Here's what I am looking forward to most as we start the 2009-10 college basketball season:
Watching practice at Kansas the day before a game, sitting in the Phog when it's quiet, looking around at all the banners and the empty bleachers and pondering the greats of the game that have walked that floor as I wait for the current Jayhawks to lace 'em up
Going to Hinkle Fieldhouse for Butler's game against Ohio State and spending two days soaking in "The Butler Way," knowing Brad Stevens espouses the same core principles as any good coach on any level
Watching Michigan State and Texas battle in December, knowing all the while there could be a rematch in Indianapolis. MSU's fast break will take me back to 2000, and UT has never seen a team this deep and talented
Seeing whether the Big Ten can complete its quest to finally beat the ACC in the Challenge
Seeing Duke play a different way, with a focus in the paint rather than on the perimeter
Hitting Hec Ed to watch Washington take on UCLA
Hoping an astute airline will lose Digger's ties or highlighters. Or both
Watching Kentucky's freshmen mature under John Calipari, and seeing whether they can get the Dribble Drive Motion going and embrace defense, the real reason that Cal's teams win
I want to see whether the other Cal -- the Golden Bears -- can take advantage of a down Pac-10 and win it
I can't wait to learn whether the Missouri Valley Conference gets back to the strength it showed a few years ago
I look forward to watching Kansas State play defense and play as hard as anyone in the country
Watching North Carolina develop into a great team and watching its point guard position evolve
Villanova's guards will be the best in the country, but the big guys need to improve quickly to make up for Dante Cunningham's loss. Will they?
The pieces are there in Morgantown for West Virginia to reach the Final Four will the Mountaineers do it?
Ohio State's Evan Turner could be the best overall player in the country, and I can't wait to see him compete
Who will play in the national championship game? In football, we could look at a few games on the schedule and figure it out. In basketball, it will unfold exactly the way it should -- on the court
And there will be incredible things that will happen that we cannot even fathom right now. I cannot wait.
What Others Are Looking Forward To
Dana O'Neil: Last year was the season of the none-and-done. Now we're looking at the potential for a mass college basketball flyby, with a ridiculously deep and talented rookie class. Texas' Avery Bradley, Kentucky's John Wall, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, Kansas' Xavier Henry, Washington's Abdul Gaddy, Oklahoma's Tiny Gallon, Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou it's an extensive list. From coast to coast, league to league, there are kids not old enough to shave ready to make a huge dent on the sport. The quest for a national championship is rarely led by a freshman, at least all on his own (Carmelo Anthony being a rare exception), yet some of these players -- Wall, along with Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, and Favors in particular -- will be asked to carry much of the load. So I'm looking forward to seeing just how good the Class of 2013 is. Before they pack their bags and move on.
Dick Vitale: I want to see how John Calipari holds up under the expectations at Kentucky. He is competing in a tougher conference, and the fans of Big Blue are as passionate as any in America. Calipari has Patrick Patterson and a lot of young talent, led by DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. There is potential, potential, potential for the Wildcats!
Andy Katz: I look forward to seeing BYU coach Dave Rose coach in the NCAA tournament. I spent quality time with Rose in September as he went through his last cancer scan to clear him to coach this season. He has a one-in-200,000 form of a cancerous pancreatic tumor. To see Rose coach the Cougars once, let alone guide them to the NCAA tournament and a fourth straight Mountain West Conference title, would be quite something. Seeing Rose succeed this season is something everyone should applaud.
Doug Gottlieb: I want to see the Big Ten for the unreal parity and quality of its teams. Though Iowa, Indiana and Penn State appear to be mediocre by comparison, the top eight are ridiculously close, and due to some teams playing slow, the scores will be equally close. Some other things I'm looking forward to? The big games in the Big 12. Kentucky versus Mississippi State. Cal versus Washington (Jerome Randle has unlimited range, and Isaiah Thomas simply cannot be kept out of the lane). North Carolina versus Kentucky. Dayton against both Creighton and Georgia Tech early in the season.
Pat Forde: John Calipari against the world. He moves into a new realm of prestige, a new power conference and a new tax bracket after his bank-breaking move from Memphis to Kentucky -- but he brings the same chip on the shoulder. The coach's inherent chippiness should enhance several rivalries: Calipari vs. Rick Pitino is the must-see game of the year; Calipari vs. Bruce Pearl goes from a once-a-year blood feud to twice annually; Calipari vs. Jim Calhoun on Dec. 9 reignites an old New England hatefest; Calipari vs. Billy Donovan (which is almost like playing Pitino by proxy) has great promise; Calipari vs. Tom Crean will test the bonds of friendship amid a new rivalry setting; and, potentially, Calipari vs. Bill Self -- a rematch of the thrilling 2008 national title game and a chance for two guys who dislike each other to feign otherwise in an NCAA tournament setting.
Fran Fraschilla: Feb. 8. Kansas at Texas. This game at the Erwin Events Center will be a battle of the two deepest teams in college basketball this season. By my count, there are 15 players on both rosters that have at least a chance of playing in the NBA, so scouts will be in abundance. Obviously, both Rick Barnes and Bill Self have recruited extremely well. The average college fan already knows about Damion James, Avery Bradley, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins, but this matchup may be decided by guys making their debut on the national stage. The Jayhawks' 6-foot-8 freshman Thomas Robinson is a rebounding machine, while 6-2 freshman guard Elijah Johnson plays like he's on a trapeze. The Longhorns' 6-7 freshman, Jordan Hamilton, a Paul Pierce clone, may be the best NBA prospect in the game that night.