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Dark Days, But Light Ahead

Written by Nate Friedman
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 These are the dark days.

In a normal year, mid-July is when you start getting excited again for football. ESPN’s Around the Horn and PTI are dominated by training-camp talk and preseason rankings.

But not this year. This year we hear about squabbling over shares of a billion dollars, a number so large that you and I can’t even comprehend it. This year we hear about injunctions and lockouts and magistrates and decertification.

In a normal year, the recently-crowned NBA champions are still riding a glow of success, while the quickly-approaching free agency period generates buzz of major trades.

But not this year. This year we hear Kevin Durant proclaim, “We’re not going to give in.” We hear about a lockout that could dwarf the NFL’s in size. We hear about players and owners arguing over the same unquantifiably huge numbers; we hear about David Stern (which is never a good thing).

In a normal year, baseball… well, actually, I hate baseball, so I won’t even comment except to say that the lead article on ESPN today is how strikeouts are dominating the game. Pitching is so good that 99% of a game is a snoozefest of strikes and spit, especially when unchecked by an HGH Hulk facing him down. When the Washington Nationals are over .500, baseball has a serious mediocrity problem.

But you know what? I don’t need the NBA to be around to enjoy my sports season, and the NFL lockout seems to be on the brink of resolution. There’s a much brighter star on the horizon come fall, and that’s college basketball.

The college basketball world this season is likely to be dominated by three or four teams: UNC, Kentucky, Ohio State, and maybe Duke if you want to make a stretch of it. What else is new, right? But this year is different. This year boasts incredible talent returning for sophomore, junior, and senior seasons; this year promises epic battles between traditional powers and even a game on an aircraft carrier. Most importantly, the high caliber of returning players means the quality of play this year at the elite leagues will be much higher than usual.

At Ohio State, freshman All-American Jared Sullinger opted to return for his sophomore season after a monster first-year campaign. His return makes Ohio State a juggernaut likely to dominate the Big Ten.

John Calipari’s Kentucky squad boasts at least four likely NBA draft picks next year – DeAndre Liggins, Doron Lamb, Anthony Davis, and Terrence Jones. With Kentucky, there’s also an element of yearly intrigue… will this be the year that the NCAA finally catches Cheatin’ Cal?

Okay, cheap shot there.

Finally, UNC returns Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller, along with sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall. This same group made a run to the Elite 8 last year, ultimately losing to Kentucky.

With nonconference matchups between Kentucky and UNC, Ohio State and Duke, and a host of other high-profile games, this fall and winter will be a great time to sit back and pretend to enjoy amateurism at its finest.

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