November 14, 2011

Getting Excited for NCAA Basketball

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As a basketball junkie, the prospects of canceling an entire NBA season has made me [insert any adjective that would require me to go to a therapist]. I mean, there’s only so much fun one can get out of analyzing offenses in pick-up games at Helen Newman and weighing the benefits of zone defense in three-on-three intramural games.

Thankfully, college basketball season has arrived. This season has potential to be one of the most exciting in recent memory with several interesting storylines that should ultimately lead to an unforgettable March Madness tournament.

Due to the one-and-done rule, freshmen who normally would have jumped right from high school to the NBA are forced to play one year of college basketball. Although this intuitively suggests that better players joining the college ranks means better basketball, it has not turned out this way so far. Despite the great natural talent these freshmen have, most are simply not ready to run complicated, team-oriented offensive sets. This detracts from the team aspect and focuses on pure one-on-one match ups, a much less beautiful form of basketball.

However, last year, with the lockout looming, several players decided to stay for another year, even though they were guaranteed to be drafted high in the first round. With one year under their belts, the coaches are able to implement more advanced offensive sets. Players like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones and Kentucky’s Terrance Jones will all return for their sophomore year, even though they were all projected to go in the lottery of last year’s NBA Draft.

Partially as a result of these returning players, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State are ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, respectively, while Baylor — at No. 12 — achieved their highest preseason rank in the history of their program.

Speaking of North Carolina, they are returning one of the most stacked teams since Joakim Noah and co. returned for their second national championship at Florida. After losing in the Elite Eight to Kentucky last year, the team is returning its top seven scorers, including its entire starting lineup. In addition to that, the team is also bringing in freshman forward James McAdoo, a top-10 recruit who is currently projected to go in the top 5 of the NBA Draft (if there ever is one).

Point guard Kendall Marshall, who commanded the offense beautifully after he was appointed starter during the middle of last season, will be the main facilitator on offense, but he will have plenty of options. In the frontcourt, Barnes is an extremely versatile offensive threat, while junior forward Tyler Zeller can be dominant at times in the post.

On defense, the team will be led by physical freak and reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, John Henson. When watching Henson play, it’s like watching some sort of mutant creature with just four limbs and no body. With his great defensive anticipation and endless arms, he is the perfect weak-side post defender, and if his first game against Michigan State was any indication — he blocked nine shots — opposing players will have a lot of trouble scoring in the paint against the Tar Heels.

However, the reason why we love March Madness is its unpredictability. Despite this seemingly endless supply of talent, the Tar Heels are far from sure things. After Butler’s amazing back-to-back runs to the national championship game and VCU’s appearance in the Final Four, it’s fair to wonder which mid-majors might be making an appearance late in this year’s tournament. This year, Memphis, Xavier and Gonzaga are the three mid-majors ranked in the top 25, but all three have had continued success for several years and would surprise no one if they reached the Final Four.

Under the radar, Detroit — a school from Butler’s Horizon League — has a shot of making some noise in March, as the team is returning all five starters including NBA prospect and coach’s son, sophomore point guard Ray McCallum, who averaged 13.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game as a freshman. However, McCallum is not the only reason for optimism; along with McCallum, center Eli Holman and guard Chase Simon were on the preseason first team of the Horizon League. With a little more experience under its belt, the Detroit Titans may be able to follow in Butler’s footsteps.

Our second possible party crasher comes from our very own Ivy League: the Harvard Crimson. I think I just heard some people throw up in their mouths. But hear me out; Harvard went 12-2 in the Ivy League last season, but lost to Princeton in a one-game playoff to see who earns the Ivy League’s automatic berth. Last season, Harvard had a tight rotation with just six players getting major minutes, and all six of them return this year.

In the frontcourt, they will be led by first team All-Ivy power forward Keith Wright and forward Kyle Casey, who averaged 10.7 points and 6.0 rebounds a game playing with an injured foot the whole year. In the backcourt, point guard Brandyn Curry — who led the Ivy League with 5.9 assists a game last year — will direct the offense with sharpshooters Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard by his side. Harvard will be tested early, as it faces the defending national champions, No. 4 Connecticut, on Dec. 8 in an early match up that the team can use to declare its presence to the rest of the college basketball world. With this lineup, the Crimson has a real shot of making some noise in the tournament.

Then again, Harvard sucks. Let’s go Red.

Original Author: Albert Liao