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Kansas Favorite In College Hoops

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Kansas Favorite In College Hoops

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Kansas Favorite In College Hoops

Kansas Favorite In College Hoops

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The Tar Heels are the defending champions in the college basketball season, which opens Monday. But Kansas is the early pick to succeed North Carolina. Commentator John Feinstein talks about these and other contenders in the college basketball season.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now that the World Series is out of the way, we're ready for college basketball. The season opens tonight with North Carolina as the defending champion. And with four months and hundreds of games to play before March Madness, Kansas is the early pick to succeed the Tar Heels in that role.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss all that and more.

Hi, John.

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Sports commentator and author): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We should mention, I suppose, that North Carolina wants to defend here, but that's pretty rare.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: It's very rare. You know, John Wooden had that run at UCLA where he won 10 titles in 12 years, and since he retired in 1975, it's only happened twice. Duke did it in '91-'92, and then Florida did it in '06 and '07. And it's even harder now, because most of the time, when you win a national championship, it's not just that you lose your seniors, you lose your star underclassman. And that was true. North Carolina lost two juniors who could've come back for a senior year, and thus, their four leading scorers are gone.

Having said that, Roy Williams has done an unbelievable job of recruiting there. They're very young this year by comparison to last year, but by March, they will be a factor and a team no one wants to play.

INSKEEP: I suppose if you're Roy Williams, you post on the locker room wall somewhere the fact that everybody says you can't repeat.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Not only do you do that, but you tell people that you're picked, like, eighth in your own league, which isn't true but it doesn't matter´┐Ż

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALBRAITH: ´┐Żbecause the players will listen to anything their coach says. And, of course, Roy Williams was the coach at Kansas before he got to North Carolina and lost to Kansas in the Final Four two years ago. So if Kansas and North Carolina were to end up back in the Final Four, we'd have all those stories again about Roy Williams and how much the people in Kansas hate him now. And Bill Self, at least, has established himself at Kansas because he did win that national title two years ago.

INSKEEP: What makes Kansas the consensus pick to be the champion this year?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, unlike North Carolina, their two underclass stars - Cole Aldridge and Sherron Collins - came back, did not go into the NBA draft. And that's usually what establishes power from near power these days in college basketball.

They're experienced players. They're NBA-ready players, so to speak, and yet they're still in college. That gives Kansas an advantage coming out of the chute. But they also had one of the best recruiting years in the country, so they have veterans to mix with younger players and obviously a coach and a program that knows how to win.

INSKEEP: Can the University of Kentucky do any better this year?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, they'll do a lot better. They didn't even make the NCAA tournament last year, which is why Billy Gillespie's no longer the coach there and John Calipari's being paid. This is the right number, Steve, $32 million over the next eight years.

INSKEEP: Ooh.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: This is to coach a college team. And again, Patrick Patterson, their best player, came back. John Calipari brought some recruits with him from Memphis, and Kentucky's picked by most people in the top five. Yes, they'll be a factor.

INSKEEP: Well, I mean, you know, if you live in the state of Kentucky, you've got to have a team in the top five. That's worth any price, I think.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, otherwise, you can't go out in public, for crying out loud.

INSKEEP: Exactly. Exactly. Now what about Cinderella teams this year?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, you know, it's interesting. Butler is one of those teams that's been so good, so consistently. Like Gonzaga, even though they're not in a power league, I'm not sure if people consider them a Cinderella anymore. But they won 26 games last year, and all five of their starters are back. Nobody wants to face these guys. They're well-coach by Brad Stevens, who's a star in the making in coaching. They're a team to watch. And you remember George Mason's run three years ago, Steve?

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Their league, the Colonial Athletic Association, has four or five NCAA tournament teams. The league has never gotten more than two bids into the tournament. This year, I think they could get three or four. That'll be fun to watch when the committee makes its decisions in March.

INSKEEP: John, good talking with you.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein, author of "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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