A special year in college hoops?

Scoop Jardine and The Orange are the top ranked team ... for now.

One third of the hoops season is done for most teams. Solid non-conference matchups, coaching milestones and a brawl have been just a few of the several highlights of the season so far. One of the TYS’ hoops junkies ponders about what happened and if the stage is set for one of the more competitive college hoops seasons in recent history.

Thoughts by AJ-One

As we get into the heart of the college basketball regular season, I continue to think that this year could be special one. Ok, “special” may be too strong a word, but there is a good reason to believe we are at least due for a significant upgrade over recent years. Some of this is old news, but regardless here are some reasons for my optimism.

Upgraded level of talent

Just look at the rosters of top national contenders and one can see a number of talented players that would have moved on to the professional ranks in recent years. College hoops fans can thank the NBA, not only for the labor circus but also for recent changes to their rules for salaries in initial years. Such uncertainty about the near-term future for players entering the league has undoubtedly contributed to keeping some top-flight talent in the NCAA for us to enjoy. Unfortunately for the Big Ten opponents that means another year of Jared Sullinger, and for the Big East a defending national champion with returning stars that likely make this year’s team even better. But fortunately for the game as a whole, a better product.

Watching the recent UNC-Kentucky game recently provided a prime example. I couldn’t help but think that in past years, a majority of the starting 5 for each team would be suiting up in the league by now. I don’t think we’ll be back to the days of Patrick Ewing matching up with James Worthy and Michael Jordan anytime soon, but any move in that direction would be a blessing. Games like that early-season matchup this year lead to exciting anticipation of some classic March battles we’ll remember for years to come.

Non-conference matchups

Speaking of matchups, I’ve noticed an improving trend in that area in recent years as well. While I am not a follower of the women’s game, I have long been envious of them for their non-conference scheduling. The top ranked teams always seem to be playing each other. Fortunately my wish for similar contests in the men’s game has been coming along. The Big Ten / ACC and now Big East / SEC have seized that opportunity with single-game challenges. Holiday tournaments throughout November and December have utilized another avenue to bring top teams together.

And even some of the schools themselves have scheduled stronger. Michigan State has been a prime example in recent years (sometimes to their detriment record-wise), and there are several other examples. Just as importantly, the majors are increasingly scheduling mid-majors such as Gonzaga and Butler. Not only does that give us more entertaining basketball, but an early season measuring stick of teams on both sides of this equation. Kudos to these schools for replacing a few cupcakes with these games!

Tom Crean is trying to bring back IU hoops to relevance.

Return of tradition

Of course, some of the old news is the most significant. Coach K and his Duke program reached the all-time coaching wins milestone early in the season. And to top it off, it occurred against another hall of famer in Tom Izzo in “the greatest sports arena in the world”. Regardless about how you feel about the coach and team, or how perfectly ESPN was able to line up the timing and stage of that game, you can’t take anything away from such an accomplishment. Coach K and Duke have done a lot of work the right way, and no more was that in evidence than by the large number of quality individuals in attendance at the record breaking game, who played for him and were developed into those people by him in large part. It also provided a reminder of the great career of Bobby Knight, which adds to how significant an accomplishment this is.

And speaking of Indiana and tradition, they were undefeated in their non-conference season but lost to a solid Michigan State team on the road. All signs point towards a revival of their program this season. Kentucky, UNC, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Indiana all have looked strong and provided another pleasant reminder of the battles of traditional powers over the years (c’mon UCLA?).

Yes, there is reason to hope for a “special” or at least upgraded college basketball season entering 2012. Heck, at least the final four can’t be any worse than last year, and they even opened the season on an aircraft carrier. So sit back and get ready to enjoy!

2 Comments to “A special year in college hoops?”

  1. Great article!!!!!

  2. Well done A1. Your pen name should be Steak Sauce.

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