With Midnight Madness events and opening team practices starting up at the end of this week and the beginning of another college basketball season roughly one month away, here's a look at 25 questions that are useful to think about as the new season looms closer:
25. Will Josh Pastner lead Memphis back into the NCAA Tournament?
- As Pastner prepares for his second season in Memphis, the talent is there and its bolstered down by a spectacular, seven-man freshmen class. The loss of Elliot Williams to the NBA hurts, but Pastner has plenty to work with and a program that could begin the season in the Top 25.
24. Can Wofford dance for a second straight season?
- The Wofford Terriers ran Wisconsin right down to the wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, their first appearance in school history. Noah Dahlman is back for the Terriers and on a mission in search of back-to-back trips to the Big Dance. They have the talent and experience to do so, can they reach their goal?
23. Can we assume Marist and Bryant will improve in 2010-2011?
- Both schools finished last season with records of 1-29. I think its safe to assume both Marist and Bryant will be able to improve this upcoming season, but good luck to both of these programs; Marist will begin at Villanova, while Bryant will open in the World Vision Basketball Classic.
22. Will the suspension of LaceDarius Dunn hurt the Baylor Bear's chances?
- The criminal charges against Baylor's top returning player is a poor timed situation and one that may end up really hurting one of the top teams in the Big 12. LaceDarius was suspended by head coach Scott Drew and then most recently from attending classes at the university. If the stud guard cannot play it will be, without a doubt a big blow for a program with high expectations.
21. Who will help North Carolina return to the top of the ACC?
- Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew II, Dexter Strickland, John Henson, Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald Kendall Marshall. As I nearly name almost the entire, thinned-out Tar Heel roster, the point remains the same, the talent is there for UNC, but can they mesh together and get back to the top half of the ACC, where they are expected to be each year?
20. Will Colorado make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003?
- The answer to this question is simple. The Buffaloes and new head coach Tad Boyle will go as far as their two studs, Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, will take them. Do they have enough in the tough Big 12 conference to dance for the first time in eight seasons?
19. Who will Travis Leslie dunk on this year?
- The athleticism of Georgia guard Travis Leslie is incredible. He can jump out of the building, just ask former Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins. Who will Leslie tomahawk down on this season?
18. What are the chances the Ohio Valley Conference can earn multiple bids?
- The only chance of this happening would be through Murray State and Morehead State, but both of them have the talent to get to the Big Dance and both of them have the talent to win in the NCAA Tournament. Murray State represented the OVC last season and notched a buzzer-beating, upset win over Vanderbilt in the first round.
17. Mid major power: Who will have a better season, Gonzaga or Butler?
- Butler lost Gordan Hayward to the NBA, but Brad Stevens has plenty of returning talent looking for another deep NCAA Tournament run. Mark Few has Gonzaga right in the thick of things yet again. My gut says Butler, but Elias Harris and Gonzaga are not to be under estimated.
16. Will Steve Lavin have St. John's dancing in his first season as head coach?
- The Red Storm have a roster full of veteran talent. With ten seniors ready to make their final season at St. John's one that ends with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, Lavin has a great opportunity to help a program rise in a loaded Big East.
15. Will Bruce Pearl's NCAA issues hurt Tennessee in 2010-2011 and into the future?
- It is not clear what will happen following an NCAA investigation into Bruce Pearl and allegations regarding former recruits at both UW-Milwaukee and his current home at Tennessee. Pearl's had plenty of success as a head coach in his career and the talent is there again for the Volunteers. If Scotty Hopson can be the leader of this team, Tennessee will still be a force in the SEC.
14. Calipari reloads; will Kentucky win the SEC East for a second straight season?
- One class out, another class in. Kentucky head coach John Calipari has brought in the top recruiting class in the nation for the second straight season. The Wildcats produced five first round NBA draft choices this past spring, and although this class may not be as talented as the last year's led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky can still be the top dog in the SEC East. Enes Kanter's eligibility may only help the Wildcats in achieving this goal.
13. With plenty of talent coming in, who will be the best freshman in the nation?
- Harrison Barnes comes into his freshman season at North Carolina as the number one prospect in the class of 2010 and with a excellent situation to excel at UNC, and with that being said I believe Barnes will be the guy. However, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, C.J. Leslie, and many more have opportunities to snag that top spot.
12. Will a single team from the New England area make the NCAA Tournament?
- Last season only one team from New England made the NCAA Tournament, that was the 16th seeded Catamounts of Vermont. This season it could be the exact same situation. Boston College, Providence and UConn have the talent to be NCAA Tournament teams, but are certainly no lock in terms of that category. URI was on the outside, looking-in last season, but will they be able to improve? There is a good chance heading into 2010-2011 that no team in the New England region may be dancing.
11. Can Ben Howland lead UCLA back into the upper half of the Pac-10?
- It wasn't too long ago that UCLA made three consecutive trips to the Final Four. Last year's 14-18 season made that seem like an eternity ago. Freshman Josh Smith and returnees Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee give Howland an opportunity to improve in 2010-2001, can they do so?
10. With the ongoing NCAA investigation, how important is this year for Calhoun and UConn?
- UConn supports Calhoun in the NCAA investigation and the self sanctions have brought penalty on the Huskies program, but after missing the NCAA Tournament last season, how much pressure is on UConn and Calhoun to win now. Will recruits be affected by the investigation? Can UConn finish in the upper half of the tough Big East?
9. How many teams can the Atlantic-10 Conference get to the dance?
- A few A-10 teams faded late in the season, but at one time or another people speculated that the conference might be able to get quite a few bids into the NCAA Tournament. This year might be just as competitive.
8. Staying healthy: Can Robbie Hummel, Tyler Zeller, Kalin Lucas stay on the court?
- Robbie Hummel and Kalin Lucas return from season-ending injuries a year ago, their health will be vital for two of the top teams in the Big Ten and in the nation. Tyler Zeller has been injury-plagued in each of his first two seasons at UNC, with a thin front line down low for the Tar Heels, Zeller needs to remain healthy in 2010-2011.
7. Sidney Lowe has a talented roster, can he get off the hot seat and live up to expectations?
- Tracy Smith, Javier Gonzalez, and Scott Wood all return and stud freshmen C.J. Leslie and Ryan Harrow should bolster a talented Wolfpack team that should be able to move up in the ACC. Sidney Lowe needs NC State to live up to these expectations if he wants to keep his job.
6. And again we wonder; will this be the year Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament?
- Kevin Coble won't return this season, but the Wildcats still have talent as they continue to search for their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. So the question must be asked again, is this the year Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament?
5. Will Dee Bost return from suspension and guide Mississippi State to the Big Dance?
- After Bost did not remove his name in time for the NBA Draft early deadline, the NCAA suspended the star guard for nine games. Renardo Sidney is ready to go (finally) for the Bulldogs, but if Bost comes back ready to go, Mississippi State could be dangerous come March.
4. Who will win the Big East?
- Once again the Big East will be loaded. With 16 teams vying to win the conference the question must be posed again, who will be crowned on top? Villanova and Pittsburgh are likely the top two heading into the season, but Syracuse, West Virginia and Georgetown reload after losing players to the NBA. With that being said, the conference is stacked with solid teams, some of which you know will crash the party. My early preseason prediction: Pittsburgh.
3. Will elite freshmen Enes Kanter and/or Josh Selby suit up this season?
- Two of the more talented freshmen in the class, Selby and Kanter, who could be expected one-and-dones, are currently both ineligible and both can be game changers for their respected teams. Kanter (Kentucky) and Selby (Kansas) are awaiting clearance and the fact of the matter remains, both of these youngsters can play and Jayhawk and Wildcat fans will keep their fingers crossed.
2. With plenty of talented teams, who is the best of the Big Ten?
- Michigan State? Purdue? Ohio State? The front runners in this discussion have to be both Michigan State and Purdue, but Ohio State can easily crash the top of this conference. The Spartans and Boilermakers each returned much of their talent from a season ago and should both be among the Top 5, if not Top 3 in the nation. My early preseason prediction: Michigan State.
1. Will Duke repeat as National Champions?
- Kyle Singler is back. Nolan Smith is back. Seth Curry is eligible. Kyrie Irving and Joshua Hairston are on campus. The 2010-2011 Duke Blue Devils are the team to beat heading into the season and with their talented roster, certainly have what it takes to repeat as National Champions. Will anyone step up and stop them?
This article was first featured on The Arena Pulse