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Monday, November 7, 2011
What the experts are looking forward to

By ESPN.com staff

Madison Square Garden
The Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden is one thing several of our experts are looking forward to this season.
Dana O’Neil wrote about the top 25 things she’s looking forward to this season. Now the rest of our experts weigh in with their selections.

Stephen Bardo: I'm looking forward to seeing if the trend of mid-major teams advancing deep into the NCAA tournament continues. We've seen Butler, VCU, and George Mason crash the Final Four in recent seasons. This season should have more mid-majors capable of surprise runs, including Belmont, Creighton, Drexel, Fairfield, Harvard and Wichita State.

Jay Bilas: The Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. This could be the last season of the Big East as, hands down, the best conference in the country. Before West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and perhaps others bolt the league, the last Big East tourney with all of the participants will bring great drama -- and some tears. Things change, but I will miss the Big East tournament.

Eamonn Brennan: The upheaval in the Big Ten. We know Ohio State is the league's best team, and you can bank on Jordan Taylor and the ever-steady Wisconsin Badgers pushing the Buckeyes at the top of the conference. But after those two, the league is more unpredictable than any time in recent memory. Will Michigan State bounce back? Will a retooled Illinois team emerge? Can Indiana fight out of the cellar? Will Northwestern finally make the tournament? Where's Michigan's ceiling? Can an experienced Nebraska team make an impact? The search for answers to those questions -- and many more -- begins this week.

Fran Fraschilla: Madison Square Garden in March. Sadly, I am looking forward to watching the final Big East tournament as I’ve known it. Regardless of how conference realignment turns out, there will never be another 30-year period in a college basketball conference like we’ve seen in the Big East. UConn’s five-day run through the tournament last March was emblematic of the type of excitement we expected in New York. From Ewing to Mullin to Pearl to Ray Allen to Gerry and Kemba, it’s never going to be the same.

John Gasaway: The last (real) Big East tournament. I'm as realistic and progressive as the next guy. I don't fear change, and there's no doubt in my mind the ACC will be a much better basketball conference once Syracuse and Pitt join it next season. But for the past couple of decades, the Big East tournament has had something that -- to be quite honest -- no other major-conference tournament has had. And with the league losing programs like Syracuse and Pitt (and West Virginia to the Big 12), that "something" is about to disappear. But not before we enjoy one last good old-fashioned Big East tournament, March 6-10, at the Garden. It’s as if someone said this will be the last season we play football on Thanksgiving. I'll see you at the Garden in March.

Sullinger
The Buckeyes are expecting big things from Jared Sullinger this season.
Doug Gottlieb: Legit big men in the college game. Having a wealth of young and experienced big men make the games more balanced and better to watch. Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, Joshua Smith, the Plumlee brothers, Thomas Robinson, Quincy Acy, Harper Kamp, Aziz N'Diaye, Derrick Nix, Alex Oriakhi and Festus Ezeli are just a few names you will hear about this season. With overall point guard play being down -- in terms of transcendent lead guards -- the focus on size and improving skill will be refreshing. Add to that list, several new talents like Anthony Davis, Cody Zeller and even Andre Drummond, all of whom are very confident and maybe more comfortable on the floor, the intrigue grows. The closer we get to conference play and postseason play, the games generally slow down and become half-court affairs. Expect these big men to become huge storylines this season.

Andy Katz: How does North Carolina handle the expectation of being No. 1? Will Kentucky be able to mesh a talented roster yet again with a new point guard? What are the chances Connecticut can repeat behind the newcomer Drummond? Will this finally be the season that Xavier or Gonzaga break through to the Final Four? But more than anything, I’m looking forward to seeing how Creighton, New Mexico, Wichita State, Drexel, Detroit and others develop over the course of the season. We’ve been spoiled with Butler and VCU in March. Can we possibly get another sleeper in 2012?

Jason King: Conference races. North Carolina seems like a shoo-in to win the ACC, but the other Big Six leagues are intriguing. Kentucky, Vanderbilt or Florida in the SEC? Kansas or Baylor in the Big 12? Connecticut, Syracuse, Louisville or Pittsburgh in the Big East? Ohio State or Wisconsin in the Big Ten? Cal, UCLA, Arizona or Washington in the Pac-12? And I haven’t even mentioned darkhorses such as Marquette, Texas A&M, Alabama and Oregon. As much as I love the NCAA tournament, I’m more impressed with teams that emerge as league champions after a brutal 16-to-18-game stretch of games.

Diamond Leung: I'm most looking forward to seeing how teams coming off conference championships last season do in the underdog role. Inexperienced Kansas, the perennial favorite in the Big 12, shares the coaches’ preseason top spot with Texas A&M. In the Big East, Pittsburgh has defending national champion UConn and Syracuse to contend with. Florida lost its starting frontcourt, while Kentucky is getting all the preseason hype in the SEC. Arizona no longer has Derrick Williams and will rely on freshmen for production. San Diego State and Utah State only return one starter each. How will these championship-caliber teams from past seasons respond now?

Joe Lunardi: I can't wait for a reprieve, however temporary, from the stories of realignment and greed in college athletics. It's been a miserable offseason on so many fronts, but we may have a season for the ages once the games begin. Take the three superpowers at the top of the rankings -- Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State -- along with the last true Big East season we'll ever see, and it's going to be a battle royal for No. 1 seeds and the Final Four.

Myron Medcalf: I'm most looking forward to watching the race in the Big 12. Kansas has dominated the league for years. And Bill Self will find a way to keep the Jayhawks in the mix. But they'll have to get past a talented Baylor squad. Missouri is also dangerous, and Texas A&M will be tough, too. Those are the teams we're talking about now. Iowa State features a bunch of guys who've been off the grid for a few years. But Royce White & Co. certainly possess the mojo to make a lot of noise in the league. This season, the Big 12 is must-see TV.

Miles Simon: The thing that I am most looking forward to is watching all the super sophomores that came back to school. The trend with the one-and-done-rule has been for players to leave for the NBA -- whether they were ready or not. Now this season, I get to see elite level players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb compete for the national title. All of these players passed up big money for the love of their school, coaches and teammates. Having coached in college, I also believe the biggest growth in a player’s game comes between their freshman and sophomore seasons (i.e. Derrick Williams for Arizona last season). If these guys produce like I think they will, college basketball will be unbelievable in 2011-12.

Dick Vitale: I always look forward to seeing the diaper dandies, and there is a great crop coming in this season. Kentucky has Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. I cannot wait to see Andre Drummond in the middle for Connecticut. Austin Rivers will have an instant impact, and the Dukie fans will love him. I also want to see if North Carolina can live up to its hype. Hall of Famer Roy Williams loves the challenge. Look what he did in 2005 and 2009.

Jay Williams: I’m looking forward to watching UNC handle the pressure of starting the season at No. 1 and trying to finish as a national champion. Having the most talent doesn't always translate to winning a title. Questions for the Tar Heels revolve around consistent outside shooting and who handles the point guard spot if foul trouble or injury occurs to Kendall Marshall?