By Dennis Berry
As basketball from high school to college gets going for the 2011-12 season, the NBA is still in a lockout. The season, which was set to begin on November 1, has already been cancelled through November. We have lost games like Chicago-Dallas and Oklahoma City-L.A. Lakers on opening night and Miami-New York the following night.
Those are some pretty marquee games that we have missed out on. There still is hope for the NBA to play the season, but not anytime soon. With no NBA what do basketball fans have to look forward to?
Thankfully there is college basketball. This should be an excellent season for the college game. There are some loaded teams thanks to the lockout. Some of the best players from last season decided to return because of the uncertainty of the NBA. Rather then declare for the draft than not be able to play, they return to school to improve their game and will try and perhaps help their school win a national title.
There is Jared Sullinger, the center from Ohio State. Many believed that he would be the number one pick in the draft had he left school. Sullinger returns with one goal: win a national title. After the Buckeyes lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, Sullinger said he would return for his sophomore season. His return and another top recruiting class make Ohio State a favorite to get to the Final Four.
The North Carolina Tar Heels got a huge return this season also. Not only did Tyler Zeller and John Henson come back, but so did Harrison Barnes. After a rocky start to his college career, Barnes found his groove by mid-season and the Tar Heels got rolling. Barnes is another player who could have gone as the number one pick in the draft.
Kentucky also profited from the return of key players. Doron Lamb returns to give the Wildcats another sharp shooter from the three point line. He shot almost 49% from hte three line last season to help Kentucky get to the Final Four. The key return, though, was Terrence Jones. The 6'8" forward started the season strong, but took a secondary role to Brandon Knight during the Final Four run. Jones and Lamb, along with another number one recruiting class, make Kentucky a National Title contender.
There are also great returning players across the country. Perry Jones at Baylor could have been a lottery pick. Jeremy Lamb from Connecticut was high after helping Connecticut win the national championship. Washington's Terrence Ross, Kris Joseph at Syracuse, JaMychal Green at Alabama could have all been drafted in the last NBA draft as well. They all, however, chose to return to college.
With a ton of returning talent, that means there will be some really good teams. Already mentioned were Ohio State, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Those are not the only teams loaded with talent.
The Big East always has loaded teams. This year is no different. Syracuse and Connecticut are both considered to be top five teams. Pittsburgh and Louisville have both shown up in the Top 10 on many preseason polls.
While many think Kentucky is a shoe in as the SEC Champion, they will be tested. Vanderbilt returns all five starters and is hungry to prove that they can win the SEC. Last year's SEC Champions, Florida Gators, iare restocked and want to prove that last year was no fluke. Throw in a tough Alabama team and the SEC is tougher than it appears.
While Ohio State is the clear favorite in the Big 10, they will also be tested. The Wisconsin Badgers is a team that has been ranked by many in the Top 15 in preseason polls. The Badgers even beat the Buckeyes last season. The Michigan Wolverines are also on the way up. They made the NCAA Tournament last season and while young, should be ready to make a name for themselves nationally.
The Big 12 appears to be Baylor's to lose. With the return of Perry Jones and a strong recruiting class, they should be the best in that league. The Pac 12 is probably the most open of any of the big conferences. While Arizona was shocked early in exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific, they should win that conference.
This year will remind college basketball more of the old days of college basketball...before players went straight to the NBA or just played one season. With some much returning talent there are not only great teams, but there are many solid teams across the country.
How will the lockout affect fans' viewing habits? Not every NBA fan enjoys college basketball and vice versa. Yet with no NBA season, for now, will they tune into college games? If they want to watch basketball they will.
Usually fans pay attention early on in the season. There are many preseason tournaments like the NIT, Maui, and Coaches v Cancer, to name a few, that can create big time early season match ups. Then college basketball takes a backseat until the end of the NFL.
This year there is even more to draw basketball fans in. There is the Carrier Classic between Michigan State and North Carolina. The game will be played on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. There is also the Champions Classic. This event will feature great match ups in Michigan State-Duke and Kansas-Kentucky.
Then don't forget about what could be the biggest regular season college basketball game in a long time. North Carolina versus Kentucky on December 3. Both are early favorites for the National Championship. This could be a match up of 1 versus 2, in one of the best venues for college basketball, Rupp Arena.
Throughout the week college basketball will have the national airways to itself. Expect to see a lot of college games in place of NBA games. So if you are a basketball fan, you will have plenty of chances to watch.
Another advantage to paying attention to college basketball, it may actually give you a chance to win your NCAA Bracket Pool at work.
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