Outside of March Madness, there may be no better time to be a college basketball fan than right now. The pre-season polls have been released, the pre-season mags are on the racks and every coach is undefeated and bathes regularly. Yep, college basketball is smelling sweet with the promise and hope of a new season. Each week, CardinalSports.com's Howie Lindsey takes you around the College Basketball Nation with a quick look into who's hot and who's definitely not.
Meet me in Indy...
The Final Four will be played in Indianapolis this year, and unless you applied for tickets in March and April you are out of luck. That is, unless your team happens to be one of the lucky four who make the game. The crunch for the more than 40,000 tickets available for that glorious set of college basketball games makes me wonder what the college presidents are thinking with all the BCS football nonsense.
Sure, college football couldn't have a 64 team playoff without upping the scholly limit to 150, but sports fans have certainly spoken when it comes to wanting to watch the Big Dance. As a fan of competition on the field instead of on a voting ballot, you can't help but hope for a big, nasty mess at the end of each college football season. Four undefeated teams? Whoopee!
Certainly Duke is Duke, they are on TV more than Leave it to Beaver...
College basketball coaches have voted the Duke Blue Devils No. 1 in the nation in the USA Today/ESPN pre-season Top 25 Coaches Poll.
Shocked? Eh, not so much.
OK, so I've come to grips with the fact it is much easier to be a Duke-Hater than not, and here's when it hit me. We were watching college basketball preview highlights, and along came Duke's J.J. Redick throwing down another ridiculously long three-pointer, and I started telling a story.
"I don't think Redick is that good of a shooter," I said proudly. "I saw him get beat in a game of H-O-R-S-E by an AAU coach named Buckets at the Duke Activities Center. Buckets ate his lunch, and could dunk too."
I looked over for the immediate approval from my buddy, who also dabbles in Duke-Hatery from time to time, but all I got was a look of frustration. I realized then and there that we tell that story every time J.J. Redick is on the screen. My Buckets story is my most easily recognizable Duke-Hater Pavlovian response.
I began feeling bad for Duke. Why must we all persecute them so? But then an American Express commercial came on, and I felt justified once again.
Bust on Duke all we must- the Blue Devils have a big-time team this season. Beyond Buckets Lite, Coach K. has earned his 28 of 31 first place votes with a blockbuster recruiting class that includes Burger boys Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts and he still has Shelden Williams on campus.
Duke deserves to be No. 1. There, I said it.
UConn't believe it's not Marcus Williams
Behind Duke, Jim Calhoun and Connecticut will have the nation's nastiest line-up after Christmas. The Huskies were picked second in the Big East behind Villanova, and second in the nation in the pre-season Coaches' Poll behind Duke.
Rudy Gay can score with the best of them, Denham Brown is tough and Josh Boone seems to be one of the most likable post-players in the nation. Then you add back in Marcus Williams after Christmas and Calhoun has that winning formula once again.
Was anyone surprised when Williams got a little less punishment than A.J. Price? The two student-athletes stole some laptops and tried to resell them, and it landed Williams with 18 months of probation, 400 hours of community service and Price with at least a year without basketball and more probation to be decided later. Price is due back in court on November 15.
Williams and Price may need to step their game up, however. Down in Memphis, John Calipari's boys reported some missing fur coats. Last November, Clyde Wade and Joey Dorsey had mink and fur coats stolen from their apartment in a police report worth $5,000. They were supposedly storing them for a dancer friend of Clyde's. Ballet dancer, I'm sure.
No. 1 Conference without a doubt
Speaking of Connecticut, how much love can the team get outside the conference (No. 2 national ranking) and still not be picked to win the league. The Big East has five teams ranked in the Top 16, twice as many as any other league, including the ACC. In fact, the Big East has three teams ranked higher than the SEC's pre-season best Kentucky at No. 10- UConn, No. 4 Villanova and No. 8 Louisville.
Sure 15 of the 16 schools in this mega-conference have been to the Final Four and tasted greatness, but the real impressive line-up is the league's coaches. Can any league match-up with the 1-2-3 combo of Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino?
Calhoun and Boeheim were just inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Pitino secured his sure-fire first-ballot status with Louisville's run to the Final Four last season. That's his third different school dancing on college basketball's biggest stage- no other coach is that prolific.
For all its struggles on the football field with just eight teams and just two teams ranked in the Top 25, the Big East could make a case for eight to 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament come March. Notre Dame, an NCAA bubble team, and Cincinnati, a team that returns four starters and a load of talent despite first-year head coach Andy Kennedy, occupy the league's eight and nine spots. No team in the country wants to match-up with the Irish or the Bearcats on a neutral or away court.
Need another example of exactly how powerful this new 16-team league is? The NCAA was forced to modify its rules this off-season to let teams from the same conference meet before the Sweet 16. The committee had to make the change because the Big East is expected to have so many teams dancin' they can't keep them all apart. Yikes.
Teams with Beef
One of my favorite aspects of pre-season polls is checking to see which team has the biggest beef with the results of the rankings. Here are my biggest beef awards for the 2005 pre-season hoops poll.
1. Kentucky is Beefaroni. The Cats return one of the best defenders in the nation Rajon Rondo, and a host of other talented players including Patrick Sparks and JuCo sleeper Rekalin Sims. Plus, you just have to know the NCAA will allow former McDonald's All-American center Randolph Morris to play again this season. All that and the voters picked them No. 10 in the nation, behind Oklahoma, Gonzaga and Louisville.
They've also got beef because the Cats beat Louisville last season, the Cardinals lost three starters and their six-man and yet, Pitino is still dancing two spots further up the rankings.
2. Nevada has Beef, too. These guys won 25 games last year, return four starters and a couple of strong incoming players and can't get anything more than No. 25 in the pre-season poll. Youch. I can pretty much assure you that this team will have another 25-win season. Could Gonzaga and Nevada beat every team in the Pac-10? Maybe. Arizona would be tough for both, and maybe Stanford but the Wolfpack and Bulldogs would be right there in the hunt.
3. Third Beefiest Beef belongs to North Carolina. We're just a few months from the Tarheels cutting down the nets in Saint Louis and UNC isn't anywhere to be found in the pre-season polls. Sure, Barney Rubble... er, Roy Williams lost all of his players to the league, but do you really expect North Carolina to finish outside of the Top 25?
So they lost their top seven scorers, that shouldn't deprive them of a ranking, right? Well, it should, but I will venture to say that UNC will finish in the NCAA money with a ton of young talent. Williams could start all five freshman and have more talent on the floor than 90 percent of teams in college basketball with McDonald's All-Americans Tyler Hansbrough at power forward, 6-5 swingman Danny Green and Bobby Frasor at point guard leading the way. Athletic forward Mike Copeland and 6-5 guard Marcus Ginyard aren't slouches either.
Any normal program would love to have three McDonald's All-Americans on the same squad, even if they are all freshman. So don't go crying for the Tarheel fans just yet. Of course, talent be damned, we are talking about the same school that only won one title with Michael Jordan on their campus for three seasons.
Coaches on the move
This will normally be the place to toss around a few rumors floating around the internet about college basketball coaches, but seeing as how this is the most positive time of year in college hoops we have just one question...
Do you really think Skip Prosser would leave Wake Forest to go back to Cincinnati, where he still owns a home from his Xavier days?
OK, one more.
Could Mike Davis actually be dismissed after a 20-win season?