Ten great things to look forward to this hoops season

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Conference realignment, coaches caught up in a Ponzi Scheme, and stories about conditioning.

Something tells me you’re bored by all that, and ready for one of the most anticipated college basketball seasons in a decade. Whether you’re an ardent fan that’s eagerly awaiting story lines to play out or an NBA fan hoping to be entertained, there’s plenty to look forward to from November to March.

Looking at the national landscape, I’ll weasel my way back over to Beyond the Arc by providing the 10 things I’m most looking forward to for the 2011-2012 college basketball season.

The Game Played on a Boat

SNL Digital Short references aside, college basketball will take center stage on November 11th as North Carolina tips off against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic. It will be the first marquee game this season, and the first time a ship (in ocean water, no less) hosts a sporting event since the last volleyball match your father participated in during his recent Caribbean vacation.

Even better is that basketball aficionado President Barack Obama will be in attendance, and it will be held on the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that carried Osama bin Laden’s dead body to a burial at sea.

If that’s not enough, the Spartans and Tar Heels will don one-of-a-kind monochrome army fatigue uniforms that will either hurt your eyes or have you begging for this game to be played every season.

December 3, 2011

On this first Saturday of December, the NBA season tips-off!

Errr…sort of.

Unquestionably, the most anticipated inter-conference battle this season is between North Carolina and Kentucky, featuring more than 10 future pros, a half-dozen or so lottery picks and a few players who could become perennial all-stars at the next level. Naturally, this could serve as a preview of a Final Four or National Championship match-up

If you can’t get excited about these types of match-ups, then you’re not a fan.

The Year of Thomas Robinson

He averaged only 8 and 6 in 14 minutes a game last season, but with the Morris Twins moving on the time is now for junior Thomas Robinson to flex his enormous biceps and live up to all the pre-season fanfare he’s receiving.

I’m thinking the guys over at CBS Sports put a lot of stock into Robinson’s pace-adjusted numbers from a year ago when they named Robinson to their preseason first team All-American. Regardless of the lofty expectations, it will at the very least be fun to see the high-energy forward to see plenty of court time in Lawrence.

The Battle for First Place in the ACC

Until new members Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the conference, it will likely be only the usual two suspects competing for conference supremacy. While North Carolina is unquestionably the favorites, Duke is not far behind, and I’m not convinced that the Blue Devils won’t be in contention for the regular season title when the two teams meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3rd.

My guess is that, head-to-head, it comes down to the Heels’ frontcourt vs. the Devils’ backcourt, and which batch of players produces more.

The Battle for Last Place in the ACC

Equally as intriguing for all the wrong reasons is the three horse race between Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest for last place in the ACC. The jockeying will be intense.

So who will prevail: Steve Donahue’s nine freshman you’ve never heard of, Jeff Bzdelik’s club that was 11th in the ACC in both offensive and defensive averages last season, or first year head coach Brian Gregory whose starting point guard had more turnovers than assists last season?

The impending intriguing is palpable.

The Ascent of Andre Drummond

By all accounts and a few Google searches from me, the non-recruitnik, Jim Calhoun’s prized freshman is man-child who immediately puts the Huskies in contention to repeat as national champions. His frame and athleticism will remind you of Greg Oden, and the national media will remind you of how he was able to secure a scholarship through the “goodwill” of a Husky role player.

Despite being a freshman with plenty of talent around him, Drummond’s game and demeanor will be under much scrutiny all season. How he responds will be very intriguing.

The Redemption of Renardo Sidney

OK, like, for real this time. Let’s get this kid some run! The Sidney Soap Opera continues this season with plenty of alternate endings awaiting us. A fringe NCAA Tournament team, Sidney – who spent the summer training in Houston with John Lucas – can make or break the Bulldogs season. He’s slimmed down to look like less of a dough boy and allegedly policed himself to keep that weight in check so he can play a full college basketball season. With a promising freshman class and 6’11” UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie ready to step in and contribute immediately (h/t) @sc101071), there is plenty of opportunity for  Sidney to squash many of the preconceived notions that have dogged him for the past two years and help lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.

Smaht Kids Goin Dancin’

Something special could be happening in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No, not the next big thing, but rather the likelihood that the Harvard Crimson basketball team will reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. Ever so close last season, Keith Wright and Oliver McNally are back to right last season’s wrong. Wright is probably the toughest player to guard in the Ivy League and, assuming they are one of the 68-teams admitted to the dance, will most certainly be capable to helping Harvard pull off the upset of some vulnerable four-seed.

Ratings, Share, and Our Favorite Sport

Don’t believe the rumblings, the NBA’s players and owners are not going to resolve their contentious labor negotiations any time soon. If you’re looking for a hoops game on TV this winter, you’re likely going to land on one of the college brand.

With more talent amongst the major conferences than a season before and more familiar faces opting to stay on campus for another season, college basketball is perfectly set up for a magical season that will garner national attention and create discussion on airwaves and 2.0 sports websites before Selection Sunday.

It will be fascinating to track the “No Pro Effect,” and the ratings boost it should give nationally televised college games.

Cal’s Cats Winning a National Championship

Yes, Kentucky Wildcat blog bots and spiders, you can post a link to this article exclaiming that I believe your beloved team will win the 2012 National Championship. Go ahead, point 100,000 unique visitors to Beyond the Arc for me. I’d really appreciate it.

While it may be a shortcut to earning page views, UK will cut down the nets in New Orleans to conclude year three of the John Calipari Experiment. It certainly won’t be a cakewalk, but an elite freshman class combined with a returning future pro and a handful of other nice wing men means the most fanatic fans in college basketball will spend the entire month of April and then some drinking rye whiskey to their team’s first national championship since 1998.

Order will have been restored, but please, Wildcat fans, just be sure to enjoy the ride.

Nick Fasulo is the editor of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.