Top 10 stories of the season

November 13, 1997|By Sun staff writer Don Markus

1. Tubby Smith goes to Kentucky: Not only will he be taking over college basketball's winningest program, not only will he be trying to follow Rick Pitino, but the 46-year-old Smith will become the school's first black head coach. Smith knows success, having taken teams with lesser talent at Tulsa and Georgia to the Sweet 16 three times. And he knows Lexington, having spent two years there as a Wildcats assistant under Pitino.

2. Can the (Other) Wildcats repeat?: Arizona, which as an underdog denied Pitino and Kentucky a chance at winning two straight national championships with last season's overtime victory in the NCAA final at the RCA Dome, will be considered one of the favorites to win it all this season at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Lute Olson has everybody back, including Final Four MVP Miles Simon and sophomore sensation Mike Bibby.

3. Has anybody seen Dean lately?: Unless you're on the first tee at the Governor's Club in Chapel Hill, probably not. For the first time in 37 years, a college basketball season will open without Dean Edwards Smith on the bench at North Carolina. Smith's sudden retirement last month has not lessened the spotlight on the Tar Heels or interim coach Bill Guthridge, who comes out of the shadows after 31 years as Smith's top assistant.

4. What is old is new again: College presidents, like owners of pro sports franchises and environment-conscious citizens, are into recylcing these days. Several prominent coaches, thought to be past their prime or untouchable because of NCAA problems, have resurfaced at smaller schools. Leading the group is Jim Harrick, who after a year's exile from UCLA is now at Rhode Island, as well as Lefty Driesell, now at Georgia State after being shown the door at James Madison.

5. Are you sure we're watching college basketball?: It might be the most stunning rule change in college basketball since the elimination of the center jump after every basket. The games in early tournaments such as the Maui Invitational, Great Alaskan Shootout and the Pre-Season NIT will be played in 10-minute quarters this year. Though it basically means coaches get an extra timeout, it will likely change the flow of the game. Other rule changes include the return of the five-second violation.

6. The Big Ten tournament: Most figured that the Big Ten would never hold a postseason tournament as long as Bob Knight was still drawing Xpletive deleteds-and-O's at Indiana. Either the other 10 schools in the 11-team league have suddenly gained power, or Knight has come to the realization that his Hoosiers have become a lousy NCAA tournament team. Whatever the reason, the tournament will be held at the United Center in Chicago.

7. The Eagles have landed in the big time: Coppin State will play its typical December schedule of tough road games. But after last year's upset of South Carolina and near-upset of Texas in the NCAA tournament, the Eagles and coach Fang Mitchell will certainly get more attention. The most should come Dec. 13, when Coppin State becomes the first traditionally black school to appear on network television for a regular-season game. The Eagles will play that day at Arizona.

8. Rock, choke, Jayhawk: After last season's second-round loss to Arizona, Kansas will be hearing that a lot this season from fans on the road. Despite losing point guard Jacque Vaughn and forward Scot Pollard, the Jayhawks will go into the season ranked No. 1. Another disappointing postseason and the folks in Lawrence might not protest too strongly if Roy Williams opts to leave for North Carolina.

9. Look whooooooo's baaaaaaaaack . . .: Duke figures to be the team to beat in the ACC this year. The Blue Devils came on strong at the end of the regular season last year, and Mike Krzyzewski has added three of the top 10 high school players, all of whom figure to add some balance to a perimeter-oriented team led by point guard Steve Wojciechowski (Cardinal Gibbons).

10. . . . and who's not: Some of the nation's best teams have some ineligible players. At Duke, there's Ricky Price (first semester for academics); at Kansas, there's Lester Earl (transfer from LSU); at Rhode Island, there's Lamar Odom (waiting to be cleared by NCAA); at UCLA, there are suspensions of Jelani McCoy (season)and Kris Johnson (indefinite)for reportedly flunking a drug test for marijuana; and UNLV will be without Keon Clark and Kevin Simmons, suspended for taking money from an agent.

Programs on the upswing

North Carolina-Charlotte: Former 49er Melvin Watkins is giving the basketball-crazy state, and Conference USA, another power.

Mississippi: Rob Evans turned down LSU to stay in Oxford for a second straight 20-win season.

St. John's: After some down years, as well as a change in nickname and coach, the Red Storm is rising under Fran Fraschilla.

Colorado State: A weak non-conference schedule was the only thing to keep the Rams out of the NCAA tournament last season.

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