Forget the exhibition games against Division III and NAIA squads. Now is when the Road to Indianapolis starts for earnest, for well north of 300 Division I college basketball teams. Here’s five things to watch this season.
1. The Big Boys. Of course, everyone says “watch the big boys.” You’ll want to watch Kentucky, though, because they’ve got nine McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster — Larry Brown, that itinerant coach now at Southern Methodist, told USA Today, “If you take their first and second teams and split them up, they’d probably have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.” Duke is also no stranger to the spotlight, and Coach K has one of the top incoming big men in Jahlil Okafor (a distant cousin of UConn product Emeka). Plus there’s the usual suspects — preseason No. 2 Arizona; Michigan State; Kansas; and UConn.
2. The Mid-Majors. They toil in semi-anonymity, do the mid-majors — the Daytons, the Butlers, the Wichita States, the Virginia Commonwealths — occasionally bubbling up when one goes on a long winning streak (Murray State, for a recent example) or is successful over an extended period of time (Gonzaga). But otherwise, the mids don’t crash onto our consciousness until a Thursday or Friday (or longer — I’m looking at you, Princeton and George Mason and Florida Gulf Coast) in mid-March, when the inevitable 12-seed knocks off a 5 during the Madness. (One of these days a 16 WILL knock off a 1. It might not happen this year, maybe not next…but it will. You read it here first.)
3. Rivalries. This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Especially when North Carolina heads to Duke; the Cameron Crazies will have a field day with the recent allegations of academic fraud at Chapel Hill. And, granted, it’s not the same as on the gridiron, but one should always pay attention to Ohio State playing That School Up North, whether at the Schott or in
Hell Ann Arbor.
4. The Tip-Off Marathon. Wall to wall basketball. ‘Nuff said.
5. Third try the charm? Wright State has played for the Horizon League championship the last two years, and each time come away frustrated: once by Valparaiso two seasons ago, the other last year by Milwaukee on the Raiders’ home court after a pair of semifinal upsets. So could this be the year that Billy Donlon’s boys make it? Not much was expected of the Raiders last season — they were expected to finish dead last in the Horizon — and this year’s squad is missing all five of last season’s usual starters; but Donlon also cultivates a team-concept approach which saw a number of returning players get significant court time. The Raiders haven’t been to the Dance since 2006, and only twice since moving to Division I; and Green Bay gets the early nod in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology — but anything can happen once the ball is tipped off.
(Full disclosure: I’m a former Wright State student.)