The beautiful noise returns one month from today -- the squeak of the sneakers and the swish of the nets, the tweets from the whistles and the screams from the coaches, the tunes from the pep bands and the fans yelling "Threeeeeeee ..."
All of it mercifully, thankfully and finally returns to our sporting calendar on Nov. 14, when the college basketball season begins.
Between then and April 6, we will enjoy our season-long joyride, complete with speed bumps, detours and U-turns. Some teams and players will surprise us and others will leave us wanting. There will be blowout wins and the unexpected upsets that we've come to expect.
It's all part of the process as we march on to the marvelously maddening way to arrive at the answer to the biggest question of all: Who will win it all?
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Before we get to that granddaddy of a question, we've got to ruminate here for the next month on what might happen and, maybe more important, what needs to happen. That is to say, the smaller questions that, when answered, might help solve the riddle of the big one.
Who will Kansas rely on most?
Kansas could have a team that will challenge for the national title. The Jayhawks are deeper than they were a season ago, possibly quicker and may have more versatility.
They don't have a baseline shot-blocker like Joel Embiid and they may not have a player who could go for 30 like Andrew Wiggins. But they must have a go-to player when needed, right?
Well, that may be the toughest question facing Kansas. Coach Bill Self said last month that sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. should lead this team.
"He has the personality to be vocal and take ownership, more so than any other personalities, and I anticipate a huge step and anticipate points going up and shooting percentages going up,'' Self said.
Self said if they play to that level Kansas will be pretty good. But even if they do, it won't happen early in the season.
"I think by late January, February or March, these guys could be the guys everyone is talking about," Self said.
He added it wouldn't be fair to say Alexander and Oubre will put up 15-18 points or 10 rebounds per game during the early, nonconference portion of the schedule. If that's the case, can Kansas rely on Selden in November and December and Alexander and Oubre in February and March? Possibly.
The beauty of this team -- one that may go smaller in the backcourt -- is that Self has options to lean on, from a potential star in Selden to a pair of young phenoms in Alexander and Oubre. The possibility of at least one of them materializing as the go-to player means the rotation players like Perry Ellis, Devonte Graham, Frank Mason III and newcomer Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk can perform without as much pressure.
-- Andy Katz
How will Coach K handle the Tyus Jones/Quinn Cook PG situation?
Mike Krzyzewski has a great problem. Quinn Cook, a senior point guard who has been a member of three Blue Devils teams that reached the NCAA tournament, returns to lead a group with legit national title hopes. Plus, Coach K's top-ranked recruiting class boasts the best prep point guard in the country, Tyus Jones.
He's had two point guards in the past. Jason Williams and Chris Duhon were backcourt cohorts in the early 2000s. The arrangement can work. But Jones might be Williams 2.0, an incredible talent with an undeniable knack for handling the ball and facilitating. Duke needed a facilitator in last season's NCAA tournament loss to Mercer. Now the Blue Devils have one of the best in America.
So how will Coach K handle that? Will he trust his veteran or his adept freshman? He could play Jones and Cook together. It wouldn't be a foreign idea.
The challenge, however, is that the roads to the ACC and NCAA titles feature multiple massive backcourts. Louisville enters Atlantic Coast Conference play with 6-foot-1 future pro Terry Rozier and 6-7 freshman Shaqquan Aaron possibly next to him on the wing. Syracuse will be led by 6-3 freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph. North Carolina could use 6-7 Justin Jackson next to Marcus Paige. Kentucky and Arizona can put 6-6 athletes in their backcourts, too.
A Jones-Cook pairing -- both players are 6-foot -- could give Duke an advantage with speed and quickness. But size could be a challenge. Using the 6-5 Rasheed Sulaimon at shooting guard would solve that dilemma but complicate Duke's PG situation.
Coach K is loyal to his vets, so regardless of what unfolds throughout the season, Cook will get minutes. It's just a matter of how many for the veteran of a program that has the manpower to joust with any team in the country.
-- Myron Medcalf
Can the Harrison twins be the reliable backcourt that Kentucky needs?
By March, they were heroes, so much so that the announcement that they would return for their sophomore seasons was greeted with universal hosannas and hallelujahs across much of the Bluegrass State.
But the truth of the matter is, for much of the 2013-14 season, Andrew and Aaron Harrison were more the epicenter of Kentucky fan frustration than joy. Andrew, asked to play point guard, shot too much and not terribly well; and Aaron, at off guard, shot enough but not well enough, especially in big games.
And then along came the NCAA tournament. Andrew, with the double top secret "tweak" that coach John Calipari added to his game leading the way, dished out 30 assists in the run to the Final Four and averaged 10.9 points per game. Aaron hit two game-winning buzzer-beaters and averaged 13.7 points -- and all prior transgressions were forgiven.
So now the question: Do the Harrison twins merely pick up where they left off this season, or do they revert to their old ways?
A lot has been made in this preseason about how Calipari will share the wealth with so much talent, but really when did having too many good players become a problem? Ask the other 300-plus Division I coaches and they'd gladly sign up for such misery.
Besides, Calipari has done this before. His 2012 national championship team learned to be masters of selflessness.
No, the Harrisons are the critical question for Kentucky.
The two took the brunt of the crossfire aimed at the Wildcats while the team struggled to find its way. It probably wasn't entirely fair -- there was plenty of blame to go around -- but their bad body language and inconsistent production, coupled with Kentucky's shaky start, made them an easy target.
None of that can happen again. The twins need to be consistent and, equally important, poised. The attention they received as part of the freshman movement last season was big; the attention they'll receive leading such a loaded roster this season will be blinding.
And how they handle it is not only the biggest question for Kentucky, but maybe of this college basketball season.
-- Dana O'Neil
What will Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky do for an encore?
The Badgers' 7-foot senior center -- who plays like a stretch-4 -- unexpectedly burst on the scene last season, going from role player to centerpiece.
To be clear, Kaminsky started just two games as a sophomore and averaged around 10 minutes per game while playing as a backup to Jared Berggren. In starting every game as a junior, Kaminsky led Wisconsin in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (6.3), increasing his totals by nearly 10 points and five rebounds.
As a result, the Badgers made their first Final Four appearance under coach Bo Ryan and the program's first since 2001.
Kaminsky clearly enjoyed the moment. His dry wit brought levity to monotonous news conferences. He can go into Frank the Tank mode, an ode to Will Ferrell's character in the movie "Old School," and entertain the locker room. That's why it wasn't a huge surprise to see Kaminsky return for his senior season.
Oh, he could have entered the NBA draft, where his ability to step outside and pop 3-pointers at a 37 percent clip could have potentially made him a first-rounder. But by staying in Madison, he helps make the Badgers one of the favorites to return to the Final Four.
It's unlikely he'll make a similar leap in production as he did a season ago. That doesn't mean he can't shoulder a bigger load -- check the 28 points and 11 rebounds he posted against Arizona and 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski in the Elite Eight. The Badgers have such a balanced offense (four players, including Kaminsky, averaged double figures last season) it means he generally doesn't have to.
The challenge Kaminsky will face this season will be how he performs while being the guy who opposing coaches create game plans around.
-- C.L. Brown
Is scoring stuck?
Last summer, the NCAA men's basketball committee approved the largest set of game-play rules changes in the organization's recent history. The impetus for these changes was hardly a mystery: For the better part of a decade, the college game had trended ever further toward sloth and physicality. High-profile anecdotal evidence (see: UConn 53, Butler 41) coupled with genuine trends (2012-13 was the slowest season ever) produced something of a minor outcry. College basketball was getting less fun.
So the NCAA, eager as ever to present a visually compelling television product, stepped in. It crafted and approved 29 changes to the rulebook in all. Many were minor, but several -- including new rules governing the way block-charge plays were called and the way defenders could make contact with ball handlers -- were huge. Here was a genuine attempt to stem the low-scoring tide.
For a while there, it even worked. You remember: In November and December, fouls and free throws were way up, while turnovers were way down. Aesthetically, the results were mixed, but scoring and pace both ballooned. This was the desired outcome.
By the end of the NCAA tournament, though, November's increases in average tempo had sunk from near 71 possessions per game to just 66.4, which was only barely faster than the historically slow 2012-13 season. Efficiency was up, and scoring along with it. But the speed of the game stubbornly refused to play along.
So, what happens next? If the changes to charges are last summer's only legacy, that is still a victory. (The scourge of defenders sliding underneath attacking players should never again plague our lands.) At best, whether the NCAA can legislate a faster, more fluid game remains an unanswered question. At worst, that answer is no. The 2014-15 season -- especially those crucial early days in November and December -- may well determine where the sport goes from here.
-- Eamonn Brennan