by Andrew Moffa
As the start of the 2012-’13 NCAA college basketball season is around the corner, it is about time to start speculating and making crazy predictions.
As every fan of the sport knows, nothing can be predicted (unless it was picking Kentucky to win the National Championship last season).
The unexpected occurs, and the impossible is almost expected, especially during March Madness. Having said all of this, it is still fun and interesting to take a look at the preseason Top 25 and start breaking it down.
Before I get to this, it is important to note one common theme when looking at the Preseason Top 25, especially the Top 10.
This year’s Top 10 of the AP Top 25 preseason poll reveals some of the all-time best programs in college basketball history, some of whom have not been contenders in many years. The leader of this pack is the University of Indiana, the No. 1 team in the country.
While they were most definitely a force last year, it was the first season in a while that they were relevant in the national picture. Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller leads the Hoosiers, who are hoping to return to the pinnacle of college basketball after an extremely long absence.
Another standout team is North Carolina State, who is led by numerous upperclassmen with a lot of experience. The Wolfpack has not been a contender on the national stage, or even in the ACC, for a long time, and this year they are the highest-ranked ACC team, ahead of both Duke and North Carolina.
The Michigan Wolverines also fit into this category and have all the makings of a National Championship contender.
Further down the rankings sit both the UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats, who hope to return the Pac-12 to prominence and rejoin the national picture.
Before I go any farther, I feel it is appropriate to break down the top five teams in the country heading into this 2012-’13 season. As mentioned before, the Indiana Hoosiers top the rankings at No. 1. Led by Cody Zeller, they are a complete team.
Big-time shot maker Christian Watford returns for his senior season, and a trio of other contributors from last year’s team—Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo—will play major roles for the Big Ten favorites.
Sitting at No. 2 are the Louisville Cardinals, who lost a heartbreaker to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four last season. The Big East favorites return star point guard Peyton Siva, who will lead an experienced and deep team for Head Coach Rick Pitino. Sophomore forward Chane Behanan and junior center Gorgui Deng will also play critical roles for the Cardinals.
The team at No. 3 in the preseason Top 25 is the revamped and rejuvenated Kentucky Wildcats, led by freshman (what a surprise) center Nerlens Noel, who was recently cleared by the NCAA to play this year.
While Head Coach John Calipari has once again brought in a strong recruiting class, I do not think this group of freshmen will be able to repeat the success of Anthony Davis & Co., who won a national title last year.
This year’s team reminds me more of the John Wall-led Kentucky Wildcats team. They will impress during the regular season but will fail to close the deal when it counts in March. Also in the top five is a third team from last year’s Final Four, Ohio State, who are ready to go this season after losing star forward Jared Sullinger to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Draft. Guard Aaron Craft and forward Deshaun Thomas lead the Buckeyes, who figure to contend for the Big Ten Championship with both Indiana and Michigan, the No. 5 team in the AP Top 25. While Michigan finds themselves in the tournament year and year, they have not been a major contender for a long time.
This may finally be their year. The Wolverines will strongly depend on the three-point ball this year, but players like Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke have the capacity to deliver.
For the longest time, it has been the Big East that has been the premiere basketball conference in the land.
However, last year, the success was fairly spread out, as the four teams in the Final Four represented four different conferences: the Big East (Louisville), the SEC (Kentucky), the Big Ten (Ohio State) and the Big 12 (Kansas).
We could expect more of the same this year, although the Big Ten will be looking to dominate the national scene. Besides Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan, who all reside in the top five, the Big Ten is the home to other ranked teams including Michigan State and Wisconsin. This may well be the best conference in the country, although a few others will have something to say about that.
The ACC will once again be led by the duo of UNC and Duke, but North Carolina State adds a different dimension to this conference race. While it is fair to say Louisville is the class of the Big East, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Cincinnati will also garner national attention.
The hopes of the SEC once again rest on the shoulders of Kentucky and Florida, which worked out well last year. The Pac-12 is due for a big year, and UCLA and Arizona will lead the charge. The final “BCS” conference is the Big 12, who boasts Kansas, Missouri, Baylor and Texas as national contenders.
The highest-profile mid-major schools this year include household names Creighton, Gonzaga and Memphis. It is fair to say this is a great year to be a fan of college basketball. All the madness begins tomorrow.
Enjoy the ride.