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Top national story lines
1. John Calipari at Kentucky. OK, he stayed one step ahead of the NCAA posse at Memphis, but the guy can coach. He has three returning starters plus freshman sensation John Wall, one of three sure Memphis commitments he lured to Kentucky.
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2. Kansas. The top-ranked Jayhawks are scary good, thanks to the return of 6-foot-11 center Cole Aldrich and star guard Sherron Collins, who would have been sure high draft picks. The top nine scorers are back and you can see them play with the Buffs in Boulder on Feb. 3.
3. Rise of the Big Ten. Six Big Ten teams, headed by second-ranked Michigan State, are in the top 25. The entire all-conference first team returns from a league that went 14-8 in the postseason.
4. Squeeze of the midmajors. Only four midmajors received at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament last season: Brigham Young, Butler, Dayton and Xavier. The power conferences, except for the Pac-10, will be powerful again. The midmajors' conference tournaments have never been more important.
5. Colorado woes. Our five in-state D-I programs haven't received a postseason bid since Air Force's NIT berth three seasons ago. They combined to go 57-99 last season and only DU, picked second in the Sun Belt West, is expected to contend.
Player of the year candidates
1. Sherron Collins, Sr., 5-feet-11, Kansas. Deadly outside shooter has center Cole Aldrich (see below) to keep defenses honest. The 22 points, including five 3-pointers, Collins scored against Oklahoma in one second half show his potential.
2. Willie Walker, So., 6-4, Oklahoma. Went from modest point guard to Sooners' "other" scoring threat besides Blake Griffin. Big 12's freshman of the year averaged 14.6 points and shot 37 percent on 3s. He could explode as OU's go-to guy.
3. Luke Harangody, Sr., 6-8, Notre Dame. The Big East's top scorer (23.8 points per game) and rebounder (11.8) last season and the season before (20.4, 10.6). Decided at the last minute to stay out of the NBA draft. His problem: defense. Funny, that is Notre Dame's problem too.
4. Patrick Patterson, Jr., 6-9, Kentucky. They're saying he is John Calipari's best big man since Marcus Camby at UMass. Patterson has always been one of the Southeastern Conference's best scorers and rebounders (17.9 and 9.3 averages last season) and now can take advantage of Calipari's explosive offense.
5. Cole Aldrich, Jr., 6-11, Kansas. Two years ago he shut down North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough at the Final Four. Last season he averaged a double-double (14.9 points, 11.1 rebounds) and shot 50 percent. He also had the third triple-double in NCAA Tournament history (vs. Dayton).
1. John Wall, 6-4, Word of God High School, Raleigh, N.C., Kentucky. Wall committed to Kentucky when Calipari did, and could be the Wildcats' version of former Memphis star Derrick Rose. Naismith prep player of the year finalist averaged 22.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists.
2. Derrick Favors, 6-10, South Atlanta HS, Atlanta, Georgia Tech. Consensus top prep talent in nation could reverse Yellow Jackets' tailspinning program (12-19 last season). Has 9-foot-1 standing reach. Averaged 28.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.0 blocks, 3.0 steals for Class AAA champs.
3. Avery Bradley, 6-2, Findlay Prep, Tacoma, Wash., Texas. Consensus top five prospect is a combo guard. Led his Henderson, Nev., team to 33-0 record.
4. Dexter Strickland, 6-3, St. Patrick HS, Rahway, N.J., North Carolina. High-profile shooting guard expected to replace Wayne Ellington after leading St. Patrick's to three straight New Jersey Tournament of Champions (combining state champs from all divisions) titles.
5. Lance Stephenson, 6-5, Abraham Lincoln HS, Brooklyn, N.Y., Cincinnati. Top career scorer in New York City high school history at 2,946 points, including 28.9 per game last season.
Programs on the way up
1. Oregon State. Two years ago the Beavers went 0-18 in the Pac-10. Last season, under first-year coach Craig Robinson, they went 18-18 overall and won the College Basketball Invitational. With their top four scorers back and nearly 86 percent of their rebounding, they could reach the NCAAs for the first time since 1990.
2. Northwestern. At least the Beavers made it in 1990. Northwestern never has. Ever. Four starters return from a 17-14 team that won at Michigan State and finished third nationally in assists. Remember the name Kevin Coble, a stringy 6-8 forward who was second-team all-Big Ten.
3. San Diego State. Coming off a school-record 26 wins and the NIT's final four, the Aztecs will battle BYU for the Mountain West Conference crown. Coach Steve Fisher landed the California prep player of the year, Kawhi Leonard of Riverside.
4. Richmond. Four starters return from a 20-16 team that beat Xavier. Plus, the Spiders get back 6-9, 255-pound Dan Geriot, their leading scorer and rebounder two years ago who missed last season because of a knee injury.
5. Seton Hall. Bobby Gonzalez, in his fourth year, will mix three quality transfers in 6-8 Herb Pope (New Mexico State), 6-2 Keon Lawrence (Missouri) and 6-5 Jeff Robinson (Memphis) with four returning starters. That includes 6-5 guard Jeremy Hazell, the Big East's No. 2 scorer last year.
Programs on the way down
1. Southern California. OK, first Taj Gibson, DeMar DeRozan and Daniel Hackett leave early for the NBA. Then coach Tim Floyd bolts town with the NCAA on his heels. Now the Trojans have only four players who averaged more than three minutes a game.
2. Memphis. Josh Pastner, 32, is a former Arizona walk-on who dreamed of coaching, not playing. The second-youngest coach in Division I didn't dream of this: replacing John Calipari and the three recruits he took with him. Four starters are also gone. Memphis is even picked second behind Tulsa in Conference USA.
3. Syracuse. Jim Boeheim has failed to win 20 games only twice in his 23 years as Syracuse's coach. Could this be No. 3? His top three scorers left early for the pros and he has only one guard with experience.
4. Providence. Coach Keno Davis must show the magic he had at Drake with the loss of 66 percent of his scoring and 67 percent of his rebounding. He has three returnees and seven newcomers, headed by 6-6 junior college transfer Kyle Wright.
5. Marquette. Quirky, numbers-crunching coach Buzz Williams won't like these figures: one returning starter and one reserve who averaged more than 10 minutes.
Coaches on the hot seat
1. Jerry Wainwright, DePaul. Enters fifth season after winning 12, 20, 11 and nine games. He went winless in the Big East last season. Leading scorer Dar Tucker left early for the NBA. DePaul is picked for 15th in the Big East, ahead of only Providence.
2. Ernie Kent, Oregon. After reaching the Elite Eight two seasons ago, Oregon won 18 and then eight games. In his 13th year, Kent must produce again before Oregon moves into its new $200 million Matthew Knight Arena next year. Maybe new assistant Mike Dunlap, the former Metro State coach, can help save him and his sophomore-laden team.
3. Sidney Lowe, North Carolina State. Wolfpack fans chased Herb Sendek to Arizona State, which won 25 games last season while N.C. State missed the NCAAs for a third straight year, all under Lowe. Now he must replace his top three scorers, and his best recruit didn't make grades.
4. Norm Roberts, St. John's. His seat rarely cools in New York, which isn't producing future Red Storm stars as it once did. Roberts never reached the NCAAs in his five previous years, after cleaning up Mike Jarvis' mess, but he does have all five starters back from a 16-18 team.
5. Jeff Lebo, Auburn. He saved his job by winning nine of his last 10 to go 24-12 and 10-6, his lone winning SEC season in five. But he lost his top three scorers and is picked for last in the SEC West.