Brace for thrills as best time of year tips off

Nothing can compare to this time of year around my house. It begins a five-month journey where I happily disregard the fact my placement in the pecking order continues to rank behind the Shih Tzu and just above the parakeet.

No matter. College basketball season began Friday night.

I can’t wait to see if my Final Four pick of Dixie State comes through.

The season’s final weekend will be staged at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the city that hosted Final Fours in 1977, 2002 and 2007.

The dome is one of the world’s largest such structures and seats 71,228, or slightly fewer than the number of 3-pointers UNLV likely will attempt this year.

Each season brings its own storylines and drama and multitude of upsets. Here are a few points to consider as things begin for real again, where the biggest offseason cheating scandal didn’t include Kentucky.


Who would have thought?

Heading toward the Peach State in April …

■ Atlanta fact: It is the fastest-growing city in the United States.

Hoops fact: The Big Ten Conference has grown into the nation’s best league.

If it is Purina ONE in football, it’s filet mignon in basketball. Indiana could make the Rose Bowl with a 6-7 record on the gridiron. On the court, the Hoosiers are No. 1 and favored to win the school’s first national championship since Keith Smart made a certain baseline jumper against Syracuse in 1987.

Then you have Ohio State and Michigan and Michigan State and Wisconsin, all ranked in preseason Top 25 polls.

With all that talent spread over all those teams, you would think commissioner Jim Delany wouldn’t have much to whine about.

I’m sure he’ll find something. He always does.

■ Atlanta fact: The Margaret Mitchell House is a museum to the book “Gone With The Wind.”

Hoops fact: The season will offer its own list of leading men, none as suave as Rhett Butler but all with better jump shots.

A few to watch include Cody Zeller, a 7-footer from Indiana who spends his free time watching movies a 5-year-old might consider immature; Doug McDermott, a Creighton star who has at least one thing in common with Pete Maravich (All-Americans who played for their father); and C.J. McCollum, who plays for our new favorite team in Lehigh, which bounced our not-so-favorite team from the NCAA Tournament in March, a team that goes by the name Duke.

■ Atlanta fact: It is the only city to have been destroyed by fire as an act of war.

Hoops fact: Indiana is ranked No. 1; Louisville is No. 2; Kentucky is No. 3.

It’s a good thing all that water from the Ohio River sits where it does, because I can’t imagine the inferno that might rise with The Triangle being at the center of the college basketball universe.

■ Atlanta fact: Its symbol is the Phoenix, a legendary bird from Egyptian mythology that rose from its ashes as a stronger, more beautiful creature.

Hoops fact: UCLA lives.

Ben Howland seemed on his way to unemployment after last season’s 19-14 debacle and an unflattering Sports Illustrated article about the coach’s alleged lack of control over the storied program, but you never can underestimate what kicking Reeves Nelson to the curb and signing a recruiting haul of McDonald’s All-Americans can do for a guy.

The Bruins appear back and loaded and capable of making a Final Four run, especially if freshman Shabazz Muhammad is cleared to play at some point this season. The NCAA ruled the former Bishop Gorman star ineligible Friday for an undetermined number of games.

■ Atlanta fact: It is the birthplace to Coca-Cola.

Hoops fact: There is every chance a sleeper or two could beat The Real Thing when it comes to winning the title.

My favorite here is North Carolina State. It’s not often a team ranked in the top 10 to begin a season and picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference can be labeled a sleeper, unless that team hasn’t won a conference championship since the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Energizer Bunny made its debut.

The Wolfpack are long, athletic, skilled and return all key pieces from a Sweet 16 team.

They’re no Dixie State, but who is?

■ Atlanta fact: Transportation within the city is relatively easy.

Hoops fact: It’s relatively easy to predict which teams still will be breathing once the time arrives in Atlanta.

(Well, not easy, but the Shih Tzu is better at predicting these things, so who will remember anyway?)

The 4: Florida, North Carolina State, Indiana and Louisville.

The 2: Florida and Louisville.

The champion: Louisville.

That’s right. Rick Pitino once again will give others 15 seconds of hell.

Or something like that.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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