By Luke Geraghty
The 2011-2012 college basketball season was a great year for the local teams. Louisville and Kentucky each went to the Final Four with UK winning the championship. Indiana also had a nice run in the tournament by making it to the Sweet 16. Watching these teams make a run in the tournament seemed very unconventional. But with many polls having these teams in their preseason top five, people may start to grow accustomed to seeing these teams at the top of the polls.
For IU, they go into next year with practically the same team and then some. Point guard Yogi Ferrell and forwards Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea will be a big contribution for the Hoosiers as freshmen next year. The Hoosiers also will get a boost from sophomore Cody Zeller, who decided to to return to school rather than entering the NBA draft. Zeller led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. Joining Zeller will be seniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls as well as junior Victor Oladipo. The Hoosiers roster will have plenty of talent and depth. If they can stay healthy and get a boost from some of their younger players, a Final Four berth is possible.
U of L enters the next season with plenty of experience. The Cardinals will miss Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but everyone else returns, including some players who missed last year due to injuries. Rakeem Buckles, Mike Marra, and Stephan Van Treese all missed games due to injuries last year and they are expected to give big minutes off the bench next year. Senior point guard Peyton Siva may be the Preseason Big East Player of the Year and they will probably go as far as Siva takes them. Siva’s partner-in-crime, Russ Smith isn’t afraid to shoot and/or drive to the basket. Both Smith and Siva’s stealing ability will cause chaos for their opponents when they bring the ball up the floor. Sophomores Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan and junior Gorgui Dieng look to round out the starting line up while freshman Terry Rozier also looks to gain big minutes off the bench. If U of L can stay healthy, then they will certainly be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.
Coming off a national championship, UK will come into the next season with plenty of talent. Centers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley, forward Alex Poythress, and guard Archie Goodwin are apart of another top notch recruiting class for the Wildcats. UK’s strong recruiting class will make them a very talented team, but it is hard to pinpoint how good UK will be. UK’s top six scorers from last year’s team are gone. Freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague, as well as sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, declared for the NBA draft, while Darius Miller graduated. Kyle Wiltjer will be team’s best returning player, averaging 5 points per game last year. With the majority of the team from last year gone and a lot of new faces coming in, it appears UK may have a rebuilding year for their standards. UK’s weaknesses will be the lack of experience and also the lack of a true legit player at the point guard position. If UK can withstand these weaknesses, another deep run may be in sight for the defending champs.
IU, UK and UL have always had passionate fan bases, but they have each had hardships pretty recently. Kelvin Sampson turned a winning IU program to a Big Ten bottom-dweller. While UK faced an unheard of NIT berth just four years ago. While U of L faced distractions from their head coach Rick Pitino’s off-the-court problems as well as back-to-back first round exits in 2010 and 2011. However, each of them have bounced back to the peak of their game, making Kentuckiana the best place to be for the college basketball season next year and maybe for years to come.