It was seven months ago when confetti rained on Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in New Orleans, and John Calipari was finally — finally — a national champion. What’s changed in Kentucky since then? Not much. They’re still one of the best in the country … except six players headed to the NBA, and they have an entirely new starting five. That’s how college basketball goes every year: new season, new slate of players, new landscape. This year’s landscape has many familiar names (Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke) up top, a few blasts-from-the-past (Indiana and Michigan, UNLV and North Carolina State) and the non-blueblood powers that once again could make a mark (San Diego State and Baylor). Here are 10 storylines to watch between Friday's season opener and April 8 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, when a new champion will be crowned. — Reid Forgrave
What will happen at scandal-ridden UCLA?
Some love them (they’re ranked 13th), some are skeptical (prove that you’re good). It’ll hinge on Shabazz Muhammad. The nation’s top recruit has yet to be cleared by the NCAA, which is probing ties between his family and financial agents. “I don’t see any Kevin Durants here, but Shabazz Muhammad could be that kind of player," said Steve Hartman, a co-host with FOX Sports Radio's "Loose Cannons" show. "He’s a dominant player, and if he’s that good at a college level, he could literally carry UCLA to the Final Four.” Get the latest college basketball updates at Scout.com.
The impact of transfers
Mizzou's Frank Haith is fielding a transfer-heavy squad including Keion Bell (pictured), and Mark Lyons transferring from Xavier could have a huge impact at Arizona. But the place where transfers could make the biggest difference? A team like USC, which finished last in the Pac-12 with only six wins last year but now has 10 players who started their college career at a different four-year school. “They could go from six wins to close to 20 and be an NCAA tournament team,” longtime California-based basketball writer Frank Burlison said. “You can go from being a three- or four-win team, get an influx of talent, and in one year go from poor to being very, very good.” Top 10 impact transfers
The Big Ten is where it’s at
Complain all you want about the down years of once-great Big Ten football. One thing you can’t do is complain about their basketball. It’s currently the best basketball in the country, and it’s entirely feasible three Big Ten teams (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State) could make the Final Four. Top 10 storylines in the Big Ten
Can Pitino keep the crown in Kentucky?
If he does, it will boil the blood of his former Wildcats employers by bringing the national title 78 miles west of Lexington to his experienced team at Louisville. It could happen for the second-ranked Cardinals, who received more first-place votes in the preseason poll than any team except Indiana. Last year’s Final Four team is keeping its core players with Peyton Siva (pictured), Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. Gardner: Louisville has talent to end title drought.
Will Tobacco Road's balance of power be upset?
It is a bit jarring to look at the preseason AP Top 25 and see North Carolina State ranked above its Tobacco Road big brothers Duke and North Carolina. But in his first season, Mark Gottfried led the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16. Then he added a stellar recruiting class. “Mark Gottfried got two five-star players in Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren, and you throw in Tyler Lewis and they’re looking at a really strong recruiting class this year,” said Evan Daniels, a national basketball recruiting analyst from Scout.com. “All three are from in-state. He made that a priority.” More: NC State may be better than Duke or UNC
Who will be player of the year?
Cody Zeller of Indiana (pictured) has got to be an early favorite, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the only first team All-American from last year to return, is right up there. You could pick the blueblood stars from the blueblood teams — James Michael McAdoo from North Carolina or Deshaun Thomas from Ohio State — or take a flier on one of last year’s Cinderella teams, Murray State, and their high-scoring point guard Isaiah Canaan, a second team All-American last year. Top 10 players to watch
Who will be this March’s Cinderella?
And do you still count as a Cinderella if you’re ranked 16th or 21st in the preseason polls? That’s the case with Creighton (pictured), which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last March behind head coach Greg McDermott and might have the best player in the country in the coach's son Doug McDermott, and Gonzaga, another mid-major that aims to go even further. “Gonzaga is going to be better than some people think,” longtime California-based basketball writer Frank Burlison says. “This could be the year they get to the Elite Eight and maybe break through to the Final Four.” Forgrave: Is this Creighton's year?
The Big East takes its final bow
It was a great run, wasn’t it? Since the Big East was formed as the nation’s only basketball-dominant conference in 1979, it has won six national championships and given college basketball its most exciting postseason tournament. But football-driven realignment is taking the excitement out of this once-great conference. The last hurrah of great Big East basketball this season, however, will next season mean reinvigorated Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, which will absorb Syracuse and Pittsburgh (and a year later Notre Dame). Top 20 Big East basketball legends
What is it, 1992 again?
Let’s get this straight: Indiana’s ranked first, Michigan’s fifth — and stinkin’ UNLV is 19th. It’s almost like you expect Jerry Tarkanian and Larry Johnson, Chris Webber and Bobby Knight to step out of the Hot Tub Time Machine. If anyone thinks history can’t repeat itself, note that Tom Crean’s Hoosiers were one of two teams that beat Kentucky last year (and are returning four of their starting five), Michigan’s got one of the best backcourts in the land, and UNLV returns star forward Mike Moser and adds Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch. Who's No. 1 in our college hoops power rankings?
Can Kentucky repeat?
If John Calipari is able to win his second title in a row, it’ll be especially impressive. Because he essentially had to start over after six members of his national championship team from last season left for the NBA. Where Anthony Davis had been, freshmen Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein now stand. Where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb had been, freshmen Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin (pictured) will take over. Can the Calipari Way — getting the most talented freshmen in the nation to play as a team — work again? Fast Break: Freshmen the story this season