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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)

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.