It’s College Basketball Season II!

Sure, right now you’re thinking football season is pretty good. You’re all like, “It’s anybody’s game in the NFL!” and “Man, that Oregon offense is awesome except for last game!” and “There’s like a 2 percent chance the BCS doesn’t screw this up!” But let’s be real here: The NFL has settled into that middle-of-the-season complacency where we make up arguments over who the best team is in the NFC and pretend like the Jaguars still have legitimate playoff hopes. College football’s best story is shrouded in scandal, and there’s a 98 percent chance the BCS does screw this up, so why get your hopes up anyway?

And that’s where college basketball comes in. I’m not going to sit here and pretend college basketball is pure—not one season after John Calipari and Bob Huggins coached with a berth to the Final Four on the line and not when two storied programs have to deal with significant eligibility issues regarding their freshmen.

No, college basketball isn’t perfect. But it’s as close as we’ve got in the modern sports world. It has a regular season that still matters, if only for a few more years until they bump the Tournament to 96. It has games like every night, and good ones at that. And it has the Tournament, which as you should be able to tell by now, I like just a little bit.

So as the 2010-2011 college basketball season gets underway, here are the eight things I’m looking forward to the most:

Come on...this is pretty cool.

1. A Hated Favorite

I know, I know: Last year, I listed “Uncertainty” as the best thing about the 2009-2010 season. But these things go in cycles, and one year after having it wide open at the top, we have a consensus favorite—and one that not very many people like—in Duke at No. 1.

Having a vilified No. 1 team before the season even starts—fueled by both the decades-long hate for Duke and the residual animosity from the Butler game (and the lacrosse scandal, that explicit thesis, those mean letters those fraternities sent…I can go on)—creates a strong narrative to the year. When Duke will first lose, who can compete with them in the ACC, and who can compete with them nationally are all questions that casual college basketball fans—and not just, you know, Duke alums like us here at NPI—have on their minds already.

Furthermore, although a clear No. 1, Duke is fundamentally different from frontrunners of the recent past such as Florida and North Carolina. Those teams returned starting fives from Final Four squads, whereas Duke merely brings back two of its three best players. There are legitimate question marks regarding the depth of the frontcourt and how seamless the transition from a deliberately paced team to an uptempo one can be. With Kyrie Irving at the point, the Blue Devils will be a very different team this season, even if they look like the same old Duke.

2. Butler!

We started off last year talking about Duke and Butler, we ended last year talking about Duke and Butler, and we start off this year talking about Duke and Butler. As much as you want to talk about 2010 being a landmark year for Bulldogs’ basketball, this year may be even more important. Does Butler cement itself as a legitimate annual contender (a la Gonzaga), or does it fall back to its status as a mid-major that occasionally makes the Sweet 16? We’ve seen Kent State, George Mason, and Davidson all make Elite Eight/Final Four runs in the past decade. Only Gonzaga has been able to build on it, though.

The fact that Butler has had previous Tourney success and brings back most of its key players—obviously sans Gordon Hayward—and its awesome coach helps. The Bulldogs once again have a big-time schedule, with dates at Louisville (opening the Cardinals’ new arena), against Duke in the Devils’ second home in Jersey, and in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, where they could run into Florida State and Baylor. Can a team led by Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, and an apparently revitalized Matt Howard get Butler a protected seed and set it up for another deep run?

3. Is Harrison Barnes that good?

If only we could Skype the answer. The first freshman to ever be a pre-season All-American, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the idea of pre-season All-Americans, Barnes will likely be the Tar Heels’ go-to option right away—just like Tyler Hansbrough was. If he’s as good as advertised, and if John Henson and Tyler Zeller fulfill the promise they once held, and UNC can find a competent—we’re not talking good, we’re talking competent—point guard, the Tar Heels can challenge Duke in the ACC.

The biggest problem with Barnes, though? Dude took Joe Forte’s number. You don’t take Joe Forte’s number.

4. A Top-Heavy Big 12

I tend to think the Big East is always the best conference in college basketball, but I really doubt that will be the case this season. The Big 12 boasts four teams in the preseason top 16: Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor. Throw in another talented Texas team, and you’ve got yourself a solid starting five in the conference.

This year, the big Big Monday games will start at 9:00.

5. The First Four Being a Huge Success or a Huge Disaster

I have no idea what to expect about the First Four come the Tuesday after Selection Sunday. I hope it turns out to be one more exciting night of Tournament basketball. Or I hope the games aren’t that well-played, are matched up poorly, and open up a ton of questions about the unfairness of making these teams play an extra game and making their opponent wait to know who they’re playing and having the games in Dayton and where do we seed them and on and on and on so we can get back down to 64, where we belong.

6. Kyle Whelliston’s The Mid-Majority

If you love college basketball, you probably already know about The Mid-Majority. But you don’t have to love this sport to appreciate Whelliston’s writing. Here’s a not-so-brief excerpt from his fantastic epilogue to last season:

“I’m pretty sure that any adventurer or vacationer knows what this is like, the hope against hope that just a little piece of the extraordinary will carry back over into everyday life. (Recall that moment in Lost in Translation when Bill Murray’s character is in his hotel room, on the phone with his aloof wife, telling her he wants to eat healthier when he returns home. “Like Japanese food.”) We try to hold on to the different as long as possible, but the same is simply too powerful.

“The same is who you are and where you come from. The same will always find you, no matter how far you run, however long you think you can last. The patterns that define you are inescapable and will outlast the temporarily different. Even through resolutions and diets, third weddings and fifth religious choices, the same is still deep inside. All of the persistent reminders of one’s slow construction are there, embedded in deep memory, and we’ll never be able to completely scrub them out… no matter how hard we try. The designs of our lives are indelible.

“Inertia is a difficult concept to convey in narrative form. Movies and novels are far more effective in telling tales of transformation and change, since the beginning and the end are always so close together. To truly capture inertia requires a grander long-form sweep, the type that’s found in our new century’s cinema-quality pay-television series. Over a span of many years, 13 episodes at a time, those with sufficient attention spans can follow characters like Tony Soprano and Don Draper and Bill Henrickson. Viewers can see exactly how stuck in their ways they are.

“This is not a message that most people necessarily seek out willingly, this sad idea that our souls are trapped in cages. We’re more likely to gravitate towards “inspirational” or “uplifting” messages, instead of mnemonic symbols of our tendency to repeat bad patterns. We get plenty of reminders of this dynamic in real life. Two years ago, we thought we were coming together to change America; we had hope that it would stick. But many of us have reverted to our apathy and inaction.”

7. John Gasaway on

Gasaway, one of the cool kids from Basketball Prospectus, now has a quasi-weekly space on for his “Poll Position,” in which he takes the polls to task by using his own metrics—the more per-possession stuff you find on—to evaluate teams. He makes his arguments clearly, wittily, and succinctly, which is more than can be said for most.

8. The Announcers!

I would copy verbatim what I have from last year, but Chip Caray doesn’t do the baseball playoffs anymore and Dick Enberg won’t be calling March Madness in 2011. But in an era dominated by Joe Buck, college basketball (at least until the Final Four) presents us with passionate and knowledgeable announcers that are actually fun to listen to. There’s Raftery, of course, but also Bilas and Gus and McDonough and Fran Fraschilla and Doris Burke, who might just be the best Xs and Os analyst working in basketball today.

There’s no need for the Mute button with that group.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Edrick on November 15, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    Butler is 7th in wins over the last 10 years, has averaged 23 wins a year for the last 15, making the post season all but two of those years, is always ranked and has two Sweet 16s and a national title fame appearance on the last 7 years.

    Not only is Butler at Gonzaga’s level, there’s a pretty sting argument that they’ve surpassed the Bulldogs.


    • I definitely think Butler, right now, is on the same level as Gonzaga. The question is whether or not it can sustain it. Gonzaga’s deepest Tournament run is still its first in 1999, and yet it’s turned itself into a consistent Top 25 program, and there seems little reason for that not to continue. Butler, on the other hand, made those runs to the Sweet 16 in ’03 and ’07 but had trouble backing it up (in ’08, they were somewhat disappointing in sliding to a 7-seed, even if they gave Tennessee a good game in the second round). Butler wasn’t ranked in the preseason Top 25 until last season.

      All that said, I can see Butler being the TCU to Gonzaga’s Boise State–the second mid-major to become every bit as household a national entity.


  2. […] we being as extensive this year? Chill out, we have things to do! And Tim already brought you a 2010-11 season preview, and a breakdown of the NCAA Vault. What more do you want? But we couldn’t let […]


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