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The 2011-12 season is here! The 2011-12 season is here!


Mike Miller

Enjoy this season college hoops fans. You may not see this many sophomore stars again for some time.

The ancillary benefit of the NBA’s lockout has been well-documented, but it’s worth repeating as college hoops’ 2011-12 season opens today – future stars stayed in school.

Some, like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, might’ve returned regardless of a looming NBA work stoppage. But others such as North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes surely recognized the added benefit from another year in school while others sit, wondering if they’ll play.

The biggest names may not stay all four years anymore, but another year of shining stars is enough to give college fans a little extra smile. I’m in that camp. So is ESPN analyst Fran Frachilla.

“They’ve got one foot out the door the moment they arrive,” Fraschilla told the Washington Post. “I think it’s going to enrich the enjoyment of watching college basketball [this season] because we felt like we watched Bobby Hurley grow up over four seasons. Those days will never return, but there’s another layer to college basketball this season because some of these stars are returning. It was fun to watch John Wall for one season, but not as much fun as watching Jared Sullinger for two.”

Not everyone stuck around. Kansas, Texas and much of the Pac-12 would’ve benefitted by having their studs stick around. But for now, we’ll enjoy the likes of Sullinger, Barnes and Baylor’s Perry Jones killing it as sophomores.

And after that? Well, there’s more. (And I’m talking about goodies not included here.)

-- Barnes’ Tar Heels are the favorites to win the title, but don’t expect much chatter about them going unbeaten. Yes, they’re stacked, but so is their schedule.

-- Syracuse and Pitt are ready to bolt the Big East, though it’s unclear when that’ll be, exactly. And with the conference poised to add more teams in hopes of avoiding collapsing, this is one of the last season’s in which we’ll see a monstrous leagues stocked with elite programs.

-- Once again, there are plenty of fabulous freshmen to watch, starting with John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are three of the best around, but don’t overlook UConn’s Andre Drummond, Duke’s Austin Rivers, Florida’a Brad Beal and Oklahoma State’s LeBryan Nash.

-- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is two wins shy of tying Bob Knight’s D-I men’s record. The Nov. 15 game against Michigan State might be the moment.

-- And what about Butler? The Bulldogs have been to back-to-back national title games, but are rebuilding a bit. They lost an exhibition game to a D-II school last week, yet something tells me not to count out Brad Stevens’ squad….

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