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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 2005-06

Everyone Speaks of the Devils

Duke dominates the preseason predictions as conferences realign and new age rule takes effect.

November 09, 2005|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Change, lots of it, is coming to college basketball.

(Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke).

The Big East Conference, once mostly confined to basketball-focused schools in the Northeast corridor, now covers two time zones and includes teams from Florida and Wisconsin. With 16 teams, it's being called the first mega-conference.

(But not Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke).

With the new NBA age-restriction rule requiring players to be at least 19 years old or out of high school at least a year, recruiting will be different. Now, instead of signing for millions of dollars right out of high school, singular talents such as LeBron James are going to have to attend college.

John Chaney, Temple's veteran coach, said the rule will change things: "Kid only wants to come for a year, says he's going to only stay for a year, he's not coming to Temple."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 10, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
College basketball -- An article and a photo caption in Wednesday's Sports section about the upcoming season misspelled Duke University guard J.J. Redick's name as Reddick. Also, a chart with the article showing NCAA men's Division I champions failed to include national championships won by the University of San Francisco in 1955 and 1956.

But Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun has another opinion. "Of course you take them," he said. "You never know. Kids like coming to college. A guy like Ray Allen, he didn't want to leave."

(Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke. Will take 'em, will get 'em, and will probably keep 'em two years or three. It's Duke).

And no one expects last year's NCAA champion to show up in Indianapolis for the 2006 Final Four.

When last we saw North Carolina, it was with teary-eyed Coach Roy Williams standing straighter if not crying less, after finally winning his first national championship. But the Tar Heels lost their top seven scorers and almost everybody who mattered.

While Williams' 2006 recruiting class is considered by most experts as the best in the country (possible exception: Duke), some say the Tar Heels may struggle to win four games in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.

There is something that hasn't changed, though.

Duke.

In nearly every preseason poll, in nearly every preseason radio or television discussion, Duke is picked to win the 2006 NCAA title. In the Associated Press top 25 poll, Duke received 61 of 72 first-place votes.

North Carolina? Not even ranked, the first time that has happened to a defending national champion in 17 years.

Mike Krzyzewski, the coach recently chosen by USA Basketball to try to take the U.S. back to gold-medal winning ways at the world championships and 2008 Olympics, guides the Blue Devils. Two of Duke's starters -- J.J. Reddick and Shelden Williams -- are among the favorites to be national player of the year.

Adding depth are three high school McDonald's All-Americans: Josh Roberts, a 6-foot-10 forward from Carmel, Indiana, Greg Paulus, a 6-1 point guard from Syracuse, N.Y., and Eric Boateng, a 6-10 center from London.

So who will be playing in the Final Four this year? You can start with Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke.

Conference Shuffle

The longest-tenured basketball coaches in the Big East, Connecticut's Calhoun and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, understand what has happened to the conference that was started 26 years ago to be strictly basketball.

"It was football driven," Calhoun said.

"It's about football," Boeheim said.

The chase for football dollars drove founding member Boston College off to the Atlantic Coast Conference to join former Big East members Miami and Virginia Tech. The new blood comes from a raid on Conference USA that netted Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida.

It means South Florida can have the honor of being the only 16th-place conference finisher in the country. And it also means tough times for basketball-proud schools such as Marquette, a 2003 Final Four participant that is picked to finish somewhere about 13th in the Big East, and DePaul, which will be lucky to be one of the 12 teams to qualify for the Big East Conference tournament.

The Atlantic 10 also picked up Charlotte, meaning it has 14, not 10, teams; Conference USA restocked by adding Marshall from the Mid-American, Central Florida from the Atlantic Sun, and Tulsa, Rice, Southern Methodist and Texas El Paso from the Western Athletic; the WAC got Utah State and Idaho from the Big West and New Mexico State from the Sun Belt; the Sun Belt took Troy from the Atlantic Sun; and the Atlantic Sun brought in East Tennessee State from the Southern.

Got that? Great. Now you're set until things change again next year.

The Challengers

College basketball last had an undefeated national champion in 1976 with Indiana, so the chances are that somebody will upset Duke along the way.

If Connecticut's program hadn't been roiled by misdemeanor theft charges against its two top point guards -- A.J. Price and Marcus Williams start the season under suspension -- and the surprising decision by top recruit Andrew Bynum to enter the NBA draft, the Huskies would be a strong candidate to threaten Duke. And the Huskies still might. Williams' suspension ends Jan. 3 and Calhoun said sophomore forward Rudy Gay is poised to have a breakout season.

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