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Saturday / December 3.

Hoops ‘Fervor’ Rising as Indiana, Louisville & Kentucky Poised to Contend for NCAA Title

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C.Rick Pitino is excited for the upcoming basketball season and not just because his Louisville Cardinals should be the favorite to win the Big East Conference.

Pitino knows that Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky — traditional basketball rivals all located within a few hours of one another — could all contend for an NCAA championship.

According to The Sporting News preseason rankings, Indiana is No. 1, Louisville No. 3 and Kentucky No. 5 (UCLA is No. 2 and Ohio State is No. 4).

“In our region, basketball’s really come back in a big way with Indiana, Kentucky and us,” Pitino told SNY.tv. “It’s been a while since all three have been there so it’s really picked up the fervor of basketball. Basketball is very big in Kentucky and Indiana anyway.”

A year ago, of course, Kentucky beat Louisville in the Final Four in New Orleans en route to the first NCAA title of coach John Calipari’s career.

Kentucky sent six players to the NBA Draft, including the top two picks in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, yet Calipari has brought in another elite recruiting class led by Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress.

Indiana, meantime, returns sophomore forward Cody Zeller, who would’ve been a lottery pick had he come out, and brings in a strong recruiting class of its own led by Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea.

“We got five recruits,” Indiana coach Tom Crean told SNY.tv at the Peach Jam. “Yogi Ferrell is the highest-ranked along with Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea. and I would expect all three of those guys are going to have an impact.”

Crean, whose team beat then-No. 1 Kentucky, 73-72 last December in Bloomington on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Christian Watford, believes Indiana will be ready to challenge at the very top this year.

“If you look at paper that’s the way basketball history has really been in that part of the country and now we’re finally a part of it because we got our progam back up to where it can be in the same conversation with those programs [Kentucky and Louisville] and I think that’s a really good thing,” Crean said.

Indiana won’t play Kentucky this season because the series was discontinued, which is too bad for basketball fans in general and the fans of those programs.

“We’re not playing Kentucky because the series is dropped now because we couldn’t come to an agreement on where the games would be played moving forward. so hopefully that will change some day,” Crean said.

Still, Crean knows the passion for all three schools will be stirred up even more this year if they all battle for Final Four berths.

“I think it means so much because the energy of the fan bases and the passion of the fan bases, you can’t quantify how strong that is,” he said. “It doubles, triples, quadruples because people are so passionate about their schools in that area.

“And it’s not like you can love one and like a couple others. It’s a big love/hate relationship going there.”

Louisville, meantime, returns Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear from its Big East Tournament championship team and adds  George Mason transfer Luke Hancock.

“If we could match last year’s attitude, we’ll be very good,” Pitino said. “But that’s always a big question. We were very humble, very hungry to get it done. If we have those same ingredients, we’ll be very good.”

The 6-11 Dieng could well be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

“I think he’s the premier shot-blocker in college basketball, I really do,” Pitino said.

“He’s really learned the American game of how to block shots, how to stay down and he’s a very, very intelligent person. He’s much more intelligent than most kids. He speaks more languages, he picks everything up right away.”

Pitino called Blackshear a “tough kid,” who doesn’t back down to too many people.

The 6-6 Hancock is a wing whom Pitino called “maybe our best and smartest basketball player…He’s going to add another dimension to our team as well.”

Despite his abundance of riches, Pitino is not looking ahead to March during the summer.

“It’s every coach’s team to try and get back [to a Final Four], but the one thing I don’t do and have never done, is I never plan for March in November or December,” Pitino said.

While Indiana and Kentucky don’t play, Louisville and Kentucky play each other every year.

Kentucky lost some veteran leadership with Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones now in the NBA.

They will rely heavily on the new group of freshmen, along with a pair of former N.C. State players, point guard Ryan Harrow and shooting guard Julius Mayes.

 “I’ve got an all new team again,” Calipari told Andy Katz of ESPN. “I have Ryan Harrow, a veteran point guard for the first time in a long time and he’s a very good player. He’s really playing well. And we’ve got Julius Mays coming in as a senior who’s going to play for us. We’re going to be young, but we’re going to be young every year. We’re going to start three, maybe four freshmen again this year. But we don’t have excuses. This is who we are. This is how young we are.

“You think anybody is feeling sorry for us that we lost everybody? It’s like, ‘This is our time to beat Kentucky.’ But I’m telling you, I’m going to have a good team again. Now, will they be as good a team as we just had? I don’t know. We weren’t very good early in the year last year if you remember and then by the end of the year we were like really, really good. This year’s team will have to do the same.”

Assuming Noel is cleared academically, which Calipari expects he will, all three teams — Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville — could be really good.

And that could make for a special year in college basketball.

“I think it’s great for the fans,” Pitino said. “It’s great for our area, it really buiilds big-time interest in college basketball.”

***

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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.

Latest comments

  • Looks like the East coast writers got exposed again.

    No one believe in kensucky.
    Noel “Spoon-Feeder” is really not the No1 player. Maybe No.100.

    Thus, kentucky is not even a Top20 team.
    West is laughing.

    West has ucla as No.20.
    Shabazz not cleared by ncaa.
    how many games will him miss? 10+

  • The west is a joke!!

    Sun rises in EAST!!

    National champs from EAST.
    The west no Champs.
    west no likey EAST.

    When was last title for west? 15yrs?? LOL
    Jessie wasn’t born yet. Hahaha
    No title for Jessie to remember. 🙁

    Such douchebaggery from west.
    Only way to get attention is to wish east would fall.
    Keep wishing little one.

    One day son, the sun will surely rise in west.

  • broooooo….where’s FearTheFog? havent seen you on here in awhile broo… you kickin’ in the “sunny” climate in seattle bro?? drinkin beers on your boat in the lake? brooooo…..

  • I have kensucky with a ZERO chance of winning the title.

    ZERO chance.

    West coast not sleeping.
    Noel looks like a 2013 player.
    He is no where near a Top50 player.

    Can not believe how Noel people were fooled into going in 2012. He is clearly not ready. Not even close.

    Money over the player.
    –Parents,friends should be ashamed.

  • wow sounds like noel is terrible! cool…guess he will stick around for the 2013 year then. that will be fun. andrew harrison, aaron harrison, wiggins, randle, noel.

    40-0???

  • Haha I don’t know BC, Noel is pretty shitty, so 40 might be a little far fetched.

  • No BJ, “pretty shitty” was the title of Zona’s DVD they made to commemorate their run to the NIT.

  • Sarcasm darth cal.
    Arizona has 1 nit appearance in last 50 years.
    I can remember at least 3 times in last ten years UK being in nit.
    Only DVD I got is 97 championship game.
    Arizona beat UK remember? Were u born yet?

  • I like how you guys talk like these players have commited to UK.
    We got Harrison twins, wiggans, randle, Parker , young ….etc

  • and i think some non uk fans think uk will just randomly not get elite recruits. despite 4 years of top classes, elite recruits will just go other places.

    right now i wouldnt trade uk’s position with wiggins, the twins and young with any other team. young’s situation could change depending when wiggins reclassifies. but young is deciding soon, wiggins wont officially be in the 2013 until next spring. so young could be on board already.

    plus being the 6th man still gets you to the NBA if you play for cal. every starter and every 6th man has gotten drafted.

  • Don’t disagree with a lot if that, but at the end of the day they have no commits.
    Of course they will land a nice class, but we still haven’t seen freshman play yet. Nobody is a top pick until they perform at the college level. I don’t see Goodwin or poythress being a one and done. Not to say they can’t be, but if these guys are around for soph season, some UK recruits would look elsewhere.

  • it would probably be worse for the rest of the nation if goodwin and poythress play a 2nd year for cal.

  • Hey UofABJob, Kentucky has been to one nit in the last twenty five years and we have clearly dominated college basketball the last twenty years OVERALL! We have had our down years due to poor hires like Tubby and Billy Clyde but we finally got it right.

    Arizona is an ok program that owes everything to Lute Olson. Congrats on your one and only 97 title that is a result of an injured Derek Anderson. What the hell, we won it in 96 then again in 98 so no big deal.

    Calipari will get whoever he needs and Poythress will be one of the top 5 best players in the country this year. Mark it down. Kentucky basketball exudes talent so just turn off the tv because you are going to hate what you see….

  • I was at the 97 title game and I told all you Zona fans to savor the victory and thank the Gods above that DA was injured!

    the 98 title was much more sweet!

  • i think a few programs could have a say or 2 about “dominating” college basketball the last 20 years overall. i wouldn’t go that far, but it’s your world

  • I’d say duke has had most impact in last 20 years easy.
    And I’m not a duke fan.

    If we didn’t beat UK in 97 we’d still b hearing UK fans talkin 3 peat , lol.

    No Derek Anderson ? Really, Arizona had 3-4 guards on roster better than him.
    We actually had no 1 team in 98 but lost a classic battle to Keith van horn and Andre miller led Utah. National runners up.

  • First, Keith Vanhorn was not on the 98 Utah team that knocked off Zona in the Final 8. Second, Derek Anderson would have shut down Simon more than likely from those easy shots he was getting.
    That 97 Zona team was good but like other programs were just a flash-in-the-pan compared to Kentucky.
    I thought the 01 Zona team was better. Unfortunately for Kentucky, we had a bumbling fool running the program steadily into the ground after the 98 title!
    This decade is starting off much better!

  • Tubby was not as bad as you guys make him out to be. Gillespie, now that was a different story. If it wasn’t for Cal UK would still be rebuilding.

  • Story On espn insider saying nerlens Noel’s game not matching up with hype.