Villanova's epic national title victory over North Carolina in April seems like a lifetime ago. It camouflaged a pedestrian regular season. The hope and the expectation is that you won't have to wait until April to be hooked. The season is exactly 30 days away, so here are the things you absolutely must keep an eye on right from the opening tip:
Villanova's Kris Jenkins will have miracle shot hangover
Jenkins had the shot of a lifetime and an NCAA tournament memory that won't be forgotten for some time. But Jenkins will now be relied on to deliver more big moments, and the regular season simply doesn't carry the same adrenaline. Hard to imagine another comparable moment in his Nova career.
Kentucky coach John Calipari still needs a returning player to be a star
The Wildcats once again have a star-studded freshman class. The reliable and productive veterans are few. That means Isaiah Briscoe better be an elite player. Kentucky needs someone who has been in high-pressure games to reach its ultimate goal of a national title.
Duke's Harry Giles' knees will be the most discussed body part in college basketball
Giles tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee in 2013. He had a knee scope this month and his return is unknown. The mystery will challenge NBA personnel, who said they will want their doctors to check him out before they can make an evaluation. Let's assume he returns at some point for the Blue Devils. Once he does, his left knee will be a constant conversation point right up until the night of the NBA draft.
The ACC may be the strongest, but the Big Ten race will be the most intriguing
Duke, Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia will compete for top-5 NCAA tournament seeds. And the league could get as many nine or 10 -- maybe 11? -- teams in the NCAAs. But Duke is the favorite. So give me the Big Ten race, because there Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue should be competing down to the final weekend for the title in a razor-thin race.
Wichita State will face its toughest season since becoming a regular in the NCAA tournament
The Shockers have been the dominant team in the Missouri Valley. But you cannot ignore the impact of losing Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Gregg Marshall is an elite coach who maximizes talent, but he will face a hungry set of opponents in the Valley who are eager to take down the Shockers.
Arizona's Allonzo Trier will be a national name by March
The Arizona staff is convinced Trier will be the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averaged nearly 15 points a game last season. With the top two scorers gone, Trier will have plenty of touches to stuff the stat sheet every game.
The pro-Bob Knight loyalists will continue to shrink as Tom Crean's Indiana thrives
Knight loyalists need to get over themselves. Crean has coached the Indiana Hoosiers to a Big Ten title and multiple Sweet 16 appearances. This Indiana team has the size, depth and speed to again be in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. If the point guard play materializes, then Hoosiers fans better deal with Crean creating a lasting legacy.
The NCAA investigation into Louisville won't impact its season
Louisville still hasn't been in front of the NCAA committee on infractions. The timetable to get a hearing and deal with a response and possible appeal means this likely won't ding the Cardinals this season. The worst-case scenario? A suspension for Rick Pitino under the coach control penalty. But that could even be a reach. Can't see a postseason ban after last season's self-imposed one.
NC State freshman guard Dennis Smith will be a part of the All-American discussion
Smith is a special talent. A year ago, he tore his ACL, limiting the buzz that might follow him from high school to NC State. He's healthy now, and Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried has a star, a player who should be the best point guard in the ACC, and as a result, one of the best in the country.
Bob Huggins will sweat less at West Virginia this season
Huggins will still wear his golf windbreakers and comfy clothes. But he is optimistic he has another team cut from the same West Virginia cloth. If you're looking for a team that could challenge Kansas, lean on West Virginia as your choice.
Creighton's Marcus Foster will make you care about him this season
Remember Creighton? There was a natural speed bump in the program after Doug McDermott left. But the Bluejays may be ready to emerge again. Foster is the reason. He was a double-figure scorer at K-State, and he should be one again at Creighton, joining Maurice Watson Jr. in one of the best backcourts in the Big East.
Duke's Grayson Allen will be hard for critics to hate
Allen deservedly got criticized for multiple tripping incidents last season. But it's hard to argue against Allen's productivity. He enters the season as one of the favorites to win the Wooden Award. If he can emerge as a go-to guy on a team with multiple lottery picks, it will be difficult to dismiss him because of any past chippy play.
Shaka Smart will allow Texas fans to enjoy the winter before spring football
The Longhorns football program has been in a constant state of chaos. The basketball program has a chance to be the steadier of the two. Smart has a young team, but one that should fit his up-tempo, hectic and harassing style. Entertaining should be the key word, not heard in the fall in Austin.
Court storming will no longer be cool
The Pac-12 finally got the message that court storming is more dangerous than hip. The league followed the SEC and will fine schools $25,000 for the first offense, $50,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third. Other leagues will likely follow. The court of play should still be reserved for those who actually play in the games.
Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig will be the social conscience of the sport this season
Hayes has made it clear that he won't shy away from speaking out on social justice issues. He is passionate about the subject and won't hold back when moved. Koenig has already been active in protecting native land against the Dakota pipeline project. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard fully supports their activism, and it's not likely to halt anytime soon.
North Carolina's men's basketball team won't suffer NCAA penalties
Coach Roy Williams has been adamant that his program won't get hit from the NCAA's investigation into fraudulent classes at the university. There is no indication that Williams is wrong. Tar Heels critics will be hot, but the only lasting effect this crisis will likely have on the program will be a PR hit, not a slew of penalties.
Lonzo Ball will save UCLA
An NBA assistant general manager watched UCLA practice in the preseason and said Ball is a pass-first guard who is going to get Bryce Alford the ball when he needs to shoot it. He will apparently find the key players when they're open. Do that, and Steve Alford will no longer be feeling outside heat.
No one needs a good start more than Illinois' John Groce
Groce's season was dreadful a year ago. And it wasn't just the sub-.500 record. There were three arrests and multiple injuries. The Illini have their deepest team since Groce arrived five years ago. If everything is calm, the Illini can resume being a player in the Big Ten. If chaos resumes, then the crisis for Groce will only get worse.
Chatter about Jim Boeheim coaching at Syracuse beyond 2018 will be hot
Boeheim announced in 2015 that he would retire after the 2017-18 season. Yet he has another team that could reach the Final Four. His recruiting is going exceedingly well. He's healthy. And he now has a close friend as a boss in John Wildhack, the former ESPN executive and new Syracuse athletic director. It's hard not to see Boeheim continuing if the Orange continue to excel.
Kansas will tie UCLA's record of 13 straight conference titles
Oklahoma should have ended Kansas' streak last season, but the Sooners couldn't close. While West Virginia will be formidable, the Jayhawks are too loaded with returnees such as Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, as well as studs such as Josh Jackson. Kansas' 12 straight Big 12 titles is as impressive a regular-season streak as any recently in college basketball. And there is no reason to believe it won't continue.
Dillon Brooks' timetable to return to Oregon will be a dominating pre-conference topic
Oregon can get to the Final Four with a healthy Brooks. If Brooks' foot injury is a nagging issue, the Ducks may struggle in their quest to win the Pac-12. Regardless, his injury will be a constant topic in evaluating Oregon's status as an elite team, let alone a title contender.
The Maui Invitational will return as the tournament to watch in November
Wisconsin could be a Final Four team. So, too, could Oregon and North Carolina. Georgetown is a sleeper in the Big East and UConn could win the American. Don't be surprised if in March, we look back and see five high seeds who played in Maui.
Markelle Fultz will be this season's Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons was the top pick in the NBA draft. But LSU couldn't get in the NCAA tournament or even the NIT. Fultz has a chance to be the top pick in June, but the Huskies are still green. That could be a factor in whether Fultz gets the national stage of the NCAA tournament or is relegated to the NIT.
Kevin Stallings will coach Pitt into the NCAA tournament in his first season
Stallings' tenure at Vanderbilt was erratic, but his teams were always well coached. Jamie Dixon bolted for his alma mater at TCU, but he left a roster led by Jamel Artis that has enough to get to the NCAA tournament.
Melo Trimble will realize he made the right decision to go back to Maryland
Trimble wasn't going to be a first-round pick. He may have made a few big shots last season, but that doesn't equate to being a first-round selection. He will need to prove he can lead a retooled Maryland team back to the NCAA tournament. Do that and he'll see he made the right call by creating more of a résumé.
Bruce Pearl will be relevant again
Pearl has recruited well at Auburn. And he has a win over Kentucky. He's not going to be quiet. Auburn may not be a serious player for the SEC title, but this could be the season Auburn makes enough noise to be a story in late February.
Avery Johnson, Mike Dunleavy Sr. and Terry Porter will make more fired NBA coaches want to coach in college
Johnson has created a buzz at Alabama. Dunleavy is super-charged to be at Tulane. Porter could make the Pilots more intriguing. College coaches are now quick to take the money in the NBA, but fired NBA coaches will see college as a legitimate option.
Cal's Ivan Rabb will show it's OK to turn down an NBA first-round spot
Rabb will miss Jaylen Brown as a sidekick. But Rabb should thrive as the focal point. The talent in the Pac-12 will be on display on a nightly basis with competition fierce for Player of the Year honors. Rabb will prove that coming back does not always hurt a player's draft status.
UNLV won't regret not getting its first head-coaching choice
Marvin Menzies wasn't supposed to be the head coach. Mick Cronin could have had the job. Chris Beard did have the gig. But Menzies was the fall-back choice, and with an impressive recruiting haul, led by Troy Baxter Jr., the Rebels should be a factor sooner than expected.
Michigan State will be the toughest team to project
The Spartans could be a Final Four team or an early flameout. The reason for the unknown? Health. The Spartans are already banged up. If they can get healthy, weather a brutal early schedule and get to "Tom Izzo time" (March), the Spartans will be in the thick of the Big Ten and national title race.