College basketball season starts in 50 days, so here's 50 fun facts to get you ready
Nov. 10 will be here before you know it so here's what you need to know
The 2017-18 college basketball season might seem far off, but it's closer than you think. We're already just 50 days from the start of it. It's not quite preseason yet, but we've got you covered. If you're antsy for some college hoops content for the year ahead, consider this the heartiest of appetizers. Here are 50 items, facts, nuggets, tidbits, opinions and reasons to get eager for the upcoming campaign, which starts Nov. 10.
1. It's the oak anniversary for the NCAA Tournament. This year's bracket will be the 80th iteration of March Madness. The first Big Dance wasn't so big: an eight-team field in 1939. Oregon defeated Ohio State 46-33.
2. It's also an 80th year of existence for Phil Knight, who co-founded Nike (first named Blue Ribbon Sports) in 1964. Now, Nike is the biggest sports apparel company in the world, the biggest shoe-company presence in college basketball, and supplies the uniforms for more than 100 programs. On Nov. 23, 24 and 26, in Portland, Nike is holding a one-time-only "PK80" event in Knight's honor. The two-bracket extravaganza is highlighted by the inclusion of Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Florida and Gonzaga.
3. Heading into the season, Arizona, Duke and Michigan State are the favorites to land the No. 1 spot in the preseason AP poll. The last time a preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll won the national title in the same season was UNC in 2008-09. Duke has been the No. 1 team in the preseason AP poll eight times, including a year ago. Arizona's earned the honor thrice, most recently in 2002. Michigan State has never been preseason No. 1.
4. Duke is going to be the story in college hoops this season, much like Golden State has been the same for the NBA in recent years. But whereas Golden State is filled with award-winning vets, this is the least-experienced Blue Devils team Mike Krzyzewksi's ever coached. The only player returning who averaged more than seven minutes per game is Grayson Allen.
5. Speaking of Allen, he returns for his senior season as the most well-known college athlete on the planet, and of course the most hated. Because he's tripped multiple players and lashed out on the bench in the era of social media and instant-reaction, you could make the argument no player, ever, has been subjected to as much widespread criticism -- from fans and the press -- as Allen. Plenty of it deserved. Will we see that side of him again, though? How Allen conducts himself will be a current that coincides with Duke's season on the whole, and has the potential to define the team's success. (By the way, he's good enough to be an All-American again.)
6. North Carolina, Gonzaga, South Carolina and Oregon will attempt to do the not-so-unusual in college hoops. It's downright commonplace for teams to make consecutive Final Fours. It's happened 15 times in the past 20 seasons alone.
2017: North Carolina
2015: Kentucky, Wisconsin
2010: Michigan State
2009: North Carolina
2008: UCLA (went to three straight)
2001: Michigan State (went to three straight)
7. All four 2017 Final Four teams could have a rough go of getting back, though. South Carolina lost one of the best players in program history in Sindarius Thornwell, plus P.J. Dozier to early NBA draft entry. Oregon's three best players (Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell) all left school early for the pros. Gonzaga brings back a good roster, but it too lost Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss to the NBA. Collins was the first one-and-doner in GU history. UNC lost Justin Jackson as a junior, in addition to one-and-done Tony Bradley and the graduations of Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks.
8. Even though the Tar Heels lost a lot, they do return Joel Berry II, who could wind up as the most important point guard this season. Berry will aim to become the fifth North Carolina player in program history to win a national player of the year award, joining Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, Antawn Jamison and Tyler Hansbrough.
9. Oregon's averaged 28 wins the past five seasons, all of them including a trip to the NCAA.
10. Will Villanova's Big East dominance continue? The Wildcats didn't make last year's Final Four, but they were a No. 1 seed after winning the Big East for the fourth consecutive season. If Berry at UNC doesn't wind up as the most valuable point guard in college basketball, Nova's Jalen Brunson could be the guy to take the moniker.
11. The chic, non-traditional preseason top-10 team: Wichita State. The Shockers outscored opponents by 465 points last season -- the highest differential in college hoops. All five starters return. Landry Shamet broke his foot in July, but is aiming to return in time for the start of the season. The Shockers are especially intriguing because they moved from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference. A well-timed move, as this is shaping up to the best most well-rounded Shockers team Gregg Marshall's coached.
12. There will be two major storylines not directly tied to basketball games: the NCAA cases regarding Louisville and UNC. Both teams should be in the headlines from start to March, as they're likely to land in the preseason top 15. Louisville's case is on track to be wrapped up before the season ends, and that could mean removing the 2012-13 championship banner, something the NCAA has never done to a basketball program. North Carolina's case is more convoluted, and could potentially not have final resolution until the middle of 2018.
13. How long until we hear from LaVar Ball about LiAngelo Ball's playing time at UCLA? Whereas Lonzo Ball was an undeniable college-level talent heading into last season (before his pro stock soared by the start of December), LiAngelo is seen as a four-year college player, even if his father insists on 'Gelo being one-and-gone. There will be a reckoning, one way or the other.
14. A lot of talent has left college basketball since last season, but stars always emerge. That's the great thing about the sport: we see flowers in bloom every season. For example, the top returning scorers in the ACC (Boston College's Jerome Robinson), Big 12 (Oklahoma State's Jeffrey Carroll), American (Houston's Rob Gray), SEC (Georgia's Yante Maten) and the Pac-12 (Arizona State's Tra Holder) aren't huge names, but could become big pieces and recognizable if their teams make big pushes into March.
15. Let's talk anniversaries. There are a few to recognize in 2017-18. The first: It's been 30 years since Danny and the Miracles. Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national championship, securing his place among the 50 greatest college players ever.
16. Kansas is connected to a lot of notable anniversaries this season. The 2017-18 season will mark 15 years since Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse beat Kansas in New Orleans for the national title. Syracuse plays Kansas on Dec. 2 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational. (Syracuse and Kansas playing ... on a neutral court ... in Miami. This is the problem, college hoops.)
17. More Kansas: Come April, it will mark 10 years since "Chalmers for the tie!" which gave Bill Self his only national championship and vaulted his case to be a Naismith Hall of Famer. Self was inducted Sept. 8.
18. That Kansas title was won in San Antonio, which will host this season's Final Four. It's the fourth time River City has hosted the men's championship.
19. One more Kansas note. If you've lost track, Self will attempt to finish atop the Big 12 regular season for the 14th consecutive season. It's hard to compute that kind of dominance.
20. The only programs to have made at least seven straight NCAA Tournaments: Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, VCU, UNC ... and Cincinnati. The Bearcats . But, with good reason. This program needs to make a Sweet 16. This team could be Mick Cronin's best one yet, and stands to be Wichita State's toughest competition in the American.
21. Can the mid-major conferences get back into the at-large conversation? If you consider the Major 7 leagues, plus the Atlantic 10, West Coast Conference and Mountain West to make up the 10 "multi-bid" conferences, there are 22 traditional mid-major leagues in college basketball. In 2017, none of those leagues received an at-large bid. In 2016, the only program from one of those leagues to get an at-large was Wichita State. In 2015, none of the 22 received at-large love. The same happened in 2014. With, will the trend buck?
22. The 2016-17 season brought an end to Northwestern's infamous NCAA tourney droughts. Other schools who didn't wait nearly as long included Virginia Tech (last there in 2007) and South Carolina (2004). Schools in big conferences still facing serious gaps since their last BIg Dance appearance are: Boston College (2009), Mississippi State (2009), Washington State (2008), DePaul (2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998) and Rutgers (1991).
23. With Northwestern off the board, here are the only original Division I schools that were in existence during the first NCAA Tournament that have still never made it to the big stage: Army, William & Mary, St. Francis (NY) and the Citadel.
24. You want to know who should get more credit for his coaching consistency? Purdue's Matt Painter. Among active coaches, only Painter and Arizona's Sean Miller have been to at least 10 NCAA Tournaments before hitting 50 years old -- and Painter's still just 46. Purdue is celebrating its 50th season at Mackey Arena, one of the truly underrated home-court environs in the sport, in 2017-18.
25. Think college basketball's quality of play is down? You're wrong. Stat master Ken Pomeroy tracks more data than you can count, and he reports that the 2016-17 season set men's college basketball records in free throw accuracy (70.4 percent) and 2-point percentage (49.3). Plus, 36.4 percent of shots were 3-point range, the most ever, and 30. percent of points came via 3s, also a record. College hoops' gameplay is getting better.
26. For all that offense, there are teams still all-in on defense. West Virginia figures to be Kansas' toughest test in the Big 12 thanks to the return of national Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter. WVU forced turnovers on more possessions (27.6 percent) than anyone.
27. The offseason brought a tremendous story out of a lot of worry and tragedy. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson sparked one of the biggest charity causes in college basketball history after Hurricane Harvey ravaged much of southeast Texas. Houston's going to be competitive in the AAC, and it will be interesting to see how the team is treated by opposing fan bases in the league, and also how Houston's fans show up, perhaps for more charitable causes, in the early portion of UH's schedule.
28. Division I men's basketball could use a big-time scoring output to spice up its season. We've had a handful of guys hit 50 in recent years -- but what about 60? It's only happened twice this century. Arizona State's Eddie House tossed up 61 on Jan. 8, 2000. The other, most recent occurrence came on Dec. 12, 2008, when North Dakota State's Ben Woodside dropped 60 on Stephen F. Austin. Will 2017-18 give us our third 60-pointer?
29. Those freshmen faces. Every season we get an influx of superstar one-and-done types. But, inevitably, one or two wind up staying another year in college for whatever reason (and we love that Miles Bridges is back at Michigan State). Here are the near-consensus projected first-rounders, as of now, who are first-year players: Marvin Bagley III (Duke), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Mo Bamba (Texas), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State), Wendell Carter (Duke), Trevon Duval (Duke), Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), Lonnie Walker (Miami), Troy Brown (Oregon), Nick Richards (Kentucky). Who among that group will wind up being back in college a year from now?
30. Let's expand on Bagley, because his inclusion to Duke's roster made the Blue Devils the favorites in Vegas to win the title. Bagley spent the summer taking online courses to graduate a year ahead of time, then looked damn good in LA playing in the Drew League against pros. He won't be asked to put up 25-and-15 lines for Duke, but on a given night he's going to be capable of it.
31. We watch sports to be entertained. For one reason or another, here are five reasonable candidates as the most watchable players in the sport this season: Grayson Allen (Duke), Miles Bridges (Michigan State), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona).
32. And how about some love for these seniors, guys who should be close to or at All-American levels in 2017-18: Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Devonte' Graham (Kansas), Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure), Marcus Foster (Creighton), Joel Berry II (UNC), Grayson Allen (Duke), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), Jock Landale (Saint Mary's), Vince Edwards (Purdue). There are plenty more still who will populate our annual top 100 (and one) players list next month.
33. Here's a bummer. For only the second season this century, North Carolina and Kentucky will not play in the regular season. The rivalry is on hiatus. That's no good for college hoops, which of course had that 103-100 epic last season at the CBS Sports Classic. UK won thanks to Malik Monk's 47 points. UNC leads the all-time series 24-15; Kentucky won five of the eight most recent meetings. It would've been six of eight, if not for Luke Maye.
34. The talented team that has to prove its worth: USC. Andy Enfield's team returns all five starters, and when factor in all players coming back, USC has more than 95 percent of its scoring, rebounding,3 -pointers, assists, steals and blocks from a team that set a school record with 26 wins last season. Final Four is the goal here. Senior PG Jordan McLaughlin should be the alpha.
35. Cameron Indoor Stadium will never be the same again: The crow's nest has been taken down. Duke fought this as long as it could, before safety concerns prompted a change. It was one of the cool, different vantage points in all of college basketball. It also called to mind climbing into the rafters of a high school auditorium.
36. College hoops is getting more international by the year, and Fairfield is the poster program for that. The Stags appear to have the most diverse roster in the sport this season. There are players from 10 countries who will suit up for Sydney Johnson. They hail from Kuwait, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Canada, Tunisia, Serbia, Sweden, Lithuania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And, of course, the United States.
37. There aren't drastic rule changes coming to college hoops, but two to keep an eye on in an effort to help game flow and coaching control. The first is this: when there is a foul committed and less than 20 seconds are showing on the shot clock, the shot clock will reset to 20, not 30. That should bring about more possessions and more scoring. The other rule is a 10-foot extension on each side for the coaching box, an increase of 28 to 38 feet. Coaches were already flagrantly abusing the box in the past. Now they'll practically be able to shake hands mid-game.
38. With less than two months before the first game of his junior season, can't help but wonder how Ethan Happ's offensive overhaul is going. Over the summer I sat down with Happ, after attempting no 3-pointers in his career to this point.
39. With the passings of Jud Heathcote and Rollie Massimino in recent weeks, it's been said that the college basketball coaching community isn't as character-like as it used to be. That might be true, but thankfully this sport still has -- by far-- the most interesting, funny, compelling and thought-provoking coaches in all of major American sports. From Bob Huggins to Jim Boeheim, Greg Kampe to John Calipari. Toss in Gregg Marshall, Bill Self, Frank Martin, Chris Mack, Tom Izzo, Buzz Williams, Ed Cooley and Bruce Pearl, too. We're far from shy on coaching content.
40. As for coaches in new spots, here are the ones to track closely in year No. 1: Archie Miller at Indiana; Brad Underwood at Illinois; Cuonzo Martin at Missouri; and Will Wade at LSU. Some guys, like Kevin Keatts and NC State and Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, could need a year to find a stride.
41. Via my pal Jon Rothstein, how about this stat: The Miami Hurricanes' all-time record vs. Duke and North Carolina -- before Jim Larranaga became coach in 2011 -- was 4-31. Since then, the U is 10-8 against the top two programs in the ACC. And prior to Duke landing Bagley, .
42. No program has won more national championships since 1999 than UConn's four. The Huskies were a disaster last season. Their league, the AAC, could really use a strong season. As could Kevin Ollie, who could hear footsteps if the Huskies miss the NCAAs again. Fortunately, Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier are back, as is Alterique Gilbert, who like Larrier missed much of last year with injury.
43. It's a rare season when three former Big East foes are all bad, yet UConn, Syracuse and Georgetown all missed the NCAA Tournament last season. It was only the second time in 45 years that happened. Georgetown brings in Pat Ewing in his first year of being a head coach, while Syracuse will field one of its youngest rosters ever under Boeheim.
44. It will be interesting to see if any team has a better point-guard-big-man combo than Notre Dame. Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell could wind up as two of the top 20 players in college basketball. Colson averagd 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. Farrell scored 14.1 points, dished 5.4 assists and nabbed 1.4 steals per game. They both shot more than 42 percent from 3. If the pair winds up playing to their peak potential, Notre Dame's going to land a quality seed yet again in the NCAAs.
45. The only school celebrating 100 seasons as a program in 2017-18: Loyola of Chicago. The Ramblers are the dark horse pick in the Missouri Valley, which no longer has Wichita State sitting on its iron throne.
46. Looking for a team now that could be a lot better than its record? Check Texas A&M and its schedule. The Aggies could have the best blend of talent and experience in the SEC, so it's a credit to Billy Kennedy that he scheduled West Virginia, a road game against USC, a game against Arizona in Phoenix, plus getting Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Those games on top of facing Kentucky, Missouri and Alabama (all teams that should be top-six in the SEC) twice.
47. Texas coach Shaka Smart had never won fewer than 20 gams in a season -- until last year. Texas, a preseason top-25 team a year ago, wound up 11-22. Now the Longhorns have a lot returning, plus the addition of Mo Bamba, who should be a top-10 pick in June. A tournament bid is the only acceptable outcome for UT fans.
48. Last season, the Atlantic 10, Mountain West and West Coast didn't have particularly strong years. If those three leagues want to keep up with Major 7 conferences, they're going to need to have at least two teams in the NCAAs, if not three. The A-10 appears to be Rhode Island's to lose, and of course the same can be said of Gonzaga in the WCC. The Mountain West is desperate for Nevada to be good again, and for someone else to challenge San Diego State.
49. The Pac-12 could be due for a huge year, as the league has five incoming McDonald's All-Americans. That's tied for the most in conference history, matching 2006 and 2012. Speaking of the Pac-12, a team we could all be sleeping on: Arizona State. Tra Holder (1,215 points) and Shannon Evans II (1,248) are the highest scoring returners in the Pac-12 this season. The Sun Devils last made the NCAAs in 2014.
50. Finally, a figure: 7,648. That's the distance, as the crow flies, from Georgia Tech to Shanghai. The Yellow Jackets will open the season on the other side of the world against UCLA in China. Meanwhile, in Germany, West Virginia and Texas A&M will inaugurate their seasons from Ramstein Air Base. The opening night will be a global, yet American, affair.
And there's only 50 days to go.
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