The college hoops season tips off Friday -- and for those of you who haven't kept up with the offseason happenings, we'll make it easy for you. Here are the 10 Things You Need to Know entering the 2012-13 campaign, a rundown of the top Player of the Year candidates and plenty more in the first edition of Good 'N Plenty.
Ten things you need to know
1. Do NOT compare this year's Kentucky squad to last season's group that cut down the nets. Sure, the Wildcats will still have a chance to get back to the Final Four, but there's no Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this group -- and there's also no veteran like Darius Miller who can show the young bucks. The veteran on this year's team is Julius Mays, a one-year transfer from Wright State who began his career at North Carolina State. However, there's still more than enough talent for UK to mature into one of the elite teams by the time February rolls around. This group features a new crop of freshmen -- led by freak shot-blocker Nerlens Noel, scoring wing Archie Goodwin and talented forward Alex Poythress.
2. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA's prized freshman and a guy who was ranked No. 1 overall by many coming out of high school, still hasn't been cleared by the NCAA. There was no shortage of red flags -- including a couple of financial guys tied to his family -- and it wouldn't be surprising if the Bruins wing missed a good portion of the season.
3. The big boys are back. The AP preseason poll is loaded with teams that have won national titles. In fact, each of the top 14 teams have won at least one national title. It's basically a Who's Who in college hoops with UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina State, Michigan State, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Syracuse and Arizona. That means we'll have most of the rabid fan bases involved this season unlike in years past.
4. N.C. State is the favorite on Tobacco Road. Yes, it's true -- and I saw it with my own eyes on a trip down to that area last month. Mark Gottfried's team has more overall talent -- and experience -- than both Duke and North Carolina. The key advantage for the Wolfpack comes at the point guard spot, where Lorenzo Brown is clearly superior to UNC freshman Marcus Paige and Duke sophomore Quinn Cook.
5. Rick Pitino won't be overwhelmed talent-wise this season against UK. The Louisville head coach, who recently signed an extension through 2022, has a team that can finally go toe-to-toe with John Calipari's Kentucky team. The Cards have experience, enough talent, balance and one of the best coaches in the country.
6. Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have moved to the A-10. In case you missed it, that means the regular-season does matter for Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart. Both teams have a chance to come right into the league and win it in their rookie campaigns.
7. Connecticut won't be relevant, except for Kevin Ollie's future -- if you hadn't heard, Jim Calhoun retired -- and was replaced by Ollie. The issue, though, is that Ollie received a one-year deal and he has a team that isn't all that formidable by UConn standards and one that isn't eligible for the postseason due to poor academic scores.
8. In examining the mid-majors, we'll be talking more about players than teams this season. Creighton's Doug McDermott has a chance to be National Player of the Year, North Texas' Tony Mitchell could be a lottery pick, Murray State's Isaiah Canaan returns as an All-American and Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is a star who burst onto the national scene last March when his team upset Duke in the NCAA tournament. There are plenty more talented guys from beyond the power leagues, but these guys lead the way in 2012-13.
9. The Big Ten is loaded, especially at the top. By my count, four teams have a legitimate shot at getting to the Final Four -- and maybe even winning it all: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
10. This is the final season for the Big East as we've known it. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are gone to the ACC for certain next year -- and Notre Dame will join them (it's just a matter of when). Temple will come in next season, along with Houston, Southern Methodist and UCF. The league just won't be the same.
College hoops kicks off in style -- finally
One of the primary issues for college basketball is the lack of a true start date. Usually, it's been a couple of preliminary one-sided tournament games that don't mean a thing, other than the fact they serve as the official kickoff to the campaign.
This year is different -- and much of the reason can be attributed to Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis. A year ago, he spearheaded the game in San Diego on an aircraft carrier between the Spartans and North Carolina. This year, two aircraft carrier games have popped up on Friday, Veteran's Day. There's Florida vs. Georgetown in Jacksonville and Ohio State against Marquette in Charleston.
Then you've got the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats against Maryland at the brand-new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, a battle of two of the elite mid-major players in the nation with Creighton's Doug McDermott hosting Tony Mitchell and North Texas; and a dangerous Lehigh team led by C.J. McCollum playing at Baylor. That doesn't even include the newest innovation from Hollis, which is a contest on an Air Force base in Germany between Michigan State and UConn.
The team most likely to bounce back
Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh Panthers -- Dixon had led Pitt to eight NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons at the helm prior to last season. Then Tray Woodall went down and he had no backup point guard. Now Dixon has a healthy Woodall and also a terrific young freshman point guard James Robinson.
The Panthers were 216-60 prior to last season in the Dixon Regime, finishing first or second in the Big East five times in his eight seasons. Pitt doesn't just have point guard depth; it also has one of the most relentless, coachable and talented big men in the country. Steven Adams is a 7-foot New Zealander that should be a major factor, especially on the glass.
Expect Pittsburgh to be back after a down season. Not just in the middle of the pack, either. Don't be surprised if the Panthers are battling for the league title again.
Team most likely to nosedive
Xavier. I'm not sure if anyone had a rougher offseason than Musketeers coach Chris Mack. He lost Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease to graduation, then decided to amicably part ways with Mark Lyons (who transferred to Arizona for his final season) and watched as Dez Wells (his best returning player) was kicked out of school after a rape allegation that wasn't pursued by the grand jury. Two other Musketeers were deemed ineligible by the NCAA -- Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds -- and Isaiah Philmore was suspended for the first three games due to a paperwork oversight dating back to his time at Towson.
Xavier's top returning scorer is Monmouth transfer Travis Taylor, who had a disappointing season a year ago and put up just 4.5 points per game. Mack is high on freshman Semaj Christon, as well as he should be, but the Musketeers are going to take their lumps this season before likely returning to typical "X" form in 2013-14.
Sending out best wishes to Rick Majerus, who remains in the hospital with a serious heart condition. Majerus is one of the most underrated coaches in the game and won't return this season, maybe ever, but here's hoping he's able to recover. ... Miami's Durand Scott will miss the first three games as part of an NCAA suspension handed down at the end of last season for impermissible benefits. ... Can't wait for Tuesday night's Champions Classic. It's the second season of the four-team, round-robin event -- and it'll take place down in Atlanta. Kentucky plays Duke and Kansas faces a Michigan State team that will likely be jet-lagged after returning from Germany. ... The coach who is basically a dead man walking? Probably Northwestern's Bill Carmody, who didn't make it to the NCAA tournament with John Shurna. ... Coach who will save his job and get off the Hot Seat? Oklahoma State's Travis Ford -- who now has two of the country's elite players in sophomore Le'Bryan Nash and freshman Marcus Smart. ... Ten programs are ineligible for the postseason: UConn, Towson, UNC Wilmington, UC Riverside, Central Florida, Toledo, Jacksonville State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State.