Want to hear something awesome? Are you ready? Are you sitting down?
The 2015-16 college basketball season is just one month away.
Crazy, right? All the time you've spent trying to convince yourself you like baseball (you don't) or that your fantasy football team isn't completely cooked (it is) or that you have any grasp of what's happening in college football this season (no one does), and you utterly failed to notice the college basketball season as it quietly, gradually slid into view.
And now, suddenly, Midnight Madness is happening all around you, and real, honest-to-goodness practices are beginning. It feels glorious, doesn't it? One more measly month, and you can forget about drafting Dez Bryant forever. One month, and you're free.
In that celebratory spirit, here are 30 things -- from new rules to major scandals to the most intriguing teams and stories in the sport -- we're keeping an eye on as the 2015-16 season approaches.
The 30-second shot clock
We know, we know. Rule changes? Groan. But there is no more important story in college basketball -- nothing that will impact the experience of following the sport over the next six months more -- than the new shot clock.
This summer, the NCAA codified the biggest change to the rules of college basketball in decades. The 30-second shot clock was announced to near universal acclaim. For a decade, the gears of the college game had gradually ground to a halt. Wide-ranging complaints grew louder by the season. The folks in charge of making college basketball fun to watch, having already abandoned recent rules governing the physicality of play, decided that a shorter clock was indeed the fastest way to break this cycle of sloth. Take 40 (minutes), multiply it by 60 (seconds) and divide it by 30 instead of 35. Math!
The only problem? We don't actually know if it will work. Yes, data from the 2015 NIT showed a marked jump in possessions per game. But that was a late-season experiment for which coaches had little time to prepare. As we speak, those same coaches are no doubt working all sorts of new defensive wrinkles into their practices, wrinkles designed to burn as much clock as possible. Because here's another mathematical fact: Offenses are drastically less likely to score late in the shot clock. Whether that strategy works -- and what offenses do to adjust in turn -- may smother the new shot clock's designed effects in the cradle. We're watching intently as coaches prepare their teams for the new tactical conditions ahead.
There. That wasn't so bad, was it? And now we can get to the fun stuff, like ...
More rule changes!
Sorry! We agree: This PDF is like a role-playing character sheet, only way more impenetrable. But the shot clock isn't the only impactful alteration debuting in 30 days. There are new rules for post defending, no five-second call, wider charge circles, fewer TV timeouts, experiments with six personal fouls and -- you guessed it -- more tweaks to the block-charge call. It's a whole new world. A new fantastic point of view. Rules committee chair Rick Byrd will take you anywhere. Don't you dare close your eyes.
Does Kentucky "stink"?
Nah, probably not. Coach John Calipari has been known to use rhetoric to exaggerated effect in the past, after all, so when he says things like -- "This year's team, as we speak, we stink" -- about a consensus top-three team in the country, one tends to roll one's eyes. Then again, if Calipari intends to lower expectations, he may have his reasons.
Will Skal Labissiere get eligible?
UK's coach has always been far more confident in the eventual status of his top 2015 recruit, a hypertalented future top-five pick. Even now, though, the NCAA is still asking questions about the Haitian native's relationship with guardian Gerald Hamilton and the prep schools he attended -- one of them Hamilton's own creation. For once, Kentucky doesn't have the frontcourt depth to simply replace its most promising prospect. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
That bizarre Louisville mess
You know the one. Thus far, exactly one thing seems for sure: This will hang over Louisville basketball for most -- if not all -- of the 2015-16 season. At least.
The defending national champs starting (mostly) from scratch
The only downside to winning a national title on the back of three freshman stars is figuring out what to do when they leave. Mike Krzyzewski still has plenty of talent, but much of it comes in the form of freshmen, and for now the Blue Devils seem to be a stylistic blank slate.
Bright lights on the Beltway
Forget Mark Turgeon's tenure: It's been at least 15 years since the Terrapins entered a season with realistic national title expectations. How will the players -- and the program and fans -- handle the sudden mantle?
North Carolina on the court
If Maryland and Kentucky aren't your preseason title pick, you've almost certainly cast your lot with UNC, and understandably so: This is a complete team with a premier point guard (Marcus Paige) and a deep, cohesive roster full of rangy bigs and stars-in-the-making. It's also largely unchanged from one that lost 12 games a season ago; collective improvement is its main cause for optimism. Plus ...
North Carolina off the court
This season may be affected, directly or indirectly, by the massive academic fraud scandal that has roiled the university for years. An impending infractions committee ruling due soon could sanction the Tar Heels out of contention long before March, putting not only the program's future but its present at risk.
And then there are these
A general sense of mourning is the only possible explanation why North Carolina is wearing these hideous things for the first time in program history this season. Yuck.
Today's UNC basketball will wear @jumpman23 black uniforms for the first time vs. UCLA in Brooklyn... http://ift.tt/1jioJxa— Carolina Basketball (@unc_basketball) October 9, 2015
The youth movement in Berkeley
After an 18-15 debut, California coach Cuonzo Martin shocked the recruiting world by adding Oakland-based blue-chip forward Ivan Rabb and Georgia stud Jaylen Brown to a returning core of talented and newly healthy guards. All of a sudden, Cal is a trendy Pac-12 title pick. At minimum, the Bears will be a fascinating watch.
Kris Dunn's Kobe moment
After leading the nation in assist rate, Providence point guard Kris Dunn could have been a 2015 lottery pick. Instead, he stayed ... and found the team around him decimated by unforeseen transfers. Now leading an inexperienced team of unknowns, one of the most generous passers in the country might have to go full 2005-06 Kobe Bryant just to keep the Friars in games. Yes, please.
SMU's lost season
With the school's decision to not appeal its postseason ban (or Larry Brown's suspension), the Mustangs are officially the best team in the country with nothing tangible to play for. Awkward.
Syracuse is back. Sort of
Did someone say postseason ban? If by "back," you mean "eligible for the NCAA tournament," then sure. Whether this team -- with its un-Syracuse roster, desperate reliance on a forward (DaJuan Coleman) who hasn't played a full season of basketball since he was a senior in high school, and nine-game suspension for Jim Boeheim -- can actually get there remains an open question.
Cheick Diallo's eligibility
Kansas center Cheick Diallo might be the difference between a very good Kansas team and one that deserves the same status as Maryland, Kentucky and North Carolina. If, you know, he gets to play.
Carlton Bragg's piano skills
Fortunately for KU, fellow freshman big Carlton Bragg has impressed coaches in the summer and fall. For now, we're more taken with Bragg's ability to play a "medley of songs for 15,500 adoring fans who actually swayed and sang along with the Bill Withers number, 'Lean on Me.'" It sounds like the ladies of Allen Fieldhouse concur.
Meet the new Mayor
It's never easy to succeed a well-liked, successful coach. When that coach is Iowa State folk hero Fred Hoiberg, it's an especially large ask -- even when, like Steve Prohm, you find yourself with a top-10 roster overnight. Maybe especially then.
Ben Simmons has landed
Say what you want about LSU -- it hasn't been good in a while, a disappointing 2014-15 made the Tigers the butt of more than a few jokes and there's no telling what coach Johnny Jones will do with this talented young roster -- the Tigers might already have the best player in college basketball among their ranks. That's a pretty good place to start.
Notre Dame is giving its students free tickets
We realize this has little practical basketball application (though it certainly can't hurt the Joyce Center's home-court advantage). We just think it's awesome.
Is Eron Harris the Big Ten's next star?
The former West Virginia transfer sat out a season ago, as the Spartans turned a so-so season into a classic Tom Izzo Final Four run. With Travis Trice graduated, Harris' re-emergence could make the Spartans just as dangerous this time around.
Bryant assistant Chris Burns becomes Division I men's basketball's first openly gay coach
Good for him. Good for the sport of basketball. And good for Coach K, the game's most iconic ambassador, for personally and publicly offering Burns his support.
Can Indiana guard?
A season ago, the guard-heavy, run-and-gun Hoosiers finished ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency and 214th on defense. For their preseason top-15 projections to ring true, one of those things has to change.
Virginia: The quietest title contender in the country
Sure, the Cavaliers never quite recovered from Justin Anderson's injury last season, but they still finished the regular season 28-2. Sure, senior forward Darion Atkins is a major loss on defense. But the rest of the team is still here; this defense is still going to be college hoops' best. We're not so sure the Hoos aren't every bit the title contender as the flashier rosters polling above them.
What happens to a great team that retains its monstrous frontcourt (Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis, All-American Kyle Wiltjer) but loses the two four-year guards who made the whole thing tick?
Is Vanderbilt for real?
Bad nonconference losses and a 1-7 SEC start doomed Vanderbilt to obscurity a season ago. After the 2015 dust settled, though, a new consensus emerged: This was one of the best offensive teams in the country, with an NBA big (Damion James) surrounded by a bunch of great freshmen guards (Riley LaChance, Wade Baldwin, Matthew Fisher-Davis), that played its best ball late in the season. Just like that, the Commodores became a top-25 fixture. Now they have to prove why.
UAB's Midnight Madness name is amazing
Whoever in the Blazers' marketing department came up with the idea to host their first official practice outdoors, and call it "Hoops on the Haasephalt," is the Don Draper of athletic administration.
Will Pitt get back to being Pitt?
Jamie Dixon's long-term track record suggests a resounding yes. The Panthers have missed just two NCAA tournaments since Dixon took the reins in 2003; consistency is his calling card. Still, one of those misses came in 2015, and with just one obvious impact newcomer (four-star prospect Damon Wilson), a major turnaround will have to come thanks to the generalized betterment of the same crew that went 19-15 a season ago. We'll see.
How good is Caleb Swanigan?
Purdue didn't exactly need a 6-foot-8, 275-pound forward; it had 7-footers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas already. The Indiana Mr. Basketball's arrival gives Matt Painter's team -- one that already improved drastically from end to end a season ago -- a Gonzaga-level frontcourt triumvirate. What we want to see now is how ready Swanigan is, whether his immediate contribution can transcend sheer largesse.
The NBA influx
Before Fred Hoiberg could leave the college ranks to coach in the NBA, he had to go in the opposite direction, giving up a longtime front-office role to try his hand at college coaching. It worked. Now it's a trend. St. John's hired its own provincial Hoiberg equivalent, New York native and former NBA All-Star Chris Mullin. Alabama tapped Avery Johnson to replace Anthony Grant. Eric Musselman took over at Nevada. Mark Price is the head men's basketball coach at Charlotte. Mark Price! Brad Stevens, Billy Donovan and Hoiberg may have proved the eternal lure of the NBA this summer, but the siren song apparently wafts in both directions.
High-fives help win basketball games
No, seriously. It's science. And, according to our own extensive, journal-backed scientific research, they're also a perfect way to celebrate the fact that the 2015-16 college basketball is just 30 days away. Slap hands!