For those of you that watch college basketball strictly as a way to become familiarized with the next generation of NBA stars, next year may not be ideal for you.
That’s because, as a whole, the upper echelon of college hoops in 2012-2013 isn’t really all that impressive. Indiana has one guy that’s a lock for the lottery in Cody Zeller. Kentucky has Nerlens Noel, who will go somewhere near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the rest of their roster still has to prove themselves to NBA scouts. It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible that Louisville doesn’t see a player from this year’s team go in the first round.
For college hoops junkies, this is, in fact, a good thing. As entertaining as it was to watch Kentucky steamroll their way through the 2011-2012 season, having a number of teams jumbled at the top of the rankings, without much in the way of separation from the second or third tier programs, creates excitement and uncertainty. We may not be watching many future all-stars, but there will be many upsets and exciting finishes and box scores that leave you scratching your head.
College basketball is wide-open this season, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing for fans of mid-major hoops. There is as much power outside of the BCS conferences as there has been in recent years.
Think about it like this: Andy Glockner put together a primer for non-power conference teams over at SI.com on Tuesday, and in that primer he ranked the top ten teams. It looked like this:
- 1. UNLV
- 2. SDSU
- 3. VCU
- 4. Creighton
- 5. Saint Louis
- 6. Murray State
- 7. Butler
- 8. Memphis
- 9. Northern Iowa
- 10. Gonzaga
Because both Butler and Memphis are potentially top 20 (if not better) teams this season. Butler loses Ronald Nored to graduation, but returns a young, talented and more-athletic-than-you-think team that adds senior Rotnei Clarke, arguably the best shooter in the country, and top 100 recruit Kellen Dunham. The Bulldogs are changing conferences, they might still be a year away from peaking and there’s no telling how much the loss of Nored is going to hurt. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could end up being Brad Stevens’ best team at Butler.
As for Memphis, we’re looking at a team that is finally able to call themselves experienced. The core of the roster — Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black — are all juniors and Memphis natives eager to bury the disappointing finishes of their first two years. Adonis Thomas is back and healthy. Shaw Goodwin has been added to their front line, and Geron Johnson is a talented x-factor in the back court. The deck is set for Memphis to have a memorable final year in the Conference USA.
And, to be frank, the only quibble I would have with Glockner’s rankings is that I think both Butler and Memphis should be a notch above Murray State. Could there really be seven top 20 teams from outside the power six conference this season?
But that’s not even the end of it, because there are a number of teams that didn’t make this list that will see their names pop up in the top 25 a time or two this year.
St. Mary’s returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country in Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Jorden Page, and Paul McCoy and has enough of a front court presence to be a favorite to win the WCC. They didn’t make the top ten. Neither did BYU, who returns Matt Carlino, Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws.
That’s not it. Colorado State returns the majority of the roster of a team that made the NCAA tournament while adding a pair of high-profile transfers, and the Rams may not even be a top three team in the MWC if Nevada figures out a way to put all of their talent together. If Norvel Pelle gets eligible, Iona has the talent to compete in the Big East. Lehigh returns the majority of their roster, including CJ McCollum, from a team that beat Duke in the opening round of the tournament, and they may not even be the best team in their conference with Bucknell around. Should I mention the fact that Davidson brings back all five starters from the team that beat Kansas in Kansas City or that Ohio brings back everyone from a team that made the Sweet 16? (Edit: It’s worth noting that mid-major hoops is good enough this year that I completely blanked on mentioning Drexel — and, for that matter, George Mason — and St. Joseph’s in this post.)
This is a great year to be a fan of mid-major hoops.