We are 50 days away from college basketball tip-off. I’ll speak for college hoops fans everywhere when I say this – thank goodness.
It’s time to start reading your preseason previews, dusting off those old sneakers and perhaps consider buying that second TV for your living room. Because basketball season is right around the corner, and you won’t want to miss a second.
It will all come down to this.
Numerous variables must play out before we reach the climax of the college hoops calendar, though. Here are seven burning questions for the upcoming season.
1) How will Duke replace Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook?
Duke is the reigning 2015 national champions, but they lose the top four scorers from their title team. So how will they replace them?
With freshmen, mostly. The good news for Duke is that Okafor, Winslow and Jones were all freshmen last season, too, and Coach K has shown he can get young talent to blend together seamlessly.
Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard are all names that college basketball fans will learn very quickly. All are highly-touted freshmen and at least three of them could be starting for the Blue Devils on opening night.
2) Speaking of freshmen, which ones will have the biggest impact this season?
Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and several others are off to the NBA, but this year’s freshman crop looks to be dynamite as well.
LSU’s Ben Simmons might have the most expectations of anyone, and if all goes according to plan, the Tigers will be dancing for the second straight year. The Dukies mentioned above should have a big impact as well – especially Ingram and Jeter. But all will play major roles.
Maryland’s Diamond Stone might have the best name in college basketball, and he might play on the best team in college hoops, too. He probably won’t put up the monster numbers like some freshmen we’ve seen lately, but he could be the missing piece to push Maryland over the edge this season. And don’t get me started on Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb on Cal, whose style of play will be extremely entertaining to watch on a nightly basis.
It would also be foolish not to mention Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray of Kentucky, given John Calipari’s track record winning with freshmen.
3) Can Kansas win its 12th Big 12 regular season title in a row?
What a remarkable stat that is. It’s not as if the Big 12 is full of pushovers. Seven Big 12 schools made the NCAA Tournament last year. But with Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Frank Mason all returning, combined with stud freshman Carlton Bragg, it’s going to be tough to de-throne the Jayhawks in 2015-16.
Still, several schools have a shot. Iowa State must replace Fred Hoiberg, but they return most of a 25-win team from a year ago. Oklahoma looks to be quite formidable, too, as do West Virginia, Baylor and others.
Bill Self’s squad will get opponents' best shot this season.
4) Who are some candidates for the Naismith Award?
Frank Kaminsky was well deserving of the honor last season, and there are some quality candidates looking ahead to 2015-16.
Simmons, Labissiere, Murray and Brown all have legitimate shots at the award as true freshmen. They’re all supremely talented and will get plenty of minutes on their respective teams.
As far as familiar names go, Providence’s Kris Dunn is one of the best returning stars college basketball has to offer. The junior can do it all – last season, he averaged 15.6 points, 7.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.
If Iowa State can win the Big 12 over Kansas, Georges Niang has a shot at winning the Naismith. He plays in an up-tempo offense, and the senior averaged 15.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field. The Cyclones are hungry, and Niang is their leader.
5) Who is going to be this year’s March Madness ‘Cinderella' story?
I’m not going to try to pretend to predict this one, but a team (or several) we’ll never anticipate will almost certainly make a huge run in the NCAA Tournament. Think Florida Gulf Coast, George Mason or VCU. That team is out there – more power to you if you can predict who it might be.
6) Is this Bo Ryan’s last season?
The Badgers lost their two best players in Kaminsky in Sam Dekker, so if Ryan can get this Wisconsin team to the Final Four, it will be one of his finest achievements as a coach. If not, then, well, maybe he’ll just have to stay a few more years. That’s what the bulk of college basketball fans are hoping for, anyway.
7) What are 10 must-see games at the beginning of the college basketball slate?
Funny you should ask. We’ve got your 10 early games to watch right here.
50 days, everyone. That’s it. Let Midnight Madness commence.