We know many of you have been counting the days since April 2, when Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans after defeating Kansas to win the 2012 NCAA national championship. When March Madness ends, the start of the next season always seems so far away, doesn't it? Well, the wait is over.
BACK ON THE COURT
Friday's Midnight Madness signals the return of college basketball. Go inside the Scout network for these and more great features:
Time to roll out the basketballs. After some pyrotechnics, dancing, skits, slam dunk contests, and three-point shooting exhibitions Friday night to celebrate Midnight Madness across the country, college hoops returns to serious business on Saturday morning when most coaches will welcome their players to preseason practice.
"On Saturday, they're all mine," first-year Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said Thursday. "It should be fun."
If you've had your head buried in college football since August, you may not have known that. So, we've put together a little primer to refresh all things basketball. Here are 10 of the top storylines heading into the 2012-13 season.
1. Is Indiana Final Four bound?
You know, it was just a couple of seasons ago that Hoosier fans were fretting over coach Tom Crean's rebuilding program and wondering how long it would take to restore order. That chatter went away last year right after Indiana worked some movie magic by beating Kentucky in one of the great regular-season games of all time. Crean may have the national player of the year in Cody Zeller and he can surround Zeller with talented athletes. Kelvin Samson's transgressions are in the past. Indiana's season may run all the way to April 8 and that is welcome news for long-suffering Hoosier fans.
Super recruit Nerlens Noel will be the face of Kentucky's repeat bid.
2. Cal's new kids
John Calipari finally got that elusive national championship ring in 2011 when his squad of NBA futures defeated Kansas in the New Orleans Superdome. Wildcat fans are still celebrating. Coach Cal is doing such a good recruiting job that Big Blue Nation is already talking about another title in 2014. This season won't be too shabby either. Nerlens Noel may not be the next Anthony Davis, but Kentucky has enough talent to consider a repeat run. Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin already have their eyes on the next NBA draft lottery.
3. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun has retired
For the first time since the 1985-86 season, Calhoun will not be stomping up and down the UConn sideline. Former UConn point guard and 13-year NBA veteran Kevin Ollie slides down the bench into the head coach's seat. Ollie has until March 9 to prove himself to UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. Thanks to a NCAA ban from postseason play for poor Academic Progress Rate results, the Huskies know that's the date of their last game. Weird, huh? UConn's depleted roster still includes one of the nation's top backcourts, including Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
4. Kansas going for No. 9
Kansas has won or shared the Big 12 regular-season championship eight straight seasons. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are gone from last season's team that enjoyed a surprising run to the championship game before losing to Kentucky. But coach Bill Self recently re-signed through 2022 and the Jayhawks have newcomers Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor to go along with Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. KU celebrates Late Night at Allen Fieldhouse as the Jayhawks are favored to win a ninth straight conference title.
5. Saint Louis moves on without Rick Majerus
The most anticipated season in school history took a hit in late August when it was announced the coach of the Billikens would miss the entire season because of a heart condition. With Kwamain Mitchell and Dwayne Evans giving the Billikens a balanced attack, Saint Louis is top 10 worthy, and it's a shame Majerus can't be there to lead the way. Assistant coach Jim Crews will take over as interim coach, but without Majerus the run won't be as fun.
6. Roy Williams' cancer scare
The North Carolina coach had surgery Sept. 19 to remove a tumor from his right kidney. That was followed by a biopsy on his other kidney on Oct. 3. In both cases, the tumors were found to be non-cancerous. He has cut back his schedule a bit, but at North Carolina's media day Williams said he plans on coaching another six to 10 years. And he will be at the first practice on Saturday.
"It does change you," Williams told reporters. "Anybody that says it doesn't, they're a lot stronger or more wacko than I am."
7. The Billy Gillispie saga
Things got weird this summer at Texas Tech. After reports that he mistreated players and support staff, including practices that totaled eight hours a day, Gillispie was hospitalized and then resigned. Interim coach Chris Walker will try to pick up the pieces, but the Red Raiders must overcome a lot of trauma, including an eight-win season last year and a 1-17 record in the Big 12. You've got to wonder if Gillispie will ever get another chance to coach.
8. UCLA and the NCAA
Ben Howland's Bruins, once Final Four regulars, have missed the NCAA tournament two of the past three seasons. A high-profile recruiting class was supposed to pave the path back to the promised land. Now there is a major speed bump slowing down that journey. Highly-touted freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson are the subjects of an eligibility investigation by the NCAA and have not been cleared as practice is set to begin.
Ben Howland's fortunes depend largely on the eligibility of two of his star freshmen.
These are tense times for the Bruins. Media day was monitored by UCLA vice chancellor of legal affairs Kevin Reed just to make sure Howland and the UCLA players didn't address the eligibility issues. Stay tuned.
9. Missouri starts over in SEC
After that embarrassing loss to Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, coach Frank Haith and the Tigers will try their luck in the SEC. Mizzou packed its bags and left the Big 12, and the luggage includes a bundle of transfers. Is this the 2012-13 version of Iowa State? Joining returning guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon and forward Laurence Bowers will be forward Alex Oriakhi, who helped UConn to the national championship in 2011. Oriakhi, a 6-9 senior, can play immediately because of the Huskies' postseason ban. If he returns to form, the Tigers will be tough to beat inside.
10. The Big East-ACC saga
It's safe to say there is some animosity between these two conferences and it will be in full bloom this season as Syracuse and Pittsburgh play their final seasons in the Big East before heading to Tobacco Road in 2013. It is the end of an era. Hard to imagine coaches Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon in the ACC, going against Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski on a regular basis, but that's a sign of the times. Notre Dame joined in the exodus in September, announcing it will be ACC-bound as well (although no one knows exactly when).
Rick Pitino's Louisville team is the favorite to win the Big East and possibly return to the Final Four but the Orange, Panthers and Irish could be viewed as the other top teams in the Big East this season. The Big East will hold its breath that Louisville decides to stay in Dave Gavitt's great, old basketball conference but there are no guarantees -- not in this atmosphere. Take a good look. The Big East won't be the same when Memphis and Central Florida are playing in Madison Square Garden.