Sixty-Five Things You Need To Know (Part I)

Sixty-five things you need to know about the upcoming men's basketball season



 
 

Oct. 10, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham

CSTV.com

 



BRYAN GRAHAM

Bryan is a basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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1) With all five starters and a pair of key reserves returning from last year's national champions, the biggest challenge for Florida could be avoiding a first-act-of-Rocky-III-type letdown. Since 1968, just two other NCAA champs have returned their entire starting five the following season: Arkansas (in 1994-95) and Arizona (in 1997-98). While both of those clubs made return trips to the Final Four, neither repeated as champs. But if the Gator boys can play with the same chip on their shoulder that they did throughout the NCAAs this past spring, Florida could join Duke as the only schools since the UCLA dynasty to win back-to-back titles.

 

2) Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey is the best player you've never heard of. Last season, the plucky shooting guard was the finest freshman in the nation this side of Tyler Hansbrough, averaging 24.2 points -- eighth-best in Division I and tops among first-year players -- and becoming the first-ever frosh to be named MVP of the Big Sky Conference.

 

3) That being said, there was no better first-year player in the nation than North Carolina's Hansbrough. The Poplar Bluff, Mo., native was named ACC Rookie of the Week a whopping 10 times, matching a conference record set by Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson in 1989-90. For an encore, look for the sophomore to make a compelling case for first team All-America honors.

 

4) Eat your heart out, J.J. Redick. Through three seasons, Missouri State's Blake Ahearn has attempted 340 free throws and missed just 16 times -- a freakish 95.1 percent clip. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard enters his senior season with an odds-on chance of breaking the all-time record held by Villanova's Gary Buchanan, who put down 91.3 percent of his attempts during four years on the Main Line. (With a shaky performance from the stripe during last year's postseason, Redick slipped behind Buchanan into third place all-time with a 91.15 career percentage.)

 

5) Only one conference in the nation can boast four teams that posted 24 or more victories last year: the Colonial Athletic Association. Media darling George Mason (27-8) and CAA tournament champion UNC Wilmington (25-8) both established program records for wins in a season, while Old Dominion (24-10) and Hofstra (26-7) would pad their victory totals with impressive NIT runs.

 

6) With Redick, Adam Morrison, Keydren Clark and Andre Collins gone from the college ranks, Towson's Gary Neal is the top returning scorer in Division I, having averaged 26.1 points for the Tigers. Unofficially, at least. Neal played in 17 games last season but isn't listed among the NCAA statistical leaders because he didn't compete in 75 percent of his team's contests. The former La Salle star (and Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year) was acquitted of rape charges in November, joined the team in late December and missed an additional four games in February due to a back injury.

 

7) Northwestern is the only school from the Big Ten never to have earned a trip to the Final Four.

 

8) Look for a pair of proud programs that have endured relative down periods to bounce back this season: Arizona and Maryland. The Wildcats return four starters from a 20-win ballclub and add to the mix Chase Budinger, a McDonald's All-American from SoCal who can play all five positions on the court. As for the Terps, does anybody really believe that Gary Williams will miss the tournament for a third straight season?

 

9) This marks the first year of Rule 2005-54, a much-maligned NCAA proposition which allows a student-athlete that has earned an undergraduate degree to transfer schools without sitting out a season -- turning a select number of fifth-year seniors into de facto free agents. (The NCAA hopes the regulation will expand the graduate school prospects for some of its charges.) Among the players that have taken advantage of this rule are Kevin Kruger (who left Arizona State for UNLV) and Almamy Thiero (who left Memphis for Duquesne).

 

10) Hofstra, the school that couldashouldawoulda been last year's George Mason, is everybody's pick to enjoy a breakthrough season out of the CAA. Still smarting from their Selection Sunday snub -- the Pride missed the field despite two late-season victories in the span of 11 days over at-large selection Mason -- the Long Island university returns one of the nation's most highly touted backcourts in Antoine Agudio, Carlos Rivera and Loren Stokes.

 

11) Saint Joseph's rising freshman D.J. Rivera won't make his collegiate debut until the Hawks host Fairfield on Nov. 14, but two of the Neumann-Goretti product's family members have been well-known to Philadelphia basketball junkies for a generation. Rivera's father, Derrick, was a starter for the Dobbins Tech team that won the city Public League title in 1985 -- a squad that featured Derrick's brother, Eric "Hank" Gathers, and common friend Bo Kimble. Alongside Kimble, the jocular Gathers would rise to national stardom at Loyola Marymount as a principal in Paul Westhead's high-octane offense, becoming the second player to lead Division I in points and rebounds in the same season. But his career would meet a tragic end on the court, when Gathers collapsed and died of a heart-muscle disorder during a West Coast Conference tournament game in 1990.

 

12) Speaking of the St. Joe's signee, Rivera's secured his place in Philly prep history last March. In the Philadelphia Catholic League title game, the combo guard canned a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Neumann-Goretti to a 44-41 victory over Roman Catholic at Tom Gola Arena.

 

13) Truth be told: There might not be a more fun player to watch in college hoops than Nick Fazekas, Nevada's magnetic, uber-versatile Wooden Award candidate. The 6-foot-11, 240-pound senior, who returned to Reno after a brief flirtation with the NBA draft, is equally comfortable banging with the big boys in the paint or taking and making 24-foot jumpers. Fazekas averaged a double-double as a junior -- 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds a night -- and poured in 30 or more points on four occasions.

 

14) DePaul is the only school to be named a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons and to not win a single tourney game during that span (1980-1982).

 

15) With 11 more victories, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight can eclipse Dean Smith's record for most victories by a Division I men's basketball coach. Wouldn't it be fun if The General got the win on Jan. 8 against Huggy Bear when the Red Raiders travel to Kansas State?

 

16) In J.R. Reynolds and first team All-ACC selection Sean Singletary, Virginia returns one of the most prolific scoring backcourts in the nation. Last season, the tandem combined to net 34.7 points per game, the best two-man clip in Division I. The duo is the biggest reason why many believe the woebegone Cavaliers are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 -- and just the second time in a decade.