CAROLINA KUMBAYA, PART III
In 1993-94, North Carolina added Jeff McInnis, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace to four starters from an NCAA championship team, but dissension kept it from getting to the Sweet 16. In 2002-03, the Tar Heels brought in a freshman class of Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants, but Matt Doherty couldn't get them to make nice and got fired after their sophomore season. Now North Carolina has Tyler Hansbrough (above) and most of the pieces back from one of the nation's surprise teams, plus a six-man freshman class, headed by point guard Ty Lawson, that is the recruiting fruit of their 2005 NCAA title. Coach Roy Williams had no expectations last season; this time around, he's going to earn his millions.
NO. 3 AT THE TWO SPOT
The guys at The Sporting News are big fans of Gary Neal (left). The magazine lists the Towson senior as the nation's third-best shooting guard, behind UCLA's Arron Afflalo and Tennessee's Chris Lofton. The Calvert Hall graduate is the only mid-major player ranked among the top five at any position, and has the game and upside to be taken in next year's NBA draft. This could be the first time since 1990-91 -- when Walt Williams had an injury-shortened junior season and Coppin State's Larry Stewart averaged 23.9 points and 13.4 rebounds -- that the state's top talent wasn't wearing a Maryland jersey.
Dick Vitale wants to make room for his visage on Mount Rushmore, but it was not the best offseason for Mike Krzyzewski (below). Besides his top-seeded Blue Devils getting beaten in the Sweet 16, he saw several proteges who had played and coached for him lose their jobs. Missouri botched the firing of Quin Snyder, and the David Henderson era came to a quieter end at Delaware. About two weeks before he was taken 11th overall in the NBA draft by the Orlando Magic, J.J. Redick was charged with driving under the influence. He eventually pleaded guilty. And, at the semifinals of the world championships, Krzyzewski's Team USA was exposed by Greece, 101-95.
PILING UP THE VICTORIES
See Bob throw a chair.
See Bob grab a player's jersey.
See Bob become college basketball's all-time winningest coach.
Texas Tech has signed Bob Knight (below) through 2012, but he won't need that long to break Dean Smith's record of 879 wins, which were compiled in 36 seasons at North Carolina. Knight suffered through his second losing record in 40 seasons last winter, when the Red Raiders slumped from the Sweet 16 to 15-17, but it did leave him with 869 wins, 10 fewer than Smith. Look for Knight, who won three NCAA titles at Indiana but wore out his welcome with his boorish behavior, to pass Smith sometime in December.
THEY PLAIN DON'T LIKE EACH OTHER
Bodies will fly, students will curse, and that's just before tip-off. Things got ugly in Emmitsburg last December, when Loyola went to Mount St. Mary's and left with a five-point win punctuated by posturing and pushing on the court and in the stands. Seeking payback, Mount St. Mary's students already have booked several buses for the Dec. 3 renewal of the state's oldest rivalry, at Reitz Arena. They can't even agree about the series record. The Mountaineers say they lead 93-67. The Greyhounds maintain that count is 92-67.
WHO'S HE? Sometimes, kids read the tea leaves right and return to college. Morris Almond (right), a 6-6 wing with great skills, averaged 21.9 points and 5.8 rebounds last season for Rice, then entered his name in the NBA draft. Learning that his stock wasn't that high, Almond returned for his senior season, and the Wooden Award candidate will probably lead Conference USA in scoring again. Almond got Rice an ESPN2 date at Gonzaga on Nov. 14 - albeit at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
In 2004, Saint Joseph's came within a basket of becoming the second team from the Atlantic 10 to get to the Final Four. Last season, the Colonial Athletic Association ranked ahead of the A-10 in the RPI, and that was before George Mason made its historic run to Indianapolis. Was that an anomaly or a harbinger on the East Coast, where the A-10 traditionally has been a solid third, behind the ACC and Big Ten? It produced as many as five NCAA teams in 1998, but only George Washington got there last season. The expansion ripples have been intriguing in the A-10 and CAA. After the CAA lost American, East Carolina and Richmond -- the latter to the A-10 -- it raided the America East for five teams, including Towson. The A-10 added Charlotte and Saint Louis last season, but outside of Philadelphia, where Saint Joe's, La Salle and Temple knock heads, rivalries can be hard to maintain in a 14-team league.
WHERE'S THE 'B' IN UMBC? UMBC's jerseys read "Baltimore" from 1991 until 1995, when that fashion statement was dropped. Good idea. Other than Towson Catholic's Gamel Spencer in the late 1980s and Dunbar's Rod Harrison in the late '90s, locals have been scarce in Catonsville since 1979, when the Kane brothers and John Goedeke took the Retrievers to the Division II tournament. UMBC is proud of its academic standards, and their Meyerhoff Scholars may not abound on the local AAU circuit, but there's got to be somebody from the Catholic League worth putting on the roster. Johann Jones, a walk-on wing from Meade, and Tyler Massey, a 6-10 project from Eastern Tech, are trying to buck that history.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Last March, The Sun's crack college basketball reporter -- see the above byline -- took the Southeastern Conference to task for a series of recent no-shows in the NCAA tournament. Naturally, the SEC put two teams in the Final Four and Florida won it all, becoming the third school from the land of spring football -- couldn't resist -- to win a national championship. LSU's elimination of Duke in the Sweet 16 left the SEC 20-20 all time against the mighty ACC, which has a losing record (13-14) in the tournament against only the Pacific-10, a remnant of the John Wooden dynasty. From 2000 to 2003, the SEC was the top conference in the Rating Percentage Index, so why did it sneak up on some of us last year? Its exposure on ESPN is limited to Thursday night, and some of its CBS dates are regional telecasts, losing out in the Baltimore market to the Big East. We'd love to see more of Big Baby -- LSU big man Glen Davis -- and cool Alabama guard Ronald Steele (right).
FATHERS AND SONS
Mommas, let your babies grow up to be jocks -- just like Dad. Joakim Noah (above), the son of former tennis great Yannick Noah (right), is a possible national Player of the Year. Two of his fellow starters at defending NCAA champion Florida are Al Horford and Taurean Green. Both of their fathers played in the NBA. Pat Ewing Jr. transferred from Indiana to Georgetown, where his father won an NCAA title. Gerald Henderson won NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in 1981 and 1984. His son of the same name, a 6-foot-4 wing, is the top newcomer at Duke. Ohio State freshman Mike Conley has the hops, as his father, also Mike, won a gold medal in the triple jump at the 1992 Olympics. Jamaal Wilkes, a winner with UCLA and the Lakers, has sons Omar and Jordan at California. Maryland has D.J. Strawberry, whose father, Darryl, had Hall of Fame potential in baseball. The Terps also have Landon Milbourne, a 6-7 freshman forward from Georgia by way of Oak Hill Academy. He's the son of Andre Foreman, an Eastern Shore native who scored an NCAA Division III record 2,940 points for Salisbury State from 1987 to 1992.
SMELLS LIKE CINDERELLA
These unusual suspects are good enough to get at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, and do some damage there.
The Pride returns three perimeter scorers from a team that beat George Mason twice and won two games in the NIT.
The talented Zips add Jimmy Conyers, a 6-foot-5 wing who played at Walbrook and sat out last season for academics.
Co-favorites in the Big Sky, the Grizzlies have three starters back from a team that got to the second round.
Gary Forbes was a complementary player at Virginia two years ago, but the 6-7 junior could be a force for second-year coach Travis Ford.
Nick Fazekas is going the wrong way in March. He got to the Sweet 16 as a freshman, to the second round as a sophomore, and was upset in the first round last season -- by Montana.
1. RONALD STEELE Alabama
Forget Glen Davis and Joakim Noah. The Crimson Tide's solid junior guard could be the best player in a loaded Southeastern Conference.
2. JEFF GREEN Georgetown
The 6-9 forward from Len Bias' high school shared Big East Rookie of the Year with Rudy Gay two years ago, but scored less as a sophomore. If Green wants to take over games, the Hoyas could overtake the Big East.
3. RANDOLPH MORRIS Kentucky
His sophomore season was disrupted by an ill-advised dalliance with the NBA, but now the 6-11, 260-pound junior is ready to produce.
4. D.J. WHITE Indiana
White went from Big Ten Freshman of the Year to a broken foot and a redshirt season. He's filled out, and is ready to prove that Greg Oden isn't the only quality big man in the Big Ten.
5. TYRESE RICE Boston College
The 6-1 left-hander from Richmond showed he could shoot the three last season. Now he has to run the Eagles.
TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN
Baltimore's five teams have dates in which the payoff will come in the form of an electronic transfer of funds, not a return game.
1. TOWSON@KANSAS Nov. 19
Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. Whatever.
2. COPPIN STATE@TENNESSEE Nov. 19
The ball isn't oblong, but Thompson-Boling Arena holds 24,535.
3. LOYOLA@MICHIGAN STATE Dec. 30
Fortunately for the Greyhounds, they go to the Breslin Center during semester break.
4. MORGAN STATE@MARQUETTE Dec. 22
5. UMBC@MICHIGAN Nov. 25
The Retrievers spend Thanksgiving weekend in Ann Arbor. At least it's not the Big House.
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
These five freshmen from Maryland would have looked good in a Terps uniform -- or playing for any of the state's eight other Division I teams.
1. KEVIN DURANT Texas
The 6-9 forward from Montrose Christian is being compared to Carmelo Anthony.
2. TY LAWSON North Carolina
The Tar Heels' best point guard since Phil Ford -- or at least Raymond Felton -- played two seasons at Bishop McNamara in Prince George's County before he went to Oak Hill Academy.
3. DaJUAN SUMMERS Georgetown
He's not Jeff Green, but the McDonogh graduate can do a little of everything for the Hoyas.
4. JEROME DYSON Connecticut
Before he went to prep school in Massachusetts, the 6-3 guard lit it up for Winston Churchill High in Montgomery County.
5. LOUIS BIRDSONG George Mason
The Sun's 2005-06 Player of the Year will help fellow Mount St. Joseph alumnus Will Thomas on the Patriots' front line.
Five coaches at the start of the honeymoon.
1. BOB HUGGINS Kansas State
The Wildcats have been down so doggone long -- no NCAA tournament appearances since 1996 -- that whatever Hugs does will look like up to them.
2. MIKE DAVIS Alabama-Birmingham
You can't replace a legend -- Bob Knight at Indiana -- but you can go back to your home state.
3. ANDY KENNEDY Mississippi
4. HERB SENDEK Arizona State
The Zen of Herb will be appreciated more in Tempe than it was in the Land of Valvano.
5. MATT DOHERTY Southern Methodist
The Mustangs hope MJ's former running mate at North Carolina hangs around longer than the one season he gave Florida Atlantic.
Five inside players from Baltimore will be asked to do more this winter.
1. WILL THOMAS George Mason
Has the junior forward from Mount St. Joseph extended the range on his jump shot? With Jai Lewis gone, opponents will collapse on the left-hander's fine jump hook.
2. LEON WILLIAMS Ohio University
He went from Cardinal Gibbons in 2004 to top freshman in the Mid-American Conference in 2005. The 6-8 junior wants back in the NCAAs.
3. JOEY DORSEY Memphis
The man in the middle on a remarkable Douglass High team in 2002, Dorsey is one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation -- when he wants to be. The 6-9 junior gets in trouble when he puts the ball on the floor, as he made a pitiful 39.3 percent of his free throws last season.
4. BYRON JOYNES Rutgers
A 6-9 senior who played at Towson Catholic, Joynes led the Scarlet Knights in rebounding last year. By shedding weight, he became a better athlete.
5. JOHN BUNCH Monmouth
In his first season in Division I, the 7-foot-2, 320-pound Bunch was a space eater. The Randallstown native needs to handle more minutes if the Hawks want to be the first Northeast Conference team to repeat in the NCAAs since 1994.