Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

68 items to know about the 2015-16 college basketball seasonby Mike Rutherford


For the first time in the history of the USA Today coaches' poll, we will be starting a college hoops season with a tie at No. 1. North Carolina and Kentucky both earned a total of 749 votes from the panel of coaching voters, resulting in the first time the poll has failed to produce a clear preseason No. 1 team since it was launched in 1991. Although the Tar Heels earned 12 first place votes to just 11 for the Wildcats, both teams will take the court on Friday with a claim to being the sport's top dog. It's an odd situation that's indicative of just how wide open this season figures to be.


Just two teams since 1991 have entered the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record, and both of them came in the last two seasons. Wichita State ran the table in 2013-14 before being knocked off by Kentucky in the second round, and then the Wildcats became the first team in college basketball history to start a season 38-0 before being upset by Wisconsin in last year's Final Four. The odds of any team becoming the first to run the table since Indiana in 1975-76 remain colossal, but it'll still be a fun thing to discuss if any legitimate title contender makes it to late January without taking an L.


Playing as the only independent in Division-I last season, NJIT produced an 18-11 record and won three games in the CIT before falling to Northern Arizona in the semifinals. The Highlanders were rewarded with an invitation to become the eighth member of the Atlantic Sun, a move that gives them a legitimate chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.


After failing to return a single first, second, or third team Associated Press All-American in either of the past two seasons, college basketball finally has at least a small amount of returning star power. While all five first team selections either graduated or made an early exit to the NBA, second team honoree Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), as well as third teamers Georges Niang (Iowa State), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are all back for their senior seasons.


Even though the "First Four" has been routinely mocked since its inception in 2011, proponents of tournament expansion don't hesitate to point to the fact that a team that has started its tournament run in Dayton has advanced to the Round of 32 in each of the last five seasons. The First Four has also produced three Sweet 16 squads and a Final Four team in VCU. Once again this winter, all those "last four in" projections won't deserve the grief they'll undoubtedly get.


One of the more outrageous statistics that college basketball has seen in recent years was BYU's Kyle Collinsworth producing six triple-doubles during the 2014-15 season alone. While it was fun watching him shatter the previous single-season record of four, the attention now turns to Collinsworth's next triple-double, which will make him the career leader in the category. He's currently tied with Michael Anderson and Shaquille O'Neal for the career mark.


It's the last go-round for the Wichita State backcourt duo of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, who have helped lead the Shockers to one of the more remarkable runs for any mid-major program in the history of college basketball. The dynamic backcourt duo (along with the graduated Tekele Cotton) have been at the center of a three-year run that has seen the Shockers go 95-15, crash a Final Four, take out regional ruler Kansas on their way to the Sweet 16, and become the first team in 23 years to enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record.

Now, with head coach Gregg Marshall spurning hefty offers from both Texas and Alabama and VanVleet and Baker delaying their professional careers for a year, the Shockers appear poised to snatch their third straight Missouri Valley title and remain a major player on the national scene.


For the first time since the program busted onto the national scene in 1999, Gonzaga finally got over the hump and back into the Elite 8 last season. The Bulldogs were eliminated by eventual national champion Duke, but still did a great deal to shed the stigma of being a program that is overrated during the regular season before it flames out in the Big Dance. With arguably the best frontcourt duo in the country returning to Spokane, Mark Few and company have a chance to take the next step this season. Until then, they will undoubtedly remain a lightning rod for controversy.


In one of the best stories this season has had to offer, NC State freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu revealed on Instagram that last year he had attended the wedding of Chapel Hill shooting victims Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, and promised them wins over North Carolina and Duke as a present.

On the day of the Feb. 10 shooting that resulted in the deaths of the newly married couple as well as Abu-Salha's sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, Abu posted the following:

When I heard the news I was in disbelief I couldn't quite understand how this was possible. I couldn't wrap my head around the thought of you and your beautiful wife no longer being alive. you supported me before you met me and showed unconditional love when you did. always excited and happy, always willing to joke around about how the season would go. For the short time I've known you, you blessed me with the opportunity to attend your wedding a wedding I see as my first real wedding. We didn't grow up together but when I heard the news I was hurt like I've known you my whole life. I just wanna say thank you to you your wife and family for the support and making North Carolina feel like home. Rest in peace brother and sisters may Allah bless all three of you with the highest heaven. I know you'll always and forever be a NC State supporter. Rest easy my dude.

Making good on that promise to take down both Duke and UNC (against whom he scored 8 and 9 points, respectively) was even more special for a lot of people associated with NC State basketball than any outsider could have imagined. Now, Pack fans are ready to watch Abu take the floor for what many are predicting will be a breakout sophomore season.


Mamadou Ndiaye averaged just over 10 points per game last season, but that was all it took for the 7'6 center to capture the hearts of America. He was a March sweetheart for about two hours when he nearly led the Anteaters (making their first NCAA Tournament appearance) to a stunning win over Louisville.

The insanely big man is back for more West Coast fun this year.


One of the most impressive and well-known streaks in college basketball is Kansas' current run off 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles. The Jayhawks are loaded once again, but so are fellow top 10 conference brethren Iowa State and Oklahoma.


After winning 12 total NCAA Tournament games in a three-year span between 2001-03, the Maryland Terrapins have suddenly gone 12 seasons without winning multiple games in the Big Dance. That could all change shortly with a team that has higher expectations than any since Juan Dixon was the most popular guy in College Park.


It will be strange not seeing Billy Donovan pacing the Florida sidelines this winter. That's a job that now belongs to Mike White, who will look to get the Gators back in the national picture after a highly disappointing 2014-15. For that to happen he'll need a star performance from senior froward Dorian Finney-Smith, who averaged 13.1 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game last season.


By the time next March rolls around, it will have been 14 years since Indiana last made it past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. With a loaded roster and a top 15 preseason ranking, that's a streak that may need to be broken if Tom Crean wants to earn a ninth season in Bloomington.


The biggest surprise returnee to college hoops this season? Preseason first team All-American Kris Dunn, who came back for one more season at Providence despite being pegged as a lottery pick in last June's NBA Draft. The do-it-all point guard averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals last season, and was both the Big East co-Player of the Year and co-Defensive Player of the Year.


Could this be the season a 16 seed finally stuns a No. 1? Probably not (No. 1 seeds are now 124-0 all-time against 16 seeds), but with the sport's top teams not looking nearly as formidable as they have in recent years, there's at least a chance that we'll get to have some fun deep into the second half of at least one of the games.


The last 138 times Duke and North Carolina have played, at least one of them has been ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. The last time neither was ranked by the AP was on Feb. 27, 1960, and even then, North Carolina was No. 12 in the coaches' poll. The last meeting where neither was ranked in either poll was Feb. 25, 1955. In all, UNC has owned a national ranking in 108 of the past 135 meetings with Duke, and the Blue Devils have also been ranked in 88 of those matchups.

In evidence that might strike a stronger chord with those not impressed by deep history, either Duke or North Carolina has been a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in every NCAA Tournament since 2004, and one of them has been a top seed in all but two of those big dances. If you want to go back a little further for an even more insane statistic, every Final Four played from 1989 to 2001 except one featured the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels. The two teams have also combined to win eight of the last 24 national championships.

The first of two meetings between these two arch-rivals will take place on Feb. 17 in Chapel Hill.


Reputations are earned, and Tom Izzo's rep for being among the best in the game at getting his team to peak at the right time is backed up by facts. Michigan State has been to the NCAA Tournament 18 times under the guidance of Izzo, and in exactly half of those appearances, it has advanced to the Elite Eight. Seven times it has won that regional final game and gone on to the Final Four.

Those numbers are impressive enough, but it's how Izzo has achieved them that makes up the foundation of his reputation. Though his lone national championship came via a heavily favored No. 1 seed, Izzo is a remarkable 13-10 in the NCAA Tournament when Michigan State is the lower-seeded team. Those 13 wins are the most all-time for a head coach in the big dance. Perhaps most ridiculous of all, Izzo is 22-4 in the second game of any NCAA Tournament weekend, with all four losses coming to No. 1 seeds or eventual national champions.

You may roll your eyes when "Izzo in March" starts getting tossed around after the Spartans take a loss in November and December this season, but the words will be on your mind when you fill out your bracket a few months later.


Two years ago, college basketball attempted to improve the flow of the game by implementing new rules that set out to eliminate hand-checking and provide more freedom of movement on offense. The result was that foul calls spiked to a record rate of 19.11 per game, games turned into glorified free-throw shooting contests that took three hours to play, and fans and coaches both complained incessantly. The result was that the new rules were backed off of before that season even ended, and eliminated completely before last year.

Now the rules are back, with the sport noting that it took multiple years for the NBA to get used to the new rules that ultimately wound up improving the league's product dramatically. Even if the ends do wind up justifying the means here, expect complaints for the next five months.


Ben Howland's 20th season as a Division-I head coach will come at Mississippi State, where he's taking over a Bulldog program that cut ties with Rick Ray after a disastrous three-year run. Howland, who led UCLA to three straight Final Four appearances, has already loaded up on high-level talent for next season. As for this year, he has a freshman star in Malik Newman, who, if nothing else, ought to keep the folks in Starksville entertained for the duration of 2015-16.


The leading returning scorer in the country, Damion Lee, averaged 21.4 points per game for Drexel last season. He won't be expected to produce quite that much for Louisville in 2015-16, but he will be expected to do the lion's share of scoring on a team that lost more than 80 percent of its point production from a year ago. Even if the numbers don't wind up being as gaudy as they have been in the past, it will be fun to watch both he and former Cleveland Sate star Trey Lewis finally get some time in the national spotlight.


LSU won 22 games last season before choking away a massive lead against NC State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Expectations are even greater this year in Baton Rouge, thanks mostly to the presence of freshman phenom Ben Simmons.

Simmons has been pretty open about his desire to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and if LSU is going to win the national championship -- a proclamation already made by fellow five-star freshman Antonio Blakeney -- he'd better be ready to live up to that hype. Easily the most highly touted player to come to LSU since Shaquille O'Neal, Simmons was being used in advertising campaigns for season tickets before he even arrived on campus. The versatile 6'10 forward can do just about everything imaginable on a basketball court, and his complete skill set will need to be on full display if the Tigers are going to win a game in the big dance (let alone six) for the first time since 2009.


One of the cooler announcements of the offseason was that Army and Navy will be playing a men's and women's doubleheader inside Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23. While the hardwood rivalry might not carry quite as much cachet as its gridiron counterpart, the event still figures to draw a solid crowd to the world's most famous arena and will also give the players a much-deserved moment in the national spotlight. The Midshipmen lead the all-time series, 76-47, and beat the Black Knights three times last season.


He might not be a household name, but no player in college basketball had more double-doubles last season than Stony Brook's Jameel Warney, who had 24. The two-time defending America East Player of the Year now has his sights set on leading Stony Brook to its first ever NCAA Tournament, a goal the Seawolves saw ripped away last March when Albany's Peter Hooley buried a Robert Horry-esque game-winner in the closing seconds of the league championship game.


Ron Hunter led Georgia State to 25 wins last season, but the final two certainly took a toll on him. The Panther head coach tore his achilles while celebrating the team's two-point win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt championship game, and then he famously fell out of his chair after his son, R.J., buried the game-winner against Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That moment has now been immortalized in bobblehead form.


R.J. Hunter may be a Boston Celtic now, but his father's team should once again be contenders in the Sun Belt. While Shawn Long and Louisiana Lafayette are the preseason favorites to win the conference, the elder Hunter and Kevin Ware (yes, that Kevin Ware) ought to be right there to take a shot at another memorable March run.


John Calipari will look for his eighth win over Louisville in nine tries as Kentucky's coach when the two arch-rivals take the floor inside Rupp Arena for their annual meeting on Dec. 26. Given the offseason the Cardinals have had, it'd be foolish to assume that there will be any holiday cheer on display in Lexington on the day after Christmas.


He may play in the nation's 27th-best conference (according to the RPI), but High Point's John Brown is college basketball's best dunker.

The only thing left for the All-American candidate to accomplish in his college career is to get the Panthers over the hump in the Big South Tournament and into the big dance for the first time in program history.


It's been 28 years since two teams from the same conference (Kansas and Oklahoma) met in the national championship game. With the ACC and the Big 12 both starting the season with multiple teams ranked in the top 10, a conference showdown on the final Monday of the season is certainly a realistic possibility.


After winning 29 and 33 games in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, you'd think Villanova would be widely viewed as one of the four or five top programs in the sport at the moment. Thanks to a pair of upset losses in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, that's not the case.

"An early exit definitely becomes a stigma," 'Nova coach Jay Wright acknowledged after last year's loss to NC State. "It's something we can't argue with. It's not going to be what motivates us. Because we did get there before, and we know we were doing the same things There's definitely pressure that comes with it. When you're a 1 or a 2 seed, there's a lot of variables that affect how you handle that. Each team's different."

The Wildcats will start the season ranked No. 9 in the coaches' poll, but everyone associated with the program knows that their season will be mostly judged by what they do in March.


None of college basketball's rule changes for 2015-16 have been more hyped or longer overdue than the shot clock finally moving from 35 to 30 seconds. While the fix alone isn't going to be enough to completely solve the sport's scoring and aesthetics problems, it's still a sizable step in the right direction.


The 2015-16 campaign might technically start on Friday, but for most fans, the unofficial start of every season has become the ESPN tipoff marathon. The schedule for this year's marathon, which begins on the evening of Nov. 16 and concludes about 31 hours later, is headlined by a Champions Classic showdown between Kentucky and Duke.

Here's the final lineup for this year's event:


Time (ET)



Monday Nov. 16

5:30 p.m.

UConn at Ohio State (women)


7:30 p.m.

Virginia at George Washington


9 p.m.

Legends Classic: Kennesaw State at LSU


9:30 p.m.

San Diego State at Utah


11:30 p.m.

Baylor at Oregon


Tuesday Nov. 17

1:45 a.m.

BYU at Long Beach State


4 a.m.

Nevada at Hawaii


6 a.m.

Green Bay at East Tennessee State


8 a.m.

Stephen F. Austin at Northern Iowa


10 a.m.

Valparaiso at Rhode Island


1 p.m.

Alabama at Dayton


3 p.m.

Colorado at Auburn


5 p.m.

Oklahoma at Memphis


7:30 p.m.

State Farm Champions Classic

(United Center, Chicago): Kentucky vs. Duke


9 p.m.

Georgetown at Maryland


10 p.m.

State Farm Champions Classic

(United Center, Chicago): Kansas vs. Michigan State



The focus on Wisconsin for much of this season is going to be on whether Bo Ryan's 32nd season as a head coach is going to be his last. After making the sudden announcement in June that he would be calling it a career after this season, Ryan has since backtracked on that statement, saying now that he will re-evaluate things once 2015-16 ends.

Wisconsin hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament under Ryan's guidance, and has been a No. 5 seed or better in nine of his 14 seasons, including each of the last six. The Badgers have reached the second weekend of the Big Dance seven times in the last 14 seasons, giving Ryan more trips to the Sweet 16 over that span than any coach not named Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, John Calipari or Bill Self. And as far as the Big Ten goes, no team in the league has more overall or conference wins than Wisconsin's 357 and 172, respectively, during the Ryan era.

If this is Ryan's final season, here's hoping he gets a proper sendoff.


While the Maui Invitational is technically entering its 31st year of existence, the event's roots actually date back 33 years ago, when top-ranked Virginia was shocked by Chaminade on Dec. 23, 1982. Now, the Maui remains college basketball's most visible early season tournament, even with the recent emergence of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The 2015 installment of the tournament will run on Thanksgiving week from Nov. 23-25, and will feature the loaded field of Indiana, Kansas, St. John's, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and host Chaminade.


Here's hoping for at least 34 in-game interviews from Bob Huggins this season. If you ask the man a question that deserves a three-word response, the man is going to give you a three-word response.


There are 351 college basketball programs that will compete in Division-I this season, and only 35 of them have ever won the NCAA Tournament. Each member of the bottom half of the preseason AP top 10 -- Virginia (6), Iowa State (7), Oklahoma (8), Gonzaga (9), and Wichita State (10) -- will be looking for its first national title.


Vanderbilt finished last season ranked 36th, according to Ken Pomeroy's metrics, but the Commodores appear to be ready to contend in the SEC after a couple of down seasons for Kevin Stallings in Nashville.

After a 1-7 start in SEC play that had some wondering aloud last winter whether Vandy AD David Williams might be spending the start of his spring searching for a new hoops coach, the Commodores shocked virtually everyone by reeling off eight wins in their final 10 regular season games. The run got their conference record back to .500, and had more than one Bracketologist claiming that the 'Dores were worth a hard look. A loss to Tennessee in their SEC Tournament opener changed all that, and Vandy's season ended with a narrow defeat to Stanford in the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Virtually everyone -- the top seven scorers to be precise -- is back from that squad, including NBA mock draft darling Damian Jones. Commodore basketball had something really good going from 2007-2012, and the perception that the official return of those days is coming this winter has the buzz back in Nashville.


It's been 37 years since DePaul last won more than two games in the NCAA Tournament. They're not going to end that streak this season, but it's all good because their bench is hilarious.


Kentucky, which famously began last season 38-0 before falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four, isn't generating any "pursuit of perfection" or 40-0 talk heading into this year ... at least not yet. If the Wildcats are able to knock off Duke on Nov. 17, then it's a sure thing that the chatter will start again, even if John Calipari completely dismisses it this time.


One of the 39 changes that the college basketball powers-that-be made during the offseason involved making sure that two of the NCAA Tournament's top five teams don't have to meet until at least the Final Four. Here was the exact wording for that process change:

Another change the committee made will provide flexibility for seeding the four teams on the No. 2 line. While teams from the same conference will remain in separate regions, the committee may consider moving the team seeded fifth on the overall seed list out of its natural geographic area to avoid the best of the No. 2 seeds being placed in the same region as the top overall team.

It seems like a no-brainer -- yes, the team which has played better than all others for the previous four months should be protected to the point that it isn't assigned to a region with the tournament's best No. 2 seed. Still, the fact that this change needs to be made or even addressed at all speaks to the biggest problem with college basketball's postseason right now, which is that the s-curve method of seeding has been abandoned in favor of giving geographical preference to teams seeded on the top four lines.


You're probably going to want to arrive at your favorite team's arena about 40 minutes earlier than you had in years past. Why? Because dunking is now legal during pregame warm-ups again.


Despite playing in back-to-back national championship games and making a move to the Big East Conference, there are still those who insist on saddling Butler with the "mid-major" label. Chris Holtmann has a loaded roster that will continue the work of establishing the Bulldogs as a perennial national title contender. At the forefront of that effort will be senior star Kellen Dunham, who has led Butler in scoring in each of the past two seasons and who connected on 77 of his 188 (41.0 percent) 3-point attempts as a junior.


There will be 42 "early season tournaments" in college basketball this year, 23 of the bracketed variety and 19 round-robin style. You can check out the dates, locations and fields for all 42 right here.


There will be no fewer than 43 times this season when college basketball leaves you totally unaware of what you should be doing with your hands.


Marcus Paige missing the first month of the season with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand should put more pressure on sophomore forward Justin Jackson to step up if North Carolina wants to live up to its preseason No. 1 billing. The proverbial clicking seemed to take place for Jackson at the end of his freshman season, when he hit double figures in 11 of North Carolina's final 12 games, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 44.7 percent from long range along the way. That surge will need to carry over into his sophomore season if he wants to generate some All-American buzz to go along with the "potential lottery pick" chatter that always follows him around.


It's how old Baylor's Rico Gathers has looked since the day he set foot on a college campus ... and also the number of miles straight that I'd immediately run if someone told me that I'd angered the big guy.


Before the 2011-12 season, 1946 had been the one and only time Harvard had gone to the NCAA Tournament. It's now been five years since any team other than the Crimson has earned the Ivy League's auto-bid. That could change this year, as Yale, Columbia and Princeton have all been picked to finish above Tommy Amaker's team in the Ivy League's preseason media poll.


The minimum number of times you are required to sing "One Shining Moment" between now and opening tip on Friday.


The so-called "Power 5" conferences went a combined 48-28 in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, with only the Big 12 finishing with a losing record (5-7). With this season appearing to be far more wide open than last, it's a safe bet that the same mark won't be quite as sparkling this season.


Utah shot just a hair under 49 percent as a team last season, good for the 13th-best mark in Division-I. The Utes lost star Delon Wright, but figure to center this year's team around talented big man Jakob Poeltl, who is at or near the top of just about every "breakout players" list from the offseason.


After three teams went dancing for the first time in 2015, we are now left with 50 eligible Division-I programs that have never made it to the NCAA Tournament. The most infamous among that group are the only five original Division-I members that have never made the tournament: Army, The Citadel, William & Mary, St. Francis Brooklyn and Northwestern. Two members from that group -- William & Mary and St. Francis Brooklyn -- were just one win away from checking out of the club forever, but both fell in their conference championship game.


To no one's surprise, Virginia once again led the country in scoring defense last season, allowing opponents to score just 51.4 points per game. Forget all the "bad for the game" criticism, if you enjoy watching team defense at its finest, then there's still no better team to follow than Tony Bennett's.


The number of words per 10 seconds that Oklahoma star Buddy Hield can produce in a postgame interview.


It's been 32 years since Virginia last crashed a Final Four, and 21 since the Cavaliers made a regional final. Tony Bennett's sixth-ranked UVA squad ought to have a chance to break both of those streaks in about five months ... so long as Michigan State's name pops up in a different region on Selection Sunday.


Perhaps the most interesting coaching marriage to follow this season will be Steve Prohm and the loaded roster at Iowa State. Prohm compiled a 104-29 overall record (including 54-10 in conference play) at Murray State, but he's replacing a coach in Fred Hoiberg who may have been more beloved than any other by his respective fan base. Add in the return of three all-conference caliber players (including preseason All-American Georges Niang), and the expectations for Prohm's first season in Ames are going to be difficult to live up to.


For all the talk about Duke's star power and scoring prowess last season, the Blue Devils won a national title by limiting their opponents to just 55.0 points per game in the tournament. Coach K's club recommitted itself to defense after back-to-back embarrassing losses to NC State and Miami in January, and they tasted defeat just twice more after that.


The number of court-storming debate columns that will be written between January and March.


Tennessee has lost 57 combined games over the last four seasons, a mark they're hoping can be improved by Rick Barnes, who got the axe at Texas despite leading the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons in Austin.


The Chris Mullin era at St. John's got started earlier this month with an embarrassing 90-58 exhibition loss to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas. The Big East is always better when St. John's is in the hunt for the league title, but it looks as though the Red Storm might need some time to get back to that place.


Did you know that Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) and Perry Ellis (Kansas) have been playing college basketball for a combined 59 years? Just kidding, they've both just been far more visible for the duration of their four-year (or five-year) college careers than the vast majority of student-athletes.

Expect to hear even worse jokes about both players (Wiltjer was the 6th man on Kentucky's national championship team with Anthony Davis!) every time they play a highly publicized game on national television.


Louisville's streak of 60 consecutive appearances in the Associated Press Top 25 was snapped when the Cardinals were left out of the AP's preseason rankings earlier this month. Rick Pitino's team will have a chance to make a loud early season statement when it faces Michigan State on the road in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 2.


The number of Crean Faces you're going to see between now and the first days of spring.


They say if you stare directly at Elite 8 Crean Face for more than five seconds, you die ... but only if he's the coach of Indiana. Maybe this is the year we get to test the legend.


Cal hasn't won a game in the NCAA Tournament since knocking off Louisville 77-62 in the first round of the 2010 big dance. The Bears are already going to be late-night appointment viewing thanks to their ridiculously talented freshman class, the return of Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird, and their desire to get up and down the court, but Cuonzo Martin wants his team to be more than just a West Coast sideshow. If Martin can instill at least some of the defensive toughness that he preached during his Missouri Valley days, then Cal will absolutely be a team that nobody wants to face in March.


A season after setting an NCAA record with a 4.79 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, Monté Morris nearly did himself one better. The Iowa State point guard finished his sophomore campaign with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.63, which was the best in the country. He's bulked up and he plans to attack the rim more for new head coach Steve Prohm.


Perhaps the most important change this season for the sanity of college basketball fans and media members alike is that the "round of 64" and "round of 32" are going back to being called the "first round" and the "second round." The "First Four" -- which had ridiculously been referred to as the first round of the tournament, confusing the absolute hell out of everyone -- will now simply be known as the "First Four" or "opening round." It took longer than it ever should have, but logic finally prevailed here. No more "round of 32" workarounds for anyone.


The over/under on buzzer beaters for the upcoming season.

Here's hoping for the over.


Last season, for the first time in the 66-year history of the Associated Press Top 25, the poll's top five remained completely unchanged for six consecutive weeks. And this wasn't during late November and December when the teams were beating up on lesser non-conference opponents either, it was during the heart of conference play in late January and February. While it was exciting to watch a handful of powerhouses dominate their leagues and then clash in the NCAA Tournament regional finals and national semifinals, a wide-open national landscape figures to make the weeks and months leading up to the big dance even more engaging this go-round.


Despite boasting one of the most loaded rosters in the country last season, Texas averaged just 67.4 points per game and was one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament. They responded by cutting ties with Rick Barnes and landing perhaps the most exciting coaching hire of the offseason in VCU's Shaka Smart. With point guard Isaiah Taylor leading the charge, Smart will now attempt to implement his "Havoc" style and make Longhorn basketball a spectacle in Austin once again.


The number of teams that will have a shot at winning six (or seven) straight games to claim a national title come Selection Sunday. Still, and always, the best postseason in all of sports.