Kentucky has another great freshman class. Indiana is on top of the preseason poll for the first time in 33 years. There was a lot of conference movement -- again -- and there's more ahead.
As usual, college basketball is changing and staying the same. Welcome to 2012-13.
Seven months ago, Kentucky walked off the court in New Orleans with its eighth national championship. The top six players from that team are gone -- all drafted by the NBA, including freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the top two picks.
John Calipari has the same problem this season -- a Wildcats roster loaded with freshman talent. Instead of meeting Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague quickly and saying goodbye as freshmen first-round draft picks, the names this season to learn in a hurry are Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein.
"We're just so young," Calipari said. "If we had to play a game right now, we'd probably be the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth team in our league. Now, let's hope in two months that that's not the case.
"I like our talent. I like our size. I like our length. We have some guys with pretty good speed. We're just not a good basketball team right now. Too many young guys that we're trying to bring along."
The Wildcats were picked third in the AP's preseason poll, behind two veteran teams -- Indiana and Louisville.
The last time Indiana was on top of the preseason poll, Bob Knight was coaching the Hoosiers and the 1980s were just getting started.
Now, with 7-foot sophomore center Cody Zeller anchoring a team with all its starters back and a talented freshman class coming in, Tom Crean's long-term plan to restore the program to national significance has worked. Indiana has five national championships, the last in 1987.
"I'm not even going to try to downplay that it's not a big deal. It's not a 'Hey, we told you so.' It's none of that. We lived it. And I think it's a great testament to everybody that's been a part of that program with sticking with it and moving onward and upward," Crean said. "It's an incredible program. It's an incredible school. We need people that are going to come in and leave it in a better place than they found it. That's exactly what our players are trying to do."
The third school from "Kentuckiana" is Louisville. The Cardinals have Gorgui Dieng back in the middle and Peyton Siva will again run the offense. Coach Rick Pitino had Louisville in the Final Four last season, but they lost to Kentucky in the semifinals.
Pitino, 60, signed a five-year contract extension through 2021-22.
"The one thing I realized is that I don't know if I could live without basketball," Pitino said. "I wouldn't have the highs and the lows, and I guess every coach lives for that. I've been playing this game since I was 6 years of age, and it's been such a passion of mine."
The AP preseason All-America team had a distinctive mid-major feel to it. In addition to Zeller, Tim Burke of Michigan and Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State gave the team a Big Ten feel. But Doug McDermott of Creighton, C.J. McCollum of Lehigh and Isaiah Canaan of Murray State were also on the team, really good players from the kind of schools we've been getting used to seeing at the Final Four.
Speaking of Butler and VCU, they are making the move this season to the Atlantic-10. It's impressive when a conference can add two teams that have that kind of national exposure.
"One of our biggest keys is we just focused on what are the core values of the conference," said Bernadette McGlade, who is starting her 13th season as A-10 commissioner. "We're a basketball-centric conference. We can't get distracted by all the other noise out there in the business."
Some other conference moves for this season include: Missouri and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference, West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12, Nevada and Fresno State to the Mountain West and Hawaii to the Big West.
Then there are the schools playing a farewell season in their old conference before moving on. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are going from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Notre Dame will soon follow. SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis are in their last season in Conference USA before heading to the Big East and Temple is saying goodbye to the Atlantic-10 before leaving for the Big East.
Coaches were on the move as always and nearly 50 start the season with new business cards.
The most prominent name among departing coaches is Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, who turned Connecticut from a regional program into a three-time national champion. Among the bigger names to change jobs were Frank Martin from Kansas State to South Carolina, John Groce from Ohio University to Illinois and Bruce Weber from Illinois to Kansas State.
Among the newcomers as head coaches are Richard Pitino at Florida International, where he succeeds Isiah Thomas, and Danny Manning at Tulsa.
Then there is Larry Brown. The 71-year-old Hall of Famer takes over at SMU, his first college job since leading Kansas -- and Manning -- to a national championship in 1988.
"When I look in the mirror, I get kind of scared," said Brown, the only man to win an NCAA and NBA title. "But inside, I feel like I can do this forever."
The transfer likeliest to make an impact right away is Alex Oriakhi, who was a member of Connecticut's national championship team in 2011 and now will add size to Missouri's front line.
The season starts Nov. 9 and ends April 8 in Atlanta. Welcome to the 2012-13 season.comments powered by Disqus