The games can't start soon enough for college basketball.
After an offseason marked by a murder, an ethics crisis and conference upheaval, fans will certainly welcome the return of dunks and jump shots in a sport celebrating the silver anniversary of one of its greatest events Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.
It was only seven months ago that Syracuse left New Orleans with its first national championship. Some schools had already removed themselves from postseason play (Fresno State and Georgia), while another teams players made that decision (St. Bonaventure).
What followed was bad behavior by a coach (Iowa State) and a story that crossed the line of sports to murder (Baylor).
It was all enough that a coaches summit was convened in Chicago a month before the season. Almost all the 328 Division I coaches attended the meeting, which produced a code of ethics and an agreement to work with the NCAA on changing or eliminating some of the rules governing the sport.
''It opens up the door for cooperation, revisiting some rules,'' Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. ''Sometimes when we talk about violations, or cheating, or coaches making a mistake a lot of these things are rules that maybe could be eliminated.''
Not all the coaches agreed. Texas Tech coach Bob Knight didn't even bother attending the summit.
''The fact that there were some maybe extraordinary circumstances and some situations this year does not set this past year apart from any others in my mind,'' Knight said.
The landscape of the sport will certainly change over the next two seasons as teams move from conference to conference. Almost all the 31 leagues were affected by the decisions of some to relocate based on football.
It will make for some interesting matchups as schools spend their final seasons facing teams they will soon leave behind.
''I think it will be pretty wild,'' first-year Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. ''My joke is always how many different ways can someone call me bald?''
Greenberg knows many fans are not pleased that the school is leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
''Because of the drama and how it played out, I'm sure it will be different with the fans,'' he said. ''I'm sure it will create animosity.''
Greenberg's move from South Florida (which later moved from Conference USA to the Big East) was one of many coaching changes, three of which affected some of college basketball's most prominent programs.
UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas will all have new coaches this season.
Ben Howland moved from Pittsburgh to UCLA and becomes the eighth man to direct the program since John Wooden retired in 1975.
Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina, and his return to his alma mater was a tear-filled move that left fans in both states very emotional. Some were thrilled, others were furious.
''I have two dream schools and I wanted to coach both, but you can't do it at the same time,'' said Williams, who led Kansas to four Final Fours in 15 seasons. ''Now I'm coaching North Carolina and few people can say they coached at their two favorite schools both schools touched by something special.''
After Williams' departure, Bill Self moved from Illinois to Kansas.
Among the 46 coaching changes, Scott Drew left Valparaiso to take over at Baylor, where Dave Bliss resigned after four years. The program collapsed following the slaying of a player, revelations of NCAA violations and player drug use, and the coach's attempt to cover up misdeeds.
''It doesn't make you forget, but it's not in everyone's mind what happened this summer,'' senior guard Matt Sayman said. ''Coach Drew coming automatically makes people think about the future. After everything we've been through, we'll be even closer as a group.''
No member of last year's All-America team will be back: seniors David West of Xavier, Nick Collison of Kansas and Josh Howard of Wake Forest; and two underclassmen who left early for the NBA junior Dwyane Wade of Marquette and T.J. Ford of Texas.
Also gone is Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, who led the Orangemen to the title as a freshman.
Still, there are plenty of other college players ready to step in.
Luol Deng at Duke, Mustafa Shakur at Arizona, Brandon Bass at LSU and Andrew Bogut at Utah are just some of the newcomers expected to make impacts as freshmen.
And there will be plenty of teams with veteran casts ready to make a run for the Final Four in San Antonio, such as Connecticut's inside-outside combination of Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, Saint Joseph's backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, and Missouri's frontcourt of Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding.
The games begin with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 13-14 and include Gonzaga against Saint Joseph's. Then come nonconference matchups like Michigan State at Kansas, Kentucky at Michigan State and Illinois against North Carolina.
In January, classic conference matchups begin, such as Duke-North Carolina, making the weeks fly by as March Madness approaches.
The Final Four will be a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Bird-Magic.
College basketball and later the NBA changed forever in 1979 when Johnson's Michigan State beat Bird's Indiana State for the national championship.
It is still college basketball's highest-rated telecast and it is the type of game a sport with a lot of problems could sure use again.
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