The season starts today! Here's our 68 things to watch in 2012-13

The ball is tipped ... the season starts today! We are kind of excited about this turn of events. (Getty Images)

The start of official practice has arrived with Madness celebrations happening tonight all over the country, which means it’s almost time to stop talking about what might happen and start writing about what’s actually happening. But, that said, we’re still four weeks from the start of the regular season. So room remains to discuss and debate the future, to predict and project and wonder. That’s what’s Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello spent this week doing. Here are 68 things they’re looking forward to this season -- one for every team that’ll make March’s NCAA tournament ...

1. Nov. 9: That’s the day the season gets underway with Kentucky vs. Maryland in Brooklyn. I’ll be courtside. And though the stakes won’t be as high for this as they were for the Harrison twins, it’ll still be a fun way to get this year started with the reigning national champion on a big stage. -- Gary Parrish

2. Missing Shabazz: How many games will UCLA's talented freshman, Shabazz Muhammad, wind up missing? The NCAA has been digging for months. It could be anywhere from five to 15 games -- and if it's on the high end, would he just go overseas? -- Jeff Goodman

3. Will Kansas ever lose a Big 12 title? That was supposed to happen last season, when the Jayhawks were supposed to be in a rebuilding campaign. Of course, that “rebuilding” year ended with Kansas in the national title game. This year, Bill Self loses Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor -- and while the Big 12 is deep, it’s down at the top. Nine in a row? Looks like it. -- Jeff Borzello

4. Twenty teams in new leagues: We’ll have a piece up on this next week that goes into more detail. But, basically, it’s the biggest turnover from league to league that conference basketball has ever seen in one year. Twenty new homes for 20 programs will be tough to get used to at first -- and I’m still weirded out by Southern Utah to the Big Sky, as I’m sure you are as well. Do your best to keep up. Flash cards are probably the way to go. -- Matt Norlander

5. The end of a Big East era: Yes, Memphis and Temple are on their way to the Big East, and that’s great for Memphis and Temple. But the truth is the storied basketball league will never be the same now that Syracuse and Pitt are leaving for the ACC. Can Jim Boeheim or Jamie Dixon make one more run at a Big East title? -- G.P.

6. Tobacco Road trio: Duke isn't exactly overwhelming, North Carolina lost four first-rounders and N.C. State brings back nearly everyone -- and adds a talented trio of freshmen -- from a team that went to the Sweet 16. This could be as heated as it has been in that area in years. In fact, the Wolfpack might be the preseason ACC favorites over Duke and UNC. The question for Mark Gottfried is whether N.C. State can pick up where it left off -- and whether he can keep everyone content. Duke and North Carolina both have point guard issues that could hold them back. -- J.G.

We're excited to see Nerlen Noel for many reasons, but obviously the hair trumps all. (US Presswire)

7. Kentucky’s freshmen: Relying on newcomers is nothing new to John Calipari, who rode three freshman starters to a national title. It was a special group, though -- and they also had a trio of veterans as team leaders. Will this year’s group be the same? -- J.B.

8. Memorable season at Indiana: Tom Crean has successfully rebuilt Indiana, and that statement will remain true regardless of what happens this season. But can he hang another Final Four banner in what’s expected to be Cody Zeller’s final year of school? Hoosier fans can’t wait to find out. -- G.P.

9. Atlantic 10 race: Although it’s technically a non-BCS league, the Atlantic 10 has the potential to put as many as six teams in the NCAA tournament this year. Six teams got first-place votes in the preseason poll, and a case can be made for all six to win the league. That doesn’t even count teams like La Salle and Dayton, who could sneak up and make a run. -- J.B.

10. West Coast resurrection: Last year no team left of the Central time zone made the Sweet 16. Now we’ve got gobs of teams beyond the Rockies with potential to have huge years and reach the second weekend or better in the NCAA tournament. -- M.N.

11. Another Final Four for Louisville: The Cardinals are a deserving preseason No. 1 considering what’s returning from last season’s Final Four team. Rick Pitino has, like the rest of the country, been overshadowed since John Calipari’s move to UK. Perhaps this is the season in which the Hall of Famer keeps the spotlight (and the national title) for himself. Either way, the two will meet on … -- G.P.

12. Rick vs. Cal on 12/29: Last season it wasn’t a fair fight between Rick Pitino and John Calipari. It was as if Pitino went in with a steak knife and Calipari a machete. Now Pitino has comparable talent, maybe even more talent than his rival down the road in Lexington. The two meet on Dec. 29 in Louisville. -- J.G.

13. Another over-signed class for Louisville: I have no idea which players Pitino will sign in November or how many will turn pro next April and May, but history suggests the numbers won’t add up. Odds are, Pitino will once again have too many players for his 13 scholarships. How he gets to where he gets is always fascinating to observe. -- G.P.

14. Blue Devil issues: Mike Krzyzewski’s roster is hardly overwhelming. The Blue Devils lost Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee. Now it’s Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly’s team. Coach K doesn’t have a big-time point guard, either. Will this Duke team be a factor come March or just another team? -- J.G.

15. Orange turnover: Syracuse loses Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. Yet could win another Big East title and chase a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Syracuse remains as entertaining and watchable as ever. Jim Boeheim is an absolute magician. -- M.N.

16. Izzo going for a seventh Final Four: Michigan State’s Hall of Fame coach, Tom Izzo, hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2010, so the guy is obviously due. Izzo has made six Final Fours in 17 seasons. He has the tools to make it seven in 18 come April. -- G.P.

17. More Murray State success: Everything aligned for Murray State last season, as the Racers jumped out to a 23-0 record and won a game in the NCAA tournament. Coach Steve Prohm and All-American guard Isaiah Canaan are both back -- but the Racers did lose three starters. Moreover, with Belmont now in the Ohio Valley, Murray State has some competition at the top. -- J.B.

18. McDermott’s NPOY hopes: Two of the past eight Wooden Award winners -- namely Utah’s Andrew Bogut and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette -- have come from outside of a so-called power conference. So it’ll be interesting to see whether Creighton’s Doug McDermott can make it three in nine. He’ll have the numbers, but his team will need to be nationally relevant to give him a chance. -- G.P.

19. Zags’ streak: Saint Mary's ended Gonzaga's streak of regular-season WCC titles at 11 last season. Will Mark Few's program start a new one? This could be the most balanced team in Spokane since Gonzaga burst onto the national scene in the late 1990s. Few has a terrific young backcourt in Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell and a formidable frontline that includes Elias Harris, Sam Dower, Przemek Karnowski and Kelly Olynyk. -- J.G.

Who's using the sheers in 2013? (Getty Images)

20. Pitt basketball: no longer terrible!: We’ve gotten so used to Pitt being good-to-great over the past 15 seasons that last year’s 17-16 regular-season record made Pitt what they always seemed to be by way of DNA: boring. But good times are sure to come again. Steven Adams is supposed to be pretty terrific, and I like Tray Woodall's game. This team will make the NCAAs. -- M.N.

21. Missouri chemistry: A year ago, the Tigers had a spectacular season -- until they ran into Norfolk State in the NCAA tourney. It’s almost an entirely new cast, including four transfers. Can Frank Haith duplicate the chemistry that made Mizzou successful last season?  If so, this team is clearly more talented than the 2011-12 version. -- J.G.

22. Can Xavier be an overachieving underdog?: Xavier was picked ninth in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll, which is crazy but reasonable and the result of the Musketeers losing Tu Holloway, Mark Lyon, Kenny Frease and Dez Wells all in the same offseason. Chris Mack has never finished worse than third in the A-10. He’ll need lots of surprising contributions to come anything close to that this season. -- G.P.

23. Larry Brown returns: The well-traveled coach turned 72 in September. He just took over a downtrodden SMU program that’s headed to the Big East in 2013-14. Does LB even make it through this season?  Isiah Thomas lasted three years at Florida International, and he was only in his late 40’s when he took over. -- J.G.

24. Smart and Nash at Oklahoma State: Both Marcus Smart (2012) and Le’Bryan Nash (2011) were top-10 prospects in their respective classes coming out of high school, but they’re completely different players. Smart is a born winner and leader, someone who is willing to do whatever -- at any position -- to help his team win. On the other hand, Nash has had a tendency to coast during games and put his own numbers before the team. How will the two talents mesh? -- J.B.

25. Roy Williams on the sideline: It was a scary offseason for Roy Williams, but, fortunately, he did not and does not have cancer. Those tumors were just tumors. It makes me smile to write that sentence. Here’s to a healthy year for North Carolina’s Hall of Fame coach. -- G.P.

26. The Buzz: Marquette coach Buzz Williams has done a tremendous job since taking over for Tom Crean four years ago. Four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including back-to-back Sweet 16’s. He has developed guys like Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. There might not be a “next in line” this season, but will Williams have enough to keep this going at this pace? -- J.G.

We're thrilled the season's here but hate that we've gotta wait almost a month for the first game still. (Getty Images)

27. Non-BCS studs: Which players from outside the top conferences will emerge as a national story at some point this season? We had C.J. McCollum, Doug McDermott, Isaiah Canaan, Kyle O’Quinn, Tony Mitchell and more a year ago. Who might be the sleeper this season? Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael could be an early candidate. -- J.B.

28. Bo Ryan in the NCAA tournament: There are few things guaranteed in college basketball, but Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament under Bo Ryan is one of them. He has made 11 straight appearances. Here comes the 12th straight with a team that’s also good enough to advance. -- G.P.

29. Craft’s development at Ohio State. We all know that Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft can get after it on the defensive end. We all know he can run a team and provide leadership. But what the Buckeyes' point guard has to do this season is look for his own more on the offensive end. Otherwise, Thad Matta's bunch will be just another team. -- J.G.

30. Duke possibly winning the ACC … again: Goodman’s right when he says Duke isn’t overwhelming, but that’s got nothing to do with the fact the Blue Devils will somehow worm their way to winning the league again. We’ll be confused when it happens, but we shouldn’t be. -- M.N.

31. Bob Huggins back in the Big 12: The West Virginia coach is back in the Big 12 after spending one season in that league while the coach at Kansas State. He finished fourth in the Big 12 that season. Something similar -- and possibly better -- seems likely this season. -- G.P.

32. Gator guards: We all know that Florida has a couple of bigs that can play in Patric Young and Erik Murphy. Billy Donovan also has a guard who can score in Kenny Boynton. However, do the Gators have a point guard who can take this team deep?  There’s junior Scottie Wilbekin, known as a defender while he backed up Erving Walker the past two seasons, and freshman Braxton Ogbueze. Count me concerned. -- J.G.

33. Chaz Williams!: The 5-foot-9 (maybe) jitterbug is one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball. He’s also one of the best point guards in the game. He led the A-10 in assists and also ranked near the top in points and steals. If Massachusetts is to make a jump in the standings this season, Williams could be the reason. -- J.B.

34. Josh Pastner’s first NCAA tournament victory: The still really young Memphis coach has done a remarkable job following John Calipari in terms of recruiting and keeping fans engaged to the tune of 18,000 per game. But he enters his fourth season with the Tigers still looking for his first win over a Top 25 opponent and first win in the NCAA tournament. He should check both those boxes this season thanks to an experienced and talented roster led by Adonis Thomas, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black. -- G.P.

35. Ricky Ledo’s future: Providence’s talented freshman was deemed a partial qualifier -- which means he can practice this season, but can’t play. He maintains he’ll stick around and play next season for the Friars, but his track record is that he doesn’t stay long at one spot. I hope he sticks it out this year -- even without being able to play. -- J.G.

36. The unknowns: The players, specifically. We’ve got our list of the 100 best players. It’s our best estimation of talent in this sport. It’s going to look like we picked through a kaleidoscope by mid-January. There are new players yet to be discovered thanks to incredible shots, discovered roles and unexpected winning streaks. The unpredictability of sports makes us dumber and happier and better for it. -- M.N.

37. Kevin Ollie trial run: He has one year to impress UConn's new athletic director, Warde Manuel. It's not exactly fair play as Ollie, who replaces the recently retired Jim Calhoun, inherits a mediocre Huskies roster and a program that isn't even eligible to go to the postseason this season. -- J.G.

38. Deshaun Thomas: With Jared Sullinger and William Buford leading the way last season, Thomas was able to make an impact without being the focal point of Ohio State's defense. This year, he will be primary option for the Buckeyes. He’s extremely difficult to guard, and he has the ability to average around 20 points per game this season. Is he ready? -- J.B.

39. Northwestern’s most hilarious NCAA streak continues: I don’t take joy in Northwestern not ever making an NCAA tournament. But I’m telling you, it’s happening again. For the 75th year in a row, the purple-hued Wildcats will not be getting an invite to the Big Dance. It’s oddly fascinating how the odds have played out like this. I mean, Harvard’s a much more respectable program at the moment. -- M.N.

40. Isaiah Austin for 3: I like big guys who play like big guys -- just dunk, rebound and block. But Baylor’s latest high-profile addition is more of a skilled 7-footer who likes to drift to the perimiter, handle the ball and launch jumpers. Will this be OK? Or will Baylor fans ultimately be frustrated by their finesse four? -- G.P.

41. Rick Majerus' health: Saint Louis' coach has stepped away for the season and maybe forever with a serious heart issue. Obviously, his health is the primary concern here -- but the Billikens have a chance to win the A-10. Even with Jim Crews at the helm. -- J.G.

42. How does Harvard respond?: Harvard ended a 65-year drought last season by reaching the NCAA tournament, and was expected to repeat this year. However, starters Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were both implicated in an academic cheating scandal and will miss the season. Tommy Amaker still has some pieces, but it won’t be easy to win the league again. -- J.B.

43. John Beilein making a run at a Big Ten title: Some questioned Michigan’s decision to hire John Beilein because it was unclear whether he’d be able to recruit Detroit and, in general, lure good-enough players to Ann Arbor. But he hired a nice staff and has built a nice thing. And now the Wolverines might just hang a banner or two. -- G.P.

Creighton bound to win the MVC again? If Doug McDermott is in the running for POY, then yep. (US Presswire)

44. Valley highs: The Missouri Valley sent two teams (Creighton, Wichita State) to The Dance last year. Multi-bid years for the MVC are good for college basketball; the conference remains one of the most competitive inside the sport and inside college athletics in general. Wichita State is down but Creighton will be really good, as will Illinois State. And a surprise is sure to come. They’ll be at least another two getting called on Selection Sunday. -- M.N.

45. Rotnei Clarke: Butler's new point guard is the best shooter in the country. Rotnei Clarke left Arkansas with just one season of eligibility, sat out last season and now becomes Brad Stevens' floor leader. -- J.G.

46. Lavin back at St. John’s: After leading the Red Storm to the NCAA tournament -- and essentially bringing them back to relevance -- two seasons ago, Lavin missed last year while recovering from prostate cancer. It will be good to see him back on the sideline this season. Can he ignite some excitement into the program once again? -- J.B.

47. Manning at Tulsa: There’s just something cool about watching a college basketball icon from your childhood coaching college basketball in your adult life. I was 11 when Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national championship. I can’t wait to watch him try to give starving Tulsa fans something to cheer. -- G.P.

48. K.O.: USC coach Kevin O’Neill won just a single league game in the Pac-12 a year ago. His team was ravaged by injuries. The Trojans should be the biggest turnaround team in the country with the return of Jio Fontain, Dewayne Deadmon and Aaron Fuller -- as well as the addition of J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise and Renaldo Wooldridge. -- J.G.

49. Cat fight in the new SEC: More specifically within conference realignment, how does Missouri adjust in its first year? They’re bound to crash the party, methinks, and challenge Kentucky for that SEC crown. Oh, no; I did not just do that right there did I? Kentucky fans, I taunt you. -- M.N.

50. Point guard parity: There are about a dozen floor leaders in the same realm. Which one will emerge as the elite?  Phil Pressey (Missouri), Trey Burke (Michigan) and Aaron Craft (Ohio State) are the front-runners. -- J.G.

51. Mbakwe's knee: If Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota's top player and a potential All-American, can come back full-strength from his torn ACL, the Gophers can be a player in the Big Ten race. Mbakwe was reliant on his athleticism, though, and it'll be interesting to see if the injury hampers his explosiveness. -- J.G.

52. UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels started 21-3 last season before stumbling somewhat down the stretch. They should be better this season -- if the transfers and newcomers pan out. There’s Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, USC transfer Bryce Jones, top-10 freshman Anthony Bennett and four-star guard Katin Reinhardt. All-American Mike Moser leads a stable of returnees. Will everyone mesh together, or might chemistry be a problem? There’s enough talent to make a deep, deep run. -- J.B.

53. Weber at Kansas State: Talent had never really been the issue for Bruce Weber at Illinois. There were chemistry problems and inconsistency issues. Now at Kansas State, Weber again has plenty of pieces at his disposal. How the Wildcats’ personnel adapts to Weber will be interesting. -- J.B.

54. Naters Gonna Nate: Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State are on the verge of going mainstream, I think. Hey, I’ve followed the band since its early days, playing clubs with only 20 people in attendance. Now they’ve cut their first album with a major record label, and I’m ready to give them away to the rest of you. (Oh; this is your inevitable repeat Summit League champs.) -- M.N.

55. Herb Sendek’s hot seat: The Arizona State head man needs to turn the Sun Devils around if he wants to last much longer in Tempe. Assistants leaving, players transferring, losing records. It’s a recipe that Sendek needs to change. -- J.B.

56. Frustrating NBA comparisons and potential talk: I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon here. College basketball has reached a point where, if a guy is good and is getting national pub, the discussion at some point turns to how he’ll be as an NBA player. Frankly, it’s irksome. Let’s save that for after the season, when we have three full months to pick apart these guys. From November through March, though, let’s let them be college players and react to their games within that environment.  -- M.N.

57. San Diego State’s newcomer frontcourt: The Aztecs could have one of the deepest rosters in the country this season, but Steve Fisher is relying awfully heavily on newcomers up front. Three transfers -- Dwayne Polee, James Johnson, JJ O’Brien -- and freshman Winston Shepard will be expected to make an impact right off the bat. -- J.B.

58. The continued acceptance of tempo-free statistics: Stats are a tool, not a lover. And it’s not just It’s any and all measures of data that help us better understand the patterns and trends that are physically impossible to depict while watching the game. We’re getting smarter about learning which stats mean more than others and which skill sets and successful strategies lead to more successful teams. Why people fight the new-age stat era, I don’t know. There was a time in which a certain sect of folk actually bragged about not having a cellphone, too. The numbers aren’t everything -- far from it -- but they do give us context, which is paramount in the insta-reaction generation of sports viewing and spewing. -- M.N.

59. Who breaks out in Tucson?: Arizona is bringing in three of the eight best big men from the class of 2012, but all of them can’t play at the same time. Kaleb Tarczewski was the highest-rated of the group, but he’s somewhat raw. Grant Jerrett is skilled, and Brandon Ashley has the potential to be a matchup nightmare. Will one of the three set himself apart? -- J.B.

It's only year two, but will aircraft carrier games lose their luster? We'll see how we react to having three of 'em. (Getty Images)

60. Presidential cameos: Forget the politics of it. Will whoever wins the upcoming election make an appearance at a college hoops game this year? Obama's made a point to get out to a handful of tilts since he took office in January 2009, and I think that trend will continue in 2013. -- M.N.

61. Basketball on an aircraft carrier: Actually, I’m not sure this is something to watch. I admit, it’s cool. I was there last year with Barack. The whole thing was beautiful. But the basketball was bad, the wind and lighting affected shooting, and I wonder if this is even a good idea anymore or was it best left as something neat and only done once? -- G.P.

62. Goodman vs. the Kentucky fan base: The over/under on the first flame war from Big Blue Nation toward Goodman is set at Nov. 12. I’ve got the under. By the way, Borzello bribed me to write this. Thanks, buddy! -- M.N.

63. Reaction to refereeing: Nothing enhances the game-watching experience like you chiming in on Twitter about the zebras. It’s always rational, long-sighted and filled with expert opinion. Block/charge calls, the charge circle in general, all the new rules coming to the game. I’m sure we’re in for the most level-headed season yet. Please log in to Twitter and share your opinions as often as possible.  -- M.N.

64. Clanton going nowhere at UCF: Keith Clanton was afforded the opportunity to transfer without penalty once Central Florida’s postseason ban was dealt, but he opted to remain loyal to Donnie Jones, reject overtures from Kentucky and Florida State and remain in Orlando. That’s admirable on some level. I just wonder whether he’ll regret it come March. -- G.P.

65. Conference tournament surprises: Last season’s Championship Week featured more top-seed upsets in the smaller conferences than we’ve seen in a long time. Drexel, Oral Roberts, Nevada, Middle Tennessee, Texas-Arlington, Bucknell, Stony Brook and Savannah State each lost two or fewer games during the regular season -- but were all knocked out in their respective conference tournament. A repeat of the craziness would be fun but might limit first-weekend upsets in the NCAA tournament. -- J.B.

66. A season going beyond expectations: Last year, we anticipated a college basketball campaign that was supposed to be great, maybe even one of the best ever. It might not have been all of that, but it was still pretty nice. It ended with one of the most dominant and talented teams in the past 15 years winning it all. It ended with Cal getting his first title. It was indeed memorable.

This year it seems many are thinking it will be a nondescript season, one with its usual batch of excitement, but nothing major. I think it’ll be great, that we’ll have seven or eight teams occupy the top spot in the polls. And by the time March comes, we’ll have at least four teams with cases to be made to win it all. Last year, it was Kentucky and North Carolina and that was really it. This time, it'll be a balanced race, instead of those MarioKart 64 ones in which a certain character was always programmed to challenge you in a series. -- M.N.

67. February coaching rumors: By Valentine’s Day, we’ll have a decent idea about which power-conference coaches should be putting their houses up for sale, and some writer somewhere will inevitably link Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart to the job, which is fine. But know this: Unless the job is one of the best 10 in the country, you’d be wise to omit these two young stars from your search and start with whoever is third on the so-called list of candidates. -- G.P.

68. The second Monday night in April: Yes, this season’s national title game will be played on the second Monday night in April as opposed to its usual first. Blame the calendar. Tom Crean might get his first national title that night. Rick Pitino or John Calipari could get their second. Or something totally unexpected might culminate in Atlanta. Nobody can say for sure. But the five months spent getting there should be a blast. -- G.P.

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