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)
  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)

Bill Self’s least impressive Kansas team is 40 minutes away from the Final Four

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OMAHA, Neb. — Kansas is vulnerable, exploitable and limited. The Jayhawks have no depth, are without a superstar and possess a middling defense.

They are Bill Self’s worst team.

And they have won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and are a win away from the Final Four.

The Jayhawks shrugged off some late sluggishness to dispatch No. 5 Clemson 80-76 on Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal at CenturyLink Center to put themselves in the Elite Eight for the third-consecutive year with a date with Duke on Sunday.

This year has often been about what this Kansas team couldn’t do after the losses of Frank Mason and Josh Jackson and then the ineligibility of Billy Preston. Early-season losses to Washington and Arizona State, the latter at the usually impregnable Allen Fieldhouse, were the proof this Kansas team might finally be the one not to win a Big 12 title. Then Texas Tech beat the hell out of them in Lawrence and it looked like the streak was on its way to over.

Devonte Graham was a poor imitation of Mason.  Svi Mykhailiuk was too timid and inconsistent. Udoka Azubuike was foul-prone and unproven. The supporting cast was a rung or two lower than a team with national-championship aspirations could carry.

Those problems are real. Those issues are troublesome. Those deficiencies are critical.

In spite of it all, Kansas won the Big 12 by two games, ripped through the conference tournament and are on the doorstep of playing for a national championship.

Bill Self’s worst team has a chance to be the country’s best.

“I’m so proud of our team because I think of all the teams that we’ve had here, this would be the team that everyone would have thought would not be in this game,” Self said Friday. “And so, hey, we’re in this game. We’ve got a legitimate shot to go to San Antonio.

“You prepare the whole year to play in this game. So I think we’ll play with no what-ifs. I think we’ll let it go. I think we’ll be as loose as we can be and still you’ve got to make shots.

“I’d like nothing more than to take my team this year to San Antonio and let them experience what the best of the best is in college basketball.”

The key to Kansas’ season has been embracing its shortcomings. Azubuike is the only big they’ve got that can give them both scoring and defense consistently. It’s a 180 for a program that’s featured Thomas Robinson, Cole Aldrich, the Morris Twins and Jeff Withey. Kansas almost always plays through its bigs. This year, they’re playing around one.

“I never played like this,” Self said. “It just goes against the grain from the teams that we’ve had in the past, but these guys have figured it out. They’ve learned how to play through it, and we’ve had unbelievable guard play and unbelievable leadership from our vets, and had some guys have some outstanding seasons.

“There’s less margin for error but these guys have certainly rallied around that.”

Kansas’ shooting is why they’re in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks are 10th nationally with a 40.5 3-point shooting percentage. It’s Azubuiike, though, that makes so many of those good looks possible. The man makes 77.5 percent of his shots from the floor. That demands defensive attention. And that means defenders aren’t shadowing shooters.

“He’s a guy we can throw the ball into and he can go get a basket,” Malik Newman, who had a team-high 17 points Friday, said. “I think his passing is underrated. That’s another big key for him. When we’re able to throw it in and the defense collapses on him, he is able to kick it out and find an open shooter.

“It just opens up the whole game for us.”

It’s opened up a whole world of possibility for Kansas and a world of hurt for their opponents.

“Most teams have somebody that you can kind of scratch off,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell mused. “So one of the reasons they’re so hard to guard is they’ve got a center that scores if he catches it deep, and he’s bigger than everybody on the floor so he does get position. And then you’ve got guards that can all make shots and drive by you and they play with great spacing.”

Now, Kansas isn’t full of slouches. Graham was the Big 12 player of the year, Azubuike’s talent was apparent even if it was raw before injury robbed him of a freshman year. Mykhailiuk is all-Big 12 while Malik Newman and LaGerald Vick were heralded prospects. Still, there’s not a lottery pick among them. No Andrew Wiggins or Ben McLemore or Josh Jackson. The fit is strange and the depth is zilch.

All that has eroded Kansas’ wiggle room for mistakes, but when they operate within their comfort zone, it can make for great offense. The first two minutes of the second half when the Jayhawks hit back-to-back 3s was a thing of beauty, ball movement and shot making. It was the blueprint for a buzzsaw.

Maybe Self’s worst team is pretty damn good.

Keenan Evans closes strong (again) as Texas Tech advances past Purdue to Elite Eight

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BOSTON — Second Half Keenan struck again on Friday night.

Keenan Evans scored 12 of his 16 points and handed out three of his four assists in the final 10 minutes of the game as No. 3-seed Texas Tech held off No. 2-seed Purdue, 78-65. Zach Smith and Justin Gray paced Tech early, combining for 26 points that helped the Red Raiders build a lead that reached as high as nine before Evans went into takeover mode. Zhaire Smith added 13 points of his own, while the Red Raiders forced 17 Purdue turnovers.

And with that, Texas Tech will to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since … ever.

This is uncharted territory for for the Red Raider program that has never been to an Elite Eight and will be playing for their first-ever trip to the Final Four.

“To build a program there has to be a lot of firsts so myself and Keenan have only been together for two years, so we’ve never been to the Elite Eight in two years,” Beard said. “That’s more accurate.”

It’s also fitting, really.

Because it more or less sums up what makes this Texas Tech program so interesting.

On a night where their three-leading scorers never really got going, the Red Raiders advanced on the stretch of two things: Their defense, and the fact that they can stay in a game on the nights when their best players don’t play their best.

With just over 10 minutes left in the game, when Purdue was getting ready to make one final run at advancing to the Elite Eight, is when Evans took over. And there’s no question about it: He closed out this game. Everything that the Red Raiders got on the offensive end of the floor came through Evans down the stretch, even the stuff that doesn’t show up in the score book; for example, the Red Raiders executed a pick-and-roll to perfection with three minutes left, but the lob that Evans threw to Zach Smith ended up as a missed dunk that Zhaire Smith was able to put right back in. Evans doesn’t get the assist, but he made that bucket possible.

I saw all that to say this: With 10 minutes left, the three leading scorers in the Tech program — Evans, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver — were a combined 4-for-16 from the floor with just 11 points.

And Texas Tech held a 50-41 lead. If Evans is Texas Tech’s closer, this was a save that he earned with a three-run lead.

“It’s our identity,” Beard said. “We have a lot of faith in our whole roster, we use a lot of different guys and tonight was fitting. That is the way we have played all year.”

If that doesn’t sum up Chris Beard’s program, I don’t know what does.

No. 2 Duke goes inside to defeat No. 11 Syracuse

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OMAHA, Neb. — Second-seeded Duke made just 5 of its 26 3-point attempts against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday in the two ACC programs’ Sweet 16 matchup.

So the Blue Devils just went inside.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter, Jr. both had big games to help the Blue Devils outlast the Orange, 69-65, to put themselves in the Elite Eight on Sunday against top-seeded Kansas.

“This was a heck of a game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought both teams played their hearts out. A great game to win, a really difficult game to lose, because Syracuse played such winning basketball.”

While Duke couldn’t beat the zone that took Syracuse from the First Four to the second weekend with its outside shooting, its two big underclassmen provided plenty of production. Bagley had 22 points and eight rebounds while Carter added 14 points and 12 boards.

“It was a hard fought game. We knew they were going to compete every second of the game,” Bagley said, “and we just tried to compete as well. We had a little point in the game where we started turning it over, and things weren’t going our way, but we stayed tough mentally and we finished it out.”

Bagley was on the receiving end of a number of lobs behind the Syracuse zone that helped the Duke offense stay out in front.

“We practiced it all week,” Bagley said. “We try to look for different things and different ways to score against that zone, and we did a great job at that and got the win.”

Tyus Battle had 19 points to lead the Orange. Oshae Brissett added 15 points and seven boards while Marek Dolezaj had 13 points.

Syracuse shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half while Duke shot 36.4 percent (and 11.1 percent from distance), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s 16 turnovers or Duke’s 17 second-chance points.

Grayson Allen had 15 points and eight assists for Duke. The Blue Devils had 32 points in the paint.

Duke will now turn its attention to the Jayhawks, who defeated Clemson earlier Friday to make it to their third-straight Elite Eight. The game will tipoff Sunday at 5:05 p.m. (ET).

“We just got to come out ready to play from the beginning,” Bagley said. “We were kind of slacking in this game. I think we’ll be ready for that game. Everybody’s going to be up. We should be coming out strong.”

VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.