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Higher Learning Week 6

Saturday was too much fun for Oklahoma.

So here’s what we learned this week:

  1. Either Oklahoma is being undervalued or Texas was overrated. Either way last Saturday’s Red River beat down was very telling any way you look at it. after being leapfrogged in the polls by both LSU and Alabama Oklahoma had its nerve tested as people began touting the two SEC powers as the best in the land, then the Sooner defense made life a living hell for Case McCoy and Connor Ash by forcing five turnovers and scoring three touchdowns. Add  on Landry Jones typical monster day and Texas never stood a chance in their 55-17 loss. The Longhorns close wins over Rice and BYU may have gotten them a little more hype than they deserved and this loss puts their accomplishments into a more realistic perspective. They are a young team still trying to grow into a contender. As for Oklahoma? They are a contender, one that LSU or Alabama should keep a close eye on.
  2. Nebraska had their nerve tested. They were on the verge of starting 0-2 in the Big Ten and their two losses would have been disastrous. Then they received a blessing in the form of a Braxton Miller ankle injury and stormed back from a 27-6 deficit and added to Ohio State’s  awful season by beating them 34-27. Once Miller went down and Joe Bauserman entered the tide turned for the Huskers. Taylor Martinez rebounded from a miserable week in Madison by throwing two scores and racking up 300 yards of offense and the Husker defense buckled down and stopped the OSU offense in their tracks. Instead of looking at an embarrassing start to their Big Ten tenure the Huskers can now look at beginning their trek to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
  3. To say that Steve Spurrier’s decision to start Connor Shaw over embattled Stephen Garcia is an understatement. The fun-n-gun days of Florida came back in a big way for Spurrier as his Gamecocks ran up 639 total yards and pounded Kentucky 54-3. Shaw chopped up the Wildcats for 311 yards and 4 td’s. Maybe Spurrier has found the cure for his ailing offense. We shall see over the next few weeks.
  4. Wake Forest is 4-1 after a 35-30 win over Florida State and is looking to return back to the glory days of Riley Skinner from a few years ago (yep I just wrote that… just keep reading). Head coach Jim Grobe has his Demon Deacons back in contention for the ACC title but this time instead of being lead by a stout defense it is a potent offense lead by running back Josh Harris  who ran for 136 yards against the Noles and QB Tanner Price who threw three scores. Save for a close loss to Syracuse the Deacons would be 5-0 right now and ranked. If they beat Virginia Tech at home this week they might be.
  5. Kansas has the worst defense in the FBS. You can throw on them, pass on them, anything you do will get you a ton of yardage. After getting mangled by Oklahoma State 70-28 the Jayhawks now hold the crown for allowing the most points per game in college at 45 a game… and they still have to play Oklahoma coming up. Maybe Turner Gill should’ve stayed at Buffalo.

THE GOOD

Connor Shaw might make Steve Spurrier's Qb quandry and non-issue.

 

Boise State sent a message to Fresno State by forcing 4 turnovers and stomping them 57-7. So much for a tough trip to California.

THE BAD

The state of Florida has no teams in the top 25 for the first time since 1982 after the Gators 41-11 loss to LSU and Florida State’s 35-30 downer in Winston-Salem.

THE UGLY

Texas A&M beat Texas Tech 45-40 then the Red Raider faithful smeared their bus with manure. Sore losers much?

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

The Oklahoma defense. They allowed 256 yards had 8 sacks, forced five fumbles, five turnovers and scored three touchdowns versus Texas.

EMBARASSMENT OF THE WEEK

How disappointing has Arizona’s year been so far? They lost to Oregon State on Saturday (who hadn’t won all year including a loss to FCS Sacramento State) and that cost Mike Stoops his job Monday. Yikes.

TOP 5

  1. LSU
  2. Alabama
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Boise State

HEISMAN TOP 5

  1. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
  2. Kellen Moore, Boise State
  3. LaMichael James, Oregon
  4. Andrew Luck, Stanford
  5. Trent Richardson, Alabama

Lots of big games this weekend including #11 Michigan vs. #23 Michigan State, #20 Baylor vs. #21 Texas A&M, #6 Oklahoma State vs. #22 Texas, and #18 Arizona State vs. #9 Oregon.


Higher Learning Week 3

It wasn't pretty but Oklahoma is still perfect.

So it’s been a hectic work week, sorry for the delay but here we go!

What did we learn this weekend?

  1. Oklahoma deserves to be number 1 after a hard-earned victory in Tallahassee this past weekend. Oklahoma’s 23-13 victory was brutal for the normally offensive minded Sooners as they struggled to move the ball past a Seminole defense that was looking for payback from a brutal 49-17 drubbing in Norman last year. Landry Jones overcame two interceptions to find Kenny Stills for the go ahead score while the Sooners defense did the rest including 2 interceptions by Javon Harris. The Sooners defense evoked memories of their national title days a decade earlier as Florida State had trouble moving the ball with or without E.J. Manuel who left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. 3 of the next four games should be pieces of cake for the Sooners except their annual Red River Shootout with Texas in three weeks. If they get past that matchup then the Sooners have nothing to worry about until Texas A&M and Oklahoma State come calling.
  2. Stanford is the forgotten team amongst the top 10 and they seem just fine with that title. After an efficient 37-10 win in Arizona the Cardinal sit at #6 in the rankings and are patiently waiting for the crowd to get smaller. Andrew Luck has been his normal spectacular self and he’s been aided by Stepfan Taylor who emerged last week as a threat running the ball adding a new dimension for the Cardinal. Their next five games should be winnable even a matchup in L.A. versus USC. Their true challenge comes November 12th when Oregon comes to Palo Alto.
  3. Staying in the Pac-10 its starting to look like Rick Neuheisel will be out of a job at the end of this year. His UCLA Bruins lost 49-20 to Texas a team that hadn’t scored 20 points in a game this season and looked like a mess. That is until Case McCoy ran on to the field and Texas ran up almost 500 total yards of offense. These are virtually the same two teams from last year’s game at Austin that saw UCLA come away with a victory. Ever since that game the Bruins are 3-8 and it looks like Neuheisel is headed for the chopping block.
  4. It doesn’t matter who is under center for the Ohio State Buckeyes, they just aren’t good. Their 24-6 loss to Miami was embarrassing as Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller combined to go 4-18 for 38 yards… yep, that’s the entire game total. Even when they get all of their suspended players it’s hard to see the Buckeyes playing for anything more than 4th in the Big Ten.
  5. This conference realignment stuff is going to get messy. With Syracuse and Pitt going to the ACC, West Virginia and UCONN looking to move and the entire Big 12 in limbo it’s hard to tell just what the landscape will look like soon. The worst part of all of this is that it makes no sense geographically. Syracuse in the ACC? Texas in the Pac-16? TCU in the Big East? Can’t we just bring back the Big 8, SWC and leave tradition alone?

THE GOOD

South Florida racked up 745 total yards and dropped 70 on FAMU including B.J. Daniels 382 and 4 TD tosses.

BYU and Jake Heaps would like to forget about this weekend.

THE BAD

Maryland’s black uniforms… yeah they’ll be on here all year trust me.

THE UGLY

You expect a FCS team to have a BCS team run it up on them like FAMU, BUT KANSAS ALLOWING 738 YARDS INCLUDING 600 ON THE GROUND IN A 66-24 LOSS TO GEORGIA TECH? C’MON SON!!

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

The Brooklyn Buckeye favorite Kellen Moore. He went 32-42 for 455 yards and 4 TD’s in Boise’s 40-15 win over Toledo.

EMBARASSMENT OF THE WEEK

On their third play from scrimmage versus Utah, BYU center Terence Brown snapped the ball high over QB Jake Heaps head. Heaps then tried to throw the ball away but lost it. Utah defensive end Derrick Shelby recovered it and Utah led 7-0… you figure out the rest of the game.

The top 5 remains the same as last week while Andrew Luck jumps ahead of Landry Jones in the Heisman top 5.

Big games next week include LSU traveling to Morgantown to take on West Virginia, Florida State taking on Clemson coming off of a big win over Auburn, Arkansas takes on Alabama, and the game of the week features Oklahoma State taking on Texas A&M.


VCU Sticks It To The Haters

Hate if you want, but VCU is going to Houston.

So… Who still thinks VCU doesn’t belong in the NCAA tournament?

After the long and much talked about selection of VCU over Colorado an Virginia Tech, looks like the committee was absolutely right.

VCU was more than tough enough to hang with the big boys and showed no fear in mowing them down one by one. The Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Big 12 and PAC-10 all fell from their perches to the little school from Richmond, VA who who played bigger than their namesake.

The conversation at the beginning of the tournament was how could the NCAA allow a third team from a small conference like the CAA over another big conference school? The reality is that the CAA might’ve been better than most other conferences (hi, ACC and Big Ten).

Shaka Smart never let any of the attention get to his team. The very animated and energized coach kept his players focused on the task at hand. He put the game in his point guards hands and even though Joey Rodriguez chucked up some bad threes at times, he remained poised and made the necessary plays to help VCU reach the Final 4.

After beating a suspect USC team they handled downtrending Georgetown and beat up Purdue to make the Sweet 16. Brandon Burgess led VCU with 26 including a last second layup to stun Florida State to setup their Elite 8 matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks. To say that Kansas was not like any other team that they’ve faced is an understatement. To be honest with you, VCU faced the middle of the road teams of each conference that they faced. Georgetown, Florida State, USC, and Purdue were not thought about in the national title discussion. Kansas was a national title contender that was the clear favorite after Ohio State fell to Kentucky.

And none of that mattered as Shaka’s boys treated the Jayhawks as if they were the Delaware Blue Hens.

Shaka Smart had led his team to an precedented NCAA tournament run.

VCU raced out to a 14 point halftime lead as Jamie Skeen and company hit 9 of 17 threes and shut down the Kansas offense completely. Markieff Morris suffered through the worst game of his season turning the ball over 8 times and couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. They held Kansas to a season low 27 first half points and 11% from three point land. It was a dominating performance that made it seem like VCU was the one seed.

However, Kansas came back firing in the second causing several turnover and. Cutting the Rams lead to 2. With the partisan crowd rocking and the Rams fading, Smart never lost faith in his boys. He never called timeout and let them work through it. They rewarded him by jumping back up by ten behind Skeen’s shooting and Rodriguez’s ball handling including a great pass to Burgess for a deuce at the 8 minute mark.

That was it for the Jayhawks. They couldnt hit a shot for over four minutes and the Rams salted the game away as Kansas cried on their bench.

The celebration wasn’t like you would’ve expected. The Rams were cool and calm not being too overly exuberant. They dance an their few fans cheered loudly as Kansas walk off to another disappointment.

Their greatest achievement in all of this is that they have bragging right over rival George Mason, because, they are this year’s George Mason. They shocked the world just like their CAA compatriots, as and 11 seed, and beat the tournament favorite to do it.

So for anyone that said VCU didn’t belong, this is for you. Five wins in two weeks against a team from all major conferences except the SEC.

In a sense you could say the VCU Rams already are national champions.


Tourney Time!

The Buckeyes are the team to beat on the road to Houston.

With all due respect to the Colorado Buffaloes being 21-13, losing to Harvard, and San Francisco and beating such power houses like Maryland Eastern Shore and the Citadel don’t make you a tournament team. Even if you did beat Texas, Missouri and Kansas State three times.

 

I know you thought you should’ve been in but your yawn of a start didn’t make up for a flurry of a finish. I mean where do you think you are, the Big Ten?

 

As with every year the selection of the field of now 68 is not without some controversy. USC, Clemson and Penn State in, St. Mary’s, Missouri State and Virginia Tech out.

 

However, you must deal with it. The best part is now we can watch it all unfold in the way that a national champion should be rewarded, in a playoff. Hi BCS.

 

This year the field expanded to 68 teams, which essentially allowed three more crappy teams to make the field and create two more “Play-in” games to feed our growing appetites for basketball.

 

The field is pretty interesting. For the second straight year the number 1 seed overall gets the toughest bracket (Ohio State would love to trade with Pittsburgh right now) and Duke is a #2 disguised as a #1 (going to Anaheim 4 hours away from #2 San Diego State).

 

But this year there are 11 Big East teams, shattering the record of 8, a larger amount of mid-majors that could be primed for big runs (Oakland and Belmont), and about 9 teams that can win it all.

It would've been fun to watch St. mary's, but oh well.

As much as I like Ohio State their depth concerns me. As much as I like Duke location concerns. As much as I like Kansas their expectations concern me (I learned a long time ago that when everyone picks Kansas, pick against them). And as much as I like Pittsburgh I don’t think one Big East team can win this tournament…

 

But I think they’ll make it interesting.

 

I don’t expect much from the Big East except to kill a bunch of brackets and then fall. St. john’s, Marquette, West Virginia and Cincinnati could make someone’s life miserable and then fall the next game. The last thing I want to see being a top seed is a mid-level big east team waiting for them because disaster might ensue.

 

So what’s going to happen? Well before that, lets take a look at who should have and shouldn’t have made it.

 

ST. MARY’S 25-8

They won their conference, were ranked for last half of the season, played in a relatively decent conference and have a great history in the tournament and they played tough games versus St. John’s and BYU. Plus they had 25 wins (more on this later.).

 

MISSOURI STATE 25-8

They took Tennessee to the limit and won their regular season conference in the Missouri Valley, which year in and out is very competitive.

 

THE BIG TEN FOUR: PENN STATE (19-14), MICHIGAN STATE (19-14), ILLINOIS (19-13), MICHIGAN (20-13)

Here is my biggest problem with the tournament committee. It’s this thing called overvaluing a conference. The Big Ten was heralded as the best conference in the country and didn’t live up to it.

 

It was a top-heavy conference that featured three really good teams (Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin) and the rest of the conference was mediocre.

 

These four teams only got in because of their namesake. Critics will tell you that they played tough schedules and should be rewarded for how they played. Ok, I understand you play a tough schedule… BUT YOU LOST 13 GAMES, THAT MEANS YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD!

 

Two weeks ago Penn State was 15-13 including losses to Maine, Maryland and Ole Miss.

What do 14 losses, 3 20 point losses and no consistency all year get you.. a ticket to the dance of course.

Illinois was 6-9 in their last 15 and lost to UIC by 3.

 

Michigan lost every game they played versus a top 25 team and went 0-6 against the top 3 in their own conference.

 

And Michigan State lost by double digits to the following teams: Syracuse, Purdue, Iowa by 20, Wisconsin by 24, Ohio State, Purdue by 20 and Penn State.

 

And these four teams were worthy of not only making the tournament, but also avoiding the play-in games?

 

Why not include Northwestern?

 

I guess having Gene Smith at the head of the committee does wonders for your conference.

 

And now, the field (not covering the play-in games because those are the only game s that those teams are winning).

 

EAST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: OHIO STATE

BEST PLAYER: JARED SULLINGER

DARKHORSE: NORTH CAROLINA

UPSET SPECIALS: MARQUETTE OVER XAVIER

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND- WASHINGTON-GEORGIA. DOWN THE ROAD: OHIO STATE-KENTUCKY

I thought as the number one seed in any playoff that you were supposed to have the least challenging field to deal with as reward for your regular season. Guess I was wrong.

 

OSU has to potentially play Kentucky and Syracuse or North Carolina on their way to the final four and all three teams are peaking right now and have an equal share of claim as the top team to contend for a trip to Houston.

 

The region is stacked as West Virginia is a potential roadblock for Kentucky and Washington could do damage to UNC or Syracuse. Also George Mason could pose a little bit of a threat to OSU in the second round with Cam Long looking to take advantage of freshman Aaron Craft.

 

This bracket is also the lottery showcase with UK’s Terrance Jones and Brandon Knight, OSU’s Jared Sullinger and UNC’s Harrison Barnes looking to make statements before they potentially put their names into the for June’s draft.

Looking for a lottery pick this June? Then this regional is for you.

You’ll also want to get a peak at UW’s Isaiah Thomas, Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Princeton’s Kareem Maddox. Thomas is a guard in the same vein of Nate Robinson while Tu Holloway is flashy point guard who can shoot the lights of any opponent and Maddox is a post up player who can score in buckets.

 

I like Ohio State to win the region but two things concern me, the lack of depth and lack of killer instinct. If Sullinger or Dallas Lauderdale gets into foul trouble then its slim pickings on that bench that runs seven deep at best.

 

The good news is Kentucky only rolls six deep and Syracuse and UNC flip flop between lots of bench production and dead weight.

 

FINAL 4: OHIO STATE

WEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: DUKE

BEST PLAYER: DERRICK WILLIAMS

DARKHORSE: SAN DIEGO STATE

UPSET SPECIALS: OAKLAND OVER TEXAS AND MEMPHIS OVER ARIZONA

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: MEMPHIS-ARIZONA. DOWN THE ROAD: SDSU-UCONN

I really want to pick UCONN but playing 5 games in 5 days will catch up to them like playing 4 in 4 caught up to Syracuse years ago. UCONN matches up well with Arizona, Duke and SDSU potentially, but the wear and tear of the Big East season and tourney will affect them after the Bucknell game.

 

How does Mizzou feel about playing a Cincinnati team that’s playing it’s best ball of the year while they’re playing their worst? Mike Anderson’s team has had a miserable second half and should be a quick exit.

 

Oakland scares me as a dark horse sweet 16 team. They played a tough non-conference schedule, which included a win at Tennessee. Texas, Arizona or Memphis doesn’t have an answer for Keith Benson in the middle and he should put up big numbers.

 

This bracket has San Diego State’s name written all over it. Their athleticism should get them through the 2nd and 3rd rounds easily and they have the bodies to match up with UCONN in the sweet 16.

Don't be shocked if the Aztecs make a run.

If they play Duke though how will they respond? Duke’s defense and rotation of about 9 players will frustrate the Aztecs and the Devils experience outweighs their athleticism. Also with the way Nolan Smith has played all year I don’t see a guard in this tourney stopping him. Even Kemba Walker.

 

FINAL 4: DUKE

SOUTHWEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: KANSAS

BEST PLAYERS: BEN HANSBROUGH, MARKIEFF AND MARCUS MORRIS

DARKHORSE: LOUISVILLE

UPSET SPECIAL: RICHMOND OVER VANDERBILT

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: VANDY0RICHMOND. DOWN THE ROAD: KANSAS-LOUISVILLE, NOTRE DAME-PURDUE, NOTRE DAME-LOUISVILLE, PUDRDUE-KANSAS

At first I thought that the Southeast region was the lightest. Then I looked at this region and though, “are there any good teams besides Kansas, Louisville or Notre Dame?” no.

 

This region has all the excitement of the Wisconsin-Penn State game on Friday.

 

Vanderbilt wont handle Justin Harper or Kevin Anderson and the inside out game that Richmond plays. Georgetown doesn’t know if Chris Wright will even contribute once he returns from his hand injury. And vastly superior competition next round will roast TAMU, FSU and UNLV.

 

Purdue however intrigues me. Etwan Moore and JaJuan Johnson pose a sizeable threat to the bracket with their experience but they lost to Richmond on neutral soil by 11 back in November and they were 0-3 on the road versus ranked teams this year. Plus they just lost by 18 to Michigan State in Indianapolis and they scares me more than any other stat.

If this man keeps his head, then the Irish can go far.

I like Louisville because they can score and defend and they get clutch performances from Kyle Kuric and Preston Knowles when needed. Also there aren’t better guards in this region than Knowles and Peyton Siva. They can take over a game and cause headaches for whoever plays them.

 

Kansas is Kansas. Arguably the most complete team in the nation, as they are athletic at all positions and deep. The Morris Twins are absolute monsters in the paint or on the wing and the team as a whole is an offensive juggernaut.

 

The problem with them is their consistency at all positions. I don’t trust Tyshawn Taylor at all and Josh Selby is still trying to fit into the offense. Plus in their two losses their lack of focus and execution murdered them and almost cost them against Nebraska, Iowa State and Michigan.

So I’m taking Notre Dame. Why? The fight in this team runs from top to bottom. They back down from no one in any situation. Look at the UCONN game two weeks ago when Ben Hansbrough fouled out of the game with 8 minutes left. They weathered the Kemba Walker hurricane and a raucous crowd to pull themselves together and pull out a huge win.

 

They can shoot anyone’s lights out and can overcome their lack of athleticism with their experience and hustle.

 

(Side note: this is all pending on whether or not Hansbrough can keep is head in check. He almost cost them the UCONN game and did cost them against Louisville at the Garden. When he’s on he’s the best shooter in the country, when he’s off his volatile nature becomes a huge detriment to the team. )

 

FINAL 4: NOTRE DAME

SOUTHEAST REGION

BEST TEAM: PITTSBURGH

BEST PLAYERS: JIMMER FREDETTE, JACOB PULLEN AND DWIGHT HARDY

DARKHORSE: ST. JOHN’S

UPSET SPECIALS: UTAH STATE OVER KANSAS STATE, BELMONT OVER WISCONSIN, GONZAGA OVER ST. JOHN’S AND WOFFORD OVER BYU

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS GONZAGA. DOWN THE ROAD: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS KANSAS STATE, PITTSBURGH VERSUS ST. JOHN’S, KANSAS STATE VERSUS BYU

Um… yeah… this region is a cluster****.

 

The committee must’ve wanted to play head games with everyone with this region.

 

It’s technically a bunch of guard dependent teams who wouldn’t make the sweet 16 in any other region.

 

The top 4 seeds could either maker final four runs or be done before week 2. By the way, how in the blue hell did Florida get a 2 seed? Did the committee realize that they lost to UCF, Jacksonville, South Carolina, Mississippi State and got drilled by Kentucky on Sunday? Just saying.

 

The bottom line is that this will be he most fun region of the four. You’ll see Jimmer drop 40. Belmont rain three’s and Pitt bludgeon their teams to death.

 

However, I’m beyond interested to see how St. john’s does. Before D.J. Kennedy went down with a torn ACL I thought that they were a real final 4 contender. Then that happened and I backtracked. Now? I don’t know.

How far can the Johnnies go? This man holds the key.

I know that they depend on Dwight Hardy just as much as BYU depends on Jimmer, and that they struggle to find offense in some areas at times. But looking at this region I feel that it’s theirs for the taking. Except for their opening game against a peaking Gonzaga, the Johnnies can beat anyone in the bottom half of their bracket and for one game they can take out Pitt, K-State or Wisconsin.

 

But I’m taking K-State because Jacob Pullen pulled himself together and brought this team back from the dead. A month ago the Wildcats were NIT bound when Pullen stopped caring about the NBA and put the team on his back. Even with Wally Judge gone the Wildcats rallied behind Pullen and the inside tandem of Curtis Kelly and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and ran through Kansas, Missouri, and Texas on their way to this 5 seed.  Why stop now? Besides, Colorado aint playing so they don’t have to worry about playing a team they cant beat.

 

FINAL 4: KANSAS STATE

Yeah I know my final 4 is the same as the beginning of the year (except for Syracuse, stupid East regional.) but why turn away now? OSU, K-State and Duke are playing their best ball of the year and Notre Dame fulfills my Big East obligation. So you know that means that I’m sticking with the Buckeyes to win it all.

 

Ok enough talking, Thursday get here already (Tuesday for those interested in the “first round.”), let the games begin!

 

 

 


The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (NCAA Basketball Preview)

The Dukies look to go back-to-back for a second time.

In all of my madness and melancholy of covering football from college to the NFL I almost forgot what time of year it was… THE START OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

It happened last night as I was watching the Bengals season go down in flames (still can’t believe I picked them to win it all), I look over and what do I see? Number 4 ranked Pittsburgh taking on Rhode Island. Hmm, I love the excitement of the crowds, the college kids from the Oakland Zoo to the Little Apple to The Kennel all going crazy with the prospectus of their team somehow going for the glory come March.

You see college basketball trumps the NBA to me in so many ways; 1. The atmosphere, there are no places in the NBA like Cameron Indoor Stadium, Rupp Arena or Hinkle Field house. The crowds are right on top of you and the energy is surreal. Even when watching it on TV at half volume you can feel buzz, the stadium shaking, and the kids going bonkers. Maybe Madison Square Garden and maybe Arco Arena do that in the NBA and that’s it.

2. The rivalries. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kansas-K-State, Syracuse-UCONN or Duke-Maryland, every time interstate enemies or inter-conference rivals go at it its must see TV. Last year I watched Memphis play Tennessee in a down year for both programs and t didn’t matter. The game was still full of energy and passion and don’t turn your head away action that made for an awesome night especially when you’re procrastinating as to stall yourself from studying for a meaningless exam. Not that I ever did that in college.

Kansas- K-State. One of the many rivalries that make college basketball so awesome.

(speaking of which, the greatest sporting event from my college years had to be the 6 overtime marathon between the Cuse and UCONN about 20 months ago. I was struggling through that quarter of school badly, I’m talking Carolina Panthers quarterback situation badly, and I absolutely needed to focus on getting at least a 2.0 that quarter and it was finals week. So what did I do instead of study for an Italian final or write my medieval poetry final paper, I watched Jonny Flynn, A.J. Price and a cast of thousands go hard for nearly 4 hours of grueling basketball that left my roommate Ian wanting to kill me for yelling so loud at 1230am and had me up until 4am watching highlights and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. That one game is the reason you watch college basketball, because the unexpected is always bound to happen. You never know when the next ESPN Classic moment will happen. Side note: I did pass all of my finals that quarter but it wasn’t pretty. I blame the referee for blowing the Eric Devendorf call on the three that was clearly good before the buzzer and the fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell during finals week.)

3. The fact that college basketball is changing. The elite programs are still there… sort of. Last year UCLA, Arizona, UCONN and North Carolina DID NOT MAKE THE TOURNAMENT. Yeah you read that properly, four of college basketball’s best programs didn’t even sniff the tournament. There was a point in the tourney where we were looking at a final four that could’ve consisted of Northern Iowa, Butler, Xavier (hi Sean Miller) and Baylor. Yeah that’s where we are at. Granted UNC won it all in 2009 and Duke took home the crown last year, but the game itself is no longer the top heavy huge program dominated juggernaut it has been for the last 20 years.

The top 3 teams expected to make a run at the crown for this year are Duke, Michigan State and… KANSAS STATE! Yes the same Kansas State who you couldn’t name one single player from their roster for a 20 year period. The same Kansas State who wasn’t even a factor in the BIG 12 until Bob Huggins convinced a guy named Michael Beasley to come to Manhattan, Kansas three years ago and then left before Beasley arrived. The same Kansas State that was Kansas’s whipping post for every season that I’ve been alive and they are now viewed as the best team in Kansas. Time’s they are a changing.

What Frank Martin has done at K-State is amazing, he got great results from Beasley and Bill Walker and he is now able to bring in excellent recruits to Manhattan and leave the folks in Lawrence feeling a little salty. Led by Jacob Pullen and his beard and guys like Wally Judge and Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats have what it takes to overpower the Jayhawks and get to the Final 4. Yep, Kansas State, believe it.

Then of course there is last year’s darling the Butler Bulldogs who were two inches away from pulling off one of the greatest upsets sports has ever seen against Duke in the title game. The Dogs proved that they belong in the hunt for the crown for a long time to come with a run that stunned everyone in the sport that included wins over K-State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They return with no Gordon Haywood but pretty much same team from Ronald Nored and his tough defense and Matt Howard and his inside post game. They have replaced Gonzaga as the best little guy in the game and will be a tough draw in the tourney for anyone.

(With that said Gonzaga is ranked higher and with Robert Sacre at center they still aren’t a team to be messed with. Also the recruiting class they have for 2011 is stupid silly good. You think Mark Few is happy he stayed at Gonzaga instead of take the Kentucky job a few years ago? Yeah, me too.)

So what about the big dogs? Oh they’re just fine thank you. Ohio State behind one of the silliest recruiting classes including Jared Sullinger since the “Thad 5” is primed to go toe-to-toe with Sparty for the Big 10 and the national title. They have a date in November with SEC rival Florida which finally seems to have shaken the title hangover of a few years ago and are expected to rule the SEC this year behind do it all forward Chandler Parsons. They still have Kentucky hanging around in the background however. Yes they lost John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe and Enes Kanter is still awaiting eligibility pending an NCAA investigation (hmmm, another investigation involving John Calipari? No way), however they get another top flight point guard for John Calipari to groom in Brandon Knight and swingman Terrance Jones from Oregon. They’re young again but if anyone knows how to get the best out of a young squad then its John Calipari.

Now I know what you’re wondering, Kevin, you haven’t even begun to wax poetic over the Mighty Big East yet. You know the conference you love so much that you’re willing to through any other program under the bus when playing them. You know the conference that you think is so much better than everyone else but last year underachieved in mostly every big out of conference matchup. Yeah yeah yeah I know. I know they struggled last year with off years by UCONN, Georgetown and Louisville and honestly past Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh every team is the same. G’Town, Marquette and Seton Hall all have shots to make an impact behind guys like Austin Freeman, Jeremy Hazell and others and Steve Lavin may finally bring St. John’s back to where it belongs in the picture of college basketball. Yet I’m not sold that the conference is better than the Big 10 who have 3 teams who could make a Final 4 run including Purdue who I think is getting undervalued because of the loss of Robbie Hummel. In the Big East I think only Syracuse and maybe Pitt has a shot at the Final 4. However, even though it might be a down year for the conference the games will still be a blast to watch.

Something about the words Melo and Syracuse just sounds good together.

(Side note: I really like this Syracuse team. They are deeper than last year’s squad and they have a guy in the middle that will be a huge problem for everyone in the future, Fab Melo. Hmmm, an impact freshman in Syracuse named Melo? Smiley face.)

However with all of that said, from the little guys to the big ones, from the “Thad 5” part two to the beard, from Indianapolis to Spokane the two teams to beat come from tobacco road and (ugh) the ACC, Duke and UNC.

Duke brings back everyone from last year’s team including the soon to be player of the year Kyle Singler and they get Kyrie Irving, a lightning quick guard, and Seth Curry, yep there’s another one of them running around. Plus the Plumlee twins return to roam the middle with their size and athleticism which is going to be a problem for anyone to handle.

As for UNC you knew that last year’s flame out was only an aberration. Roy Williams returns with a team that has a year of experience under its wing, a healthy Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes one of the most talked about freshmen in the nation. Barnes as well as Reggie Bullock should help shoulder the load left by Ed Davis and the Wear twins who transferred to Stanford.

Both Duke and UNC should have little trouble running the ACC with one exception, Maryland might be back. Gary Williams has escaped the firing that seemed eminent years ago and has his best team since the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon days.  Sean Mosley and Jordan Williams provide a great in and out game and Mychal Parker and Pe’Shon Howard will provide some pop off of the bench.  If he can find the right rotation for this team then it should be happy times in Gary-land for the Terps.

With all of this said who should be playing in the Final 4 come March? How about Duke, Ohio State, K-State and Syracuse with Ohio State winning it all. No it’s not a cop out because I went to OSU it’s because OSU has the best mix of under classmen and youth of any team in the nation. David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Willie Buford all return to blend with the aforementioned Sullinger, Jordan Siebert and Deshaun Thomas. I think Michigan State is a tad overrated with no Kalin Lucas and the Buckeyes should steamroll through the tough Big 10 behind their talent level and Thad Motta’s defensive scheme.

So there you go, even in the changing landscape of college basketball where the little guys are getting bigger, the top dogs still reign supreme. However, don’t be surprised if everything I said gets blown to smithereens and the landscape changes again. That’s the beauty of the college game, and I’m so happy that it’s back.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR- KYLE SINGLER

BIG EAST WINNER-SYRACUSE (SLEEPER: VILLANOVA)

ACC- DUKE (MARYLAND)

BIG 12- KANSAS STATE (TEXAS)

BIG 10- OHIO STATE (ILLINOIS)

PAC 10- WASHINGTON (ARIZONA)

SEC- FLORIDA (TENNESSEE)

THE NEXT BUTLER- San Diego STATE

ATLANTIC 10- XAVIER (mark my words; you will take the A-10 seriously again. The league is too good to be considered a mid-major)