North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Kentucky coach John Calipari and Ohio State coach Thad Matta owe a debt a gratitude to the NBA. Because without the ongoing labor dispute, the coaches likely would have less star power on their teams, currently ranked first, second and third, respectively.
Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes was projected to be a top three pick, had he entered the draft last summer. Teammates John Henson, a junior, and Tyler Zeller, a senior, would have been first-round selections. The same is true for Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones and Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger.
Barnes, Jones and Sullinger joined UConn's Jeremy Lamb on the Associated Press preseason All-America team, marking the first time that four sophomores were selected. They're among other prime-time players who decided that another season on campus was better than gambling on the NBA's uncertainy.
Michigan State faced Carolina Friday night on the USS Carl Vinson — the first college basketball game played on an aircraft carrier — as the season got under way in earnest. The setting for other games won't be nearly as spectacular. But college hoops will have basketball's spotlight to itself until Dec. 15, at the very least, or the entire season if the NBA mess continues much longer.
Diehard NBA fans won't magically convert into college-hoop aficionados just because the pros are sidelined. The style of play and the aesthetics are dramatically different, creating considerable distance between the camps' most ardent followers.
Those who swear by one and curse the other will continue to do so.
However, the NBA void gives college basketball an opportunity to attract fans who don't tune in until March Madness. And what they'll see is a half-dozen traditional powers with stocked rosters and realistic title hopes. UConn, Syracuse and Duke follow the aforementioned top three, creating a veritable who's who of NCAA royalty.
Now that the NBA lockout has increased the talent level, college basketball is primed to grab more attention.