As we enjoy time away from the court, let's take a look ahead to seven intriguing concepts that excite me for the 2011-12 season:
1. How good will North Carolina and Kentucky be?
On paper, they are class of the sport. Does it get much better than what the Tar Heels and Wildcats will put on the floor? Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson all came back to Chapel Hill. John Calipari has the best incoming class in the nation and has worked magic with young teams before.
2. How will Mark Gottfried and his fine coaching staff do at NC State?
The addition of former Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz was an outstanding move for former ESPN analyst Gottfried. There is a little pressure to win down in Raleigh, but the former Alabama coach appears ready for the challenge. Wolfpack fans, give him a little time to put together his own team.
3. Will Lon Kruger make a big impact in the Big 12?
The new Oklahoma coach has had success everywhere he has been in college hoops. Now he has a challenge to get the Sooners back into contention against the likes of Kansas and Texas. Like Gottfried, it may take a little time for Kruger to rebuild, but he will flat-out get it done.
4. How will Connecticut respond to being national champs?
Obviously this is a different team with Kemba Walker departing to play at the next level. Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, who should be back on the sideline even though he has not announced his plans yet, has a solid nucleus returning. It will be an interesting story, and Calhoun loves teaching and coaching; he is a flat-out gym rat. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier will be even more important this season.
5. Will the Big East dominate again?
Right now, the conference looks like the strongest in America once again. I know some people thought the league was overrated, but the Huskies were 9-9 in conference play and were still good enough to cut down the nets in Houston. Syracuse will be loaded this year. There are so many quality teams competing in the Big East.
6. How will the mid-majors respond?
Butler and VCU made a pretty big statement last season. Brad Stevens and company pulled off an amazing feat, making the championship game in consecutive campaigns. Will Shaka Smart and the Rams make more noise in the CAA? That is a very competitive league, and teams will be going after VCU. The Bulldogs will be right there again in the Horizon, and Stevens always gets his kids to play as a cohesive unit. It will be fun to keep an eye on both of those schools.
7. Will the diaper dandies live up to their billing?
Every season, I enjoy watching the new kids on the block. They make more of an impact every year, and there is a good group coming into college basketball this time around. I cannot wait to see how Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis perform in Big Blue country. It will be bedlam for the Cameron Crazies, as they watch Austin Rivers tickle the twine. They should go bananas as they watch him let the J fly.
There are plenty of storylines to watch. I have not even talked about transfers, Ohio State dominating the Big Ten and many more. I know, I know, I have to wait through the summer. It is going to come soon enough, though, and this should whet the appetite of the college hoop junkies for now!