60 things we’re looking forward to this season

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It’s finally here!

As of noon on Friday, college basketball season will have officially begun, which more or less means that November 9th is Christmas morning for everyone that writes (and, hopefully, reads) this site.

So without further ado, here are the 60 things that we’re looking forward to the most this season. Feel free to add any and everything you’re looking forward to in the comments. We’ll be reading them!

  1. Kentucky vs. Louisville. (Each and every one of us)
  2. The bewildered look on the faces of Missouri superfans when they get a load of Big Blue Nation. (EA)
  3. The Interlude Dance. (RD)
  4. The carrot cake at Madison Square Garden. (TM)
  5. The Pac-12 fighting for national respect. (RJ)
  6. Utah State fans proving that they deserve to be rescued from the wreckage of the USS WAC. (EA)
  7. KFC Yum! full of dead-eyed, staring Cardinal masks. (EA)
  8. The Mark Turgeon-John Calipari postgame handshake on Nov. 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Will the Harrison twins be watching? (DM)
  9. Jeff Withey going for the especially elusive points/rebounds/blocks triple double. (EA)
  10. Chris Mack getting so desperate for bench depth that he holds sack races on consecutive Thursdays for two roster spots for Xavier students. (DH)
  11. Rick Pitino announcing he will be cryogenicly frozen after death and will remain on the Louisville sideline, posthumously. (DH)
  12. RUSS. FREAKIN’. SMITH. (RD)
  13. College pep band battles. Sometimes they’re better than the games themselves. (DH)
  14. Gameday at NC State, who is looking for its first ACC regular season title since 1989. (EA)
  15. Vegas in March. WCC, Mountain West, Pac-12 and WAC all having their conference tournaments there. (RJ)
  16. Pouring out some liquor for the WAC on the Vegas strip. (RD)
  17. Indiana fans NOT storming the floor because they’re receiving external validation again. (EA)
  18. The sights and sounds at the arena 30 minutes before tip-off. (TM)
  19. Late-night West Coast tip-offs. Nothing better on a Thursday night than some 11:45PM WCC action. (TM)
  20. Small conference postseason tournaments. One bid, no mercy. (DH)
  21. Multi-screen Saturday afternoons. (TM)
  22. Is it out of the question for WKU’s Big Red and Syracuse’s Otto the Orange to have a no-holds-barred MMA fight? Because I’d be really, really excited to see that. (EA)
  23. The top five of the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State, Nevada). (RJ)
  24. The top six in the Atlantic 10 (St. Joe’s, VCU, Butler, UMass, Temple, St. Louis). (RD)
  25. All of us tweeting pics of our snacks and energy drinks for the 24-hour college hoops marathon. (RJ)
  26. Richmond vs. VCU twice and possibly three times this season. (EA)
  27. Lehigh vs. Bucknell. Two times guaranteed, and probably a third meeting in the Patriot League title game. (RJ)
  28. Isaiah Canaan and Murray State vs. Kerron Johnson and Belmont. (RJ)
  29. Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino both said the other was “full of s—“ at Big East media day. They’ll settle the score on Jan. 19. (DM)
  30. What will Seton Hall do without the theatrics of Mr. Peter Dill? (DM)
  31. The ridiculous colors that apparel companies can come up for specialty uniforms. (RD)
  32. The chronic hand pains associated with remote control over-usage. (TM)
  33. The melodious tones of ESPN’s College Hoops intro music. (TM)
  34. Bill Raftery’s jibberish. (RD)
  35. The Programming: Big Monday, Holiday Hoops Week, Rivalry Week, Campus Connection Week, Gutcheck Saturday, BracketBusters, Championship Week. (TM)
  36. The feeling you get when you peruse a Summit League box score. (TM)
  37. Mike Wilder and his All-Conference afro. Best.Afro.Ever. (TM)
  38. Rotnei Clarke’s impeccably manicured faux-hawk . (RD)
  39. The throbbing veins in Frank Martin’s neck. (EA)
  40. Gyratin’ Jimmy Patsos. (EA)
  41. Buzz Williams’ sideline antics. You know he’s good for a handful of entertaining moments. (TM)
  42. San Diego State’s attempt to cement itself as the best team in SoCal when they get USC and UCLA the same week. (RJ)
  43. Steve Masiello’s quest to lead Manhattan to the NCAA tournament. (RJ)
  44. Minnesota’s potential to be a factor in the Big Ten race, provided everyone stays out of trouble. (RJ)
  45. How Saint Louis responds without Rick Majerus on the sidelines and with PG Kwamain Mitchell missing time. (DM)
  46. The visible frustration experienced by an offensive player trying to escape Aaron Craft. (EA)
  47. Can Michigan regain this swagger? (DM)
  48. The mini-NCAA Tournament….I mean, The Battle for Atlantis. (DH)
  49. The resurrection of the complete Tobacco Road Rivalry. (DH)
  50. Can Drexel finally win the CAA? Haven’t gone dancing since Malik Rose was running things in Philadelphia. (RJ)
  51. Kevin Ollie’s quest to “take the stairs” when his AD put him a situation that’s tough. (RJ)
  52. Shaka Smart unleashing “havoc” on the A-10. (DM)
  53. The Big Sky debut of the North Dakota Human Beings. (EA)
  54. Larry Brown is in his first year at SMU. He helped changed their image on the recruiting front, but can he win in year one? (DM)
  55. The St. Joe’s hawk flapping and flapping and flapping in the limelight again. (EA)
  56. Nate Wolters ability to fill up a stat sheet. (DH)
  57. The evolution of Ryan Harrow. (DH)
  58. How all those transfers blend in at Missouri. (DH)
  59. Old school Big 12 fans screaming in terror when the WVU mountain man fires his flintlock
    indoors. (EA)
  60. Bo Ryan slowing things down even more at Wisconsin while breaking in a couple of inexperienced point guards. (EA)

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.