THIS IS NOW the third year of the no-high-school-players-to-the-NBA rule. It is a bit of a fraud because some top players enter college knowing they won't stay for the end of their freshman years, much less graduate. If you can get beyond that (and some, understandably, can't), the rule probably has saved a few clueless high school players from themselves and a few NBA teams from making horrible mistakes.
The one obvious beneficiary has been the college game. Think back to the last two seasons and what players do you remember most - Kevin Durant and Greg Oden in 2006-07; Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo in 2007-08. Without the rule, it is doubtful any of those players would have spent a minute in college basketball.
This season is not those seasons. There are some very good freshmen, but none likely to have the impact of any of the Big Six from the last two seasons. The good news is that perhaps some of these freshmen might even become sophomores.
I haven't seen enough to form definite opinions, but it is clear Greg Monroe (Georgetown) and Samardo Samuels (Louisville) are going to have a major impact on the Big East standings and the national scene.
Everybody around here knows about Tyreke Evans (Memphis). Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) came highly touted, but are still finding their ways. Al-Farouq Amin (Wake Forest) is putting up some nice numbers and is a key player for an unbeaten team.
The 7-foot Mullens is unpolished, but he is 7-foot. So it would be no great shock if he ends up in the draft. If he does, Ohio State, the only team to lose freshmen in each of the first 2 years of the rule, would lose another. In 2007, it was Oden and Mike Conley. Last season, it was Kosta Koufos.
You haven't lived until you have hung on the River Walk in San Antonio on Final Four weekend. You never know what you might see. Last year, on the night before the semifinals, I saw one prominent coach, who shall remain nameless, staggering around so badly that I was certain I would be hearing about him being pulled out of the San Antonio River.
The coach survived. The River Walk did not.
San Antonio is out of the Final Four rotation. The Alamodome apparently isn't suited to host the Final Four with the new seating configuration that will debut in 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit. The court will be in the center of the football field and capacity will be approximately 71,000.
On Dec. 13, 2003, Kentucky played Michigan State at Ford Field in front of 78,129. Thus, the mega-Final Four crowd idea was born.
Texas will get a Final Four in the next rotation (2014), but it will be at the new Cowboys Stadium in the soulless Dallas suburb of Arlington.
San Antonio and New Orleans are the two best Final Four cities. Thankfully, New Orleans (2012) is in the next rotation, but there is nothing like people-watching on the River Walk. You never know whom you might see there or how they might be feeling at any particular moment.
One could make a strong case that the Pac-10 was the best conference in the country the last two seasons. Not this season.
Consider that seven league players went in the first round of the NBA draft: O.J. Mayo (USC), Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Robin and Brook Lopez (Stanford), Jerryd Bayless (Arizona) and Ryan Anderson (California).
It is still a nice league, but no longer worth the lack of sleep we junkies had to endure for the late night games the last two seasons.
There will be a new conference next season - the Great West. Its members will include Texas Pan-American, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley, North Dakota, South Dakota and ... New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is, according to the map, west of Manhattan.
We all get that geography no longer matters much in conference affiliation, what with teams from Boston and Miami in the ACC, but New Jersey, North Dakota and Texas in the same league seems a bit much.
Meanwhile, after losing last night at Rutgers, NJIT has lost 44 straight. That would be a Division I record, but NJIT won't become a regular D-I member until next season so it can't hold any records, dubious or otherwise.
By the way, the Great West won't have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for a while. To be eligible, a conference's members must have at least six teams in a sport for 2 years and all six of those "core" members must be D-I for 8 years.
If the Great West ever does get an automatic, you can then anticipate a second "opening round" game because you know the big boys are not giving up any of their shots at the 34 at-large bids.
I am a sucker for statistics that actually explain something, not just raw numbers like points scored and points allowed.
Thus, I enjoy Ken Pomeroy's numbers, which demonstrate quite clearly how pace affects final numbers. Which led to his points for and against per 100 possessions, a much more accurate gauge of a team's true performance than raw numbers.
This year, Pomeroy and John Gasaway wrote "College Basketball Prospectus," which has some real gems. One of my favorites is proving what a waste all "those freeze the foul shooters" timeouts have always been.
There were 734 free throws attempted following a timeout in the final minute of regulation or in overtime. In the same situation overall, players made 72.2 percent of their free throws. After a timeout, it was 71 percent, hardly worth wasting a timeout that you might need sometime before the game ends.
* It won't be easy to find him on TV, but the best unknown player in America is Lester Hudson, the star of the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference. Hudson averages 23.8 points, which is actually down from 25.7 points last season.
On Nov. 13, 2007, Hudson did something that had never been done. He had a quadruple double - 25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals. Now, it was against Central Baptist, which is something less than a powerhouse. But Hudson did it in 31 minutes. And he didn't just pick on no-hopers. He had 35 against Memphis and 36 against Vanderbilt last season.
* More gems from "Basketball Prospectus": -
In conference games, the Big Ten has had the fewest possessions per 40 minutes of any conference for five consecutive seasons. Last season, Big Ten teams had 62.3 possessions while the much faster-paced ACC had 70.8 ...
For the second consecutive year, North Carolina had the lowest percentage of points from threes among the 65 NCAA Tournament teams. Which means UNC runs a lot, gets a lot of layups and has Tyler Hansbrough ...
Only two teams (Texas and Niagara) had fewer bench minutes than Saint Joseph's last season. Might be similar this season as the Hawks are getting almost all of their production from their starting lineup.