And so college basketball returns this weekend, with an aura over Kentucky and a shadow over Indiana. With high hopes from A (Arizona) to Z (the Zags of Gonzaga). With 18 men who will be a Division I head coach for the first game in their lives.
Not to be in a hurry or anything, but there are only 17 more weeks until Selection Sunday. So without further ado, we look at some of the storylines to come, by looking at some of what came before.
It has been 39 years since ... Indiana completed college basketball’s last perfect season. But Kentucky’s chances of doing it are already a popular topic of conversation, before the first official tipoff. Boy, listening to all the odes, the Uber-Wildcats must have really looked good in that exhibition against Pikeville.
Actually, it is John Calipari’s two platoons of McDonald’s All-Americans that has everyone so gaga over his gaggle, since you could split Kentucky’s roster in half and have two top-25 teams. “We’re going to hit some bumps in the road,” Calipari cautioned. “They’re not machines.’’ Indeed, the Wildcats will be closely scrutinized for any signs of unrest, as they are asked to buy into sharing minutes, not to mention the basketball.
“What I told them is this is not communism,” he said. “Someone deserves to play more, they will.”It has been 18 years since ... a team west of the Central Time Zone won the national championship. Arizona was the last team to do it. Arizona night be the next team to do it, too, since Sean Miller has assembled a powerhouse that would be a consensus No. 1, had Kentucky seceded from the union.
As of Wednesday, it has been 611 days since ... Wichita State last lost a non-NCAA tournament game. Ironic that it took a defeat last March -- 78-76 to Kentucky in an absolute classic -- to make the National Association of Skeptics truly believe the Shockers’ 35-0 record. Wichita State returns much of its weaponry, led by Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet. But they will lose a game this regular season, right? Right?
It has been nearly 19 years since ... Jahlil Okafor came into this world. The day he was born, Mike Krzyzewski had already taken Duke to seven Final Fours. Now Okafor is the most heralded freshman in the land and will try to get his coach to another.
It has been 59 years since ... the hoop-happy state of Indiana went two consecutive springs without putting a team in the NCAA tournament. It was shutout last March, and this season looks iffy on paper, with Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Ball State and Butler all picked to finish down in their conferences.
It has been 15 years since ... the Big Ten produced a national champion. But Wisconsin has four starters back from a Final Four team and Frank Kaminsky is the common man candidate for national player of the year. Instead of being universally unsung, as their custom, the Badgers are in bright lights. So we’ll see how that works.
It has been 32 years since ... Rick and Joanne Pitino had a baby boy and named him Richard. The most intriguing game on opening day Friday will take place in a Coast Guard hanger in Puerto Rico normally used for helicopters, when Rick’s Louisville goes against Richard’s Minnesota.
They have met before in 2012, but that was when Richard was at Florida International, and he had no chance, there mostly just for the guarantee check. This time, he has a better shot, though he should be warned that in father-son coaching matchups in NCAA history, dear old dad is 15-2.
Both teams flew together to Puerto Rico, and the coaches had a joint press conference this week, where Rick expressed one complaint about his son. “He swears too much.”
It has been four consecutive years that ... the ACC had no team in the Final Four. That might not seem like much, but it should be mentioned that there were only four Final Fours in the previous 23 years without an ACC face. An end to the drought seems promising this season, since Louisville has arrived and joins with Duke, North Carolina and Virginia to put four league conference teams in the top nine of preseason rankings, making the ACC look like the SEC West of college basketball. Syracuse hasn’t often been picked to finish fifth in its conference.
It has been 36 years since ... the Ivy League had a team in the final eight. But Harvard is a genuine threat.
It has been 11 years since ... Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. In an age of parity, the extraordinary feat has never gotten its due recognition. The Jayhawks remind you a little of the Atlanta Braves winning all those division titles in a row, to too-muted acclaim.
It has been 22 years since ... SMU was invited to the NCAA tournament. His 23-win Mustangs endured the most conspicuous shun on Selection Sunday last March, so 74-year-old Larry Brown will be trying again, with most of his players back. Maybe SMU could play Duke. That way, Krzyzewski, at 67, could be the youngest coach on the floor.
It has been three seasons since ... Bruce Pearl was fired for various no-nos at Tennessee. He has done his time in the doghouse and is back at Auburn, where season tickets sold out. Remember Jan. 31: Auburn at Tennessee.
It has been 30 years since ... the Big East was at its zenith, accounting for 75 percent of the 1985 Final Four, and producing the immortal Villanova-Georgetown championship game. Now the new Big East is still trying to gain national traction. The league was done in the 2014 NCAA tournament by the end of the first week. It will look to do better, and the best hopes are carried by Villanova.
It has been seventh months since ... a rollicking and raucous season came to an end. The NCAA tournament began with Mercer beating Duke, continued with Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison hitting three game-winning 3-pointers in nine days, and ended with a No. 7 seed from Connecticut beating a No. 8 seed from Kentucky. By then, the form chart had been used for confetti.
Now college basketball is back. For those wishing a quick immersion into this season, we call you attention to next Tuesday. Kansas vs. Kentucky, Duke vs. Michigan State, Wichita State vs. Memphis and Utah vs. San Diego State. Yeah, that ought to get it started.