- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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The college basketball season officially begins tonight -- the first day that teams can hit the practice floor.
It's still called "Midnight Madness," but the NCAA now allows teams to get a bit of a head-start, at a more fan-friendly hour.
We'll be at Carnesecca Arena in Queens for the 2012 Red Storm Tip-Off, which begins at 7:30 p.m. You can watch the event live on ESPN3.
Here are three things to keep an eye on:
• WELCOME BACK: St. John's coach Steve Lavin is cancer-free and plans to be back on the sideline full-time this season. That's good news for St. John's fans, who will likely give him a warm reception.
• WELCOME HOME: St. John's fans will get their first glimpse at several new players added to the roster since last season. That list is headlined by 6-foot-8 freshman forward JaKarr Sampson (who will wear No. 14), 6-foot-9 freshman center Chris Obekpa (No. 12) and 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Jamal Branch (No. 0). All three were ESPN Top 100 recruits -- Branch will be eligible in December, after transferring from Texas A&M midseason a year ago.
Also keep an eye on 6-foot-9 junior forward Orlando Sanchez (No. 33), a JUCO All-American who could be a key contributor right away. St. John's will certainly have more size than it did a year ago.
• POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE: Both Lavin and new women's coach Joe Tartamella are expected to address the crowd. Both teams will be introduced, and the men's squad will participate in a dunk contest. Hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang will perform, and the even will be hosted by ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor John Anderson.