Every day, I will give a new reason to be pumped for the upcoming college basketball season. Here's the 71st reason to be excited for college basketball season.
Every year, there's a team that exceeds all expectations and becomes one of the premier teams in the country.
Drake did it in 2008. They went 17-15 in 2007 and then 28-5 in 2008. They were widely considered one of the worst teams in the Missouri Valley and then promptly won the conference.
In 2007, Butler was coming off a solid 20-win season, but to start the 2007 season, the Bulldogs went on one of the most ridiculous runs. They took down power-conference team after power-conference team on the way to a preseason NIT title.
And, of course, in 2006, George Mason made probably the most unexpected run by a Cinderella in all of NCAA history, until Fresno State's recent College World Series title.
So, in 2008, who's going to take the title of the unknown Cinderella? Who will take the title for mid-major program that 90 percent of America can't identify its location on a map?
There are several candidates out there, some with experience in March, while some will truly come out of nowhere.
The Belmont Bruins jump out as a team that could make some noise during the regular season and potentially in the first round of the tournament. They've made three NCAA tournaments in the last seven years and bring back four starters that played key roles in the Bruins' last-second loss to Duke in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
Belmont loses its leading scorer, but brings back its next four best players. Two new freshmen, Brandon Baker and Drew Hanlen, will also improve the Bruins.
What Belmont doesn't have going for them is the low RPI they are destined to have after playing a full conference schedule in the Atlantic Sun conference. They are almost guaranteed to get a 15 or 16 seed, no matter what they do, unless the Bruins knock off a top-tier team during the non-conference slate.
Utah, once basked in glory during the 1990s, a run that ended in a national-title game loss to Kentucky in 1998.
In 2008, the Utes finished 18-15 and under .500 in the conference, but what Utah does have going for them is the return of all five starters. Utah has those wonderful buzzwords: senior leadership. Shaun Green and Lawrence Borha both started throughout the 2008 season and return for 2009 as seniors.
Coach Jim Boylen also has one of the best players in the conference, as well as the tallest in 7'1'' center Luke Nevill. He could be one of those unknown players the country falls in love with come March. Nevill also projects to potentially be a first-round pick in the 2009 draft.
The University of Alabama-Birmingham could finally challenge Memphis for Conference USA supremacy. UAB features a trio of very dangerous players that could give the Tigers fits.
When Robert Vaden pulled his name out of the draft, UAB got one of the most explosive players in the country. He repeatedly took over games and sent teams scurrying out of the gym with devastating losses (go ask Kentucky what they think of Vaden).
On top of Vaden, UAB features Paul Delaney, who returns for a fifth and final season after blowing out his knee four games into the 2008 campaign. He averaged 15.5 points in 2007 and will be a very nice compliment to Vaden.
The wild card to UAB's success will be a player I watched tear my alma mater apart in high school. Terrence Roderick reportedly barely graduated from William Allen High School in 2006 and fell off the national basketball radar when he went to a year of prep school before transferring to UAB.
Long story short, he got his grades up and is now a member of the Blazers. He's a great talent (11th best prep-school recruit) and could contribute immediately.
So, reason number 71 to be pumped for the College Basketball season is the emergence of a new Cinderella that will capture the hearts of millions in March.