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2012-13 men's college basketball preview

Times staff writer Greg Auman previews the men's college basketball season:

Five players to watch

1. Cody Zeller 7-0 C, Indiana

Here's that rare chip on the shoulder when a player misses being a unanimous preseason All-American by a single vote. By all accounts, the postseason vote won't be so divided. You know you've arrived in Indiana basketball when rival fans set up fake Twitter accounts for you, like @thebighandsome.

2. Nerlens Noel 6-10 F, Kentucky

From John Calipari's national title in New Orleans to his next great phenom. Last year's national high school player of the year won't turn 19 until two days after the national title game in Atlanta. He averaged 3.9 blocks as a high school senior in Massachusetts. Calipari will soon celebrate the final home game with "Freshman Day" to honor stars departing for the NBA draft.

3. Deshaun Thomas 6-7 F, Ohio State

Here's a Hoosier who got away from his home state after being Indiana Mr. Basketball 2010. He had the highest scoring average in last year's NCAA Tournament at 19.2 points per game. Though he's from Fort Wayne, expect a big deal when Ohio State plays in Bloomington on March 5 in a late-season showdown.

4. Isaiah Canaan 6-0 G, Murray State

He's prolific on Twitter, with more than 25,000 tweets @SiP03, and he's as dangerous on the court, having topped 30 points four times as a junior. He went 4-for-17 from the field in a second-round loss to Marquette, so this will be a motivated Racer leading the mid-major charge.

5. Shabazz Muhammad 6-6 G/F, UCLA

The coveted freshman might be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, but he's still waiting to hear from the NCAA if he's eligible to play this season. He and freshman point guard Kyle Anderson could be Ben Howland's return to the spotlight; if they're both on board, the Bruins become the team to beat in the Pac-12.

Five teams to watch

1. Indiana: Cody Zeller has two brothers in the NBA in former UNC star Tyler and Notre Dame's Luke, but the 7-footer could trump both this season as a potential national player of the year. Tom Crean's seniors — yes, they still exist in college basketball — such as Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls went 10-21 as freshmen and 12-20 as sophomores, but their experience is why Indiana will be even better than last year's 27-9 mark. Crean beat No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State last year as a precursor to this year's high expectations.

2. Louisville: Rick Pitino just got a five-year extension and gets his last battle with Syracuse's Jim Boeheim as a Big East rival. Center Gorgui Dieng is a game-changing defensive presence, and 6-0 point guard Peyton Siva is a third-year starter with plenty of options. Russ Smith is the top returning scorer, but watch out for sophomore Wayne Blackshear.

3. Kentucky: John Calipari has another stellar recruiting class of future one-and-done phenoms — the new names to learn are 6-10 Nerlens Noel, 6-7 Alex Poythress and 6-5 Archie Goodwin, all top-20 national recruits. Is it fair to ask Noel to be this year's Anthony Davis? Cal has shown he can forge chemistry quick, though he might not have six NBA draft picks on this roster.

4. Michigan: You'll feel old watching second-generation phenoms such as freshman forward Glenn Robinson III and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., and the star is sophomore Trey Burke of, yes, Columbus, Ohio. John Beilein's team was upset in the NCAA Tournament but can improve on last year's 24 wins and Big Ten regular-season title.

5. N.C. State: By now you've probably heard that the Wolfpack ranked ahead of ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since David Thompson's heyday in 1975. Former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried took N.C. State to the Sweet 16 and has four starters back, led by 6-9 junior forward C.J. Leslie.

Coming up

Previews this week:

Tuesday: USF

Wednesday: Florida State

Thursday: Florida

2012-13 men's college basketball preview 11/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 3, 2012 5:31pm]
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