Blue Bloods back on top

But for how long? The mid-majors look locked and loaded, too

Willie Cauley-Stein and the Kentucky blue bloods again flashed their dominance on the basketball court last year. The Wildcats won their eighth national championship last season, and despite losing an entire starting lineup to the NBA, head coach John Calipari has locked and reloaded with a new recruiting class chock full of talent. Enlarge photo

James Crisp/Associated Press file photo

Willie Cauley-Stein and the Kentucky blue bloods again flashed their dominance on the basketball court last year. The Wildcats won their eighth national championship last season, and despite losing an entire starting lineup to the NBA, head coach John Calipari has locked and reloaded with a new recruiting class chock full of talent.

College basketball came down to the blue bloods last season, with Kentucky adding to its Hoops Rushmore résumé in a final four that included Kansas, Louisville and Ohio State.

The mid-majors figure to play a major role this year.

While Indiana is the preseason No. 1 for the first time in 33 years, and big names such as Duke, North Carolina and Arizona are loaded with talent, it’s the little guys who could make the most noise this season.

Just look at the preseason All-America team. It features Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, players who could be stars anywhere.

The AP Top 25 also is littered with mid-majors, including Creighton, UNLV, San Diego State and always-there Gonzaga.

With so many good teams and players from smaller conferences, yeah, it should be a fun season.

Here’s a few other things to look for:

The Teams

Indiana: The long climb from the embarrassment of an NCAA phone-call scandal appears to finally be over. The Hoosiers have 7-foot center Cody Zeller and the kind of team that could make a title run.

Kentucky: The Calipari Method – sign future NBA players; win; lose them to the NBA; repeat.

Louisville: Rick Pitino flexed his coaching muscles with one of the best jobs of his career last season and may not be done with most of the players from that team back.

Ohio State: Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone. Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are not. Thad Matta rarely leaves the cupboard bare.

Michigan: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. make up a backcourt that could help the Charlotte Bobcats win more games. They certainly will in Ann Arbor.

Creighton: Can’t tout the mid-majors and not include one team to watch. Coach’s son Doug McDermott is an unstoppable force, and the Bluejays have plenty of returning players to help him out.

Baylor (women): Brittney Griner and company are good enough to be mentioned here. Might give a men’s team or two a run for its money.

The Players

Cody Zeller, Indiana: He might be the best player in Family Zeller, which is saying something coming from that group.

Tim Burke, Michigan: He led the Wolverines in scoring and assists last season. Don’t expect a sophomore slump. He’s too good to have one.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: He played in the shadow of Jared Sullinger last season. He won’t this year, especially after a confidence-building run through the NCAA Tournament.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: Missouri Valley player of the year, third nationally in scoring, preseason All-American – might want to keep an eye on this guy.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: Score, score and score some more. Pretty good rebounder and can dish, too.

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Not many players from Murray State can – at least realistically – say they bypassed the NBA to return to school. Canaan did and could be a national player of the year candidate.

The Rookies

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: The bluest of coach John Calipari’s blue chippers this season, the 6-10 forward has an elevated game and the hair to match it.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: Sun Devils fans have been waiting a year for Carson to be eligible, and the sophomore point guard isn’t likely to disappoint with that wicked crossover and super hops.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: Bruins coach Ben Howland landed a stellar recruiting class this season, led by the left-handed Muhammad. The key is getting him on the court; the NCAA still is investigating whether he received improper benefits from boosters of an AAU team.

Grant Jerrett, Arizona: Arizona coach Sean Miller said Jerrett is as far along as any incoming big man he’s seen.

Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: The former rugby player from New Zealand should fit right in with the Big East bangers.

(Coaches)

Kevin Ollie, Connecticut: Replacing a three-time national champion (Jim Calhoun) won’t be easy. Doing it as a first-time coach on a one-year contract will add a degree or two of difficulty.

Larry Brown, Southern Methodist: Of all the options for the 71-year-old Hall of Famer to end up, few saw this one coming.

Frank Martin, South Carolina: With one of the more surprising moves this offseason, Martin will try to rebuild another program after Kansas State.

Danny Manning, Tulsa: He probably won’t need a miracle in his first coaching job. He learned from one of the best as an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas.

Richard Pitino, Florida International: Rick’s son has proven to be pretty sharp himself.

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