Top 10 preseason college basketball topics

Kentucky's Terrence Jones glories in a high-percentage shot against Morehouse. The Wildcats beat them, 125-40, Monday.
Kentucky's Terrence Jones glories in a high-percentage shot against Morehouse. The Wildcats beat them, 125-40, Monday. (JAMES CRISP / Associated Press)
Posted: November 09, 2011

1. In place - for now

The conference carousel has taken up most of the headlines in college athletics over the past few months, but you'll see many schools in the same places as the 2011-12 college basketball season kicks off this week. The Big 12 has lost two teams, but because those teams are named Colorado and Nebraska, its conference RPI is likely to rise. Of course, you'll see animosity directed by students and fans at schools such as West Virginia, which has filed suit to get out of the Big East in time for the start of next season in the Big 12, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which began the Big East exodus by fleeing to the ACC.

2. Only game in town

It remains to be seen whether the NBA lockout will result in fans crossing over to the college game until the pros begin playing again. But a coach such as Villanova's Jay Wright is seeing some benefits of the lockout, with former players Malik Allen, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Dante Cunningham available to occasionally practice with and tutor the current Wildcats. NBA coaches and executives also are showing up, and former 76ers coach Larry Brown is back in his usual seat now that he is between jobs again. "The lockout has been awesome for us," Wright said. "We talk to [the coaches and executives] and they tell you what they think. It's great."

3. The best are back

Who would have guessed that four of the players who were predicted to be selected in the top five or top 10 of the NBA draft would come back and play a second season of college basketball? The return of Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Terrence Jones of Kentucky, and Perry Jones III of Baylor gives their teams a realistic chance of contending for the national championship. As Barnes said, "The biggest thing for coming back was just having more time to develop. Last year, I felt our season ended so abruptly." Sullinger, Barnes, Jones, John Jenkins of Vanderbilt, and Ashton Gibbs of Pitt are on our preseason all-America team.

4. Carolina on top

North Carolina could have lost Barnes and two other frontcourt starters, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, to the draft. Instead, they all returned for one more shot at the championship trophy after falling one game short of the Final Four. With Kendall Marshall back to run the offense from the point, the Tar Heels have a veteran unit ready to make the run to New Orleans and the Final Four. "It's not national championship or bust," Barnes told the New York Times. "I think that winning the national championship, that is on our minds."

5. Al would love it

One of the favorite terms of the late Al McGuire was describing a big, burly center as "an aircraft carrier." So he'd love the fact that North Carolina and Michigan State will be playing basketball on the flight deck of a real aircraft carrier - the USS Carl Vinson, docked in San Diego - on Friday. Promoters of the event, which they said is being staged at no cost to taxpayers, told ESPN.com of the plan: a makeshift arena on the deck with lights and scoreboard and about 7,000 seats mostly for active members of the armed forces and veterans. In case of rain, the game will be moved to the hangar below.

6. The reigning champs

Devotees of the game will not soon forget the way Kemba Walker carried Connecticut through an 11-0 postseason to its third national championship. Walker is gone, but 69-year-old head coach Jim Calhoun said this year's Huskies may have more overall talent than last year. Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriahki must carry the offensive load, and a pair of freshmen, 6-foot-10 Andre Drummond and 6-6 DeAndre Daniels, will be thrust into significant roles. Of the 270-pound Drummond, point guard Shabazz Napier said, "Really, you've got to see him play - he's a creature."

7. Hold all tickets

Arizona enters the new season as one of three favorites, along with UCLA and California, to win the Pac-12. However, the enthusiasm for the Wildcats was tempered a bit on Oct. 27 when they lost to Division II Seattle-Pacific in an exhibition game at home. "To me they look like they've been practicing a long time," Arizona coach Sean Miller said in the Seattle Times. "They have a very cohesive approach. They were a better team than us." The Wildcats are seeking to replace lottery pick Derrick Williams and point guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones, who transferred to Iona to be closer to home.

8. Getting the Scoop

At No. 5, Syracuse has reached its highest preseason ranking since the 1989-90 squad came in at No. 3. If the Orange can stay there, fifth-year-senior point guard Scoop Jardine will be a huge reason why. "I just want to be remembered," the Neumann-Goretti graduate said. "I want to put my footprints in the Syracuse University program and go down as one of the best point guards that ever played for coach [Jim] Boeheim. Jardine said his on-court goal is "to be more efficient . . . always keeping that level head, that positive attitude to keep the team going."

9. Doing it again?

After playing in back-to-back national championship games, Butler for the moment is merely trying to survive a difficult early schedule that includes trips to Gonzaga and Stanford and other games against Purdue, Louisville, and Xavier. The Bulldogs lost three starters and three other key contributors from last year's team that lost to UConn in the final. "My goal is not to be the best team we can be in November," Butler coach Brad Stevens said, "but to be the best team we can be at that time."

10. Perilous prediction

Almost every preseason poll has North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State in the first three spots, but our thought is that only the Tar Heels and the Buckeyes make it to the Final Four, along with Syracuse and Florida, which plays the dark horse role. With all their guys back for one more shot, the Tar Heels will cut down the nets in New Orleans.


Real Top 10

(Preseason edition)

1. North Carolina

2. Kentucky

3. Ohio State

4. Syracuse

5. Connecticut

6. Duke

7. Louisville

8. Vanderbilt

9. Memphis

10. Florida

- Joe Juliano


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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