Men's Basketball

Mark Story: 2012-13 could top last season for compelling hoops drama

Murray State's Isaiah Canaan averaged 19 points a game and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range in leading the Racers to last season's NCAA round of 32.
Murray State's Isaiah Canaan averaged 19 points a game and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range in leading the Racers to last season's NCAA round of 32. ASSOCIATED PRESS

For the state of Kentucky, the 2011-12 college basketball season yielded a finish for the ages.

Four men's teams from the commonwealth — Kentucky, Louisville, Murray State and Western Kentucky — won NCAA Tournament games.

Three Kentucky teams — UK, U of L and Murray — reached the round of 32.

Two Kentucky teams — UK and U of L — advanced to the Final Four.

One Kentucky team — I'm guessing you recall which one — cut down the nets as the national champion.

The upcoming college hoops season will have to produce something truly special to come close to last year.

Thing is, it just might.

Here are 10 story lines that promise to make 2012-13 college hoops — men's and women's — boffo entertainment.

'Flat Top' replaces 'Unibrow'

All Anthony Davis did in his one-and-done season at Kentucky was help the Cats to an undefeated SEC regular season, sweep the national player of the year awards, lead UK to its first NCAA title since 1998, become the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft and win an Olympics gold medal with the U.S. men's hoops team.

As John Calipari has said over and over, it is totally unrealistic to expect Nerlens Noel, the five-star center prospect expected to be this year's one-and-done Kentucky star, to live up to that standard. Can Noel play well enough, however, that he and his throwback flat-top haircut create their own identity?

'Unforgettable' hire

Donnie Tyndall took Morehead State men's basketball to its greatest heights (including two NCAA tournaments in three years), then parlayed his success into the Southern Mississippi coaching job. In an attempt to keep the momentum going, Morehead turned to former Kentucky point guard Sean Woods. For his first season at MSU, Woods promises to play at a frenetic pace on both ends of the court. In an increasingly strong OVC, can Woods keep the Eagles in flight?

NKU makes D-I debut

After the commonwealth went decades with six NCAA Division I basketball teams, it will have seven in 2012-13. Long a Division II power, Northern Kentucky is making the transition into D-I and is part of the Atlantic Sun Conference. However a Norse men's roster led by former Kentucky high school stars Ethan Faulkner (Elliott County) and Chad Jackson (Scott County) fares, there will be no trip to the NCAA Tournament. As part of the transition process, NKU is not eligible to participate in the Big Dance until the 2016-17 season.

UK, U of L women in Final 4?

Last season, the Cats and Cards advanced to the men's Final Four in the same season for only the second time (1975) ever. They could both do it again this year, of course, but it's also possible that the Kentucky and Louisville women will pull off the Final Four double.

Matthew Mitchell's Cats and Jeff Walz's Cards will both start the season ranked in the top 10, are both led by veteran star guards (UK's A'dia Mathies and U of L's Shoni Schimmel) and both have rosters capable of going at least 10 deep with talent.

Peyton's place

In his final go-around as Louisville point guard, senior Peyton Siva will be out to prove that nice guys finish first. Late in his junior season, Siva put things together, earning Big East Tournament MVP honors, then directing U of L to its first Final Four since 2005. This year, with a deep and talented roster around him, Siva is the quarterback of a team expected to make a serious run at U of L's first NCAA title since 1986.

Harper's second act

After Ken McDonald was fired mid-season, Ray Harper took over as Western Kentucky men's hoops coach and led one of 2011-12's great Cinderella stories. With a freshman-heavy roster, Harper's Hilltoppers (16-19) swept through the Sun Belt Tournament, made a miracle rally to defeat Mississippi Valley State in the NCAA Tournament and gave a respectable showing before falling to eventual champion Kentucky.

This year, Harper will be without last season's star frosh, Derrick Gordon, who transferred to Massachusetts. But a WKU team featuring sophomores George Fant (10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds) and T.J. Price (21 points against UK in NCAAs) has a chance to make more March magic.

A prophet Isaiah?

Murray State star senior guard Isaiah Canaan could have entered his name in last season's NBA Draft. Instead, he chose to try to be the nation's top college guard and lead Murray to its first-ever NCAA Tournament round of 16. With three starters gone from the team that went 31-2 last season in Steve Prohm's debut as Murray head coach, can Canaan lead the Racers into the OVC winner's circle one final time?

A'dia's Triple Crown?

Last season, Darius Miller added the 2012 NCAA title to the boys' state championship and Mr. Basketball honors he won at Mason County in 2008. Miller was the first men's player to achieve the "triple crown of Kentucky basketball" while playing for UK and only the second ever (Darrell Griffith).

This season, another UK senior who wears No. 1 has a shot at "the triple." A'dia Mathies won the high school state title and Miss Basketball honors for Iroquois in 2009. She needs an NCAA ring to join Lisa Harrison and Ukari Figgs on the list of women from Kentucky who have hit the "Triple Crown."

A 'double' for Ricky P?

After surviving an off-the-court personal scandal and two straight NCAA Tournament first-round exits, Rick Pitino led U of L to a feel-good Final Four run in 2012. Now, Ricky P has what appears to be the deepest and most talented roster he's had in his 12 years as Louisville's coach.

The man who led Kentucky to the 1996 NCAA title has a viable chance to do something no other men's head coach has ever done: Win an NCAA basketball championship for two different schools.

Kentucky's encore

After leading UK to its eighth NCAA title, John Calipari saw his top six scorers selected in the 2012 NBA Draft. That means Kentucky's title defense will be unlike any other in its history, with the Cats essentially starting over with an (almost) all-new team.

If Calipari can coax a third-straight Final Four trip out of a nucleus of four true freshmen, two transfers and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, it might be the most impressive coaching achievement yet in his Kentucky tenure.

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