Commentary

Starting point: Countdown to tipoff

Originally Published: November 9, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (where we just can't live without more games in Dayton (1)):

Seems to The Minutes like it was just yesterday that Duke (2) and Butler (3) were playing that taut national title game in Indianapolis. In fact, it seems so much like it that we're going to start the 2010-11 season exactly where we ended the 2009-10 season.

Talking about the Blue Devils and Bulldogs. What is and what might have been.

Ode to K

When Duke survived Cinderella in Lucas Oil Stadium, the achievement moved Mike Krzyzewski (4) into a new realm of the great coaches -- not just in college basketball, but in all of sports.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWith Coach K at the helm, the Duke express doesn't look like it will slow down any time soon.

Sure, Krzyzewski already had his place secure in the pantheon. But now, The Minutes will argue that he stands alone behind John Wooden (5) among the best in the history of his sport and is rivaled only by Phil Jackson among the greatest coaches in all major sports over the past 25 years.

Phil has won far more titles, but he also got to coach Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. (Granted, it isn't as if Krzyzewski has ever hurt for talent at Duke.) The only other coaches in major American sports who have won four championships since 1990 are Gregg Popovich, Joe Torre and Scotty Bowman.

None of them can match Krzyzewski's seven championship-round appearances in that time, or 11 semifinal appearances. And none of them spaced out his titles the way Krzyzewski has.

What winning this most recent title did was extend K's run of rings beyond any in college basketball history. He has won titles in 1991, '92, 2001 and now 2010 -- a span of 19 years. That's dog years in college basketball.

Compare it with Wooden's compressed domination between 1964 and 1975. The other coaches who have won more than two titles also did it in a relatively narrow window of time: Adolph Rupp (6) won four from 1948 to '58; Bob Knight (7) three from 1976 to '87.

From Christian Laettner (8) in 1991 to Kyle Singler (9) in 2010, that's a quantum leap across eras during some of the most tumultuous changes the game has ever seen. Players have become less permanent, recruiting has become more complex and fan patience has dwindled. Yet none of that has been able to derail the Duke express.

In some ways the Blue Devils' program is like the famous Gothic building where they play -- untouched by time and unmarred by so-called progress. At Duke, they still trade in that quaint commodity known as seniors -- and they even tend to graduate. The game experience at Cameron Indoor Stadium remains bereft of modern arena techno-gimmicks.

And yet in other ways Duke is as modern as any program in the country. The practice facility has all the stuff recruits (and head coaches) covet. The Blue Devils' style of play allows players as much freedom and creativity as they can handle. And Krzyzewski's gold-medal work with NBA stars internationally has given the 63-year-old all the street cred he needs to continue recruiting at the highest level.

That means you can expect Krzyzewski to still be a force in the game for as long as he feels like doing it. And that absolutely includes this season, since he has the team to beat once again.

Now, what if …

Gordon Hayward's shot (10) had gone in?

You know which shot: the half-court heave at the buzzer in Lucas Oil Stadium that came tantalizingly close to going in and propelling Butler past Duke. Backboard, rim … off.

You can still picture it, right? So can the coach of the Bulldogs. "I think about it every day," said Brad Stevens (11). "Every time I see a ball bounce around the rim or go in off the backboard, I think, 'Why can't the Lucas Oil backboards be a little softer?'"

Stevens said he doesn't think life would be markedly different if that shot had fallen. The Minutes respectfully disagrees, and can imagine some of it:

Start with the mural on the side of Hinkle Fieldhouse (12): Hayward's Heave, they'd call it. Finally, Bobby Plump's shot would be trumped as the most fabled basket in Indiana history. And Hayward would have an armload of ESPYs.

Butler post man Matt Howard (13) would be idolized by fundamental-friendly Indiana high school coaches for setting the most famous screen in college hoops history, the one that leveled Singler and gave Hayward an open shot.

Then there would be the book: "Underage Winning: The Brad Stevens Story."

There would be the screenplay. Angelo Pizzo, who wrote "Hoosiers," gets first crack at this one.

[+] EnlargeGordon Hayward
Bob Donnan/US PresswireWe'd have seen a different script had Gordon Hayward's halfcourt heave gone in against Duke.

There would be the enrollment explosion at Butler. And the merchandise explosion. And the pilgrimage-to-Hinkle explosion.

There would be the new ragingly popular night spot near the Butler campus. Bar name: 62-61. Favorite student drink: the Halfcourt Shot, made with Gordon's gin.

Bowing to massive home-state pressure, the Pacers would have traded up to draft Hayward ahead of Utah in the first round. And Peyton Manning would be just another guy in Indy.

Schoolchildren everywhere would be able to find Brownsburg, Ind., on the map. Hayward's hometown.

BracketBuster Saturday would be renamed Butler Day. We'd all be scouring the mid-major levels for the Next Butler. (A couple of candidates for that this season: Wichita State (14) and Murray State (15). Good teams, but Butler still will be closer than either of them to being the Next Butler.)

Brian Zoubek (16) would still be trying to get over missing the free throw that left Duke with a two-point lead and gave Butler the chance to win.

And there would be the stories questioning whether Krzyzewski can ever win another title.

Starting fives

Twenty-four lists to get you primed for tipoff:

The Minutes all-name team (17)

Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU
Lucas O'Rear, F, Northern Iowa
Fab Melo, C, Syracuse
Picasso Simmons, G, Murray State
Alibaba Odd, G, Delaware State

Biggest mysteries (18)

1. Will Enes Kanter and Josh Selby play? If so, when? And how well? The title aspirations of Kentucky and Kansas, respectively, will be directly impacted by the availability of their most talented freshman recruits. Both are currently in NCAA limbo, with no clear indication of when decisions will be made on their status.

2. Will Renardo Sidney be worth the wait? The Mississippi State big man was last year's Enes Kanter -- locked in a holding pattern while the NCAA determined his amateur status. Sidney never did play last season and must sit out the first nine games this season. Will he live up to his considerable high school hype when he finally takes the court?

[+] EnlargeLavin
AP Photo/Craig RuttleCan new St. John's coach Steve Lavin bring winning basketball back to the Big Apple?

3. Can Steve Lavin win at St. John's? The former UCLA coach returns from an extended and successful broadcasting hiatus and inherits what might be the most veteran team in the country. Can he bring winning basketball back to the Big Apple right away?

4. Can North Carolina really go from bust to the top 10? Subtitle to this one: Is Harrison Barnes really all that? Second subtitle: Can the Tar Heels stay healthy? Third: Can anybody here play point guard?

5. Is Purdue done without Robbie Hummel? The repeat knee injury to Hummel on the first day of practice was just cruel. Now we'll find out whether the Boilermakers can regroup and rekindle their national title aspirations.

Waiting on a breakthrough (19)

1. Virginia Tech. The annual Seth Greenberg Bubble Watch should be over; the Hokies have too much talent and experience to be fooling around until the last minute to secure an NCAA tournament bid. But can they do what they haven't done since 1967 -- win more than one game in the Big Dance?

2. Pittsburgh. The Panthers routinely produce great seasons -- and then routinely miss out on March glory. They're still looking for their first Final Four since 1941.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs are 0-6 all-time in NCAA tournament play. Steve Fisher probably has his best team here this season. The time is now.

4. Missouri. The Tigers have become fixtures at the forefront of the Big 12 and in the NCAA tournament under Mike Anderson -- but they've never reached a Final Four.

Northwestern. Zero NCAA bids in school history. If the nightmare doesn't end this season, it never will.

Drinking games (20)

The Minutes does not promote binge drinking, but here are five ways to watch basketball coaches and risk inebriation:

1. Every time Krzyzewski claps his hands or clenches his fists, take a drink.

2. Every time Frank Martin tries to burn holes in one of his players with his 1,000-mile stare, take a drink.

3. Every time Billy Donovan whistles and/or stomps his loafers, take a drink.

4. Every time you can lip-read a Bob Huggins obscenity, take a drink.

5. Every time Ben Howland calls a pick-and-roll, take a drink.

Five things The Minutes loves (21)

1. Pep bands and popcorn. In other words, being there. No matter how enhanced the TV-watching experience has become, it's always better to see the games in person.

2. March desperation. Guys all over the floor for balls when it's win-or-go-home time.

3. Rivalries both large (Duke-Carolina) and small (keep an eye on Murray State versus Morehead State this season, which should decide the Ohio Valley Conference title).

4. Creative student sections. (One hint for the college kids: Profanity does not equal creativity. Usually the opposite.)

5. Big men who can play with their back to the basket. With moves and stuff. And who actually rebound. In this day and age, when being called a center is considered an insult to a player's skills, they're a rare but valuable commodity.

Five things The Minutes hates (22)

1. The cheap charging call. There are too many charges in college basketball. Too many help defenders sliding in to take on contact that has nothing to do with the resolution of the play. Give college basketball a charge circle beneath the basket, please.

2. The death of the midrange jump shot. This is another reason why there are too many charges -- players cannot pull up and shoot with touch and accuracy between the 3-point line and the basket.

3. The endless succession of endgame timeouts. The Minutes understands why -- but nothing kills the flow of a good game like six timeouts in the final two minutes.

4. Players lying around like soccer floppers when they hit the floor. If you go to the basket and wind up on the deck and you're hurt, OK. But most of the time you're not. Quit milking the moment and get up.

5. The jacked-up 3 off no passes to end a game or a half or with time running out on the shot clock. There's a difference between wanting to take the big shot and killing the team's offense by pounding the ball and then forcing up a low-percentage jumper or driving one-on-three. (For the previous four years this was known as the Edgar Sosa Endgame Offense at Louisville.)

Five things The Minutes admires (23)

1. Taking a smart big shot. See above.

2. Coaches who let their players play in the last minute of a tight game. Not easy to do -- and sometimes it just doesn't work. But in a sport filled with micromanaging, it is enjoyable to see the players figure it out for themselves in stressful situations.

3. Inbounding against pressure when trying to hold a lead. It takes dry palms and a good internal clock.

4. Defending the screen-and-roll late in a game or in the shot clock. Communication and a cogent understanding of the defensive game plan are key.

5. Making free throws to ice a game. Always tougher than it sounds. You always feel badly for the guys who miss the big ones.

Five best leagues (24)

1. Big Ten. Michigan State is the straw boss, but there are plenty of quality pursuers in Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin.

2. Big 12. The state of Kansas plus Missouri, Baylor and Texas gives the league talented teams -- and watch out for dark horse Colorado.

3. Big East. Not a vintage year, but still quality at the top in Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Villanova, plus the usual midpack depth.

4. ACC. If North Carolina bounces back and Virginia Tech handles expectations, Duke will not have a cakewalk to the league crown.

5. SEC. If Kanter plays, Kentucky moves up alongside Florida as a Final Four contender. The entire Eastern Division should be solid, plus the two Mississippi schools in the West.

Five impact transfers (25)

1. Juan Pattillo, Western Kentucky via Oklahoma. Athletic forward scored 31 points in the Hilltoppers' first exhibition game.

2. Greg Echenique, Creighton via Rutgers. He was a double-figure scorer and solid rebounder in the Big East at the time of his surprising departure. Could be a star in the Missouri Valley.

3. Seth Curry, Duke via Liberty. Should get open shots in the Blue Devils' motion offense. It would be a surprise if they don't go in.

[+] EnlargeGreg Echenique
Duncan Williams/Icon SMIRutgers transfer Greg Echenique could be a big addition for Creighton this season.

4. Alex Legion, Florida International via Illinois. Vagabond who started his career at Kentucky down to his last chance to live up to considerable high school promise.

5. Drew Gordon, New Mexico via UCLA. Not eligible until after the first semester, but he should make a quick impact.

Five relocated coaches (26)

1. Fran McCaffery, from Siena to Iowa. No team figures to have a bigger stylistic makeover than the Hawkeyes, moving from the plodding style of Todd Lickliter to McCaffery's pressure game.

2. Steve Donahue, from Cornell to Boston College. Short move geographically. Pretty huge move in basketball terms from the Ivy League to the ACC.

3. Dana Altman, from Creighton to Oregon. Altman got buyer's remorse at Arkansas, leaving shortly after taking that job. He might have it again, given the Ducks' state of disrepair, but there's no going back this time.

4. Oliver Purnell, from Clemson to DePaul. Can't blame Purnell for feeling that he'd topped out at Clemson, but this is still an odd move.

5. Kevin Willard, from Iona to Seton Hall. Instant sanity upgrade for the Pirates. And he inherits some talent, too.

Five freshmen The Minutes can't wait to see (27)

1. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Could he be John Wall II -- the freshman who ignites a blueblood NIT underachiever and turns it into a Final Four contender?

2. Brandon Knight, Kentucky. Or could Knight be John Wall II -- freshman point guard given the keys to the offense by John Calipari? He was dazzling on the Wildcats' summer trip to Canada.

3. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. A very big reason why most people think the Buckeyes can lose national player of the year Evan Turner and still be a top-10 team.

4. Kyrie Irving, Duke. Has an opportunity to slide into Jon Scheyer's old spot and star immediately.

5. Perry Jones, Baylor. Plenty of shots available if suspended senior LaceDarius Dunn is out for a while after being charged with assaulting his girlfriend.

Five sophomores poised to take off (28)

1. John Henson, North Carolina. Showed signs of getting it in the final month last season, after a very slow start to a hotly anticipated freshman season.

2. Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA. An offseason in the weight room might be all he needed to break out. Showed glimpses of his all-around game (18 points and 5 blocked shots against Oregon State, 13 rebounds and 9 assists against Oregon).

3. Peyton Siva, Louisville. Fast and plucky point guard will direct what Rick Pitino promises will be a return to up-tempo basketball. If Pitino can tolerate Siva's occasional penchant for turnovers, he'll have a big season.

[+] EnlargeKenny Boynton
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesFlorida hopes Kenny Boynton's performance against BYU in the NCAAs is a sign of things to come.

4. Kenny Boynton, Florida. Showed a winner's mentality in the NCAA tournament, scoring 27 points and keeping the Gators in a game they ultimately lost to BYU. If he taps into that on an every-game basis, he'll be something special.

5. The Texas twosome of J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton. So much talent. And so much aggravation for Rick Barnes as Brown and Hamilton struggled to figure out their roles as freshmen. Add some wisdom to the sophomore equation, and they could have great seasons.

Five savvy seniors (29)

1. The Purdue pair of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. One inside, one outside, there isn't anything in college basketball they haven't seen.

2. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State. Must prove he has recovered fully from Achilles injury. But Tom Izzo trusts him late in close games.

3. Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech. Looks as though it's time for Delaney to shed the underrated tag.

4. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State. Hits big shots. Has a nice beard. Gives good quotes. What's not to love?

5. The Duke duo of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. The two biggest reasons why the Blue Devils start the season as everyone's No. 1.

Five brand-new things (30)

1. The First Four. The NCAA's mechanism for adding three teams to the tournament debuts in March.

2. Coach Fred Hoiberg. The former Iowa State Cyclones star steps into the coaching box, no college experience necessary.

3. The Yum! Center. The Louisville Cardinals' gleaming new nest. It opens with a splash, as defending national runner-up Butler visits the rebuilding Cards next week.

4. Matthew Knight Arena. Projected to open January, the Nike palace will replace Oregon's old pit, McArthur Court.

5. Gene Smith. The Ohio State athletic director moves into the NCAA selection committee chairman's seat. Direct all outraged bubble and seeding rants his way.

Five nontournament, nonconference gems (31)

1. Michigan State at Duke, Dec. 1
2. Butler at Duke, Dec. 4
3. Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 4
4. Michigan State at Syracuse, Dec. 7
5. Kansas State at Florida, Dec. 18

All in the Family, All in Michigan (32)

1. Ray McCallum, Jr., Detroit. Son of the coach and one of the biggest recruits ever to sign with a Horizon League school.

2. Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan. Another coach's son who instantly upgrades his team.

3. Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan. Son of the former NBA star.

4. Jordan Dumars, Michigan. Another son of an NBA star (and NBA exec), and a transfer from Central Florida.

5. Jon Horford, Michigan. Son of Tito, brother of Al.

Five coaches who need a good season (33)

1. Ed DeChellis, Penn State. After a 3-16 Big Ten record last season, he's 59 games below .500 in league play in seven NCAA-less seasons.

2. John Pelphrey, Arkansas. Took the Razorbacks to the NCAA second round his first season, but has had two losing seasons since. One reason why this season might not be make-or-break: He's lining up a heck of a recruiting class.

3. Pat Knight, Texas Tech. He's 11-31 in Big 12 play since taking over for dad.

4. Sidney Lowe, North Carolina State. Four seasons, no NCAA berths, double-digit ACC defeats every season.

5. Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech. Kept his job last season, to the surprise of many. But even his golden contract might not be enough if this season gets bumpy.

Five moving up (34)

1. Virginia Tech. The Hokies are no longer just a football school, and no longer just a bubble team.

2. Wichita State. If they can play well on the road, the Shockers are in prime position to move to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference.

3. UC Santa Barbara. Five starters back from a 20-win team that went dancing last season.

4. Detroit. With McCallum Jr. and plenty of returning experience, the Titans will challenge Butler in the Horizon League.

5. Georgia. Mark Fox has done good work in a hurry and can build around underrated big man Trey Thompkins.

Five stepping back (35)

1. California. Golden Bears won their first Pac-10 title in 50 years but lose 83 percent of their scoring from that team.

2. Northern Iowa. The Panthers still have some very good players, but there will be some slippage from 30 wins and the Sweet 16.

3. Georgia Tech. Lottery pick Derrick Favors and fellow forward Gani Lawal are gone, leaving huge holes in inside.

4. Saint Mary's. The Gaels had a great run to the Sweet 16 with Omar Samhan, but they switch to rebuild mode this season.

5. Cornell. New coach. Four new starters. Not likely to win 29 games again anytime soon.

Five big guys who need to step up (36)

1. Josh Harrellson, Kentucky. Especially if Kanter isn't cleared to play.

2. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina. Could have a big season if he stays healthy. The key word there being "if."

3. Andrew Smith, Butler. Of all Hayward's duties at Butler, none was more important than defensive rebounding. Smith will have to pick up much of that slack.

4. Marcus Morris, Kansas. With Cole Aldrich gone, Morris is the most likely candidate to receive all those feed-the-post passes Bill Self likes his team to throw.

5. Team Plumlee at Duke. Miles and Mason step into the spots of Zoubek and Lance Thomas. If they defend like those guys, Duke will be supremely difficult to beat.

Five specialists (37)

1. Ronald Nored, Butler. Best team defender in the country.

2. Rotnei Clarke, Arkansas. Deadly 3-point shooter.

3. Kenneth Faried, Morehead State. Eats glass.

4. Donald Sims, Appalachian State. The guy you want at the line (95.1 percent last season).

5. David Foster, Utah. Leading returning shot-blocker in the nation at four per game.

Five underrated rivalries (38)

1. Wichita State-Northern Iowa. Shockers were one of just five teams to beat the Panthers last season. And if you listened to the Wichita State folks at the end of the Missouri Valley tourney final, they didn't take losing to UNI very kindly. This season's games: Jan 19 and Feb. 12.

2. Virginia Commonwealth-Old Dominion. Two schools separated by about 85 miles of Interstate 64. Rams lost to the Monarchs twice in three meetings last season, the last of them by four points in overtime in the CAA tournament semifinals. This season's games: Jan. 22 and Feb. 12.

3. Xavier-Dayton. The Musketeers need someone else to hate besides Cincinnati, and the Flyers fill the bill. This one has been hot for a while, and that won't change as long as both are contending for the A-10 title. This season's games: Jan. 15 and Feb. 27

4. New Mexico-Brigham Young. Heated up last season when the Cougars' Jonathan Tavernari and Lobos coach Steve Alford got into it postgame. This season's games: Jan. 29 and March 2.

5. New Mexico State-UTEP. Might be the only nonconference rivalry that's played twice every season, once at each place. Last season the Miners won by 21 in Las Cruces, then turned around and lost at home by seven 12 days later. This season's games: Nov. 23 and 30.

Five teams The Minutes didn't mention that need mentioning (39)

Because they should be pretty darned good this season:

1. Memphis. Huge recruiting haul should pay immediate dividends.

2. Washington. Lost Quincy Pondexter, but otherwise very talented.

3. Arizona. Sean Miller has the rebuilding job ahead of schedule.

4. Gonzaga. Zags still need to make the Big Dance breakthrough and reach a Final Four.

5. Georgetown. Losing Greg Monroe far from fatal.

Five teams that can win it all (40)

1. Duke
2. Michigan State
3. Kansas State
4. Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse

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