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2014-15 Season Preview: Kentucky’s loaded rotation leads nation’s best front courts

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Karl-Anthony Towns is just one piece of a loaded Kentucky front court. (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

High-level big men aren’t a dime a dozen, and with that being the case the programs that have the benefit of multiple interior options tend to do well in college basketball’s most important month. Below are our ranking of the top front courts in the country heading into the 2014-15 season, with factors such as skill level, production and depth being considered. And just like last year, a certain SEC plower claims the top spot.

1. Kentucky: Similar to last season, juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are the most experienced pieces in John Calipari’s interior attack. However unlike last year they’ve got company, with a slimmer Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis back in Lexington as well. Add in two projected lottery picks in freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and the end result is the most talented and deepest interior rotation in college basketball. And Willis, who would see playing time for a lot of other programs, is expected by many to be on the outside looking in with regards to Kentucky’s expected “platoon” despite playing well during the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas.

2. Texas: Rick Barnes was assured of having one of the best front courts in the country when everyone, including Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, decided to return after helping lead the Longhorns back to the NCAA tournament. And then he received a verbal commitment from one of the best big men in the Class of 2014 in Myles Turner. The Longhorns have both depth and talent inside, and they’re experienced as well. Among the other returnees are center Prince Ibeh and forward Connor Lammert, and freshman Jordan Barnett’s no slouch either.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats will have to account for the departure of Aaron Gordon, but Gordon spending just one year in Tucson was expected to be the case from the moment he committed to join Sean Miller’s program. The Wildcats have a nice balance of depth, experience and talent, with starters Brandon Ashley being juniors and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson entering his sophomore season. Add in freshmen Stanley Johnson (he’s listed as a forward but is likely to see time at the two) and Craig Victor, and the end result is a group that is one reason why Arizona is expected to be a national title contender.

4. Kansas: No Joel Embiid for the Jayhawks, but while Bill Self and his staff will have to account for that loss they don’t lack for options. Junior Perry Ellis is one of the best players in the Big 12, and he’ll lead the way in a rotation that doesn’t lack for talent despit not have as many options as the teams above. Jamari Traylor has been in Lawrence for a couple years now, as has Landen Lucas, and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson gives them another options with Division I experence. And then there’s freshman Cliff Alexander, who arrives on campus as one of the most dominant players in the Class of 2014.

5. Wisconsin: The tandem of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky was outstanding last season, with the latter’s virtuoso performance in the Elite Eight getting the Badgers to their first Final Four since 2000. Dekker’s in line to put together a breakout junior season, and senior Duje Dukan and Nigel Hayes will fill out the rotation for the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten.

MORE: The nation’s top perimeter attacks

6. Duke: There’s no denying the fact that the Blue Devils add the best big man in the Class of 2014 in the form of freshman Jahlil Okafor, who did just about whatever he wanted at the prep level. But he isn’t the only freshman who arrives in Durham amidst much acclaim, with Justise Winslow expected to factor into the rotation as well. Amile Jefferson provides intangibles for Duke, who needs one of either Marshall Plumlee or Semi Ojeleye to take a step forward in what will be a competitive ACC.

7. LSU: The Tigers lost Johnny O’Bryant III from last year’s team, but it can be argued that pieces currently at Johnny Jones’ disposal fit together better despite not having their leading scorer and rebounder. Jordan Mickey was one of the SEC’s best freshmen in 2013-14, and classmate Jarell Martin may be the one who benefits most from O’Bryant’s early departure. LSU also adds 7-footer Elbert Robinson III, slender Aaron Epps and burly 6-foot-6 banger Brian Bridgewater to their front court rotation.

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8. Louisville: The Cardinals will play their first season in the ACC with one of the most explosive athletes in college basketball in junior power forward Montrezl Harrell. The question: who will step up alongside the All-America candidate? Rick Pitino has some young talented options at his disposal, including sophomore Mangok Mathiang and freshman Chinanu Onuaku.

9. Gonzaga: Mark Few lost Sam Dower from last year’s WCC champion squad, but he gets to slide Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer into the rotation. And Wiltjer isn’t the only talented new addition, with Domatas Sabonis also expected to compete for minutes. They join junior 7-footer Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season.

10. SMU: The Mustangs return one all-conference selection in Markus Kennedy, and after being less than 100 percent for much of last season senior Yanick Moreira is coming off of an impressive summer with Angola’s senior national team. SMU also adds Xavier transfer Justin Martin, who adds versatility to the front court ranks, and senior Cannen Cunningham gives them additional depth and experience.

THE NEXT TEN 

  • 11. Colorado: Josh Scott may be the best center in the Pac-12, and Xavier Johnson’s no slouch either.
  • 12. UCLA: The Bruins won’t have Jonah Bolden, but they will have fellow freshman Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh, and junior Tony Parker is back as well.
  • 13. North Carolina: If Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson take a step forward, this ranking will turn out to be too low.
  • 14. Memphis: Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols lead the way for a group that should see a major increase in post touches.
  • 15. Virginia: No more Akil Mitchell, but Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey return for the reigning ACC champions.
  • 16. Iowa State: Georges Niang leads the way with Dustin Hogue and Daniel Edozie being experienced options as well. Freshman Giorgios Tsalmpouris could help, and the mid-year addition of Jameel McKay will be big.
  • 17. Syracuse: Losing C.J. Fair hurts but Rakeem Christmas returns, Tyler Roberson could be a breakout candidate, and freshman Chris McCullough is a newcomer to keep an eye on.
  • 18. Iowa: Starters Aaron White and Adam Woodbury, and reserves Jarrod Uthoff and Gabe Olaseni all return to Iowa City.
  • 19. Florida: Chris Walker’s an enticing talent who had the benefit of a full offseason with the program. Dorian Finney-Smith is their best bet from a consistency standpoint, and transfers Alex Murphy and Jon Horford will help as well.
  • 20. NC State: Like UNC, this ranking could turn out to be too low by the end of the season. BeeJay Anya’s in far better shape than he was last season, and players such as Jordan Washington, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu will be factors as well.

The Chase for 180: A quest to find college basketball’s best shooter

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180”. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. No college basketball player accomplished that feat last season, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott did become a 180 shooter, with his 49.0% 3PT making up for shooting “just” 87.5% from the free throw line.

Below, listed in alphabetical order, are ten returning players likely to merit consideration this season. Later this month, we’ll begin providing weekly updates tracking this.

1) Sean Armand (Iona): 161.2 
2012-13: 16.6 ppg, 43.5% FG, 40.9% 3PT, 76.8% FT

Prior to Stephen Curry knocking down 11 three-pointers against the Knicks in February, who held the Madison Square Garden record for most three-pointers made in a game? That would be Armand, who’s back for his senior season after averaging 16.6 points per game in 2012-13. With Lamont “Momo” Jones out of eligibility, there may be more shot opportunities for Armand and he has the skill needed to take advantage.

2) Travis Bader (Oakland): 166.6
2012-13: 22.1 ppg, 39.4% FG, 38.6% 3PT, 88.6% FT

The field goal percentage is a little low, but keep in mind that Bader is asked to do a lot for the Golden Grizzlies on the offensive end of the floor. Bader finished the 2012-13 season with a shot percentage of 29.2%, leading Oakland in that statistical category by more than five percentage points. He’ll certainly get shots up, and if he can knock them down at a higher clip he’ll be a fixture on the list.

3) Jeff Elorriaga (Boise State): 159.1
2012-13: 10.2 ppg, 44.4% FG, 44.7% 3PT, 70.0% FT

Much of the attention during the preseason has been heaped upon Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks and with good reason, as those two are the feature offensive options for the Broncos. Don’t forget about Elorriaga, who has turned into one of the Mountain West’s best perimeter shooters. The question for Elorriaga: how many free throws will he attempt after shooting just 40 in 2012-13?

4) Corey Hawkins (UC Davis): 171.6
2012-13: 20.3 ppg, 47.4% FG, 40.0% 3PT, 84.2% FT

The son of Hersey Hawkins can light it up, as evidenced by his 41-point outing in a win at Hawaii last season. The junior, who began his collegiate career at Arizona State, reached double figures in 26 of the 28 games he played in. And in Big West play Hawkins shot 53.7% from the field, 52.5% from three and 81.1% from the foul line.

5) Tyler Haws (BYU): 174.1
2012-13: 21.7 ppg, 48.3% FG, 38.1% 3PT, 87.7% FT

Haws will be an All-America candidate this season, due not only to his ability to find (and create) quality looks but to also knock them down at a high rate. Haws dropped 42 on Virginia Tech last season, shooting 14-for-15 from the field (6-for-8 3PT) and 8-for-9 from the foul line. Failing to reach double figures just twice in 2012-13, there will be no shortage of quality looks for Haws this year.

6) R.J. Hunter (Georgia State): 158
2012-13: 17.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 36.5% 3PT, 77.6% FT

Hunter’s presence is one big reason why the Panthers are capable of winning the Sun Belt in their first season in the league. With a year of experience under his belt, Hunter should be even better-equipped to deal with the different looks opponents will show. And don’t underestimate the impact that Ryan Harrow’s arrival can potentially have on the quality of shots Hunter finds within the GSU offense.

7) Doug McDermott (Creighton): 191.3
2012-13: 23.3 ppg, 54.8%, 49.0% 3PT, 87.5% FT

McDermott is also one of the best players in the country, returning to Creighton to take on the new challenge that is the Big East. And while the level of competition is raised, McDermott will continue to find quality looks within the Bluejay offense. As a junior McDermott failed to shoot at least 40% from the field in just six of Creighton’s 36 games, and given how many shots he attempted (518) that’s rather impressive.

8) Preston Medlin (Utah State): 168.5
2012-13: 47.4% FG, 39.3% 3PT, 81.8% FT

Medlin played in just 16 games last season due to a broken wrist, but he’s healthy now and will once again be primary scoring option for the Aggies. Like McDermott he’ll have to get used to tougher competition, as Utah State makes the move from the WAC to the Mountain West, but he’ll be fine. As a sophomore (2011-12) Medlin shot 49.6% from the field, 42.8% from beyond the arc and 80.1% from the charity stripe.

9) Nik Stauskas (Michigan): 175.4
2012-13: 11.0 ppg, 46.3% FG, 44.0% 3PT, 85.1% FT

We’ve seen the videos of Stauskas’ shooting exploits, and he’s proven to be quite the marksman in game action as well. The Ontario native worked hard to expand his game during the offseason, and if the end result proves to be more quality looks from inside of the arc Stauskas will be a fixture on this list.

10) C.J. Wilcox (Washington): 160.1
2012-13: 16.8 ppg, 41.9% FG, 36.6% 3PT, 81.6% FT

By the time Wilcox’s senior season ends he’ll be Washington’s all-time leader in made three-pointers, and he can score from anywhere on the floor. But Wilcox’s staying power on this list could come down to how some of his teammates perform offensively; if they prove to be consistent threats the fifth-year season will reap the benefits in the form of higher percentage looks.

Five freshmen to keep in mind

1) Jabari Bird (California)

2) Conner Frankamp (Kansas)

3) Aaron Harrison (Kentucky)

4) Jabari Parker (Duke)

5) James Young (Kentucky)

NBCSports.com’s Top 100 Players: The Countdown

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The college basketball season officially kicks off on Friday, and at this point, we’ve given you just about all the season preview content that you can handle. We’ve counted down our Top 25 teams, we’ve released our Preseason All-Americans, we’ve ranked players at each position and we’re five leagues away from releasing previews for every conference.

What’s left?

Our Top 100 Players countdown.

Over the course of this week, we’ll be counting down our Top 100 list over at the official College Basketball Talk twitter account, @CBTonNBC. We’ll be embedding the tweets here as we go. So bookmark this page, follow CBT on twitter, and join us in the conversation using the hashtag #CBTtop100:

2013-14 Season Preview: The nation’s most important players

Marcus Smart
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Throughout the course of the season there will be many debates over who the best player in the country is. Marcus Smart? Andrew Wiggins? Doug McDermott? Someone else? It’s a fun discussion to have, because frankly the debate won’t end until awards are handed out Final Four weekend. But the same can be said in regards to another important question: who are the nation’s most important players? A team’s most important player may not be the most talented, but he’s the one whose best is needed every night if the team is to be successful and make a run in the spring.

Here are ten of the nation’s most important players entering the 2013-14 season:

1. Keith Appling (Michigan State): Now a senior, the point guard from Detroit has to be at his best if the Spartans are to win the Big Ten and make a run at the school’s third national title. Last season Appling posted averages of 13.4 points and 3.3 assists per game, but the assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) has to improve. Do that, and Michigan State is capable of winning it all.

2. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): We went with Smart as our national Player of the Year due in part to his impressive freshman campaign. But for all the production (15.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.2 apg) the Cowboys were one-and-done in the NCAA tournament. Travis Ford’s team doesn’t lack for talent, as Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash returned to Stillwater as well, but if the Cowboys are to leave their mark in the Big 12 and nationally it’s Smart who will lead the way.

3. Andrew Harrison (Kentucky): Harrison (currently dealing with a right knee contusion) hasn’t played a college game, but the fact that he’s the point guard for John Calipari’s talented squad makes him a very important player. In regards to both his size (6-foot-4) and skill set Harrison, one of six McDonald’s All-Americans to pick UK, is tailor-made for the dribble drive motion system that turned the likes of Derrick Rose, John Wall and Marquis Teague into NBA Draft picks. If Kentucky is to make a run at a ninth national title, Andrew Harrison will be an important piece of the puzzle.

4. Naadir Tharpe (Kansas): Andrew Wiggins has received much of the preseason press and with good reason; he’s an incredibly gifted player. But for all the talent Kansas has on the wings and inside, the same can’t be said for their depth at the point. If Tharpe (5.5 ppg, 3.1 apg) proves himself to be capable of running the show in an efficient manner, the Jayhawks can win yet another Big 12 title and even a national title.

5. T.J. McConnell (Arizona): To understand McConnell’s importance to the Wildcats, one number stands out: 268. That was Arizona’s national ranking in three-point percentage defense last season, after being one of the best teams in the country in that department in each of the two seasons prior. In McConnell Arizona adds a point guard who’s a distributor first, a high-level defender (A-10 All-Defensive Team selection 2011-12) and he’s a good perimeter shooter as well.

6. Tyler Ennis (Syracuse): Ennis, like Harrison, has yet to play a college game but Syracuse’s lack of depth at the point makes him vitally important in their first season in the ACC. There’s no Michael Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche, and if Ennis doesn’t perform as expected the Orange won’t be able to take full advantage of their talented players at other spots on the roster (C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant being two).

7. P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): The Tar Heels may not be a national contender on the level of some of the other teams represented on this list, but here’s the question: who else on that roster is capable of shouldering the load offensively? James Michael McAdoo (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) averaged double digits last season but the currently suspended Hairston (14.6 ppg) is the marquee option. If Hairston falters, either on or off the court, UNC’s in trouble.

8. LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State): Ross averaged just 8.3 points per game last season, but he scored at least 17 points in three of the Buckeyes’ four NCAA tournament games. With Deshaun Thomas now playing at the professional level, Ohio State needs Ross to prove himself capable of producing on a consistent basis.

9. Jabari Parker (Duke): Due to the arrival of Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils will be able to rely a lot more on their wings to make plays this season. Parker’s an incredibly gifted player, and after dealing with a foot issue last year the Chicago native’s healthy now. The better Parker is the more attention he’ll receive from opponents, which will ultimately benefit the other players in Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation.

10. Yogi Ferrell (Indiana): Indiana lost a lot of talent and production from last season’s Big Ten regular season champion squad, meaning that Ferrell will need to lead the way (along with senior wing Will Sheehey) if the Hoosiers are to once again be a factor in the Big Ten. As a freshman Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

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1. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): With Chane Behanan suspended the Cardinals don’t have a great amount of depth inside, so Harrell will have to put together the breakout campaign many expect if they’re to repeat.
2. Doug McDermott (Creighton): McDermott was outstanding for the Bluejays last season, posting averages of 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 54.8% shooting from the field and 49% shooting from three.
3. Jahii Carson (Arizona State):
Carson’s the reason why the Sun Devils want to play even faster this season, as he averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game as a freshman. The goal now is to get ASU to its first NCAA tournament since 2009.
4. Kasey Hill (Florida):
With Scottie Wilbekin suspended Hill becomes even more important to the Gators, and given the freshman’s skill level it can be argued that he’d be running the show either way. If he performs well, Florida can be one of Kentucky’s biggest challengers in the SEC.
5. Glenn Robinson III (Michigan):
The Wolverines lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but the return of their talented sophomore class makes Michigan a threat to win the Big Ten. Mitch McGary is obviously a key player, but given the lost production the Wolverines have to account for Robinson may be their most important player.

Who will wear the glass slipper? 11 potential ‘Cinderellas’ in 2013-2014

R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)
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R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Every March, the nation falls in love with a new Cinderella, as a team from off college hoops beaten path puts together a run in the NCAA tournament. Florida-Gulf Coast, Wichita State, Lehigh, Butler, VCU, George Mason. The list goes on and on and on. 

To help you prepare for your college hoops viewing schedule this season, here is a list of potential Cinderellas. We can differ on what, exactly, makes a team eligible to be a ‘Cinderella’, but here’s criteria I used to make this list:

  • Cannot be from one of the top nine conference, meaning no new Big East, no Atlantic 10 and no Mountain West.
  • Cannot be a team that got preseason top 25 consideration. So no Harvard and no Wichita State. 
  • Cannot be a program that is “known”, so send my apologies to the folks at St. Mary’s, BYU, UTEP and Southern Miss. 

Essentially, I’m just looking for a way to give you a list of teams you don’t know about that will be a double-digit seed yet have a chance to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. Feel free to quibble away:

Boston University: The Terriers have arguably the best back court at the mid-major level this season. D.J. Irving can score with the best of them, and his counterpart, Maurice Watson, is a terrific point guard and a former top 100 recruit that really has no business playing outside a power conference. Good guard play can take you a long way in March.

Florida-Gulf Coast: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone knows about #DunkCity already so they shouldn’t be on this list. Whatever. I don’t care, because Florida-Gulf Coast brings back enough talent to once again make a run in the tournament. Bernard Thompson is back, as is freewheeling point guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a slew of long, athletic big men that can run the floor as well. The biggest question will be whether new head coach Joe Dooley let’s #DunkCity be #DunkCity again.

Georgia State: Ron Hunter has himself as talented of a perimeter attack as you’ll find at the mid-major level. R.J. Hunter averaged more than 17 points as a freshman, and he’s not the only returnee, as Devonta White and Manny Atkins are back as well. Throw in the addition of Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who is eligible immediately, and the Panthers are some production from their front court away from being a real threat to make the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Indiana State: Jake Odum is a stud. Anyone that remembers the run he led the Sycamores on as a freshman back in 2011, winning the MVC tournament, will agree with me. Manny Arop and Justin Gant also return for a team that beat Creighton, Wichita State, Miami and Ole Miss last season. ISU lost seven of their last nine games last year, however. Can they avoid a collapse this season?

Iona: The Gaels are loaded with high-major transfers. Sean Armand and David Laury is as good of a 1-2 punch as you’ll find at the mid-major level, and Tre Bowman, Mike Poole and Tavon Sledge all started their careers playing in BCS conferences. Iona gets up and down the floor in a hurry, plays five guys that can handle the ball and shoots a lot of threes. They’ll be inconsistent, as all jump-shooting teams are, but on the nights that those shots are falling, they’ll be able to compete with just about anyone. 

Louisiana Tech: What I like about the Bulldogs is that head coach Mike White has this group playing a system that is tough to prepare for. Tech presses. A lot. They force a lot of turnovers and can overwhelm teams that don’t have strong back court play. The Bulldogs won a lot of games last season, but utterly disappointed in two marquee road games against WAC powers Denver and New Mexico State to end the regular season. Will Raheem Appleby and company be able to dominate in their first year in Conference USA?

Mercer: With all the attention that Florida-Gulf Coast got last season, would it surprise you if I told you that Mercer was actually the best team in the Atlantic Sun during the season? They also knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville during the NIT, bring back all but one contributor from last year and will have as experienced of a rotation as you’ll find anywhere.

North Dakota State: Taylor Braun returns to Fargo to lead a team that brings back all five starters from a season ago. The Bison were arguably the best team in the Summit League last season and could have knocked Nate Wolters and South Dakota State from their perch had Braun not gotten injured midway through the year. Look for NDSU to right that wrong this season.

Towson: Pat Skerry engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country last season, and he did largely on the backs of transfers from high-major programs. Namely, Jerelle Benimon, a Georgetown transfer that ended up averaging 17 points and 11 boards. With sharpshooter Four McGlynn eligible this season, the Tigers could end up being even more dangerous this year. 

Weber State: The Wildcats lost Damian Lillard, Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis in the last two years, but with Davion Berry, a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate, leading a team with one of the better front lines at the mid-major level — you might have heard of Kyle Tresnak but keep an eye on Joel Bolomboy — Weber State is favored to finally win a Big Sky title.

Wright State: The Raiders were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, finishing third in the Horizon and coming a few possessions from making the NCAA tournament after getting picked dead last in the preseason. Wright State brings back all five starters from that team.

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)