The 6’10” power forward promises to be a crowd pleaser this year.  If Noel plays anywhere near as well as he did throughout his high school career, Calipari’s Wildcats will be a favorite to defend the National title.  Although this team might not be the preseason favorite, keep your eye on the Wildcats to hold an undefeated record well into SEC conference play.

What do the Hoosiers have that puts them above the rest?  Well, besides the leading vote getter for the preseason All-American team in Cody Zeller, great minded coach Tom Crean, and 5 returning starters, they hold one of the most lethal home court advantages in the NCAA.  If one thing is guaranteed for the Hoosiers this year, it is that the roof of Assembly Hall will be rocking every time the Hoosiers take the court.  All eyes will be on the team with the target on their backs. The whole nation will be waiting to see if the Hoosiers succeed on their path to make it to the Final Four. It will not be an easy feat to go through a much-improved Big Ten this year undefeated. Crean’s fifth year at the university already seems to be the most exciting. Will the Hoosiers be able to run the table from wire to wire, or will it take another buzzer beater game like last year’s win against Kentucky to help them achieve glory?

How will the preseason All-American team perform this season? Leading the way in the preseason voting this year was Indiana’s Cody Zeller.  Zeller is expected to pick up where he left off last year and is the favorite to earn the National Player of the Year honors. Joining Zeller on the team was a group of mid major players. Following Zeller in votes was the only returner to the All-American team, Creighton’s Doug McDermott. McDermott had an outstanding season last year and is expected to return to that form this year if not better.  After McDermott there are two other mid-major players that were named to the preseason team.  Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum found themselves holding down the third and fourth spots on the team.  Due to a tie for the fifth and final spot between Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas and Michigan’s Trey Burke, there are officially six members on the preseason All-American team.
What does this tell us about the upcoming season? First and foremost, the Big Ten is back.  In recent years, teams from the conference have found themselves on the outside looking in come March. This year things will change. The conference is much stronger and looks to claim at least 5 spots in this years’ bracket. Based on the preseason rankings, it is also clear that we cannot sleep on the mid-majors. The mid-majors demand respect and are looking to make a run this March Madness. Two of the last three national championship games have featured mid-major Butler University facing off against nationally known powerhouses in Duke and Connecticut.

This year the competition will be fierce and only one, All-American team, will earn the coveted NCAA National Championship.

Mike Jurek