Say hello to 2017, college basketball. This is what to look forward to:Savoring the chaos, if the first big night of conference play is any omen. That was Wednesday, when No. 2 UCLA, No. 6 Louisville and No. 16 Indiana all lost their league openers, and No. 1 Villanova barely escaped. Only UCLA was on the road.
In figuring out coach of the year, it could be Steve Alford if UCLA keeps scoring 100, led by freshmen. It could be Jay Wright if Villanova keeps refusing to lose. It could be Scott Drew if Baylor goes from a preseason unranked team without a vote to make a home in the top five. It could be Mike Krzyzewski if Duke thrives despite all the lineup tweaking with freshmen injuries.
And while we’re on the subject of Coach K, we wish him a happy 70th birthday on Feb. 13.
On deciding the nation’s top player, it might be the year of the freshmen—Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, et. al.—but right now, it’d be hard to argue against Villanova senior Josh Hart.
The season of giving ...— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 23, 2016
Lonzo Ball (@ZO2_) ranks 1st in the @pac12 in assists per game (8.3) & assist-turnover ratio (3.5).#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/UfRkBPW87j
You should be watching to see if The Citadel, currently 7-7, really has to fight to stay above .500 while averaging 102 points per game and keeping an eye on the overheated scoreboard at Marshall, which has won a game 111-105 this season and lost a game 112-106.
Guess how many times Toledo has gone into overtime? That would be five for the 6-6 Rockets.
How many shots does 7-6 Tacko Fall of Central Florida miss? At last count, it was only 16 in 13 games for a nation’s best 84.3 percentage. He’s blocked 15 more shots than he’s missed. Maybe the best idea is hack-a-Tacko. He’s shooting 43.1 percent from the line.
2017 will have us watching the first-ever Ivy League tournament, the first Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C., the first ACC Tournament in Brooklyn and the first Final Four in Arizona.
One last thing: Keep track of all the reunions since 2017 is a great year for landmark anniversaries.
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Could it be five years ago that Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 for the national championship? Despite all the NBA draft picks in Lexington since, that remains the only John Calipari title. What should be remembered about 2012: Anthony Davis was 1-for-10 shooting but did so many other things, he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. And in the semis, Kentucky had to beat Louisville.
Could it be 10 years that Florida whisked past Ohio State to win a second consecutive title? What should be remembered about 2007: Nobody has repeated since.
Could it be 15 years ago that Maryland made its first-ever appearance in the national championship game, and won over Indiana? What should be remembered about 2002: The Terrapins had seethed for a year waiting to get back to the Final Four after the 2001 semifinals when they blew a 22-point lead against Duke.
Could it be 20 years ago that Arizona went overtime to upset Kentucky? The Wildcats remain the last champion from the West. What should be remembered about 1997: Arizona cut a swath through royalty in the tournament, beating Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky – all No. 1 seeds.
In 1997 the University of Arizona had to beat three 1 seeds to win it all! #FinalFour pic.twitter.com/jf5Qncj73c— Final Four Phoenix (@FinalFour) December 28, 2016
Could it be 25 years ago that Duke and Kentucky played the mother of all tournament games, and it wasn’t over in the East Regional until Christian Laettner’s miracle turnaround at the buzzer – his 10th basket in 10 shots -- won it 104-103 in overtime? What should be remembered about 1992: Duke eventually beat a bunch of freshmen in really long shorts from Michigan called the Fab Five for the national championship, but all anyone remembers is the Kentucky game.
Could it be 30 years ago that Keith Smart hit a baseline jump shot with five seconds left to give Indiana the national championship – Bob Knight’s third and last – over Syracuse? What should be remembered about 1987: The Hoosiers won their last three games in that tournament by a combined six points and two of the games by one point in the final seconds.
Could it be 40 years ago that Al McGuire wept on the sideline as the last seconds ticked away on his final game as Marquette coach – which happened to be for the national championship over North Carolina? What should be remembered about 1977: No UCLA in that Final Four for the first time in 11 years.
Could it be 50 years ago that the NCAA Tournament got its first dose of Lew Alcindor and nobody came closer than 15 points of UCLA? What should be remembered about 1967: To counter Alcindor’s fearsome dominance, the dunk was outlawed in college basketball three days after the Final Four. He went 58-2 the next two seasons anyway, and much to the future consternation of NBA opponents, developed a new shot to go with a new name. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hook was born.
RELATED: 2016's best buzzer beaters
Could it be 60 years ago that the North Carolina Tar Heels accomplished something that would forever put to shame future players who complained of fatigue during a tough game? Three overtimes to beat Michigan State in the national semifinals, three overtimes 24 hours later (using only seven men) to beat Kansas 54-53 for the championship. What should be remembered about 1957: No shot clock back then. North Carolina and Kansas scored only two points each in the first two overtimes.
Could it be 70 years ago that Holy Cross – a team with no home gym – beat Oklahoma for the title? What should be remembered about 1947: Seven decades later, the Crusaders remain the only national champion from Massachusetts – the state where Dr. James Naismith invented the game.
Could it be 75 years ago that Stanford took a train from the west coast in the early days of World War II, got off in Kansas City and played all three of its NCAA Tournament games to win the national championship? It would be 47 years before Stanford returned to the tournament. What should be remembered about 1942: Stanford’s financial cut of the tournament proceeds was $93.75. Plus a trophy.
Times have changed, but one thing hasn’t. Come the new year, college basketball starts to bubble. Or even earlier when you consider this week.