The men’s college basketball season is underway, and so we turned to our college hoops guy, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports.
BL: It would take hours to sort out all of the winners and losers in the realignment sweepstakes, but which college programs will be the biggest winners and losers as a result of the changes taking place earlier this year?
PF: Well, I think I look at the new Big East and the catholic schools that stopped being dragged around by their ears by their football playing brethren and told what to do and reestablished their identities as a basketball league with peer teams, and so I think you look at Marquette, and Seton Hall, St. John’s, and the schools that upgraded into that league: Creighton, Xavier, Butler — which of course is the non-catholic school there, but for them, I think it’s a great league and a great opportunity to kind of be where they should be.
BL: The realignment has killed some of the classic rivalries, but it will create others. Are there new rivalries that you are most looking forward to?
PF: Yeah, I want to see Syracuse play the Tobacco Road schools. And I would like to be around for the kind of out-of-body experience of Jim Boeheim going to like Clemson or Tallahassee. I’m not sure he would know what to do without an overcoat in February and going to some of these places. He will be his usual joyful self, complaining every minute of the way, but I do want to see him play Duke and North Carolina. The ACC, well we may not be able to recognize it geographically, the basketball is just going to be fantastic.
BL: The ever-humble John Calipari stated in early October that one of his life’s goals is to coach a team to an undefeated season. Does he do it this time around?
PF: Has anyone done that since 1976? Bob Knight 1976 last time! Yeah, it’s not going to happen. It’s ridiculous. I think for anybody to go 40-0 is a long shot. For a team of freshmen, no matter how talented, to go 40-0 is crazy. There’s just too many variables there in terms of maturity, and chemistry, and leadership. They could very well be the best team in the country, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be the undefeated team. I also don’t think it would be very good for a team of 18-year-olds to take the pressure of an undefeated season into the NCAA tournament. I think that would guarantee them an added burden that would not be good for them.
BL: I wonder what went through the head of Louisville coach Rick Pitino when he heard John Calipari say he’d very much like to go undefeated?
PF: I sure he said, “Let’s see if we can end that train on Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena when Louisville plays Kentucky.” Those two guys have well chronicled and poorly concealed disdain for each other no matter what they say. They love to beat each other. They love to tweak each other publicly. I think there would be nothing that Rick Pitino would like more –other than repeating his national title — to go into Rupp Arena and beat John Calipari. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it should be quite a game. I think those probably are the two best teams in the country going into the year.
BL: It’s early of course for picks, but we like to torture the Only A Game regulars. Care to float a prediction about a 2014 champion for us?
PF: You know I think it’s probably Kentucky or Louisville. For the third straight year the state of Kentucky should win the national championship. Kentucky has the most talent. Louisville has the most returning experience from a really good team. Michigan State is also very good and brings back everybody, but they were a significant cut below Louisville last year. I think Duke is going to be very good. Kansas with Andrew Wiggins and all the young talent there. Arizona as well. But I think your champion is going to be either Kentucky or Louisville.