Hardwood drama returns

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Photo by Brady Lesuer

College basketball can be seen on the horizon. Somehow it has been seven months since the Villanova Wildcats defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels at the buzzer for the NCAA National Championship. One thing is clear: March Madness will never disappoint, but here are a few things to watch for in the months leading up to it.

The Utah Valley University men’s basketball team will prove the media wrong. In the Western Athletic Conference Preseason Media Poll, the Wolverines were picked to finish fifth. Each year a Cinderella team surprises. In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State took down No. 2 seed Michigan State. This year’s Cinderella team could be Utah Valley. With their tough nonconference schedule, experienced coaching staff and more than capable players, the Wolverines could breakout this season. One day to highlight on the calendar is Nov. 11, when UVU travels to Spokane, Washington to take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who are ranked 13th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Matchups with teams like the Bulldogs means the Wolverines will be noticed this season.

Staying in the state, the University of Utah returns just two players from last year’s squad and was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12. However, a manageable nonconference schedule will allow the team to build some chemistry before conference play. The Wolverines will face the Runnin’ Utes in Salt Lake City Dec. 6. Meanwhile, the BYU Cougars will showcase the “Lone Peak Three” of Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Eric Mika for the first time. Utah Valley travels to Provo Nov. 26.

On the national scene it is hard to find a better team on paper than the Duke Blue Devils. With a star-studded roster that includes freshman Frank Jackson, who prepped at Lone Peak High School in Alpine, Utah, the Blue Devils are the favorites to capture their sixth championship in school history. Familiar faces will challenge the Blue Devils for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, Villanova and Kentucky all have stellar lineups comprised of mostly freshmen. With a number of teams having youngsters play major minutes, experienced head coaches will once again have a major role this season.

As a bonus to hoops fans across Utah, the NCAA Tournament will once again make its way to Salt Lake City when Vivint Smart Home Arena will hosts the opening weekend games of the tournament.

Although the real excitement and drama of college basketball does not completely come into play until March, fans across the nation will have plenty to cheer about this season.