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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Questions, answers for season

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Twenty questions (and answers) as the 2007-08 college basketball season is about to start:

1 How many Division I teams are there this season?

This question has not had the same answer in many, many years. There are 328 schools fielding Division I teams this season, meaning optimists see that many teams with a chance to play in a postseason tournament, and pessimists see 231 who won't play in a postseason tournament.

2 Any schools change conferences?

Five schools made a move, the biggest being Valparaiso's switch to the Mid-Continent Conference from the Horizon League. UC Davis, Longwood and Northern Colorado all moved up from Division II. Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne went from being an independent to the Summit League, which used to be known as the Mid-Continent.

3 When does the season start for real?

Although teams are playing exhibition games, the first games that count in the standings will be played Nov. 5, when Richmond plays Maine and Memphis entertains Tennessee-Martin in the opening doubleheader of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.

4 When is the NCAA's Selection Sunday?

March 16 is the day the bracket is announced.

5 When does the college season end?

The Final Four is in the Alamodome on April 5 and 7. This will be San Antonio's third Final Four, with Kentucky winning there in 1998 and Connecticut in 2004.

6 Is there still a National Invitational Tournament?

Thirty-two more teams get to say they made the postseason with the biggest perk being an automatic invitation for any team that wins its conference regular-season title.

7 Any chance of real impact freshmen this season much like Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant?

The best of the big men is 6-9 Kevin Love at UCLA, and he gets the benefit of joining a veteran team that has been to the Final Four the last two years. O.J. Mayo at Southern California and Michael Beasley at Kansas State might be the most talented players, and both will be relied on heavily for postseason success. Point guard Derrick Rose at Memphis gets to take over a talented team with national title hopes.

8 Did any players pass up the NBA to come back and try to win a national championship?

Roy Hibbert, who would have been a lottery pick, returns to Georgetown, and the 7-2 senior center will try to get the Hoyas back to the Final Four. Tyler Hansbrough will be back for his junior year at North Carolina, which lost to Georgetown in the regional finals. Brandon Rush of Kansas decided to return to school, injured his knee and had surgery that might keep him out of early season games.

9 What will be the most interesting of the coaching changes?

Billy Gillispie, who moved from Texas A&M; to Kentucky, will be under the most scrutiny just because it's Kentucky, and the faithful there have gone 10 years without a title. Bob Huggins left Kansas State after one successful season to return to West Virginia, his alma mater. Rick Majerus takes over at Saint Louis.

10 Are officials really going to enforce the bench decorum rules this season?

To make sure the rules governing how coaches act on the bench are followed, the NCAA has said officials who do not consistently enforce them will be penalized when it comes to NCAA Tournament assignments. So coaches should spend more time in the box in front of their bench, use less profanity, avoid reacting to calls so as to draw unfavorable crowd reactions and draw a lot more technical fouls.

11 Are there any can't-miss early season games?

Indeed. Check out: Arizona at Kansas on Nov. 25; Gonzaga at Connecticut on Dec. 1; North Carolina at Kentucky on Dec. 1; Southern California vs. Memphis on Dec. 4; Georgetown at Memphis on Dec. 22.

12 Any coaching milestones on the horizon?

All-time Division I leader Bob Knight of Texas Tech needs 10 wins to reach 900, and Lute Olson of Arizona, who is second on the active list, needs 20 for 800. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke needs 25 for 800. Bob Huggins of West Virginia needs 10 for 600, while Gary Williams of Maryland needs 15 and Tom Penders of Houston 16. The closest to 500 is Rick Pitino of Louisville, who is six away.

13 Who's the leading returning scorer?

Reggie Williams of VMI led the nation last season at 28.1 points per game. The senior will try and become the ninth player to lead the country in scoring for at least two consecutive seasons.

14 Does anyone make free throws?

Just about as well as they have for the last seven years. That was the first time Division I broke 68 percent, a mark that hadn't been reached since 1992. Since 2000, the percentage has stayed over 68, with the last two seasons just over 69 percent. Only five players have finished their career as 90 percent free throw shooters. A.J. Graves of Butler enters his senior season shooting 90.3 percent (290-of-321), and A.J. Abrams of Texas enters his junior year at 90.6 percent (116-of-128).

15 Is there a mid-major worth keeping an eye on during the season?

Davidson gave Maryland a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Wildcats have all the key players back, including guard Stephen Curry, who averaged 21.5 points and 3.6 3-pointers as a freshman.

16 Will the Big East and Big Ten adding conference games make a difference?

Not really. Both will play 18 league games, the same number the Pac-10 has played for years. In the Big East, a school plays a home-and-home with three others and the rest of the conference once. In the Big Ten, each team will play eight others twice, and the other two once each.

17 Can the Big East set the record by getting nine NCAA Tournament bids this season?

The conference's coaches will be politicking all season about not punishing individual teams because the league has 16 members. They're still upset Syracuse was left out in 2007, and many intimate it was because the committee didn't want to pick a seventh Big East team.

18 Was Skip Prosser really as good a guy as people said he was?

There won't be a coach this season who won't think of Prosser. If a mild-mannered, physically fit 56-year-old can die suddenly of a heart attack, what about them?

19 Has any team already been affected by an injury?

Alabama was a middle of the SEC West team before it learned guard Ronald Steele, a preseason All-America last season, would miss 2007-08 because of surgery on both knees. Steele averaged 14.3 points as a sophomore and that dropped to 8.6 in an injury-plagued junior season. He will graduate in December and will work on a second degree when he returns next season.

20 Is there another conference vs. conference setup this season?

The big one's still the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with 11 games over three days from Nov. 26-28, but the Big East-SEC Invitational starts this year. There will be two doubleheaders: West Virginia-Auburn and Georgetown-Alabama on Dec. 5 in Birmingham, Ala., and Providence-South Carolina and Villanova-LSU0- on Dec. 6 at Philadelphia.

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