So is this 2012 or the late 1980s?
Fans from a quarter-century ago would certainly recognize this year's contenders
When the college basketball season opens Friday, No. 1 Indiana will take the court in Bloomington wearing pinstripe pants.
In other parts of the country, schools such as Michigan, UNLV and North Carolina State have realistic hopes of a return to the Final Four. Rick Pitino, Larry Brown, Danny Manning and Johnny Dawkins should find their way into the headlines throughout the season, too.
No, this isn't the late 1980s.
But it sure feels like it.
With opening day inching closer and closer, college hoops seems to be taking on a retro feel. "What's Old is New" could be the slogan for the 2012-13 campaign. Many of the faces and programs that dominated the game a quarter-century ago are back at the top of the rankings, poised for another run. Three programs in this year's preseason top five -- Indiana, Louisville and Michigan -- won their last national title in the second half of the '80s. Add Kansas to the mix and all four champions from 1986 to '89 find themselves in this year's top seven.
Looking for a microcosm of this "What's Old is New" theme? Look no further than the 1987 Final Four. Indiana won the title that year and enters this season ranked No. 1. Syracuse, the team the Hoosiers defeated in the final, is a top-10 squad with the same coach (Jim Boeheim). The expectations at UNLV are higher than they've been in 20 years. And Pitino, who led Providence to the Final Four that season, is now at second-ranked Louisville, while his former Friars guard (Billy Donovan) is gunning for his third national title as the coach at No. 10 Florida.
Those won't be the only familiar faces you'll see.
Three consensus members of the 1986 All-America team are now head coaches. Steve Alford (at Indiana in '86) has things rolling at New Mexico, Dawkins (Duke) is hoping to get Stanford back to the NCAA tournament, and Manning (Kansas) is preparing for his first season at Tulsa. Heck, even Manning's coach from KU's 1988 championship squad is in the mix, as Brown is the new coach at SMU.
This certainly isn't a bad thing, as the late 1980s provided scores of fond memories and images from one of the most exciting periods in the game's history: Jerry Tarkanian gnawing on his towel at UNLV, Keith Smart's game-winning jumper in Indiana's 1987 NCAA title game victory, NC State's Jim Valvano coaching his tail off in Raleigh, N.C.
Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Lute Olson made their first Final Four appearances during that four-year stretch and have since become legends. Other than a few minimal dips, their programs -- Syracuse, Duke and Arizona -- have maintained their spot among college's basketball elite for the past 25 years. This season will be no different. Same for Kansas, which has appeared in 23 straight NCAA tournaments and won eight consecutive Big 12 titles.
Other teams are back in the Final Four hunt after an extended hiatus. Coaching changes, NCAA sanctions and other factors caused schools such as Michigan, UNLV, Indiana and NC State to have their struggles in the 1990s and 2000s, but all are back on solid ground.
Here's a look at nine prominent programs from the late 1980s that are ranked among the top 20 in the 2012-13 preseason AP poll:
Why they loved the late '80s: Bob Knight flung a chair across the court in 1985. "A Season on the Brink," one of the best-selling sports books of all time, debuted in 1986. And who could forget what happened a year later, when Smart's jumper with 5 seconds remaining lifted Indiana to a 74-73 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA title game. Not many programs commanded attention quite like the Hoosiers and Knight, their intimidating coach who won three national championships in Bloomington but appeared in just one Final Four after 1987.
Why they'll love this season: The Hoosiers enter 2012-13 with a No. 1 ranking, a national player of the year candidate (Cody Zeller) and a point guard with the name Yogi Ferrell. Seriously, what's not to like about this season's squad? Indiana fans are among the most passionate in the country, but their love affair with this team could be extra intense considering the grit and determination the Hoosiers displayed during tough times. IU won six, 10 and 12 games during coach Tom Crean's first three seasons, but folks in Bloomington were understanding and patient. Their reward will come soon.
Why they loved the late '80s: Much like their star "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison, the Cardinals and their supporters oozed confidence during Denny Crum's tenure as head coach. Louisville had already won an NCAA title and made two Final Four runs under Crum prior to 1986, when Ellison led his squad to a 62-59 victory over Duke in the NCAA title game. Ellison became just the second freshman to be named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four. Louisville would not reach college basketball's final weekend again until 2005.
Why they'll love this season: If any team can make a case for being ranked ahead of Indiana, it's the No. 2 Cardinals. Rick Pitino's squad returns every key piece of last season's Final Four team, and sophomores such as Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware should be significantly improved from last season. Louisville touts the preseason Big East Player of the Year, point guard Peyton Siva, along with standout transfer Luke Hancock (George Mason). Mix in a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline, and the potential for this team is limitless.
Why they loved the late '80s: Before they were infected by Fab Five fever, Michigan fans worshipped players such as Rumeal Robinson, Glen Rice, Gary Grant and anyone else who helped the program average 25 wins under Bill Frieder from 1984-89. The highlight came when the Wolverines topped Seton Hall in overtime for the 1989 NCAA championship with an interim coach on the sideline. Steve Fisher took over after Frieder announced a few days before the tournament that he was leaving to take the head-coaching position at Arizona State. Fisher, who currently has San Diego State in the preseason top 20, led Michigan to two more title games, losing each time.
Why they'll love this season: Michigan, which missed the NCAA tournament each year from 1999 to 2008, hasn't had a team this talented in two decades. Point guard Trey Burke is a preseason All-American, Tim Hardaway Jr. averaged 14.6 points a game last season, and 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman Mitch McGary should have an immediate impact along with fellow freshman Glenn Robinson Jr. Just as important is the man standing on the sideline. Now in his sixth season in Ann Arbor, John Beilein has a roster full of players who understand and embrace his system. Beilein is one of the top game tacticians in college basketball, which is just another reason the Wolverines are a Final Four favorite.
NC STATE WOLFPACK
Why they loved the late '80s: Jim Valvano racing across the court to celebrate NC State's 1983 NCAA title is one of the most famous images in college basketball history. But the fun didn't end there. The Wolfpack reached the Elite Eight in 1985 and 1986 thanks to players such as Vinny Del Negro. One year later, NC State won the ACC tournament -- a feat the program hasn't repeated since. Valvano's squad also captured the league's regular-season title in 1988-89 behind Rodney Monroe, Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani. The Pack hasn't won one since.
Why they'll love this season: NC State squeaked into the NCAA tournament last spring and capitalized by advancing to the Sweet 16, nearly upsetting Kansas. Virtually every key player from that team returns, including future NBA draft picks C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown. Second-year coach Mark Gottfried signed one of the country's top recruiting classes, led by guard Rodney Purvis. As a result, State is the ACC preseason favorite for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Why they loved the late '80s: The thought of Kansas winning a national title doesn't sound all that far-fetched these days, but it was certainly fitting in 1988 when people started using "Danny and the Miracles" to describe the championship squad coached by future Hall of Famer Larry Brown. The Jayhawks entered the NCAA tournament toting 11 losses and a No. 6 seed, but Manning averaged 27.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in the tournament. He scored 31 points and snared 18 boards in the title game victory over Oklahoma.
Why they'll love this season: Kansas lost its top two players (Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson) from last season's NCAA runner-up squad, but that didn't stop voters from ranking them No. 7 in the preseason poll. The Jayhawks lack depth at point guard, but they have one of the nation's top shot-blockers in the paint, Jeff Withey. KU has won eight straight Big 12 championships under coach Bill Self and will no doubt be motivated to keep the streak alive in 2013.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Why they loved the late '80s: Mike Krzyzewski has advanced to 11 Final Fours during his tenure in Durham, and the first one came in 1986, when the Blue Devils fell to Louisville in the NCAA title game. Duke won the ACC regular-season championship that season and appeared in two more Final Fours before the end of the decade (and five straight from 1988 to 1992). It was the beginning of golden era of Duke basketball, and it has yet to end.
Why they'll love this season: The eighth-ranked Blue Devils may not look like NCAA title contenders. Heck, they're not even favored in their own league. But with Krzyzewski on the sideline and players such as Mason Plumlee still on the roster, Duke will be a threat to beat anyone. The Devils will also be playing with a little extra fire following last season's NCAA tournament loss to No. 15-seed Lehigh.
Why they loved the late '80s: Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim reached the Final Four for the first time in 1987 with a team that featured Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman. Even though they lost to Indiana 74-73 on Keith Smart's shot in the waning seconds, the appearance on college basketball's biggest stage enhanced the profile of the program and Boeheim, who eventually won an NCAA title in 2003.
Why they'll love this season: Brandon Triche is the only returning starter, but Syracuse had so much depth and talent last season that players such as Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and James Southerland should do fine in expanded roles. Freshmen Jerami Grant and DaJuan Coleman will have to be significant factors if Boeheim's squad -- ranked ninth nationally by The Associated Press -- hopes to top Louisville in the Big East title race.
Why they loved the late '80s: When Lute Olson took over Arizona's program in 1983, he held public scrimmages in high school gyms and walked around with a bullhorn, shouting at fans. "You better get your tickets while you still can," he'd say. "It won't be long until we're the hottest ticket in town." The Wildcats were certainly that in 1988, when players such as Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr led Arizona to its first Final Four. The Wildcats lost to fellow 1-seed Oklahoma, but Olson eventually got his NCAA title when Zona defeated Kentucky for the championship in 1997.
Why they'll love this season: After missing the NCAA tournament two of the past three seasons, Arizona appears poised to contend for both a Pac-12 and an NCAA championship in 2013. Freshmen such as Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley headline one of the nation's top recruiting classes. How they and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons mesh with veterans such as Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom will be key.
UNLV RUNNIN' REBELS
Why they loved the late '80s: Not many teams in history -- outside the ones in Vegas a few years later -- have been as dominant as UNLV in 1986-87. Coach Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels ended the regular season with just one loss and a No. 1 national ranking. Led by players such as Armen Gilliam, Freddie Banks and Jarvis Basnight, UNLV reached the Final Four for the second time under Tarkanian but fell to eventual champion Indiana in the semifinal. UNLV finished 37-2 and elevated expectations for future teams in Sin City.
Why they'll love this season: Coach Dave Rice, a UNLV alum who played for Tarkanian, has helped regenerate interest and buzz about the team in Vegas, where formerly disgruntled fans are beginning to hop back on board. The Rebels should challenge San Diego State for the Mountain West title, and they open the season in the top 20 for the first time since starting the 1990-91 season No. 1. A march to the Final Four is certainly a possibility with a roster that features All-America candidate Mike Moser, Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch and highly touted freshman Anthony Bennett.
Some of these programs wandered in the desert for parts of the past 25 years. Others used the late 1980s as a springboard to greater success. Whatever the case, it certainly was a special time for all the aforementioned schools.
And this season could be as well.
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