Reflecting back on it, I can’t think of single thing that has changed more since the day I was born than the sport of college basketball. From the four-year player, to the prep-to-pro era and two or three different incarnations of the one-and-done, this sport continues to evolve, continues to change and repeatedly takes on a new look every few years.
To the detractors, they say that the sport will never be the same as it was 20 years ago.
Well, you know what I say to the detractors? I don’t give a crap what you think… I’m ready for some hoops!
And thankfully the hoops are ready for me too, as these next few days might also double as the single greatest college basketball kick-off week I can ever remember. From Michigan State-UConn to Kentucky-Maryland, the Champions Classic and Syracuse-San Diego State, I can’t ever remember a season starting with more quality games with more quality teams playing one and other than this one.
It’s also why it’s time to dust off one of my favorite columns of the year, my “50 Reasons to be Excited for College Basketball Season.” Sure the whole concept is a bit corny, and yes, the jokes aren’t as funny on paper as they are in my head.
But who cares? I’m ready to talk hoops!
Here are 50 Reasons I’m excited for the 2013 season.
1. Friday’s Maryland-Kentucky Opener at the Barclay’s Center: Which once again proves that not only do Jay-Z and John Calipari have one of the most bizarre friendships in the history of college basketball, they’ve actually got one of the most bizarre friendships in the history of, umm, friendships.
And frankly, I couldn’t be any more cool with that fact.
2. Michigan State vs. UConn, Friday at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany: I don’t care if you’re a fan of either of these programs, this event is damn cool. It’s also damn cool that college basketball is doing so much to honor the military in the lead-up to Veterans Day.
3. The North Carolina State Wolfpack: Who undoubtedly have enough talent to win the National Championship this year. But don’t they also have enough “crazy” to lose in the second round of the tournament too?
4. Creighton forward Doug McDermott: Who, per NCAA rules apparently has to be mentioned in every piece of college basketball literature that is printed this preseason.
(No seriously, someone from the NCAA actually called me this morning and mandated I put McDermott on this list.
You think I’m kidding…)
5. UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad: Look, I don’t care what happened during Muhammad’s recruitment (which I’ve heard from a lot of people was, umm, “a lot of shady stuff”). I’m just excited to see the kid play basketball. You know, if he ever gets healthy. Or cleared by the NCAA.
6. Indiana freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell: I don’t know if Ferrell will be good or not, but what I do know, is that the world is a better place with one more “Yogi” in it.
7. Indiana center Cody Zeller: If you’re picking anyone other than Zeller to win National Player of the Year, well, you’re doing it all wrong.
8. The Arizona Wildcats: Who make this list because, well, somebody’s got to win the Pac-12, right?
9. The ‘Big Monday’ crew of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery: Look, I’m not saying they’re the most entertaining broadcast team in all of sports… oh wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
10. New SMU head coach Larry Brown: Who also doubles as “The greatest thing to happen to SMU basketball, pretty much ever.”
11. Duke’s Mason Plumlee: Who is now entering his 27th year on campus, and his 26th straight year of preseason “break out” buzz.
To which I say, first off, the only place Mason Plumlee might “break out” this season is on his forehead. But on the basketball court? Not so much.
Secondly, how does this guy still have eligibility?
12. The Champions Classic: Which I’m just as excited to watch in year two as I was last winter. I mean, Duke-Kentucky and Michigan State-Kansas, are you kidding me? How did we all get so lucky?
13. The Northwestern Wildcats: Look, you know they’re going to miss the NCAA Tournament and I know they’re going to miss the NCAA Tournament too. How about we don’t even get our hopes up this year, ok?
14. Syracuse’s Final Year in the Big East (and Pitt’s Too): Admittedly, I can’t stand Jim Boeheim. Admittedly, I also can’t stand the idea that Syracuse won’t be in the Big East after this season. The conference itself will be fine, but the spectacle that is the Big East Tournament will never be the same without them.
15. Florida’s Kenny Boynton: A man, who, to his credit is never afraid to take a big shot late in the game. Unfortunately that big shot is almost always to the detriment of his four teammates on the floor with him.
16. Florida’s Mike Rosario: Who won’t score much this season (thanks in large part to Boynton), but who will still remain amongst the nation’s leaders in the categories of “neck tattoos,” “chest tattoos,” “back tattoos,” “total tattoos” and “tattoos per square inch.”
17. Jamie Dixon: Who is easily one of my Top 5 favorite “Former child actors that has since become a college basketball head coach” in the sport right now.
18. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes: A guy who is not only the single most ferocious rebounder I’ve seen in years, but also the man who wins the “I have no idea why I like him so damn much, but I just do” award for the 2013 season.
19. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel: Six years ago Justin Timberlake brought “sexy back.” Now, in 2012 Nerlens Noel has brought the flat-top back. And America is a better place because of it.
20. The Texas Tech Red Raiders: Who, let’s admit it, will be 6,000 percent less interesting this year without Billy Gillispie as their head coach.
21. The End of the Renardo Sidney Era at Mississippi State: Which admit it, you’re a little sad about, aren’t you?
22. The End of the Robbie Hummel Era at Purdue: Which admit it, you’re kind of ok with, aren’t you?
23. New UConn head coach Kevin Ollie: I’m not saying he’s going to be as good as Jim Calhoun, because, well, Jim Calhoun is one of the five greatest coaches in the history of the sport.
What I am saying is that I feel a lot better today about the future of UConn’s program than I did three months ago.
24. UNLV’s Mike Moser: Who might be the best player in college basketball player nobody knows about, and who along with Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch make the Rebels the most fascinating team no one is talking about either.
Speaking of which, how is UNLV not in everyone’s preseason Top 10? What am I missing?
25. North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo: If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist proved anything last year, it’s that “having three names” is the most surefire way to guarantee you end up on an All-American team at the end of the year. I fully expect McAdoo to follow MKG’s lead.
26. The West Virginia Mountaineers: A club which is now entering its first year as a member of the Big XII. For some reason, that seems much weirder in basketball to me than it did in football.
Speaking of the Mountaineers, how about…
27. How about their opener at Gonzaga next Monday night?: Which is quietly one of the best games of the early season that no one is talking about.
28. The Kansas Jayhawks: I don’t care if they lost Thomas Robinson or Tyshawn Taylor. As long as Bill Self is coaching this team, I’m going to chalk them up for at least 27 wins and a Big XII title.
29. Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft: I’m not saying I’m sick of hearing about Craft… ok, that’s exactly what I’m saying. If I hear one more announcer gush over his on-the-ball defense, I may have no choice but to drown myself in my bathtub before the season ends.
30. Frank Martin: Who immediately earned the nickname “Mouth of the South” upon taking the South Carolina coaching job last spring.
Speaking of which…
31 You forgot Frank Martin was the head coach at South Carolina now, didn’t you?: Only he did, and it’s awesome. It’s also going to lead to some fascinating matchups in the SEC East this year between Martin, Calipari, Billy Donovan, Cuonzo Martin, Frank Haith, Kevin Stallings and Kevin Stallings’ ugly suits.
32. Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson: Who not has an awesome name (doesn’t “Pierre Jackson” just sound like a basketball player), but a pretty legit game too. Frankly, he might be the most underrated player in college basketball entering the 2013 season.
33. The Maryland Terrapins: Who just got wayyyyyy more interesting with the news that Dez Wells is now eligible to play for them immediately.
Does that mean they’ll beat Kentucky on Friday night? Probably not. Does it mean that the Terps are a major dark horse in the ACC? Absolutely.
34. New Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley: I went to URI for one year of my college education, and I’m telling you, this school is one of college basketball’s sleeping giants. They finally appear to have the coach to awake that giant.
35. UConn’s Shabazz Napier: In two years at UConn, Napier’s career seems to have more plot twists than a season of “The Real World.” At the same time, I love ‘Bazz, and as long as he’s still playing college basketball (and as I’m still making these lists), he’s going to stay on them.
36. New Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber: Who, if things go as planned will immediately lead the Wildcats to the Final Four… before immediately driving the program off a cliff in the years to come.
37. Michigan State’s early season travel schedule: Which includes a game against Germany on Friday, followed by an immediate flight to Atlanta for the Champions Classic on Tuesday.
To which I ask: Hey Tom Izzo, mind if I borrow some frequent flyer miles?
38. Georgetown forward Otto Porter: Who not only will be the most improved player in the Big East, but…come on, how can you not root for a guy named Otto?
39. The Wisconsin Badgers: Who you just know are going win 25 games this year… and who will also bore you to tears in the process of doing it.
40. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Enough with the “burn offense” already. The only ones getting “burned,” are us fans who waste our time tuning into these games.
41. The Marquette Golden Eagles: Who make this list if only because, well, how could I leave Buzz Williams off of it?
42. The Atlantic 10: Which got about 200 times more interesting with the addition of Butler and VCU this off-season. Is it possible this will be a six or seven big league come NCAA Tournament time?
Speaking of the A-10, no preseason college basketball list would be complete without…
43. Shaka Smart: Who will undoubtedly win the title of “College Basketball’s Coolest Coach” for the third straight season. Basically, this
44. The Stanford Cardinal: Who apparently are going to be pretty good this year.
Yes, in basketball.
45. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan: There’s no joke to make here. The kid is just a baller.
46. New College Gameday host Jalen Rose: Frankly, I don’t know how Rose is going to pull off double-duty with Gameday and NBA Countdown, and frankly, I don’t care. The guy is one of the best broadcasters in all of basketball, and the college game is lucky to have him.
47. New ESPN college basketball analyst Bruce Pearl: A job title which, admit it, you’re totally cool with. You also know you’re damn excited to see what kind of goofy, Craig Sager-esque suits Pearl breaks out this year.
48. Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos: Just write down the name, and thank me later.
49. Louisville’s Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Peyton Siva: Who I expect to lead the Cardinals to their second straight Final Four, along with Kentucky, Missouri and…
50. The Indiana Hoosiers: Will they go down as one of the historically great teams in college basketball history? Of course not, but they are the best of a flawed group of teams this year.
They’ll also be your 2013 National Champions.
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