Talent-laden Ark. will be Final 4

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Twenty-five things you absolutely must know about this college basketball season:

1. Let's get this out of the way right now. Arkansas, UCLA, Massachusetts and Alabama will reach the Final Four.

Arkansas has so much talent it could beat the Los Angeles Clippers. Then again, so could Drexel. UCLA goes because coach Jim Harrick won't want to come home if the Bruins don't get there.

Massachusetts, which beat the Razorbacks last week, is Arkansas Jr. and Alabama is the requisite long shot.

2. Clip and save for your April NCAA tournament office pool: If UCLA, UMass or Alabama don't make it, Georgetown, Kentucky or Arizona could.

3. The newcomer of the year won't be St. John's freshman Felipe Lopez, but Georgetown freshman Allen Iverson.

4. Nevada-Las Vegas will win the Big West Conference, earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid and win a first-round game . . . . if nobody in the Runnin' Rebels' starting five gets hurt.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wants to become a college head coach. What he might want to do is pay his dues, like Steve Alford at Manchester (Ind.) College.

6. The five best players are: Arkansas forward Corliss Williamson, Indiana forward Alan Henderson, Oklahoma State center Bryant Reeves, Villanova guard Kerry Kittles and Georgia Tech point guard Travis Best.

7. There remains considerable resentment among some established coaches toward California's Todd Bozeman.

Of course, what they really might resent is Bozeman's ability to attract some of the best high school players to Berkeley.

8. If we knew Maryland wouldn't suffer a key injury -- as was the case last season -- or two or three, then we would pick them to earn a Final Four spot. But we don't, so we won't.

9. The luckiest man in America is Wisconsin's Stan Van Gundy, who woke up one morning as an assistant coach and ended it as the Badgers' head coach in charge of a lineup that includes center Rashard Griffith and forward Michael Finley.

Not bad for your first Division I job.

10. The most underrated and versatile player in the country is DePaul's Tom Kleinschmidt.

11. Three teams that could come out of nowhere and make some NCAA tournament noise: Cal, Mississippi State and Utah.

12. Three Top 25 teams most likely to struggle: Virginia (is there such a thing as too much talent and too few minutes?); Iowa State (a new coach and a new point guard); Duke (if Erik Meek doesn't help solve the rebounding concerns).

13. Seven coaches who could use boffo seasons: Miami's Leonard Hamilton, Georgia's Hugh Durham, Ohio State's Randy Ayers, Memphis' Larry Finch, Rutgers' Bob Wenzel, North Carolina State's Les Robinson and UCLA's Harrick.

14. Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins might not admit it publicly, but in a strange way the Bearcats actually are better off without Dontonio Wingfield.

15. Until Avondre Jones decides to put as much effort into his basketball career as he does his musical career, UNLV didn't help itself by signing him for next season.

According to one well-respected coach who saw the former heralded Southern Cal freshman play this summer, Jones wasn't worth the trouble.

16. UNLV coach Tim Grgurich will work wonders with Jones.

17. Prediction: If you asked last season's top 100 high school recruits what Colgate was, 99 of them would have said toothpaste. Adonal Foyle, one of the nation's most sought-after players, said it was his college of choice. Good for Foyle.

18. Five post-December games we'd pay big bucks to see: Jan. 24, Michigan at Indiana; Jan. 29, Kentucky at Arkansas; Feb. 2, North Carolina at Duke; Feb. 15, Arkansas at Alabama; Feb. 26, Georgetown at Syracuse.

19. Alabama star forward Jason Caffey is out with an ankle injury but should be back sometime this month. Whew.

20. Best team you never heard of: Illinois-Chicago.

21. We hope they stay, but we wouldn't be surprised if North Carolina's Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, Wisconsin's Griffith and UMass' Marcus Camby leave school early for the NBA.

22. NCAA investigators are saying that they were stunned by the scope and blatant nature of the alleged cheating done by former Baylor coach Darrel Johnson and his staff. Johnson has maintained he had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

23. The best juco transfer might be Brandon Jessie, who already has established himself as a force at Utah. Give an assist to former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who put in a good word for Utah.

24. Final Four MVP: Arkansas' Williamson. Again.

25. NCAA champion: Arkansas. Again.

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