AROUND THE PERIMETER
TIGERS LOOK TOUGH
Memphis was a suspect team going into last season's NCAA tournament, mostly for a lack of competition in Conference USA. But the Tigers silenced their doubters by reaching the round of eight for the second straight year before losing to Ohio State. This season, John Calipari's team will play Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee. Come March, the Tigers should be legitimate contenders for a national championship.
UCLA and Southern California are nearly as close in proximity as Duke and North Carolina - in terms of miles, not travel time - but nobody has confused the Bruins and Trojans with the Blue Devils and Tar Heels as far as their basketball rivalry. But things have been juiced up by the arrival of freshmen O.J Mayo and Kevin Love, the fact that USC now plays on campus and that the Bruins have been to back-to-back Final Fours. If Kobe Bryant gets traded by the Lakers, Los Angeles will be a college basketball town.
TROUBLE IN TUCSON
Arizona's first-round loss to Purdue in the NCAA tournament triggered a firestorm for the Wildcats. Lute Olson fired longtime assistant Jim Rosborough and then gave promising Marcus Williams his blessing to leave for the NBA. Olson brought back another former assistant, Kevin O'Neill, who had success as a head coach at Marquette and Tennessee but was a disaster with the Toronto Raptors. The uncertainty continued yesterday, when Olson, 73, announced he was taking a leave of absence and turning the team over to O'Neill.
Nearly a fifth of the Division I men's programs changed coaches after last season. Though there are many reasons, the most common for those being fired is not getting to the NCAA tournament enough or not going deep enough to satisfy the alums. But another common theme is for coaches to be recycled, albeit at much smaller or lower-profile programs. Such was the case for former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, who found his way to Harvard, as well as former Clemson and Auburn coach Cliff Ellis, who jumped back in at Coastal Carolina. The most interesting moves were made by Tubby Smith, who left Kentucky for Minnesota, and Steve Alford, who left Iowa for New Mexico.
It seems rare these days for fourth-year players to be the focal point of programs. But there are plenty of seniors who are expected to lead high-powered teams, including D.J. White at Indiana, Drew Neitzel at Michigan State, Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace at Georgetown, and Baltimore native Joey Dorsey at Memphis. Perhaps some of their younger teammates can look at how these players have developed, on and off the court, and stay in college a little longer.
Preseason picks for the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16:
UCLA: Bruins added blue-chip center Kevin Love to a team that has gone to back-to-back Final Fours.
Georgetown: Roy Hibbert's return for his senior year could give the Hoyas their first title since 1984.
Memphis: John Calipari hasn't lost his touch as a recruiter with Derrick Rose.
North Carolina: Tar Heels are still smarting from their second-half collapse against Georgetown.
Kansas: Pressure on Bill Self is starting to mount in Lawrence.
Indiana: Folks in Bloomington have been talking about Eric Gordon for two years.
Washington State: Return to health for Aron Baynes gives the Cougars a big presence in the middle.
Tennessee: Four returning starters, including SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton, have fans thinking about men's basketball in Knoxville.
Michigan State: Drew Neitzel should lead the Spartans back after a mediocre season.
Southern California: O.J. Mayo has a lot of hype to live up to as a freshman.
Duke: The loss of Josh McRoberts might be addition by subtraction in terms of chemistry.
Marquette: Dominic James returns for his junior year rather than going to the NBA.
Gonzaga: Off-the-court issues are settled, and the Zags should be a force again.
Butler: The Bulldogs will build off last season's tournament win over Maryland.
Kentucky: All first-year coaches do well in Lexington, and Billy Gillispie won't be the exception.
FAMILIAR FACES IN NEW PLACES
Bob Huggins, West Virginia: Seems like a better fit than Kansas State.
Rick Majerus, Saint Louis: If his health holds up, he could revive the Billikens.
Tubby Smith, Minnesota: Minneapolis will seem like a vacation compared with Lexington.
Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado: Former Air Force coach moves up the road to Boulder.
John Beilein, Michigan: Getting the Wolverines back in the Big Ten race could be a long road.
THAT SEAT IS GETTING A LITTLE WARM
Billy Gillispie, Kentucky: Has anybody told him he has to win everything - this season?
Dave Odom, South Carolina: Nice guys can finish last - or close to it - in the Southeastern Conference.
Kelvin Sampson, Indiana: NCAA violation doesn't sit well with Bobby Knight loyalists.
Bill Self, Kansas: Has won a lot of games but not a lot of supporters in Lawrence.
Mike Brey, Notre Dame: The football team's problems might take pressure off.
COMING OF AGE
Terrence Williams, junior, Louisville: Most well-rounded player Rick Pitino has had.
James Gist, senior, Maryland: International experience should help.
O.J. Mayo, freshman, Southern California: Will he live up to the hype?
D.J. Augustin, sophomore, Texas: With Kevin Durant gone, Augustin is the man in Austin.
POWERS THAT USED TO BE
Wake Forest: Death of Skip Prosser leaves a fragile program.
Temple: Legacy of John Chaney still looms large.
Michigan: Fab Five are a very distant memory.
Notre Dame: At least there's no national TV contract for basketball.
Loyola Marymount: Maybe the team should bring back Paul Westhead.
MARCH MADNESS PREVIEW
Nov. 28 North Carolina at Ohio State: Early season test for Final Four contenders.
Nov. 29 Gonzaga at St. Joseph's: The Fieldhouse will be rocking.
Dec. 8 Kentucky at Indiana: Could be Eric Gordon's coming-out party.
Dec. 22 Georgetown at Memphis: John Thompson III, not his dad, scheduled this game.
Feb. 23 Tennessee at Memphis: Interesting in-state battle.