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Friday, November 3, 2006
Updated: November 8, 12:24 PM ET
Road to the Final Four has begun

By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 2

We've got 145 days until the last song of the Big Dance. Here are 65 reasons to watch college hoops in the meantime -- and if you don't know why we picked that number, then you shouldn't be reading this.

1. In college hoops, a 20-point deficit is a plot twist, not a cause for concern.

2. No team has repeated as champion since Duke in '92, and that was the first back-to-back champ since '73. So don't hand the title to …

Joakim Noah
Can Noah and the Gators repeat? Yes, but it will be very tough.
3. … Florida, which brings back its entire core, making it the most appealing defending champ since the '95 Arkansas Razorbacks.

4. Joakim Noah, whose varied ancestry, long hair, ability to speak several languages, privileged and worldly background and, oh yeah, monster game guarantees that he's living better than anyone on Earth. If you get my drift.

5. Billy Donovan proves there really are people who stay in college long enough to improve.

6. Tennessee's Chris Lofton, the best shooter in the SEC and, quite possibly, the best shooter in college basketball now that J.J. Redick's gone.

7. The villainous Bruce Pearl, reminding us that hoops is more fun when you've got someone to hate.

8. The soap opera that might develop around Tubby Smith if he doesn't win this year. It'll be extra juicy if Lofton, as he did last season, does the Wildcats in at Rupp Arena -- where he won a state championship in high school, but not a scholarship offer from Tubby.

9. Ronald Steele and Jemareo Davidson, Alabama's potent inside-out combo. If you don't know 'em, you will soon.

10. Big Baby.

11. Big Baby's teammate Magnum Rolle, who owns the coolest name in college hoops.

12. Because pep bands are cooler than marching bands. Wonder what school will be the first to play "Money Maker?"

13. The Thad 4 in Columbus, which will be impressive. But it will get even better when it becomes the Thad 5 and …

14. … Greg Oden is healthy and ready to play in January. It's OK to buy into the hype this time.

15. Alando Tucker of Wisconsin, the best player in the Big Ten.

16. Orange sport coats.

17. Huggy Bear's back in the game. Let the hollerin' begin …

18. … and the winnin'. Cartier Martin's back from timeout, and Bill Walker might be in uniform in January.

(FYI, O.J. Mayo still hasn't made it official with USC.)

Brandon Rush
Brandon Rush and Kansas certainly have the talent to get to Atlanta.
19. Kansas got Julian Wright, Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers back for another year. Best of luck to C.J. Giles.

20. Rock … Chalk … Jayhawk. Say it slowly, then speed it up.

21. Kevin Durant, the best freshman in Austin (and America). No disrespect to Colt McCoy.

22. Legitimate Final Four hopeful Texas A&M. Anyone who says he expected to live long enough to say that is telling a story.

23. Mike Anderson's version of 40 Minutes of Hell, which he's bringing from UAB to Missouri. The Tigers might not be good this year, but they'll be fun to watch.

24. Bobby Knight's 880th victory, which I figure will happen on Jan. 13 at Baylor. Wonder if the ad rate on Knight's sweater will be higher that day?

25. The possibility of Baylor spoiling that party, which could force Knight to wait until Nebraska comes to Lubbock on Feb. 6.

26. The guaranteed comparisons between Arizona freshman Chase Budinger and Adam Morrison. Because, you know, both of them are white. Couple other reasons, too, but mostly it's that "being white" thing.

27. UCLA, a team representative of this era of college hoops. The Bruins are experienced, even though there's not a single senior on the roster.

28. Say it with me -- BAH AH MOO-tay. Got it?

29. Stanford's twin freshmen, Brook and Robin Lopez. This has got to be the first time everyone on campus will know about twins named Brook and Robin because they play basketball. Gotta be.

30. Ernie Kent's anachronistic haircut.

31. Nevada's Nick Fazekas, entering what feels like his ninth year in school.

32. Same goes for Arizona's Mustafa Shakur.

33. Finding out which player will break out for Gonzaga. 'Cause you know somebody will.

34. Mike Davis' smile, which might return now that he's at UAB. Unless Mike Anderson's shadow proves to be too much.

35. Georgetown's version of the Princeton offense, which actually is fun to watch.

36. Georgetown's big men, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, who are also fun to watch.

37. Paul Harris, Syracuse's biggest recruit since that guy from Baltimore.

38. Former eighth-grade phenom -- now a Louisville freshman -- Derrick Caracter. What will Rick Pitino make of him?

39. The Missouri Valley Conference and its off-the-radar charm.

40. The Really Big East and all its gluttonous glory.

41. Marquette's Dominic James, following in Dwyane Wade's footsteps.

Curtis Sumpter
Many of his running mates are gone, but Curtis Sumpter will try to get Nova back to the Big Dance.
42. Villanova's Curtis Sumpter, who sacrificed a tournament run with his classmates to come back this year. It's impossible to root against him.

43. UConn guard A.J. Price's return from injury and suspension. The former should be more feel-good than the latter was feel-bad.

44. Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray and his fight against skepticism. Only white rappers have to work harder to earn respect than white post players.

45. North Carolina's incoming freshman class. Ty Lawson will be the star and Alex Stepheson will be the surprise, but …

46. … sophomore Tyler Hansbrough, whose legend in Chapel Hill has become a cross between Paul Bunyan's and Chuck Norris'. He's still the franchise.

47. Josh McRoberts, who will shine with Shelden Williams gone to the NBA, and will win ACC Player of the Year.

48. Duke freshman Jon Scheyer, who poured in 21 points in just 1:15 in a game last December. Dickie V's guaranteed to love him. Which means you'll probably hate him.

49. Georgia Tech freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, who will give the Yellow Jackets enough talent to match the class of Paul Hewitt.

50. Boston College's Sean Williams, maybe the best shot-blocker outside Columbus. Just ask Hansbrough, who watched Williams send his two-handed dunk back in last year's ACC tournament.

51. Williams' teammate Jared Dudley, who could be incredible now that he's lost some weight.

52. Here's a reason to watch college baseball: Andrew Brackman. You sure won't see him on the basketball court. That will be but one factor contributing to …

53. … NC State coach Sidney Lowe's inevitable "What was I thinking?" postgame press conference. As hard as jobs are to come by these days, there's usually a good explanation for fiddy-leven people turning down any gig, let alone one paying seven figures.

54. Wake Forest's student section, the most underrated in the country.

55. Hearing the phrase "your defending Washington, D.C. Regional champions, the George Mason Patriots!" over a loudspeaker in the Patriot Center.

56. Trying to figure out who will be this year's George Mason. The answer? Nobody.

57. The Maui Invitational. Go Chaminade!

58. The semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off, likely to feature North Carolina, Gonzaga, Indiana and Tennessee.

Dick Vitale
Ready or not, here he comes.
59. Just imagine the pace of a Carolina/Tennessee final.

60. The replay of the McDonald's All-American Game on Nov. 29 in Chapel Hill. Oh wait, it's just Ohio State visiting the Dean Dome during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

61. Jan. 23, Kelvin Sampson's first trip to Illinois after the Eric Gordon saga. That one's gonna be ugly.

62. Dickie V. Even if he gets on your nerves, you've got to admit games are more fun with him on the air.

63. Billy Packer, if he's talking about the other team.

64. The dream we all dream of -- Florida vs. UNC in the national championship game.

65. But this time last year, I said the same about Duke and UConn. Guess you never know.

Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at readers@bomanijones.com.