ICYMI: It's College
Hoops Season

An unending string of upsets. A chaotic top 10. Fifteen precious outings from the brightest freshman star since Kevin Durant. Oh, and the best regular-season game ever. Missed it? Here's your sign. With college football finished, now's the perfect time to catch up on the biggest names, best teams and top stories of a breakneck season in college hoops.


Wide-open field

Kansas? Oklahoma? Maryland? Michigan State? What about Villanova? Or North Carolina? Or ... well, you get the point. A year ago, Kentucky ranked No. 1 from October to April. In 2015-16, four teams already have swapped turns at the top. This is a volatile, unpredictable, wide-open title chase where only two things are guaranteed: The tournament is going to be wild, and your bracket is going to get busted.

Ben Simmons ... needs help

LSU freshman Ben Simmons was a preseason All-American before he'd played a minute, and he's **still** vastly better than anyone expected. The 6-foot-10 forward/point guard/LeBron James-comparison magnet is putting up an unthinkable 20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Yet thanks to his team's soft 7-5 start, Simmons -- a lock to be the 2016 NBA draft's No. 1 pick -- may not even play in the NCAA tournament.

Goodbye, Bo Ryan

Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan. The game's most reliable figure, to the point of cliché, for 14 seasons, Ryan made a final tactical adjustment with an ironic twist. The coach's abrupt December retirement was timed to ensure longtime assistant Greg Gard has a shot to win the long-term job from a skeptical athletic department. Suddenly, the Badgers' future is impossible to foresee. Maybe there's hope for taxes yet.

Coaches behaving badly

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and SMU coach Larry Brown share nearly 10 decades of coaching experience between them. In 2015, they shared a metaphorical cell, as Boeheim and Brown each served nine-game suspensions for NCAA violations. The Orange have been left reeling, and the (still-unbeaten!) Mustangs are ineligible to compete in the 2016 tournament.

Wildcats without claws

The 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats -- who won their first 38 games and suffered their first loss in the Final Four -- were ferocious, fearsome and downright unfair. By comparison, this season's Wildcats have been declawed. Kentucky is one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in the country. Its defense is merely mediocre. And John Calipari's latest marquee talent, No. 2 prospect Skal Labissiere, can't get off the bench. These Wildcats aren't bad. They're just normal.

Indiana learning defense?

A year ago, few teams put the ball in the basket more frequently, or more beautifully, than Indiana -- and few teams spent so much time grabbing it out of their own. Better defense in 2015-16 was a must for beleaguered coach Tom Crean. After a disastrous start, his team has guarded its way to 4-0 in Big Ten play. Has IU retired its capote de brega for good?

The new rules work!

For more than a decade, college hoops got slower and more brutally physical with each passing season. No more. This season's new rules -- including a 30-second shot clock and stricter policing of illegal contact -- have literally changed the game. The result? College hoops is faster, higher-scoring and way more fun to watch.

This hurts

Injuries happen, sure, but 2015-16 has been especially unkind. Michigan State's Denzel Valentine was the Wooden Award front-runner before a knee injury caused him to miss four games. Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski is gone for the season. Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski returned from his month-long absence just in time for guard Allonzo Trier to break his hand. This is just an unfortunate few.

They're baaaaaaaaack!

Three years after its realignment schism, the 2015-16 edition of the new-look Big East has emerged as one of the sport's very best leagues. From elite teams like Villanova and Xavier, to top-25-level squads like Butler and Providence (led by All-American point guard Kris Dunn), to surprises like Seton Hall and Creighton, the new Big East is no longer a power conference in name only. It's simply powerful.

No small feat

Oakland guard Kahlil Felder is listed at 5-foot-9. That's probably generous. It also doesn't matter. Felder is third in the nation in points (25.8) and first in assists (9.0) per game; no player in the sport uses this many possessions this efficiently. In December, he torched Michigan State for 37 in an overtime loss. He is that rarest of basketball joys: a small dude with gargantuan game.

This is how you celebrate

Star Wars scenes. Coordinated dabs. A remarkably accurate recreation of Michaelangelo's "Creation of Adam." Mid-major stars rarely earn national attention. Mid-major benchwarmers? Forget it. Yet the viral-ready antics of the Monmouth bench have been the breakthrough story of this season's first half. And with wins over UCLA, USC, Georgetown and Notre Dame, the rest of the Hawks aren't half-bad, either.

Like the old days

In April, Duke's freshmen scored 60 of their team's 68 points in the Blue Devils' national championship victory over Wisconsin. Now it's the old guys' turn: Save for Simmons, 2015-16's best players are (almost exclusively) upperclassmen. Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, Providence's Kris Dunn, Iowa State's Georges Niang, and Kansas' Perry Ellis and more are testaments to the wisdom of A.C. Slater: Be cool. Stay in school.

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