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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)

Looking Forward: Which programs are on the rise as we head into 2016-17?

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, file photo, Wisconsin's Vitto Brown, left, and Bronson Koening laugh during the final seconds of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin won, 79-68. Though he moved on to the NBA long ago, March Madness is also Steph Curry's world now. (AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)
AP Photo/Andy Manis, File
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some programs on the rise heading into next season.

Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams’ second season in Blacksburg proved to be more successful than many expected, as the Hokies won ten ACC games (20 overall) and played in the Postseason NIT. What can they do for an encore? In all honesty the pieces needed for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 are in place, with six of their top seven scorers from a season ago due to return led by forward Zach LeDay and guard Seth Allen. Expecting the Hokies to contend for the ACC title may be a bit much, but it’s fair to expect them to work their way into the Top 25 and the NCAA tournament in 2016-17.

Creighton: The Bluejays, picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll, nearly played its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble thanks to a much-improved big man in Geoffrey Groselle, transfer Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff, and guard Isaiah Zierden. Groselle’s gone, but given the combination of returnees and the addition of former Kansas State guard Marcus Foster the Bluejays could be in line for another leap forward. The key for Greg McDermott’s team will be the return of Watson, who’s going through the NBA Draft evaluation process.

Wisconsin: At one point last season the Badgers were 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play, with it appearing highly unlikely that Greg Gard would have his interim tag removed. But Gard’s team turned things around, winning 22 games and reaching the Sweet 16. Provided Nigel Hayes, who’s currently going through the NBA Draft evaluation process, returns to school the Badgers will be on the short list of Big Ten title contenders. Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ lead four other starters who will be back, and Andy Van Vliet (who the NCAA sidelined for last season) will help in the front court as well.

USC: The Trojans’ progression was a year ahead of schedule, as after producing consecutive 12-win seasons they earned an NCAA tournament berth in Andy Enfield’s third season at the helm. USC does have some questions in the form of guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic both going through the NBA Draft process, but if both return the Trojans will be a contender in the Pac-12. Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are among the returnees for a team that could return five of its six double-digit scorers — Katin Reinhardt being the lone departure — from last season.

UCLA guard Bryce Alford, center, attempts to move the ball past Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, right, as Jamal Murray, left, helps defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
UCLA guard Bryce Alford (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

UCLA: Staying in Los Angeles, this is a big year coming up for Steve Alford. The Bruins were a major disappointment last season, but the combination of some key returnees and a recruiting class led by Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf should propel UCLA back into the Pac-12 and national conversations. Ball should be handed the keys to the show from the start given his abilities at the point, which should result in plentiful scoring opportunities for the likes of Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Thomas Welsh. How good this team can be will depend on two things: how well the pieces mesh, and an improved commitment on the defensive end.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 last season, but the way in which they got there wasn’t what we’ve grown accustomed to with regards to Mark Few’s program as they needed the WCC automatic bid to ensure a spot in the field. Even with the departures of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga has the tools needed to be better in 2016-17, as a backcourt that made strides as the season progressed will be a year older with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson leading the way. Also, Przemek Karnowski will be back on the court after missing last season with a back injury.

Florida State: Leonard Hamilton received some good news, as both Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes decided to return after briefly flirting with the NBA Draft. They’ll be asked to lead the way for a team that adds a solid recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Jonathan Isaac, and putting points on the board won’t be much of an issue. If they can get back to defending at the level we’ve come to expect from Hamilton-coached teams, Florida State can make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

Rhode Island: Dan Hurley’s Rams began the 2015-16 season viewed as a team that could contend in the Atlantic 10. Then the injury bug hit, with E.C. Matthews being lost to a torn ACL and multiple key contributors (including Hassan Martin) missing time throughout the course of the year. URI’s healthy again, and with Four McGlynn being the lone major contributor out of eligibility 2016-17 should see the Rams rebound and make a run at the Atlantic 10 title.

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht to finish his career at rival Big Ten program

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Spike Albrecht’s career isn’t over, as the former Michigan point guard and graduate transfer has committed to play his final season for Big Ten rival Purdue.

“I’ll be playing my 5th year for Purdue University,” Albrecht tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Boiler Up.”

Albrecht’s career has been fascinating to follow. A very lightly recruited high schooler, Albrecht picked Michigan over Appalachian State, playing very limited minutes behind National Player of the Year Trey Burke before popping off for 17 points in the first half of the national title game that season (and launching the greatest heat check in the history of heat checks). He would play a bigger role as a sophomore before averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 assists in 32 minutes as a junior in 2014-15.

But as a senior, Albrecht cut his season short after just a couple of games due to a degenerative issue in his hips. He had surgery on both hips prior to last season and initially announced that his career was over. That changed, but Michigan’s scholarship situation didn’t: They had already recruited someone to take his scholarship after his graduation, so Albrecht was forced to transfer.

Purdue is a good fit for him. He’ll provide veteran leadership on a team with just one other senior on the roster — redshirt junior Basil Smotherman — and he’ll help anchor the point guard spot currently held by junior P.J. Thompson.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.