Twenty questions about the 2008-09 season
By Jim O’Connell
AP Basketball Writer
Twenty questions about the 2008-09 college basketball season:
1 — When does the season get under way? The first official games will be played Nov. 10. The marquee game that night is Presbyterian at Duke in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
2 — Where’s the Final Four? "One Shining Moment" will be played April 6 at Ford Field in Detroit, the first time that city has hosted a Final Four.
3 — Any rule changes? The 3-point line has been moved back 1 foot to 20 feet, 9 inches, farther than the international line (20-6) but inside the NBA’s (23-0, 22 in the corner).
4 — Are any big coaches not coming back? Lute Olson stunned everybody by retiring from Arizona just weeks before the season started, then it was revealed the 74-year-old had a stroke within the last year. First-year assistant Russ Pennell will take over.
5 — Any big coaching moves? Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana, and his new program has been hit hard by sanctions for previous coach Kelvin Sampson’s phone-call violations. Keno Davis, AP coach of the year last season as a rookie at Drake, left for Providence.
6 — Any coaches coming back? Mike Montgomery, the former Stanford coach who didn’t have a very successful stint with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, stays local as the new man at California.
7 — How rare is it for the national player of the year to return for another season? Before Tyler Hansbrough decided to come back to North Carolina for his senior season, the last player of the year to come back was Shaquille O’Neal, who returned to LSU for the 1991-92 season.
8 — Where does UCLA’s run of three straight Final Fours stack up all-time? If the Bruins get back to the Final Four they would break away from their current eight-way tie. The only longer streaks are UCLA’s 10 (1967-76) and the five each of Cincinnati (1959-63) and Duke (1988-92).
9 — What are the best of the early tournaments? It’s the usual crew, plus one this year. The 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer is aiming toward a Duke-UCLA final at Madison Square Garden. The Preseason NIT has a second-round game of Davidson at Oklahoma, and that winner should join Purdue and Arizona in New York at Thanksgiving. The EA Sports Maui Invitational should have a Texas-Notre Dame semifinal, with the winner getting North Carolina. The new power field is at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., which could have semifinals of Tennessee-Georgetown and Michigan State-Gonzaga.
10 — Any major streaks at stake? Lute Olson’s departure at Arizona will have everybody watching the Wildcats’ run of 24 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the longest current streak and three behind North Carolina’s record run from 1975-2001.
11 — Any coaches near a milestone? Two coaches hit the 800 mark last season: Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and the retired Eddie Sutton at San Francisco, both of whom finished with 803. Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun needs 26 wins to reach 800 and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim needs 29 to get there. Six coaches have finished with 800 or more wins, with Bob Knight’s 902 the men’s record.
12 — Will be there be a lot of one-and-dones? There are no sure shots like Kansas State’s Michael Beasley and Memphis’ Derrick Rose. The favorite of this year’s recruiting class is probably Samardo Samuels of Louisville, a 6-8 post player who will be called on to replace David Padgett down low.
13 — Which is the best conference? If the argument is about the top of the league, the argument could be long and heated. If it’s about depth, it’s over early. The 16-team Big East put half its members in the NCAA tournament last season, and many believe it has a chance at breaking that record this season.
14 — Is there a transfer who could make an impact at his new school? One player who should come in running and gunning after sitting out a season is UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis, a 6-4 point guard who left Memphis after one year and should fit in nicely with senior Wink Adams.
15 — Who’s the leading returning scorer? Davidson’s Stephen Curry, who grabbed the nation’s attention in the Wildcats’ run to the final eight, had a 25.9 average. Behind him at 25.7 is Lester Hudson of Tennessee-Martin, who grabbed the headlines early last season when he recorded Division I’s first quadruple-double.
16 — Any team stat streaks at stake? Connecticut will go for its eighth consecutive season leading the country in blocked shots. The Huskies averaged 8.6 per game last season, and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who had 4.5 of those, is back to lead the defense.
17 — Can Kansas repeat? The Jayhawks lost their six top players to graduation or the NBA draft. A standout recruiting class should have coach Bill Self in the mix for a Big 12 title, but winning it all again could be a stretch.
18 — Is there one nonconference game that’s a can’t miss? The dress rehearsal game for the Final Four should be something special. North Carolina and Michigan State, which is 75 miles from Detroit, meet there on Dec. 3. Last season’s regionals at Ford Field drew crowds of 57,000-plus.
19 — What will be the best conference rivalries this season? The usual pairings come up with North Carolina-Duke in the Atlantic Coast, Connecticut-Pittsburgh in the Big East, and Purdue-Michigan State in the Big Ten among many. One of the best should come from the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meeting twice — and a possible third in the conference tournament final — in games featuring uptempo teams with excellent point guards.
20 — Why will everybody become a college basketball fan in March? There is nothing more exciting in sports than a Game 7. The NCAA tournament, in a span of three weekends, presents 64 Game 7s with one team’s season ending with every final buzzer. "Survive and advance" was a slogan attributed to the late Jim Valvano when he was asked about the tournament. It will always be true.