When the first Associated Press basketball poll of the season is released later this month, there may not be overwhelming support for any team to start off as No. 1.
If that is the case, itll be a rarity for the nations most prestigious preseason ranking. The media voters on the APs annual panel dont always correctly identify the eventual national champion, but they normally are convinced a prohibitive favorite exists.
Last season that team was North Carolina, which got 62 of 65 preseason votes for No. 1.
Kentucky, which was ranked No. 2 in preseason but without a vote for the top spot, went on to win the title.
In six of the past eight seasons, the Tar Heels, Duke, Kansas or Florida have opened the season with what was perceived as a significant edge over the field.
The 2012-13 preseason poll is expected to be more like the beginning of the 2004-05 and 2007-08 seasons, when three or more teams almost split the No. 1 votes evenly.
Indiana, with several returnees from a 27-9 team that ended last season at No. 16 nationally, probably will start as No. 1 in the AP and most other polls, for that matter.
But fifth-year Hoosier coach Tom Crean has never won a national title and has a fairly pedestrian 7-6 NCAA tournament record even though his 2002-03 Marquette team featuring Dwyane Wade reached the Final Four.
Preseason polls in basketball and football tend to put as much weight on the coach as the talent, meaning Duke (Mike Krzyzewski), UNC (Roy Williams), Louisville (Rick Pitino), Kentucky (John Calipari) and Ohio State (Thad Matta) all are likely to whittle into Indianas vote total.
But its for absolute certain that the Big Ten Conference is long overdue to make some sort of a national splash. The league hasnt produced an NCAA champ since Michigan State in 1999-2000 and before that, Michigan in 1988-89.
Indiana won three titles with Bob Knight as coach, but the last of those was in 1986-87.
These Hoosiers will be led by sophomore center Cody Zeller (brother of former UNC star Tyler) and senior forward Derek Elston (son of UNC player Darrell). At the teams preseason media day last week, Elston basically said he didnt want to start off No. 1.
We still see ourselves as the team that was supposed to be rebuilding and didnt have any respect at all, Elston told reporters.
Odds are, Elston and his teammates will get that distinction. But Elston is smart to look beyond national expectations. Only twice in recent seasons has the No. 1 preseason AP pick won the title Carolina in 2008-09 and Florida in 2006-07.