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)

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.

Svi Mykhailiuk drops 20 pounds, makes weird Kansas roster even weirder

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Kansas is a weird team this season.

They’re talented, they’re probably going to win the Big 12 again and I fully expect them to be in the national title picture come March, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re … weird.

25 percent of their scholarship players are transfers sitting out the year. That doesn’t include Sam Cunliffe, who won’t be eligible until December. So that’s unusual, as is the fact that Bill Self, a coach that had steadfastly remained dedicated to playing two big men together despite the gradual shift to small-ball, has three big men on his roster in total.

One of those three is Mitch Lightfoot, which means that there are just two big men on the roster that a potential Final Four team should feel comfortable having as a major part of their rotation. That would be sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston.

That makes it seem pretty clear that the Jayhawks will be going with another small-ball look, just as they did last season, right? But they don’t really have a piece to replace Josh Jackson, who was a perfect fit as a college four in a small-ball lineup. He was a natural wing that was athletic enough to block shots and tough enough to battle bigs on the glass.

So who plays that role this season?

Some thought it could be Svi Mykhailiuk, the 20-year old Ukranian senior, but he’s never really been that guy. Oh, and he just so happened to lose 20 pounds this offseason.

“I’m trying to stay light-weight this year, so it’s going to help me a lot,” Mykhailiuk told the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m faster with the light weight. I’m more athletic. It just helps me overall in the game.”

Which means … what, exactly?

Losing 20 pounds isn’t exactly going to help a player that has some question marks about his toughness and physicality battle with college fours in the paint. Does it mean he’ll be playing more on the wing? If so, who plays at the four? Will LaGerald Vick — all six feet, five inches and 175 pounds — be playing in the Josh Jackson role?

Or is Self going to use Preston as his new Perry Ellis, hoping that this five-star freshman becomes what his last five-star four-man — Carlton Bragg — never could?

My guess is that it will likely end up being all of the above, depending on matchups.

But it doesn’t make the Jayhawks’ weird roster any clearer.

Four-star forward commits to Wake Forest

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Danny Manning added another four-star recruit to his 2018 recruiting class.

Isaiah Mucius, a 6-foot-7 forward, committed to Wake Forest on Monday evening, giving the Demon Deacons another top-rated prospect alongside top-25 prospect Jaylen Hoard in 2018.

“I’d like to thank my family and my friends for having my back throughout all the tough times and good times,” Mucius said in a social media post. “I’d like to thank all the college coaches that recruited me through this process and believed in me and my talents.

“I’ll be attending Wake Forest University.”

Mucius, a consensus top-100 recruit, visited Wake Forest, which he visited this past weekend, over Xavier, which he visited earlier this month. The Brewster Academy product also had offers from the likes of Connecticut, Minnesota and LSU, among others.

Manning’s 2018 class now includes Mucius, three-star guard Sharone White and Hoard, a 6-foot-8 four-star forward who committed to the Demon Deacons last month.

“I am trying to win an NCAA Championship,” Mucius told Scout.com, “and I think having Jaylen (Hoard) on the wing with me, and we are trying to help get a point guard, and I think we can win a championship.”

Rhode Island staffer arrested at team facility

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A Rhode Island staffer has been placed on administrative after an arrest last week stemming from an incident at the team’s facility, according to reports.

Tyron Boswell, who joined Rhode Island last season as the director of operations, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, following a verbal altercation with police, according to WPRI-TV in Providence.

From the police report, according to WPRI:

“Officers working a concert detail at the Ryan Center Thursday night responded to a reported fight in a men’s bathroom involving members of the basketball team. While trying to break up the disturbance, officers said Boswell started yelling and swearing at them. The officers told Boswell to leave, but said he kept yelling as he walked out of the bathroom.

Officers said Boswell’s outbursts agitated the crowd that had gathered outside the bathroom. Seeing that he was not going to leave peacefully, officers said they decided to place Boswell under arrest. However, police said Boswell kept yelling and struggled with officers as they put him in handcuffs and led him out of the building.”

Boswell was placed on administrative leave by the university.

“The University cannot comment further on the circumstances of the arrest, other individuals named in the arrest report or the details included in the arrest report until the investigation of the situation is complete,” a spokesperson for Rhode Island said in a statement. “The University is cooperating with the South Kingstown Police Department for the investigation.”

Boswell joined Rhode Island last year after previously being the director of operations for the grassroots program Expressions Elite. He reportedly was promoted to assistant coach at Rhode Island this year, according to Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports. He remains listed as the director of operations on Rhode Island’s roster.

At Harvard, education through athletics (and vice-versa)

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — When Harvard sophomore Seth Towns awoke in his riverside dorm room Wednesday morning, he had options.

He could work out at the gym to prepare for the upcoming Ivy League basketball season. He could slog downstairs for another dining hall breakfast with his roommates. Or he could head over to Harvard Square to eat instead with civil rights activist Harry Edwards, sportscaster James Brown, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and philosopher Cornel West.

Towns chose to stretch his mind instead of his muscles.

“It’s the kind of thing you come to Harvard for,” the 6-foot-7 forward for the Crimson basketball team said. “Growing up, I would have never thought that I’d have these people to look up to and talk to. I’m just acting as a sponge, and taking it all in.”

At a monthly event dubbed the “Breakfast Club,” tucked away in the private dining room of a Harvard Square hotel restaurant, Towns and senior Chris Egi joined coach Tommy Amaker this week to mingle with a few dozen leaders in the city’s financial, political and intellectual communities.

Later that afternoon, Edwards spoke to the whole basketball team about a life at the intersection of sports and activism, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith — not to mention Malcolm X — to Colin Kaepernick.

Amaker arranged the talk for a simple but somewhat quaint reason: As long as his paycheck comes from Harvard, he plans to take his role as an educator seriously.

“We’re teaching, we’re engaging, we’re exposing. We’re hopefully enlightening,” Amaker said. “I’m not sure how much they know about Dr. Harry Edwards. But we’re going to give them an education about that. I promise you that.”

The oldest and most prestigious university in the United States, Harvard has produced more than its share of U.S. presidents and Nobel laureates, along with national champions in sports like hockey and crew. But the highlight of the athletic year has always been the football team’s century-old rivalry with Yale known as The Game.

The Crimson basketball team had never won an Ivy League title, beaten a ranked team or cracked The Associated Press Top 25 before Amaker arrived in 2007. But the former Duke point guard, who previously coached at Seton Hall and Michigan, knew he had something else going for him.

“How amazingly powerful the brand and the calling card of Harvard is,” he said. “It’s a powerful pull.”

While other schools built barbershops or miniature golf courses for their athletes, Amaker name-dropped Harvard’s academic credentials to attract top talent, landing a 2016 recruiting class that was ranked in the top 10 nationally — unheard-of for an Ivy school. He has also used it to lure politicians, Hall of Fame basketball players and coaches, and business and thought leaders to speak to his players on issues more important than bounce passes or boxing out.

“I tell them, ‘You’ll forever be able to say you lectured at Harvard,'” he said, half-joking. “They all like that.”

Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke to the team last year, two weeks before the presidential election — not about his basketball records or titles, but about the rising tide of racism that concerned him. Edwards’ talk on Wednesday put Kaepernick’s national anthem protest in the context of athlete activism over the decades.

Amaker also shuttles his team to local plays with social justice themes. At an annual “Faculty, Food and Fellowship” dinner, they might hear from a cabinet secretary, a presidential candidate or a dean. And the Breakfast Club allows them to connect with prominent Bostonians and others with Harvard ties, many of them African-American.

“Their motivation is the full-rounded commitment to the people who play ball for them,” said Clifford Alexander, who played freshman basketball at Harvard and went on to serve as the first black Secretary of the Army.

“(Amaker) does not think that just because you can shoot and pass, that’s the end of his responsibility,” he said. “If you can find three other places in the country where the football or basketball team gets that kind of talk, I’ll buy you dinner.”

At last week’s breakfast, Towns sat down to eggs and French toast served family style a few seats away from orthopedic surgeon Gus White, the first black graduate of Stanford’s medical school, who this June gave the commencement address there 56 years after he spoke at his own graduation.

To Brown, the arrangement was a formula for success: “The teams I’ve seen that are successful are a mix of veterans and younger players,” he said.

Along with Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, Amaker started the Breakfast Club as a sort of “kitchen cabinet” of advisers when he first arrived on campus as the only black head coach among Harvard’s 32 varsity teams.

But Amaker has also turned the mostly — but not entirely — African-American gathering into a network for his players, inviting them to meet potential mentors in law and business and medicine and politics, as well as authors and occasionally an athlete with something interesting to say.

“It’s one thing to read about riding a bicycle or swimming. It’s another thing to get in the pool,” Edwards told the group last week. Towns watched the luminaries file out after breakfast and said: “I’m in the pool right now.”

Then-Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas spoke last year, and two Massachusetts governors have dropped by the gathering. Egi said he met a professor at the Breakfast Club that led to an independent study and a research project that is now in its second year.

“Just being exposed to people who’ve done important things, and getting to hear about their life stories — it’s an inspiration,” the senior forward from Canada said.

And that, Amaker said, pays off on the court.

Too often, he said, colleges are forced into a false choice between education and athletics, between grades and winning games. But creating well-rounded, thinking citizens also makes them better players, he said.

“This isn’t something that’s happened because we’ve won a few games,” Amaker said. “I’m saying to you: This is how we won those games.”

And the wins have come.

In Amaker’s tenure, the school earned the first five Ivy League titles in its history, making four trips to the NCAA tournament and twice advancing as a double-digit seed. Harvard grad Jeremy Lin became an NBA star (though somewhat meteorically).

Amaker himself now occupies an endowed coaching position and is a special assistant to Harvard President Drew Faust. The school’s basketball arena, first built in 1926, is being renovated at a cost of $12 million, according to the architectural firm.

More importantly, there are off-the-court success stories, too.

Corbin Miller, who came to Harvard from Utah, said a faculty talk with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen led him to a tech startup where he’s worked since graduating last spring.

Like Towns, he had options.

“You could kind of look around and see that each person in there had been affected in there in a pretty deep way,” Miller said. “Apart from the athletics and apart from the academics, it was a life lesson. It’s really a setup for the rest of your life, whether it’s basketball immediately after or not.”

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