A basketball guide
Few things to keep an eye on as season draws near
Talented freshmen are sprinkled all over the country. There's a high concentration in Kentucky, pockets at Kansas and Arizona, singular stars-in-the-making at other hoops hotbeds.
Teams are spread all across new conferences, too. Realignment hit full gear this season, scattering teams like a game of Boggle. It's going to take half a season just to figure out which 13 teams swapped in and out of the WAC.
There also will be plenty of head coaches in new places, including one interesting choice to run the show in Westwood and a relocation of Dunk City.
Needless to say, it's going to be an interesting and, likely, unpredictable season in college basketball.
To get you ready, here's a few things to keep an eye on:
• Kentucky. Coach Cal may have outdone even himself with this class of freshmen. Could be another ring-and-done for some of them.
• Michigan State. Tom Izzo has been a consistent winner in East Lansing. This team could add another title to his resume.
• Louisville. The defending national champs have a new conference, but the same objective as always.
• Duke. The Blue Devils are consistent national-title contenders. Fab freshman Jabari Parker could be the ticket to reaching that goal this season.
• Kansas. Andrew Wiggins. Watch this guy. Kinda good. So are the Jayhawks.
• Arizona. The Wildcats have their own fabulous freshman in Aaron Gordon and he may not even be the best player on this loaded team.
• Michigan. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gone, but the Wolverines still have plenty of talent left from a team that came up just short against Louisville in last year's national championship game.
• Doug McDermott, F, Creighton. McDermott will turn 31 in January and is entering his 10th season of college basketball. OK, those are exaggerations -- he's 20 and a senior -- but it sure seems like he's been one of the nation's best players for a long time. Should be no different this season.
• Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State. They might make defensive instructional videos based on this guy after he's done in Columbus.
• Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State. Could have been a lottery pick in the NBA had he come out last season. Will be one of the best players in college basketball this season.
• Russ Smith, G, Louisville. There's a reason he's been called "Russdiculous."
• Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State. He is dynamic personified in a 5-foot-10 frame. Carson's last season in the desert should be a good one.
• The freshmen: Wiggins of Kansas, Julius Randle and the Harrison twins at Kentucky, Gordon at Arizona and Duke's Parker.
Best non-conference games
• Kentucky vs. Michigan State in Chicago, Nov. 12. If their rankings hold, it'll be the earliest 1 vs. 2 meeting since 1975.
• Duke vs. Kansas in Chicago, Nov. 12. Not a bad nightcap after Kentucky-Michigan State at the United Center.
• Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 28. Always a can't-miss game.
• Arizona at Michigan, Dec. 14. Deep, talented teams get a big early test.
• Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 14. Basketball blue bloods meet in the Tar Heel State.
• Michigan at Duke, Dec. 3. Jabari gets a chance to see how he matches up against Michigan brute Mitch McGary -- as long as the sophomore's balky back holds up.
New head coaches
• Steve Alford, UCLA. He wasn't the most popular choice in Westwood for fans and boosters who wanted a bigger name. The former Indiana star would like nothing more than to prove them wrong.
• Andy Enfield, Southern California. Dunk City will make its Hollywood debut after he led Florida Gulf Coast on a surprising NCAA tournament run last season.
• Richard Pitino, Minnesota. Rick's son tries to right the Gophers after one season at FIU.
• Tubby Smith, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will play in some shootouts in West Texas under the former national champion coach.
• Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast. Bill Self's longtime right-hand man at Kansas gets his first shot at running the show in Dunk City.
• Eddie Jordan, Rutgers. The longtime college and NBA head coach will try to calm the storm after Mike Rice was fired for berating players and AD Tim Pernetti was forced to resign.
It's getting to the point where mid-majors are no different than any other program, particularly after Wichita State -- now in the Big East with Creighton -- reached the Final Four last season and Florida Gulf Coast destroyed brackets across the country.
Still, it seems worthy to mention some of the best among the non-power programs. Here's a few:
• Virginia Commonwealth. The fast-paced Rams are always a tough out under head coach Shaka Smart.
• Gonzaga. No mention of mid-majors can be made without the Zags.
• Butler. Brad Stevens is gone, but the Bulldogs will still be good.
• Southern Mississippi. Golden Eagles were disappointed to not get an invite to the NCAA tournament last season. They'll have a good chance at getting in this season.
• La Salle. Explorers reached Sweet 16 last season for their best NCAA tournament since 1955.
• Florida Gulf Coast. Just so we could get in one more Dunk City reference.