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Friday, August 22, 2014 | Last updated: 10:45am

Three traditional men's basketball powers make their way to the top



In the last few years, the Arizona, UCLA and Indiana basketball programs have been a shell of their former selves, at least in terms of the expectations that go with being three of the most storied programs in college basketball.

This year, though, all three look to be returning to top-notch basketball, and their simultaneous revivals couldn’t be better for the sport.

The three programs are all consensus top-20 teams entering the 2012-2013 season, with the Hoosiers taking the No. 1 overall spot in the Sporting News preseason poll and Arizona and UCLA placing eighth and 11th, respectively.

The teams’ hiatus from basketball royalty haven’t been the identical to each other or even long, considering UCLA made its last of three straight Final Fours in 2008. And yes, Arizona was a shot away from the Final Four two years ago, and Indiana made the Sweet Sixteen last year, but ever since the retirements of hall-of-fame coaches Bob Knight and Lute Olson and the early departures of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, the quality of the three blueblood programs has been a far cry from their heyday.

Unlike college football, where the continual dominance of certain teams — SEC, please stand up — can get frustrating for casual fans and neutral observers, basketball is at its best when history’s greats are right where they should be.

Not only can front-runners and bandwagoners rejoice this season, but even real fans of the sport can appreciate seeing schools like Indiana, Kentucky and UCLA on the national ticker. This isn’t just because it’s enjoyable to see the Goliaths fall, but the level of play increases when the traditional powers reign supreme.

Ever since the NBA instituted its requirement for players to stay a minimum of one year in college, the parity in basketball has become more prevalent. Instead of having powerhouse programs with four-year All-Americans, the top schools are recruiting one-and-done phenoms, giving schools like Butler the chance to make it to two straight national championships.

The reemergence of Arizona and UCLA doesn’t necessarily mean the concentration of power will increase, or the level of play will improve, but at least the Pac-12 should finally have teams garnering national attention.

The typically big recruiting classes from prestigious teams are finally coming to fruition this season and that concentration of talent at the top is refreshing.

Even though some Arizona fans are hoping for UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson to receive season-long suspensions due to reported recruiting violations — paving the way for the Wildcats to easily stroll to the Pac-12 crown — that’s not what anyone should want. Guaranteed championships don’t exist, anyway.

Time and time again, sports have proven to be at their best and most fun when classic rivalries are at their best. Watching two heavyweights like Arizona and UCLA battle it out for conference supremacy should inspire classic nostalgia and make the basketball traditionalists quiver with excitement.

Not all is perfect, as stubbornness ruined the 42-year tradition of the Indiana-Kentucky and took away the premier game of the season. Still, fans can look forward to the blueblood battle between North Carolina and Indiana in late November and the conference play in the Pac-12 might finally be tolerable again.

A concentration of power isn’t always a good thing in sports, but with the nature of college basketball, nothing makes for a better regular season than historic programs one-uping each other all year long. And don’t worry, you lovers of parity, the basketball season doesn’t end with a BCS-inspired beauty contest. Even if the storied teams take the top seeds, the Cinderellas still have a chance to take home the nation’s top prize.

— Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at
sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or via Twitter @KyleJohnsonUA


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