The 68 reasons we’re looking forward to the 2013-2014 season

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The college hoops season officially kicks off in 10 days, which means that all those long, lonely nights since Luke Hancock beat Spike Albrecht in a three-point shooting contest last April are about to be a thing of the past.

We’re hyped for the season, and to help get you into the mood, the CBT writers put our heads together to brainstorm the 68 things that we’re most excited about this season, better known as 68 reasons you should be amped for college hoops to be coming back.

Without further ado, here they are:

1. Louisville at Kentucky, December 28th. Don’t think there’s a need to add too much to that. (Raphielle Johnson)

2. Realignment: The Drinking Game! One sip if the color man forgets which league a team is in on-air. Two sips if the play-by-play man forgets. Finish your drink if the coach forgets. (Eric Angevine)

3. A healthy Jabari Parker playing for Duke. He hasn’t been fully healthy since junior year of high school. (Scott Phillips)

4. Creighton and their all-american Doug McDermott playing in the new-look Big East. (Kevin Doyle)

5. The Champions Classic. Forth day of the season. Four top five teams. Kentucky’s freshmen vs. Michigan State’s vets. Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins. Coach K, Coach Cal, Bill Self, Tom Izzo. (Rob Dauster)

6. Duke’s first visit to Syracuse on February 1st. How big is that crowd gonna be? (Terrence Payne)

7. Marshall Henderson and P.J. Hairston making the news for getting buckets instead of getting in trouble. (SP)

8. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery – Just one of these guys in a booth was enough to ratchet up the level of any game they covered. Both of them? Flat-out bananas. (EA)

9. The return of #DunkCity with multiple nationally televised games. (TP)

10. The Bhullar bothers (7-foot-5 Sim, 7-foot-4 Tanveer) on the floor at the same time at New Mexico State. Probably won’t happen too often, but when it does? (RJ)

11. The development of new rivalries. Conference realignment ruined a lot of good ones, but the new leagues have plenty of potential. The Big East’s double-round robin league schedule? Syracuse visiting Tobacco Road? UConn-Memphis? The past is the past, let’s embrace what we’ve got to watch. (RD)

12. How Butler handles its first season post-Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs are in a new conference (again) under a new head coach. (TP)

13. Grambling finally getting a win. (KD)

14. Mattaface. Thad has the features of a veteran character actor. Happy, sad, angry or hungry, it’s fun to watch him emote. (EA)

15. The Pac-12’s return to where it should be. While there’s a clear favorite (Arizona) the conference is much improved entering this season. (RJ)

16. January 18th and March 1st. Those are the dates of the regular season match-ups between Big-12 heavyweights Oklahoma State and Kansas, also know as when Andrew Wiggins squares off against Marcus Smart. (RD)

17. The backcourts of the American – Memphis, Louisville, UConn. Holy cow. (SP)

18. Jim Boeheim’s first trip to a Denny’s. (RD)

19. The growth of Jahii Carson and the highlights that come with it. (SP)

20. The return of the “Deaf Dome”? I’m bullish on LSU this season, and a good enough showing could return the PMAC to what it was during Dale Brown’s heyday. (RJ)

21. How does Chris Jones handle the role of being Peyton Siva’s successor at Louisville? Can he lead the Cardinals in a bid to win back-to-back titles? (TP)

22. The Kentucky learning curve. Casual fans focus on the flash of blue-chip recruits, but insiders know the real work is done before New Year’s Day, when Calipari and his coaching staff teach raw talent how to work hard, play together and win. As we’ve seen, some years it doesn’t quite take. (EA)

23. Travis Bader chasing J.J. Redick’s three-point record. (SP)

24. Semaj Christon continuing a meteoric rise, from a high school junior that wasn’t a Division 1 prospect to a college sophomore with all-american potential. (RD)

25. Big East teams in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler’s building is one of the few places left where the historical soul of the game can still be breathed in with every breath. It’ll be a joy to see Marquette, Georgetown, et. al. framed in that setting. (EA)

26. Glenn Robinson III at Michigan. Mitch McGary’s received a lot of pub, but GR3’s in line for a highlight-riddled sophomore campaign. (RJ)

27. The race for Sun Belt Player of the Year. R.J. Hunter, Elfrid Payton, Shawn Long, Augustine Rubit and T.J. Price can all really play. (RD)

28. A healthy Jeronne Maymon teaming up with Jarnell Stokes at Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s front line may get confused with Butch Jones’ offensive line. (RD)

29. How good is James Young? We hear often about Julius Randle and the Harrison Twins, but what will Young’s role be with NBA scouts already raving. (SP)

30. Can the Mountain West finally live up to the hype and perform well in the NCAA tournament? (RJ)

31. Just how good is a healthy Gary Harris? (RD)

32. St. John’s has been dubbed the ‘under-the-radar’ team in the Big East, but Providence has plenty of talent and has received even less hype than the Johnnies. Can Ed Cooley’s Friars make a run at the Big Dance? (RD)

33. The unsung freshman that pulls a Blake Griffin. Among the loaded 2013 class, so many underlooked freshman are going to stand out. Who will that be? (SP)

34. Aaron Gordon’s aerial acrobatics. (RD)

35. Lipscomb vs. Belmont, the Battle of the Boulevard. New Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander opens up the season against his mentor, Rick Byrd.

36. Chaz Williams (UMass) and Tyler Haws (BYU) on the same court on December 7. Neither player gets enough pub nationally. (RJ)

37. The circus surrounding what could be Rick Barne’s final season in Austin. (RD)

38. The future of USC vs. UCLA. Two new coaches, one plays fast, the other plays slow. This rivalry should mean more on the national stage, and hopefully all this new blood will make it happen. (EA)

39. The return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry at Harvard, which could end up being the nation’s best mid-major program this season. (TP)

40. Does the Larry Brown experiment workout at SMU? (SP)

41. Ryan Harrow’s shot at redemption at Georgia State. (RD)

42. UNLV. Incredible how fast Dave Rice turned the Rebs into a nationally relevant program again. Can he approach the title-winning ways of the days of Tark and Grandmama? I’d like a front row seat while he tries. (EA)

43. How Jimmy Patsos, one of the charismatic coaches in the game, does at Siena in his first season. (KD)

44. The growth of St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison. If the offseason was as productive for him as many say it was, he could help the Red Storm surprise some people in the Big East. (RJ)

45. Kansas. That’s it: Kansas. This team fascinates me, from the hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins to the mysterious force that it Joel Embiid; from the play of supporting castmates Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis to the development of Naadir Tharpe. (RD)

46. Chicago becoming relevant with seven different Division 1 programs in seven different conferences within 100 miles of the city. (SP)

47. Utah State, one of the most successful programs in the country under Stew Morill over the last 15 seasons, transitioning into the stronger Mountain West. (KD)

48. Colorful Marquette. I’ve always been a fan of Marquette’s various color combinations. I enjoy waiting to find out if they’ll be in white, yellow, dark blue or my favorite light blue for every game. (EA)

49. APR “freedom” for UConn, Texas Southern and Toledo. All three could wind up in the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. (RJ)

50. A full season of Mitch McGary playing starting minutes. (SP)

51. Can Florida actually challenge Kentucky in the SEC title race? (RD)

52. The hate that spews from people that don’t understand basketball every time someone praises Aaron Craft. Idiots. (RD)

53. Havoc. Every year this exists, I will want to watch it. (EA)

54. The four-guard lineup that Josh Pastner will roll out at Memphis and his attempt to finally get that program performing at a level equivalent to the talent on the roster. (RD)

55. Mount Poland — aka Przemek Karnowski — playing starter’s minutes at Gonzaga. (RD)

56. The Josh Smith experiment at Georgetown. Will he ever make the difference we know he’s capable of? (SP)

57. Wichita State mounting a run at a second straight Final Four appearance. (RD)

58. The emergence of Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott at Colorado. (RD)

59. Selection Sunday. Waiting for the brackets to unfurl is the most enjoyable torture ever devised. (EA)

60. Bo Ryan’s “Frank Costello face“. (RD)

61. The two (or three) games between Iona and Manhattan. Always been a good rivalry, and it may determine the MAAC champion this season. (RJ)

62. Virginia’s methodical pace pushing them to relevance in the ACC. (RD)

63. The growth of Yogi Ferrell as a sophomore. Hell be forced into a major role if Indiana is going to be a contender in the Big Ten this season. (RD)

64. All those insane new floors. (EA)

65. How does Spike Albrecht follow-up his unforgettable first half in the national title game? (RD)

66. The Anthony Ireland-Nino Jackson backcourt at Loyola Marymount. If the Lions stay healthy, they’ll be much improved this season. (RJ)

67. Can Georgia State live up to the hype they’ll have entering the season? (KD)

68. Incarnate Word references. We used to joke that a cupcake-laden schedule would include “Little Sisters of the Blind”. With Incarnate Word now a legit DI member, we’re pretty much there. (EA)

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?