Once upon a time in a land far away the landscape of college basketball was not as it is now. In those days teams that were ranked in the top five were actually elite programs due to their talent and not simply due to the names on the front of their jersey. Not long ago NBA-talent was the ultimate game changer that made the gap between traditional programs like Kentucky, UNC, Arizona and Duke were significant.
However, due to players leaving early for the NBA Draft these traditionally dominant teams now find themselves among the land of the average fighting for relevance in 2013. A new emphasis on coaching and player development has led to the ascension of programs like Butler, Oregon, Michigan, and Florida. Unable to land the premiere high school recruits these teams have found diamonds in the rough and built a team that has the viable pieces in place to make a legitimate title run.
Although the teams mentioned are not unknowns they have often taken second fiddle to their more well-known bitter in-state or conference rivals (Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona, and Indiana). The gap between these so-called premiere programs has closed and each week we have been given indicators of that fact: Duke losing by 30 to Miami; Butler upset Indiana; Kentucky losing by 12 to Texas A&M.
The lack of elite programs in 2013 brings both a level of uncertainty and excitement to this season. The top 25 rankings goes through a drastic makeover from week to week due to the endless number of upsets. With March Madness little more than a month away 11 teams from the pre-season top 25 are not even ranked anymore, 5 teams have been ranked number 1, and the Kentucky Wildcats may make history by winning a NCAA title one year and missing the tournament all together the following year.
Despite the disappointing start of the traditional powers the start of conference play gives hopes that talk of the demise of their college basketball season was premature. As March Madness grows near the pressure will continue to mount for Florida, Butler, Oregon, and Michigan to sustain their current standard of excellence.