Five national story lines
Star Tribune college basketball writer Marcus Fuller scanned all the red states and all the blue states this week and found five story lines to highlight:
1. Best Duke roster ever?
Remember the hated but dominant Blue Devils teams that won back-to-back NCAA titles in the early 1990s with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill? Remember the Duke title team led by Jason Williams, Shane Battier and Carlos Boozer in the 2000s? Well, Coach K’s latest stacked squad could rival their predecessors. Duke boasts nine McDonald’s All-Americas on their roster (most in the nation), including four projected lottery picks. But: Three of their top freshmen battled injuries in the last month. If they stay healthy, look out.
2. West Coast drought over?
Bill Clinton was starting his second term the last time a West Coast team won the national title. The year was 1997. Arizona became the second Pac-10 team in three years to win it all, following UCLA in 1995. Oregon returns nearly intact from its Elite Eight run, including preseason All-America Dillon Brooks. But its potential rests on his healthy return: He has been recovering from foot surgery this fall.
3. Self chasing Wooden
Hard to imagine? Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks have a chance to tie John Wooden’s UCLA streak of consecutive regular-season conference titles from 1967-79. Current Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich are all part of that Jayhawks run.
4. Tubby chasing history, too
When Tubby Smith was fired at Minnesota three years ago, some people wondered if the 60-year-old coach was close to calling it a career. Instead, Smith led Texas Tech to the NCAA tournament last season, beating his former Gophers along the way. And after jumping to Memphis this season, he has a chance to become the first coach in history to take six different programs to the tourney.
5. Is the Big East back?
Villanova’s national title last season put the spotlight back on a once dominant league that seemed left for dead when perennial powers Syracuse, Connecticut and Louisville left. Kris Jenkins’ last-second shot to beat North Carolina in the championship game will be etched in memory. But the Wildcats aren’t finished. They’re ranked No. 4 in the AP preseason poll, joined by fellow Big East members Xavier (No. 7) and Creighton (No. 22) in the top 25.