What to watch for in 2009: CBB
The national Player of the Year race is already turning into a tight contest
While UNC seems to be a head above the rest, can the Heels go undefeated?
It doesn't look like many of this year's freshmen will leave school early
1. The national Player of the Year race. This contest will be every bit as exciting and star-studded as was the campaign for college football's Heisman Trophy. North Carolina senior forward Tyler Hansbrough is, a la Tim Tebow, the reigning incumbent, but for the moment he is not the front-runner. Instead, that mantle is being carried by Blake Griffin, Oklahoma's powerful but agile 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds while staking the Sooners to a 12-0 start and a No. 4 ranking. The sentimental favorite is Davidson guard Stephen Curry, the baby-faced sharp shooter who is leading the country in scoring at 30 points a game.
2. Will North Carolina enter the NCAA tournament undefeated? Nobody since the 1990-91 UNLV squad has started the tournament with a bagel in the loss column, and nobody since Indiana in 1976 has ended the tournament with an unblemished record. The Tar Heels, who returned all five starters from last year's Final Four team, have a chance to duplicate that feat. The question of whether it's good to have the added pressure of being undefeated would be a delicious topic for debate.
3. Will the longer three-point line make a major difference? So far, the answer is no: Overall, teams are making a little over one percent fewer attempts from behind the arc at 20 feet 9 inches than they did when it was a foot closer. This underscores the real reason the line was moved back, which was to increase spacing and put a greater emphasis on speed and athleticism.
4. Who will be the next big-name coach to retire? Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski are all Hall of Famers who are now in their 60s, but though they have all had their share of health problems (Calhoun spent the summer undergoing treatment for skin cancer), none of them look like they're ready to step down anytime soon. Krzyzewski, incidentally, is on pace to pass his mentor Bob Knight within four years as college basketball's alltime winningest coach.
5. How many freshmen will turn pro? Last year, an astounding nine freshmen left school to become NBA first-round draft picks. There are a far fewer players who are capable of making the same leap (Georgetown forward Greg Monroe is one of them), but overall the current class is a significant dropoff from the last two years. Most of them would do well to come back to school, which would be a real boon for college basketball.