Forde Minutes: Season preview edition


Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball ("Not Duke AGAIN" T-shirts sold separately):

The Minutes will be keeping tabs on the following from now until April in Indianapolis:

(1) The BIG East: How big is too big? How good is too good? And how many teams get in the Tournament? Right now, this looks like the most powerful conference in the history of college basketball. And when teams starting beating each other to death in January, expect the coaches to remind us (and the selection committee) of that on an hourly basis.

(2) Duke vs. UConn, Round Three? The Huskies' 1999 and 2004 national championships came directly through Duke. They upset a juggernaut Blue Devils team in the final game in '99, then pulled off a brilliant late rally to beat them in the national semifinals in '04 (in what was the de facto title game). Between those two UConn crowns, Duke won its last title in 2001. Ranked 1-2 in the coaches' poll and 1-3 in the writers', they could meet again with a ton on the line several months from now.

(3) Who rebuilds faster, North Carolina or Kansas? That probably depends on whose talented freshman class is more college-ready. Each team figures to start at least two frosh -- and each figures to finish in uncharacteristically humble position in their respective conferences. How will two spoiled fan bases handle it? One thing is for sure: Roy Williams (national championship) can rely on a much bigger cache of goodwill than Bill Self (lost to Bucknell).

(4) The General chases The Dean. Bob Knight needs 26 wins to surpass Dean Smith as the winningest men's coach in Division I history. That doesn't figure to happen until early next season -- but then again, nobody pegged the Red Raiders for 22 victories last year, either.

(5) Mike Davis on the brink (again). The longest continuous Firing Watch in college basketball will come to a head this season in Bloomington. Davis says he has the talent at Indiana to contend for a national title. Anything less than an NCAA Tournament bid and at least one win there -- maybe two -- could be a fireable offense. Starting off with A.J. Ratliff and D.J. White injured doesn't help.

(6) Texas-Oklahoma: not just for football anymore. The two best teams in the Big 12 are both ranked in the top six, which certainly couldn't be said when the football teams met in October. Circle Jan. 28 and March 5, their two scheduled meetings.

(7) ACC in transition. The Tobacco Roadies really don't care that Virginia Tech and Miami have shanghaied the football side of the league -- it's only football. But watch them get their Izods in a wad if Boston College walks in and finishes second, the Hurricanes crash the top four and/or the Hokies finish .500 or above again in league play. Then what?

(8) Can the SEC withstand the talent drain? It was a catastrophic offseason for a league that hasn't shown much of late anyway. Nine players entered the NBA draft early and either weren't selected or didn't go until the second round, robbing the league of much of its potential. Coming out of this league with a puffed-up record doesn't necessarily prove that a team is going to do anything in March.

(9) Time for Gonzaga to reprove itself. The Zags finally got the high seedings they've wanted in the past two NCAA Tournaments -- and they responded by losing to lower-seeded teams both times. Peeling off 25-30 wins won't mean much if Gonzaga falters again when it counts. The Bulldogs can expect skepticism to accompany them clear into March.

(10) Can Villanova make a run without Curtis Sumpter? There is evidence to believe in The Minutes' national champion pick, even without their star power forward. Sumpter didn't play in Syracuse last March, when the Wildcats scared the tar out of the Heels in the NCAA Sweet 16. If Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan step up their games inside, the nation's best backcourt can take it from there. How far? We'll see.

The all-knowing, all-seeing Minutes passes along these 10 self-evident truths:

(11) Dee Brown will make an open-court steal, fly in for a layup, get fouled and stretch out the front of his jersey with his thumbs. And The Minutes will smile.

(12) Cinderella will come from the following pool of teams: Bucknell, Davidson, Old Dominion, Winthrop, Murray State, Penn and Western Kentucky. Might even be two of them in there.

(13) Louisville will lose at Kentucky Dec. 17 and remain an unknown quantity into January. The Cardinals open with five cadavers at home before going to Rupp Arena. With several freshmen expected to be in the rotation and injuries continuing to hamper big men David Padgett and Juan Palacios, they won't be ready for the Big Blue inferno. Following that cataclysm with four more soft touches at home won't tell us much about Rick Pitino's team before Big East play.

(14) Randolph Morris will be back in a Kentucky uniform by January. The NCAA hasn't said a peep about Morris since his eligibility imbroglio began in July -- but that's par for the NCAA course. The Minutes' best guess (and that's all it is) is that the phlegmatic center will be cleared in time for the Wildcats' last preconference game, against Ohio in Cincinnati Dec. 30.

(15) Duke will get a kindly whistle or two in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And the rest of the ACC will lose its mind.

(16) Ricardo Patton will be Big 12 Coach of the Year or fired by March. Patton's crazily imbalanced Colorado roster features 10 seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen. He's either set himself up for the breakthrough season he needs with two years left on his contract, or he'll earn a pink slip.

(17) Memphis will go 13-1 in Conference USA, yet fail to crack the top 10 in the RPI. John Calipari will complain that the computers, the media and the federal government are conspiring against the league.

(18) Florida won't miss Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. The Gators will be less talented but more cohesive, and tougher on the defensive end.

(19) Ashley Judd will work her way into this column more than once. How she gets in here, I have no idea.

(20) At least a couple of these predictions will be utterly wrong. But not No. 19.

Three guys who are ready to become stars:

Shannon Brown (21), Michigan State. Sensational transition player averaged 10.9 points last year as a sophomore. Will make a run at Big Ten Player of the Year honors as a junior.

Malik Hairston (22), Oregon. Racked up 13.1 points as a freshman while shooting just 33.3 percent from 3-point range and 47.2 percent from the foul line. As the shooting percentages rise, so will the scoring average.

Rajon Rondo (23), Kentucky. Could be a first-team All-American and a lottery pick by season's end. Rondo has smoothed out his shooting stroke, which was really the only thing that held him back as a freshman. He's a defensive menace, exceptional penetrator and a willing distributor.

Darryll Hill (24), St. John's. Played 38 minutes a game last year. If the Red Storm are going to avoid being buried in the Big East, he might have to go the full 40 every night this year.

Mardy Collins (25), Temple. The latest in John Chaney's long line of straw-boss guards averaged 37.6 minutes last year. He'll be monopolizing the ball in the Owls' deliberate offense again this season.

J.J. Redick (26), Duke. Logged 37.3 MPG last season. That number might decrease in '05-'06 if the younger Blue Devils guards come through as anticipated.

These guys are productive passers:

Damitrius Coleman (27), Mercer. Nation's returning assist leader averaged one every 3.95 minutes. (And if you look at his shooting -- 43 percent from the floor, 12 percent from 3-point range, 49 percent from the line -- you know why he's a pass-first guy.

Cliff Clinkscales (28) of DePaul averaged an assist every 4.4 minutes of playing time.

(Suspended salutation goes to UConn's Marcus Williams (29), who averaged an assist every four minutes -- but who won't play until January because of his reported role in a campus theft.)

These guys don't give up the rock:

Bronsen Schliep (30), Nebraska. Played in 22 games last year without recording an assist.

Robert Hite (31), Miami. Played 33.4 minutes per game and averaged 1.1 assists -- and he's a guard. (A shooting guard, in the narrowest definition of the term.)

Guys who don't waste time getting dirty inside:

Joey Dorsey (32). Memphis. Grabbed a rebound every 2.5 minutes in 2004. Should play more than 15 minutes per game this year.

Paul Millsap (33), Louisiana Tech. Nation's returning leading rebounder averaged one board every 2.95 minutes.

Little guys who leave the rebounding to someone else:

Derrick Low (34), Washington State. Grabbed 1.1 rebounds per game in 32 minutes of PT.

The Penn State backcourt (35) of Ben Luber and Mike Walker. They combined for 55.3 minutes per game and just 3.4 rebounds.

Stories The Dash expects to have happier endings this season than last:

Oral Roberts (36). Scott Sutton's team won 25 games but was denied an NCAA Tournament bid by a last-second shot from Cinderella Oakland in the Mid-Continent Conference tournament. With plenty of returning talent, the Golden Eagles should close the deal this time around.

Darius Washington Jr. (37). Last seen crumpled on the floor of the FedEx Forum, jersey over his face, after his bricked free throws cost Memphis the Conference USA tourney title and an NCAA bid. He'll be the leader of a team that could crash the top 10.

Atlantic 10 (38). The league scraped up just one NCAA bid last year -- a No. 12 seed at that -- and did not win a game in the dance. The A-10 won't return to the annus mirabilis of 2004, but it will once again be a multi-bid league. Adding C-USA refugee Charlotte will pay immediate dividends.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Dan Grunfeld and Leon Powe (39). Injuries short-circuited their seasons -- and, by extension, the seasons of Texas, Stanford and California, respectively. They're all expected to be back and better than ever.

Savannah State (40). Only one way to go after a winless season. Unless, of course, Sav State goes winless again.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.