Ohio State returns Jared Sullinger, who also would have been a top-five draft pick had he been a one-and-done last June. The Buckeyes have the talent to be a No. 1 seed again and perhaps return to the Final Four for the first time since 2007, when the player formerly known as Greg Oden was a star freshman.
Connecticut is the defending national champion. The Huskies are also on probation, placed there last winter by those tough guys in Indianapolis who, rather than making U-Conn. ineligible for postseason play, decided to suspend Coach Jim Calhoun for the first three games of Big East play this coming season. If The Big East disbands by then, will Calhoun be forced to sit out the 2013 ACC tournament if U-Conn. bolts south?
The Michigan State University Spartans and North Carolina Tar Heels basketball teams will find themselves on a new court this Veteran's day-- on the U.S. Navy Warship, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson--the ship that took Osama bin Laden's body to sea for burial. (Nov. 11)
Beyond North Carolina and the Usual Suspects, there are always others worth watching: Xavier, which never seems to have a bad season, may have its best team since it reached the region final in 2004. Memphis was too young a year ago and still made the NCAA tournament under too-young Coach Josh Pastner. Coach and players are all a year older now. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are as dangerous as always, and the Colonial Athletic Association, which finally got three bids to the tournament for the first time ever a year ago, has another handful of teams no one is going to want to play, including Drexel, George Mason, Old Dominion and last year’s Cinderella team, Virginia Commonwealth. Teams like Florida, Baylor, Kansas, Louisville and Arizona have plenty of talent. Vanderbilt is a veteran team with a very underrated coach in Kevin Stallings.
This year, though, should be about North Carolina. If the Tar Heels can win at Kentucky on Dec. 3, the undefeated whispers will begin to get louder.
Less than two years ago, Williams stood in a hallway at Greensboro Coliseum a few moments after his team had lost in the first round of the ACC tournament, talking quietly about North Carolina’s lost season. Dick Baddour, then his athletic director, walked down the hallway.
“I better go talk to my boss,” Williams said with a wan smile. “See if he wants to make a change.”
Baddour is on the way out. Williams isn’t going anywhere — except, almost certainly, to New Orleans the first weekend in April. Dean Smith won both his national titles at the Superdome, and everyone knows Ol’ Roy always aims to emulate Coach Smith.
For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.