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College basketball is going to get weird

Get ready for one of the weirdest seasons yet. With this upcoming year of college basketball, there’s just no other way to put it.

2010-2011 was the year of the mid-major, of VCU and Butler (again), and last season was all about Kentucky’s revamped Fab Five, but 2012-2013 lacks that same definition.

Is it the year tradition returns with revitalized programs at UCLA and Indiana? Will John Calipari add another layer of cement to his recruiting legacy? Or will it be the year of “together”?

The ACC is a microcosm of what’s going on nationwide—a wide-open, four-horse race at the top with even more question marks in the rest of the pack. Precocious freshmen will carry the load at North Carolina and N.C. State, an unlikely inside-out combo could bring Maryland back to national relevance, and Miami, picked fifth in the conference preseason poll, just lost an exhibition to a Division II squad.

It’s too early to start looking for answers, so here are the most important questions in preparation for opening night—starting with what faces Duke.

  1. Is Duke basketball really “together”?

Nobody uses cliched sports motivational tactics quite as well as Coach K. From the team’s introduction at Countdown to Craziness to their interactions with the media, the Blue Devils are making every effort to put last year’s chemistry problems behind them. The departure of Austin Rivers is no cure-all by any means, but it certainly makes it easier for Coach K to work his magic.

  1. Will the Blue Devils play defense?

I’m of the mind that Duke’s defensive problems last year were in part related to the chemistry issues. More importantly, Ken Pomeroy and other statisticians have written off 2011-2012 as an anomaly. In honor of Nate Silver’s presidential election performance, I’ll take their word for it.

  1. Will UNC East be better than UNC West?

Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker make a UCLA roster already full of Tar Heel castoffs near the top of all the preseason polls. Larry Drew II will fit better in Ben Howland’s half-court offense than he did running and gunning for Roy Williams and the Wear twins are talented enough to own the Pac-12, but there are still lots of question marks in Pasadena—including whether Muhammad will even be eligible. UNC East is short four starters from last season, but there’s a bevy of McDonald’s All-Americans ready to replace them. My pick? East. Who knows when the NCAA will finally get around to letting Muhammad play?

  1. Can Dez Wells make the ACC a five-horse race?

In a rare showing of human understanding and fairness, the NCAA granted Dez Wells’ appeal to play immediately at Maryland. Granted, the decision came on the same day that two Indiana freshmen were suspended for taking “benefits” from their legal guardian, but baby steps I guess. Wells will pair up with immensely talented post player Alex Len to form one of the conference’s best duos. The Terrapins’ fate will rest in how the rest of the team responds.

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