Find Bloomington, Ind., on a map. Draw a line to Louisville and then another connector to Lexington, both in the state of Kentucky. Bring it all the way back to Bloomington and you’ve got an oddly shaped triangle. But it is college basketball’s version of the Bermuda Triangle this season.
Opponents will venture inside that triangle, but they will struggle to make it back out unscathed.
If you live in that area and you love college basketball, try to enjoy this season. It isn’t often that such a small geographic area produces the three best teams in college hoops.
With the season about to begin, here’s a look at our preseason top 25.
There’s simply no way to replace the experience and confidence the Cardinals gained during their postseason run last season. The only bad break was running into rival Kentucky in the national semifinals. If Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng have the same drive and motivation, the addition of Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell should put Louisville over the top.
It seems like yesterday that coach Tom Crean was still being criticized for not turning the Hoosiers in the right direction fast enough. Now Indiana is the trendy pick to win it all. One spectacular regular season win over Kentucky changed all of that. Christian Watford and Cody Zeller should overpower opponents inside. Indiana basketball is relevant again.
The formula is working for coach John Calipari. Last season he basically had a team of NBA players, and the playing field at the Final Four wasn’t level. Lots of people didn’t like that, but give Calipari credit for turning those individuals into a team and winning it all. Now there’s a new cast, led by Nerlens Noel, and the Wildcats aren’t going away.
It seems the Wolfpack has been playing in the shadow of Duke and North Carolina forever. Under coach Mark Gottfried, this is the chance to step out of that shadow. With C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown returning, this should be the best team in the ACC.
Last season’s journey to the Final Four was special for the Jayhawks because it was so unexpected. Coach Bill Self got a nice contract extension, but more importantly he has freshmen like Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore to join forces with Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson. Ship the Big 12 trophy to Lawrence again.
The Buckeyes have a lot of points to replace with the departure of Jared Sullinger and William Buford. But Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State in scoring during the NCAA Tournament and Aaron Craft plays hard on both sides of the ball. Coach Thad Matta has raised this program to elite status.
Four key players, led by Kris Joseph, have departed the Carrier Dome. But coach Jim Boeheim still has Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair, Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland are ready to step into the spotlight.
|Trey Burke and the Wolverines should be a force in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines had their bags packed for a longer run in the NCAA tournament last season but Ohio sent Michigan home after the second round. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will lead the way, but John Beilein’s newcomers might make bigger headlines.
Hard to believe Billy Donovan has been in charge of this program for 16 years. The man knows how to get results. Kenny Boynton will need to pick up his game in the absence of Bradley Beal. But center Patric Young is a potential NBA lottery pick.
This is one of those fun picks, based on potential and Doug McDermott. Maybe this is too high for the Blue Jays, but McDermott will be in the race for national player of the year honors all season. Creighton will be a confident and successful team by the time the NCAA Tournament begins and no one wants the headache of matching up with McDermott.
This doesn’t look like a typical top 10 team for Coach K this season, but the Blue Devils are right there knocking on the door. Returning starters Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton will be joined by a talented recruiting class.
It wasn’t that long ago that Ben Howland’s Bruins had that stretch of three consecutive trips to the Final Four. But UCLA has had it share of disappointment, including last year’s 19-14 season. If swingman Shabazz Muhammad gains his eligibility, watch out for UCLA.
Which 68 teams will make the NCAA Tournament in March? Ken Davis predicts the field.
Finding a leader to replace Draymond Green won’t be an easy task for coach Tom Izzo, but the Spartans always find a way. Sophomore Branden Dawson will have a bigger role. Adrelan Payne should flex his muscles inside. And Izzo wants this team to run. Should be fun.
Solomon Hill is free to roam the perimeter again and that’s bad news for Arizona opponents. The key player for Sean Miller will be Mark Lyons, the transfer from Xavier who will be asked to take over at point guard. If all goes well, Arizona could be a top 10 team.
15. North Carolina
We simply cannot imagine a Sweet 16 without Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and John Henson are gone. But Williams can start rebuilding around James Michael McAdoo, perhaps the best NBA prospect in the ACC. Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald are back too.
|Mike Moser's return has UNLV dreaming big in 2012-13.
Coach Dave Rice deserves a lot of credit for keeping this program going after the departure of Lon Kruger to Oklahoma. When Mike Moser skipped the NBA Draft and returned to the Rebels, it set the table for another great season. This team can make noise in the Mountain West and beyond.
The Tigers have a future in the Big East Conference, but with one final shot at Conference USA, why shouldn’t Memphis exit with a dominating season? Coach Josh Pastner knows how to recruit. He has Tarik Black, Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford back and adds Shaq Goodwin to the mix.
We're never really sure what to expect from Missouri. Frank Haith won some national coaching awards, and then the Tigers lost to Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament. After all those years in the Big Eight and Big 12, Mizzou now joins the SEC. If Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon stay disciplined, they can be a great backcourt combination again. And pay attention to all the transfers.
It seems every season that people try to overlook the Irish in the Big East race -- and that’s always a big mistake. Coach Mike Brey has five starters back. He doesn’t want to leave for the ACC, but before he does, his Irish will take care of business –- especially at home.
The Aztecs can thank coach Steve Fisher for putting San Diego State on the map -- and staying there. Fisher’s team will be looking for a fifth straight 25-win season. Only Kansas, BYU, Duke, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have more currently. Senior guard Chase Tapley leads the way.
|Brady Heslip and Baylor are one of the contenders to Kansas for the Big 12 crown.
Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson maintain the backcourt tradition for coach Scott Drew and the Bears, one of the contenders to Kansas in the Big 12.
Leonard Hamilton has his top four scorers back. And you know the Seminoles are going to play great defense every time they take the floor. Michael Snaer is a player to watch.
Just imagine the national attention Mark Few would get if he coached in the ACC, Big East or Big Ten. Instead, he keeps the powerful Gonzaga program going. And the Bulldogs are headed to a 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
24. Saint Joseph’s
The Atlantic 10 improved its profile with the additions of VCU and Butler. But coach Phil Martelli has his most talented team since Jameer Nelson was running the point. Led by forward C.J. Aiken, the Hawks are going to surprise a lot of people.
25. Murray State
The pride of the Ohio Valley. The Racers were a great story last season and the magic continues. Isaiah Canaan is the returning conference Player of the Year. Don't forget Ed Daniel and transfer Dexter Fields should be a starter.