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The 68 things we can’t wait to see this season

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College basketball officially kicks off on Friday night. Here are the 68 things we’re looking forward to the most this season.

1. Just how good Duke is going to be this season. Let’s say that, come January, Harry Giles III is healthy enough to play 20 minutes a night, Jayson Tatum and Marquese Bolden have shaken off the nagging injuries they’re dealing with and Grayson Allen is playing like last year’s Grayson Allen. Is that team more talented than the Kentucky team that started the 2014-15 season 38-0 …

2. … and if they are, who gives Duke the most trouble in March? Kentucky and Kansas both match up extremely well with the Blue Devils, while Oregon, Villanova and a handful of ACC rivals will have the talent to pick off Coach K’s club.

3. Speaking of Kansas, they have a freshman named Josh Jackson who is nearly as good of a prospect as Andrew Wiggins was when he entered Kansas …

4. … and he may not even be the best freshman in college basketball this season, which is as loaded with high-level talent as we’ve seen it since the one-and-done era started.

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5. There’s Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, a smooth, athletic 6-foot-5 guard that is the trendy pick to go No. 1 in the 2017 NBA Draft …

6. … but he may not even be the best point guard in this draft class. Some will give that title to Dennis Smith Jr., a powerfully-athletic, 6-foot-2 playmaker that has N.C. State fans in a tizzy.

7. Kentucky may have the two most entertaining freshmen in the country in Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, and there’s an argument to be made that a third freshman, De’Aaron Fox, is actually UK’s best player.

8. Speaking of Kentucky, I cannot wait to see how John Calipari puts the pieces on his roster together. There’s talent there, but I wonder just how well that talent fits.

9. A healthy Dillon Brooks. Oregon has a chance to repeat what they did last season – dual Pac-12 titles, No. 1 seed in the tournament – but I cannot see that happening if their all-american cannot bounce back from a foot injury.

10. Villanova’s title defense, and how they overcome the loss of Daniel Ochefu in the middle.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 20: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

11. The Champions Classic. It kicks off on Tuesday night, and features Kentucky and Michigan State while, in my opinion, the two best teams in the country – Duke and Kansas – square off.

12. The Armed Forces Classic. It’s not going to get as much hype as the Champions Classic, but it will feature Arizona playing Michigan State and Indiana squaring off with Kansas.

13. Kansas vs. Kentucky. They play in January at Rupp Arena. Both could be in the top five. That will be a tough ticket to get.

14. Kentucky vs. Louisville. They play on a Wednesday in December. I can’t imagine anyone in the state will be productive at work that Thursday.

15. The ACC. The conference is as loaded as any league we’ve seen since the Big East produced three No. 1 seeds in 2009, and the ACC may still be better than that.

16. Is this the year that Gonzaga finally puts together a Final Four run?

17. Speaking of Gonzaga, they play Fultz and Washington in Spokane this season. That’s one of the nation’s most under appreciated rivalries.

18. UConn-Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Non-conference basketball just doesn’t get any better than that.

19. Speaking of Syracuse, do they have the point guard play they need to compete at the top of the ACC?

20. … and what about the Huskies, who will be counting on Jalen Adams to play like Shabazz Napier, the last superstar point guard to come out of Roxbury, Ma.

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Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (2) celebrates a 3-pointer from half court at the end of the triple overtime to tie the NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament Friday, MArch 11, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. UConn won104-97 in quadruple overtime. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP)

21. What is going to happen with UCLA? They have the talent to be a national title contender, but between their defensive issues and incompatibility offensively, this team could end up finishing below .500 for the second straight season.

22. Miles Bridges. He’s as physical and as athletic as any player that’s entered college basketball in some time.

23. Greg Gard’s second season. He took Wisconsin from being a 9-9 team to a No. 7 seed last year. What can he get done with Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ all returning?

24. Figuring out who is the second-best team in the SEC and whether or not they are actually a tournament team.

25. Just how healthy is E.C. Mathews’ knee? If it’s healthy, Rhode Island will be dangerous.

26. Edmond Sumner’s sophomore year. He was downright dominant at times as a freshman.

27. What can Sean Miller do with this Arizona team? He’s lost so many piece, but he’s as good of a coach as their is in college basketball.

28. Pissed off Melo Trimble.

29. What kind of growth did Louisville’s guards – Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, etc. – make this offseason, and will the Cards be a top ten team as a result?

30. Did Thad Matta forget how to coach basketball or did Ohio State just need to shuffle out a few of the bad apples in their program?

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MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 09: Jawun Evans #1 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys drives to the basket during the game against Jonathan Holton #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers at the WVU Coliseum on January 9, 2016 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Jawun Evans (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

31. The best back court you’re paying no attention to: Phil Forte and Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State.

32. Has Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan or Vince Edwards taken the step forward needed for the Boilermakers to be a real Big Ten title contender?

33. Is Andrew White the point guard that Shaka Smart needs this season?

34. Austin Nichols transforming into an all-american at Virginia.

35. … and Joel Berry II doing the same at North Carolina.

36. Virginia Tech and Buzz Williams proving to everyone that last year’s run in the ACC – 10-8 record, wins over Virginia and Miami – wasn’t a fluke.

37. Quinndary Weatherspoon reminding everyone why Mississippi State wasn’t worried about Malik Newman transferring out of the program.

38. Just how good Jonathan Isaac is at Florida State. He has as much long-term potential as anyone in college basketball this season.

39. We’ve talked about a lot of Pac-12 teams and talent, but we haven’t yet mentioned Ivan Rabb. Does he get more attention during the season?

40. Saint Mary’s reminding everyone that Gonzaga isn’t the only program in the WCC.

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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05: Emmett Naar #3 of the Saint Mary's Gaels brings the ball up the court against the Loyola Marymount Lions during a quarterfinal game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Saint Mary's won 60-48. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Emmett Naar of the Saint Mary’s Gaels (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

41. … and BYU, led by Nick Emery and the returning Eric Mike, reminding everyone that the WCC isn’t a two-team race.

42. Jack Gibbs making a run at the nation’s scoring title while reminding everyone at Davidson of Stephen Curry.

43. Will USC avoid being a victim of their own success?

44. The VCU fan base’s never-ending trolling of our Terrence Payne, who still believes that the program is heading in the wrong direction.

45. Alec Peters’ snubbing the NBA and every high-major program in the country to return to Valparaiso for his senior season.

46. Is Florida head coach Mike White the real deal?

47. Seeing how the college students attending – and, frankly, playing in – these games respond to the current political climate. We’ve seen what Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have done. Who joins them in their activism?

48. Creighton guards Mo Watson and Marcus Foster proving to the world just how good they are.

49. The first annual Ivy League tournament, which will be held at the Palestra.

50. Siyani Chambers’ return to Harvard after sitting out last year with a torn ACL.

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FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

51. Wichita State no longer has Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet on the roster. Will that program be able to survive? (Hint: Yes. Yes it will.)

52. The return of the Monmouth Bench Mob, and the chance for the Hawks to pick off the likes of South Carolina (Nov. 15th), Syracuse (Nov. 18th), Memphis (Dec. 13th) and North Carolina (Dec. 28th).

53. Chris Beard at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a better roster than you realize, and Beard’s path to his dream school – Little Rock to UNLV for a few weeks to Lubbock – was as weird as any you’ll see at this level.

54. The Player of the Year race. The early, trendy pick is Grayson Allen, who could end up being the third-best player on that Duke team.

55. Kansas matching John Wooden’s UCLA teams by winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.

56. Tubby Smith has consistently been one of the best coaches in college basketball, and now he’ll take over a struggling Memphis program that John Calipari had rolling less than a decade ago.

57. Suits. From John Calipari and Jay Wright in Armani suits to Bobby Huggins in sweat suits.

58. Does Charles Cooke of Dayton play his way into being an NBA Draft pick?

59. At what point will people realize just how good Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain really is?

60. O.G. Anunoby and Thomas Bryant ushering in Indiana’s post-Yogi era.

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DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a reverse dunk over Chuck Ester #0 of the Chattanooga Mocs in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
OG Anunoby (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

61. Will Iowa State be able to remain relevant in the Big 12 without Georges Niang, and will Monte’ Morris be the guy that makes it happen?

62. Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame turning into a household name.

63. The Frank Mason anthem going viral every time that he does something good for Kansas.

64. Arkansas big man Moses Kingsley winning the SEC Player of the Year award.

65. Malcolm Hill carrying Illinois back to the NCAA tournament.

66. Can Peter Jok get up more than 25 shots a night for Iowa?

67. Every time a broadcast shows a replay of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hitting his national title-winning, buzzer-beating three and the Marcus Paige jumper that led up to it.

68. … and waiting to see what will happen this season that tops this:

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”