2011-12 season preview: Top 68 Things to Watch

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Duke students and fans know how many more wins Mike Krzyzewski needs to pass Bob Knight. (AP)  
Duke students and fans know how many more wins Mike Krzyzewski needs to pass Bob Knight. (AP)  

The college basketball season has officially arrived.

The games are starting.

And so now we have five months of basketball ahead of us -- roughly four months until the Field of 68 is revealed on Selection Sunday. Between now and then we'll get buzzer-beaters and 40-point games, broken records and, yes, probably a scandal or two. With that in mind, CBSSports.com college basketball experts Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander assembled a list of 68 Things to Watch this season. The list starts with an aircraft carrier, ends with a busted bracket and touches on most of the nation's relevant programs. Take a look. Get excited. We're closing in on tipoff.

1. Hoops on the high seas: The Carrier Classic between Michigan State and North Carolina on Veteran's Day will be historic because they're playing a basketball game on top of an aircraft carrier -- the same one that was used to bury Osama bin Laden at sea. And, oh yeah, President Obama will be there, too. -- Jeff Borzello

2. Coach K's quest: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will break his former mentor Bob Knight's mark as the all-time wins lead in men's Division I basketball. It could come as early as Nov. 15 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. -- Jeff Goodman

3. The sophomores: Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones are all back in school. Thank you, NBA Lockout. -- Gary Parrish

4. NBA lockout: The longer it drags on, the more attention the college game will get. We'll also be paying close attention because of what the new collective bargaining agreement means as far as the one-and-done rule is concerned and whether it reverts to high school kids being able to jump directly to the NBA. -- J.G.

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5. Injuries: Connecticut's Andre Drummond, Louisville's Wayne Blackshear, Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli all suffered preseason injuries of some sort and to different degrees. Somebody's Final Four hopes are always diminished because of a torn knee ligament or broken toe or something. Which school will be unlucky this season? -- G.P.

6. John Calipari's continuing surge at UK: The fans in Lexington are enjoying a lovefest with Calipari, and rightfully so. He has brought in elite talent each year, and he performed a magical coaching job a year ago in getting the Wildcats to the Final Four. This is the best combo of talent and character he has ever enrolled. Will it translate into a national title? -- J.G.

7. Connecticut and Jim Calhoun continue: Who would have thought we would be here? Yet Calhoun has a team that's just unfair, really. He can win another title, and if he does, seriously, Jim, retire. You will have done it all. -- Matt Norlander

8. The fight to be the face of college basketball: Jimmer Fredette developed into the sport's star last season. Will it be one player this season? And, if so, who? Harrison Barnes? Jared Sullinger? Terrence Jones? -- J.G.

9. Butler going for a third straight title game: Brad Stevens lost a lottery pick and still returned to the national title game. This time he lost a second-rounder and an overseas guy, so why can't he shock the world again? That's an unfair expectation since he'll now deal with life without Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. But the Bulldogs won't drop off the map, either, despite what a preseason loss to a Division II school might suggest. -- J.G.

10. Shabazz Muhammad's recruitment: Signing Day is this week, but it appears the nation's top prospect is a long way from deciding his future. Put me down as predicting UCLA. But watch out for Coach Cal and Kentucky, too. -- G.P.

11. Dec. 3, 2011: That's the date North Carolina travels to Lexington and faces Kentucky at Rupp Arena in what is a matchup of the nation's two top-ranked teams. This could be a preview of April's national title game. There will be no shortage of pros on the court. -- J.G.

12. Harvard looks to end 65-year drought: The Crimson nearly made the NCAA tournament last season but lost at the buzzer to Princeton in a one-game playoff for the Ivy League's automatic bid. With a healthy Kyle Casey, they won't fall short this year. -- J.B.

13. John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino: These guys despise one another and already have traded verbal jabs in the preseason. Their programs will go head-to-head on New Year's Eve. Louisville vs. Kentucky. Pitino vs. Calipari. There's not much better than this. -- J.G.

14. Kevin Stallings in the NCAA tournament: Folks will continue to question the Vanderbilt coach until he makes a deep run in March. My guess is this is the season he does it. -- G.P.

Thomas Robinson will carry the load for Kansas, which isn't as loaded as usual. (Getty Images)  
Thomas Robinson will carry the load for Kansas, which isn't as loaded as usual. (Getty Images)  
15. Kansas' Big 12 streak of dominance is in jeopardy: The Jayhawks simply don't have a lot of typical Kansas depth and talent this season. Outside of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, it's a nondescript group of players. Two of the top reserves are former walk-ons. -- J.B.

16. Anthony Grant at Alabama: Grant looked like a great hire when he went to Tuscaloosa, and he's living up to expectations. This should be his best team yet. The roster is good enough to make the NCAA tournament and advance. -- G.P.

17. The former Alabama coach at N.C. State: What Mark Gottfried lacked in press-conference-pop he has made up for in recruiting success. No, this wasn't the guy N.C. State fans were convinced they would get to replace Sidney Lowe; they wanted Jamie Dixon or Sean Miller or Phil Jackson or John Wooden. But they seem happy with how things are going under Gottfried, and they should be. -- G.P.

18. VCU trying to make another NCAA tournament: The Rams were one of the final teams allowed into last season's NCAA tournament, then they shot their way to the Final Four. They lost plenty of talent off that team, though. Can they even get back to the Field of 68? -- J.B.

19. Mississippi State's chemistry or dysfunction: The Bulldogs were a mess last season. Dee Bost missed half the year, Renardo Sidney brawled with a teammate and Ravern Johnson popped off on Twitter. They have talent -- especially with the addition of transfer Arnett Moultrie. But did they mature? -- J.B.

20. Virginia Tech's annual Selection Sunday sweating: It's always entertaining to watch Seth Greenberg squirm before the unveiling of the field. Will the Hokies even have a chance to sweat it out this year? Without Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and now J.T. Thompson, Greenberg's team could struggle their way off the bubble. -- J.B.

21. Conference musical chairs: This game of conference realignment is equal parts fascinating and annoying. It's also far from over. -- J.G.

22. The Big Least: The Big East has already lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC and is in danger of going from the most dominant hoops league in the country to one mired in mediocrity. Does it just patch up the holes or go the route of an all-hoops league and bid farewell to its remaining football members? To be continued, obviously. -- J.G.

23. Good Joe Jackson/Bad Joe Jackson: Will he be the Memphis point guard who won C-USA tournament MVP honors or the Memphis point guard who got benched in February? It's a key question for the Tigers. For what it's worth, I'm betting he's more good than bad. Lots more good than bad, in fact. -- G.P.

24. Hoosier Hysteria: It's Year 4 of the Tom Crean Era in Bloomington and IU fans are restless. He'll need to show progress this season or it may not matter who he has enrolling a year from now (or how much the buyout is). -- J.G.

UCLA is moving in the right direction with Reeves Nelson and a stacked front line. (Getty Images)  
UCLA is moving in the right direction with Reeves Nelson and a stacked front line. (Getty Images)  
25. What's Bruin in Westwood: Ben Howland doesn't have UCLA back to what it was a few years ago, but he's inching closer. The front line might be as imposing as any in the nation with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and the Wear twins. And Howland's recruiting has the program headed in the right direction again. -- J.G.

26. Health of St. John's coach Steve Lavin and Texas A&M's Billy Kennedy: Lavin is battling cancer. Kennedy is dealing with the early stages of Parkinson's. Those things are way more serious than worrying about a point guard with a turned ankle. -- J.G.

27. Syracuse fans' love-hate relationship with Scoop Jardine: The veteran point guard will win the Orange a game they should probably lose at some point, and he'll shoot them right out of a tight contest, too. Such is life with Jardine running things. -- G.P.

28. Robbie Hummel's health: By now everyone knows my crush on Purdue's fifth-year senior, but it's hard not to pull for the kid. He hasn't played in nearly two years after suffering two torn ACLs. -- J.G.

29. College basketball's greatest romance: I am, of course, talking about Jeff Goodman and Robbie Hummel. Get a room already. -- M.N.

30. Florida's perimeter group: Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton have reputations as shoot-first guards, Mike Rosario constantly looks to score and Brad Beal is a shooter. Sensing a theme? Billy Donovan will need to find a way to keep everyone happy and on the same page. -- J.B.

31. Michigan's point guard situation: Losing Darius Morris early was a big blow to the Wolverines. Freshman Trey Burke has been good in practices, but whether Michigan has enough at the point to challenge for a Big Ten title is debatable. -- G.P.

32. Tony Wroten: He's a terrific talent who can be difficult to watch -- and coach -- at times. Washington's Lorenzo Romar has plenty of experience dealing with high-maintenance guys (i.e. Nate Robinson, Isaiah Thomas), so maybe he can find a way to keep Wroten in line. If he does, the Huskies, who also have a star in the making with Terrence Ross, could win the Pac 12. -- J.G.

33. Freshman floor leaders: Three freshman will be charged with leading big-time programs. It starts with Marquis Teague at Kentucky. Texas' Myck Kabongo and Arizona's Josiah Turner should also run their teams from opening night. -- J.G.

34. Pro announcers doing college games: Another thing the NBA lockout will add to college basketball is NBA announcers doing NCAA contests. Jeff Van Gundy is coming to a campus near you. -- G.P.

Kendall Marshall brings to mind old-school points with his approach to the game. (AP)  
Kendall Marshall brings to mind old-school points with his approach to the game. (AP)  
35. Kendall Marshall: Call me a traditionalist, but I miss the days of the pure point guard. That's exactly what North Carolina's sophomore floor leader is. He may not jump high or shoot it from deep, but what he does is invaluable. He makes pinpoint passes that result in easy buckets for his teammates. He's as fun to watch as any player in the nation. -- J.G.

36. The development of Anthony Davis: A year ago we watched North Carolina's Harrison Barnes limp out of the gates. He closed with a fury, but whether it was the adjustment or the expectations, he struggled early in the season. Could the same happen to this year's top-rated freshman, Kentucky's long, skilled and exceptionally talented forward? -- J.G.

37. Jared Sullinger's weight: He looks great, but will it change how he plays in the paint? I'm not talking for better or worse: How much will his game change this year? An agile Jared is a scary Jared. -- M.N.

38. Bourbon Street: New Orleans is the site of this season's Final Four. Never been to the city. Cannot wait to save Parrish and Goodman from themselves eight times in a five-day span. I also hope good basketball teams are playing. -- M.N.

39. The scandal to come: I can't say for sure who it will involve and where it will lead, but we will have another scandal this season. College athletics, as you know, are filled with sketchy people dealing in gray areas. It's just a matter of the principle figures being exposed. -- G.P.

40. Jeff Hathaway's involvement in the selection process: The former UConn athletic director had his buddies cobble together a way for him to keep an official job within the NCAA, so he'll still be the chair of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Can you imagine if UConn is a fringe 1 or 2 seed, and the Huskies get a 2? Everyone will think Hathaway had a hand in it. That kind of mindless drama and speculation is exactly what the Monday after Selection Sunday needs. -- M.N.

41. The Big East tournament: Because it's the Big East tournament. We've only got a few left -- maybe only one -- before it disappears forever as we know it. God, I'm depressed now. -- M.N.

42. The charge circle: The addition of the charge circle represents a significant rule change. It makes the game safer, but which coaches will be smart enough to use it to their advantage early on? -- M.N.

43. Side(line) shows: Certain coaches always make for great watching away from the game during the game. Buzz Williams, Bob Huggins, Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim. All just bonkers between the buzzers. Gary Williams, you'll absolutely be missed. -- M.N.

44. Billy Clyde Gillispie: Will he make Texas Tech relevant? Will he get to do another halftime interview with Jeannine Edwards? -- G.P.

Rick Pitino resplendent in white is always a season highlight. (Getty Images)  
Rick Pitino resplendent in white is always a season highlight. (Getty Images)  
45. Sharp-dressed men: Bob Huggins' insistence on wearing a credential on the sidelines is hilarious. Rick Pitino's annual White Suit Game is awesome. -- M.N.

46. Pat Chambers at Penn State: It'll be a long year in Happy Valley because there just isn't much talent. The larger question, after this weekend's developments, is this: Will Joe Paterno be gone before Chambers ever coaches a game? (Answer: Probably not, but he should be.) -- G.P.

47. The West Coast Conference chase: This league is going to be very, very good. BYU comes over, and San Francisco, Santa Clara and Saint Mary's will all shoot their shiniest arrows Gonzaga's way. Lotta good ball out west in this new-look league. Could send three teams dancing. -- M.N.

48. Pittsburgh: Jamie Dixon has made eight straight NCAA tournaments. His first Final Four could come this season. -- G.P.

49. Mid-major development: With 37 at-large berths to fight for again, will we get an increase in mids fighting on the bubble's surface? I think it's going to be a year where we get at least 10 at-larges from outside the Big Six. Quote me. -- M.N.

50. Iona is the best team in the NYC area: St. John's is extremely inexperienced and the rest of the metro area is down; Iona can be a mid-major sleeper this season. The Gaels should battle Fairfield for the MAAC title. -- J.B.

51. New faces in new places: Royce White at Iowa State, Mike Rosario at Florida, Arnett Moultrie at Mississippi State and the Wear twins back home at UCLA. Those are just a few of the high-profile transfers, but another that could be key is Xavier's Travis Taylor. -- J.B.

52. Baylor's frontcourt talent: It will be fun to see what Scott Drew does with his forwards. Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and Perry Jones all return, while Quincy Miller is a top-five freshman. The key for the Bears will be the backcourt and how these guys mesh. -- J.B.

53. Frank Haith at Missouri: The Tigers' new coach has had a rough go -- first with the Nevin Shapiro allegations, then with Laurence Bowers suffering a season-ending injury. This is an experienced team with expectations, but it's also a group that was used to running and pressing under Mike Anderson. Can Haith quiet his critics by winning immediately? We'll see. -- J.B.

54. The Pac-12 race: UCLA, Arizona, Cal and Washington all have a shot at winning the league. Personally, I'm going with the Bruins -- but much depends on point guard Lazeric Jones. -- J.G.

Austin Rivers brings talent to Duke, but he must adjust to the college game. (AP)  
Austin Rivers brings talent to Duke, but he must adjust to the college game. (AP)  
55. Doc's kid: Austin Rivers is a big-time scorer who doesn't lack for swagger. It'll be interesting to see how he blends with Duke's holdovers -- and how quickly he adjusts to college. Rivers' strength is getting to the basket, but he'll need to defend for Coach K to keep him on the court. -- J.G.

56. Kevin Brockway at the Final Four: This only belongs on the list if the Gators make it to New Orleans. For selfish reasons, I hope it happens. Because there's nothing better than the Florida beat writer for the Gainesville Sun in a New Orleans karaoke bar singing Living on a Prayer. Sportswriters from coast to coast are still talking about the last time. -- G.P.

57. Chris Mack's Musketeers: I have Xavier going to the Final Four. The Musketeers have a talented and experienced backcourt with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, a legit big man in Kenny Frease, and Mack now has quality depth. Can the Musketeers live up to the hype? Again I say yes. -- J.G.

58. Life after D-Will at Arizona: Derrick Williams left for the NBA and Kevin Parrom is recovering from a gunshot injury. Sean Miller did an incredible job a year ago getting within a basket of the Final Four. What will he do with this group? There are lots of question marks. -- J.G.

59. Villanova's chemistry: Jay Wright had talent last season, but the chemistry was missing and so was the leadership. Let's see if it's actually addition by subtraction with the departures of Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. -- J.G.

60. Tempo-free stats and the revolution's evolution of analysis: I'll know Goodman has BARELY warmed to the new (and correct) wave of evaluation -- like the Grinch did to Christmas -- if this quip makes it into the final piece. We should all be getting smarter about the game by using tempo-free stats to look at the things our eyes and minds cannot immediately pick up on. A blend of smart stats and eagle eyes makes for the best consensus. -- M.N.

61. Wisconsin trying to remain in the Top 25: It's tough to doubt Bo Ryan because he never has a bad team. But outside of Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz, there's not much to the Wisconsin roster. -- J.B.

62. Press conference coaching B-I-N-G-O: I'm thinking about starting an annual game this year, and Calhoun and Boeheim will be critical to the game's sustenance. When will either get into a fight with a reporter? Which coach will be the first to walk out on a postgame presser? These are the things that make the regular season peppy amid the marathon toward the tourney. Coaches' agony is our sweet, sweet victory. -- M.N.

63. Casper Ware vs. Orlando Johnson: Two of the best mid-major players in the country are both talented enough to carry their teams (Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara) to the NCAA tournament. -- J.B.

64. Josh Smith's body: What will it do and who will it suffocate this year? Smith was an iron-eater despite his fatigue and cardio issues last season. If he gets it together during the season, UCLA's frontcourt can be the best in the nation. -- M.N.

65. DeAndre Kane: Looking for a possible future pro from Conference USA who doesn't play at Memphis? This is your guy. He's at Marshall. He could play anywhere, though. -- G.P.

66. Tennessee in the post-Bruce Pearl Era: Think about Volunteers basketball for the past six years. OK, it's not going to be anything like that this year with Cuonzo Martin replacing Pearl. The Vols are back to being an afterthought this year, methinks. -- M.N.

67. Selection Sunday: Who will be the No. 1 seeds? (I'll go with North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut and Ohio State.) -- G.P.

68. Your NCAA tournament bracket: You'll get the bracket late Sunday, fill it out before the end of the night and then ... watch somebody like VCU or Butler make it look ridiculous. Happens every season. It's part of what makes this sport fun. -- G.P.

2011-12 Season Preview
DateFeatureDateFeature
Oct. 13Preseason Top 25 (and one) Nov. 1Top freshmen
 Projected NCAA tournament field Nov. 2Top transfers
 Goodman and Parrish bracket picks Nov. 3Under the radar players
Oct. 14Team profiles: 'Cuse | UConn | UK | UNC Nov. 4Breakout players
Oct. 17Preseason All-Americans Nov. 5Best shooters
Oct. 18Top 100 players Nov. 6Best defensive players
Oct. 19Positional rankings: Point guards Nov. 768 things ...
Oct. 20Positional rankings: Wing men Nov. 8Ranking the preseason tourneys
Oct. 21Positional rankings: Big men Nov. 950 can't miss games
   Nov. 10Coaches on the Hot Seat
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