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College basketball season outlook

Originally published November 12, 2010

It seems like yesterday I was sitting at the top of Lucas Oil Stadium watching the confetti rain down on Duke after they defeated my beloved Butler Bulldogs in the National Championship game.

In fact, it seems so much like it that we’re going to start the 2010-11 season exactly where the 2009-10 ended.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils dodged Cinderella to give the program its fourth National Championship. Coach K secured his legacy among the best coaches of all-time, joining only four coaches in major sports to win four championships since 1990.

This season, Duke begins the year ranked No. 1 in all of the major polls and returns a wealth of talent starting with All-Americans Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, who both avoided the temptation of entering the NBA draft.

Singler and Smith will be joined by incoming freshman guard Kyrie Irving, sophomore transfer Seth Curry and big men Mason and Marshall Plumlee.

Duke is the favorite to repeat again this season with the talent and experience it will bring each and every night.

The team not so fortunate on that April night in Indianapolis was the Butler Bulldogs.

Gordon Hayward’s half court heave at the buzzer nearly banked in, which would have given Cinderella the National Championship and one of the most improbable finishes in the history of college basketball.

As a life-long Butler fan, I can’t help but think what could have been. So does Butler’s coach.

“I think about it every day,” Brad Stevens said. “Every time I see a ball bounce around the rim or go in off the backboard, I think, ‘Why can’t the Lucas Oil backboards be a little softer?’ ”

Gone for the Bulldogs this season is Hayward, who was picked ninth overall by the Utah Jazz in June’s NBA draft. But Butler returns preseason All-American guard Shelvin Mack as well as one of the best defenders in the country in guard Ronald Nored.

Butler begins the season ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

There is no doubt the class of college basketball this year will reside in the Big Ten conference.

The Big Ten begins the year with five teams ranked in the top 25, giving it the most top-25 teams of any conference. The Big Ten has two legitimate title contenders in No. 2-ranked Michigan State and No. 4-ranked Ohio State.

Michigan State is coming off its second consecutive Final Four appearance and returns several impact players from a season ago.

Guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers and forwards Draymond Green and Delvon Roe give the Spartans one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country.

The Spartans are deep, talented, experienced and, most importantly, are led by one of the best coaches in the country in Tom Izzo. They are a threat to win it all and are the favorites to win the Big Ten.

Ohio State may have lost the Player of the Year in Evan Turner, but the Buckeyes return four of their five starters to give OSU one of the best teams in the country this season.

Joining the returning players will be arguably the highest rated recruit in the country last season – Jared Sullinger.

At 6 feet 8 inches and 280 pounds, Sullinger will be ready to contribute right away for the Buckeyes. In Ohio State’s lone exhibition against Walsh, Sullinger had 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Every year college basketball usually provides surprises no one saw coming.

But this season will end exactly the way last season did, with Duke hoisting the trophy for the second consecutive season. Duke has too much talent and experience. Singler and Smith will lead the Blue Devils once again and Coach K will have his fifth National Championship.

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