After a couple of years of upstarts pushing through to college basketball’s final weekend, programs that historically have known the way arrived at New Orleans: Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF | THE KANSAS CITY STAR
But there were surprises along the way, teams and players.
A freshman, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, has won nearly every award for national player of the year.
A team with a new coach that lost its top post player to a season-ending injury before the first tipoff, Missouri, had perhaps its greatest regular season.
The overwhelming preseason favorite? North Carolina didn’t make the Final Four, grounded when its most valuable player, point guard Kendall Marshall, suffered a fractured wrist in an early NCAA Tournament game.
And who knew that a No. 15 seed had as much chance of winning a first game in this year’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed?
Here’s the scoreboard for the 2011-12 season, with an emphasis on madness.
Biggest surprises, regular season
• Murray State: Racers got to February undefeated with takedowns of Memphis and Dayton.
• Missouri: New coach Frank Haith, who lost a key player in Laurence Bowers, didn’t stop Tigers from winning 30.
• Wichita State: The Shockers received no preseason poll votes and wound up dominating the Missouri Valley.
Biggest disappointments, regular season
• The Pac-12: Take a bow. When your regular-season champion (Washington) doesn’t receive an at-large bid, ugh.
• Texas A&M: Injuries plunged the co-Big 12 favorite to ninth place.
• Connecticut: Huskies were supposed to battle Syracuse for Big East supremacy. Only Orange held up bargain.
• The No. 15 seeds: Something that had happened only four times in 27 years happened twice in a matter of hours in March. No. 15 seed Norfolk State pulled off a shocking upset over Big 12 champion and second-seeded Missouri. A little later, another No. 15 seed, Lehigh, took down perennial power and second-seeded Duke.
• The comeback kids: Kansas reached the championship game for the first time since 2008 because it refused to lose. In three games, the Jayhawks trailed by double digits: by 11 against Purdue in the round of 32; by 10 against North Carolina State in the Sweet 16; and by 13 to Ohio State in the national semifinals. KU roared back in all three games but couldn’t do it again in the title game against Kentucky.
• Anthony Davis’ excellence: He’s being called the best NBA prospect since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1997.
Joakim Noah All-America team
If the All-America team were selected after the NCAA Tournament, it would often look different from the one where votes are counted after the regular season — like in 2006, when Joakim Noah led Florida to the first of its back-to-back NCAA titles without making an All-America team.
But this year, the stars of the regular season carried their excellence into the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team that includes games played from November through April.
• Anthony Davis, Kentucky
• Thomas Robinson, Kansas
• Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
• Draymond Green, Michigan State
(Note: only Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t a consensus All-American)
Early top 10 for 2012-13
The most useless projection endeavor in all of sports is the college basketball preseason top 10 before knowing the path of the game’s top underclassmen. Yet, we endeavor. Here’s a shot based on who we think may be back, and recruiting classes:
• 1. Kentucky
• 2. Indiana
• 3. Baylor
• 4. Ohio State
• 5. North Carolina
• 6. Syracuse
• 7. Louisville
• 8. Kansas
• 9. Michigan
• 10. Creighton
Milestone NCAA Tournament in 2013
The NCAA will celebrate the 75th NCAA Tournament next season with a big gala planned for the Final Four in Atlanta. Here’s where the games will be played next year:
• March 19-20: Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
Second, third rounds
• March 21, 23: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.
• March 21, 23: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
• March 21, 23: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
• March 21, 23: HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.
• March 22, 24: Sprint Center, Kansas City
• March 22, 24: Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
• March 22, 24: Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
• March 22, 24: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
• March 28, 30: West Regional at Staples Center, Los Angeles
• March 28, 30: East Regional, TBA
• March 29, 31: South Regional at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
• March 29, 31: Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
• April 6, 8: Georgia Dome, Atlanta