THE EDGE: Jumping Jayhawks
Ah, the Madness begins.
Last year's NCAA college hoops season was one of the most exciting ever, largely because of the parity and unpredictability of the national playoff tourney. It was a championship which clearly lived up to it's nickname 'March Madness.'
So who will be the maddest this season? Definitely not a Wake Forest team minus Tim Duncan, but at least Demon Deacon fans will have the luxury of seeing some of the best talents in the league as their Atlantic Coast Conference counterparts, Duke and North Carolina, have a legitimate shot at the national title. The Pacific-10 is also home to two preseason favourites, UCLA and last year's winner Arizona so some of the best games of the year may come in conference play.
The championship is there for Kansas to take, but as Arizona showed last season, there's plenty of room for a Cinderella team to surprise. Here's a glimpse at the top teams in the college ranks.
Kansas: After spending all but one week at the top of the rankings last season, coach Roy Williams and his Jayhawks enter this year's campaign as the odds-on favourite to win it all. There's no question the Jayhawks have the best forwards in the NCAA with All-Americans Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz. Gone from last year's team are point guard Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard, although the consensus is that Ryan Robertson and Lester Earl will give Kansas a greater degree of athleticism.
North Carolina: Will a talented Tar Heels squad minus their recently retired legendary coach Dean Smith, perform up to expectations this year? Centre Serge Zwikker is the lone starter to depart from last year's Final Four team and juniors Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter are more experienced and should challenge for All-American status.
UCLA: The Bruins narrowly missed out on the Final Four dance last season, losing to Minnesota in the Midwest finals and this squad had reason for optimism, until it was announced that centre Jelani McCoy would be suspended for the season due to substance abuse. As a result, second-year coach Steve Lavin has a good (as opposed to a great) roster to work with. Conference all-stars, guard Toby Bailey and forward J.R. Henderson are back for their senior years, which is certainly a rarity in this time and age of underclassmen jumping ship to the professional ranks. UCLA will rely on the highly-touted freshman point guard Baron Davis to run the show in place of Cameron Dollar and Schea Cotton will fill the void left by Charles O'Bannon at forward.
Arizona: Ask any team that played the Wildcats last March and they'll tell you speed really does kill. Coach Lute Olson has the luxury of having all his starters back including arguably the best one-two guard combination around in Mike Bibby and Miles Simon. The rest of the roster is filled with solid role-players led by centre A.J. Bramlett and Michael Dickerson.
Duke: The Blue Devils haven't made much noise the last couple of seasons, but coach Mike Krzyzewski has put together a squad that is ready to challenge the NCAA's elite. Guard Trajan Langdon is the offensive spark plug for the team and will be paired with Steve Wojciechowski, who is also coming off a strong season last year. Inside, Duke possess several talented and young prospects in Elton Brand, Chris Burgess and Shane Battier, who were all highly-scouted in high school.
The outsiders: Clemson, South Carolina and Kentucky.