College Basketball Season Opens Monday

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Men's college basketball play begins Monday with several tournaments tipping off across the country. Kansas is the defending national champion, but North Carolina is this year's favorite. One of the reasons North Carolina is favored is because all of the team's starters from last year have returned for this season.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The men's college basketball season begins today with several tournaments tipping off around the country. Kansas is the defending national champion, but North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets following the championship game in Detroit on April 6. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to look ahead to the season to come. Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Why is everyone so convinced North Carolina is the team to beat this year?

FEINSTEIN: Well, in this day and age, when a team is very good, it's rare that all of their key players come back. North Carolina was 36-3 last year, lost to Kansas in the Final Four, had the national player of the year, Tyler Hansbrough. And not only did he come back, but all their starters and their sixth - best sixth man are back. So they had their team back intact, which very few teams can say, much less a team that won 36 games a year ago.

MONTAGNE: And the Tar Heels may be the best team, but they don't play in the best conference anymore, do they?

FEINSTEIN: No, they certainly don't. Ever since the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded to 12 teams in 2005 in order to improve their football, which it hasn't, North Carolina has been as far as the round of eight three times in those four seasons, Renee, but no other team in the ACC has been that far. That's a stunning fall from grace for schools like Duke and Maryland, which have won national championships recently, and traditional powers like North Carolina State and Wake Forest. Meanwhile, they've become almost a one-team conference in basketball, which is shocking.

MONTAGNE: And John, I always like asking you about the Cinderella team or what you see ahead as possibly a Cinderella team.

FEINSTEIN: Well, last year's Cinderella was Davidson, which came within one three-point shot of upsetting Kansas in the round of eight and going into the Final Four, a little tiny school in North Carolina. And I think they can be that same Cinderella this year in terms of the fact that Stephen Curry, their star player, is back. Four of their starters are back. But they won't be Cinderella because of what they did last year.

MONTAGNE: They were Cinderella so...

FEINSTEIN: Exactly. So if you look around the country looking for a Davidson, a George Mason, you might even go back out to the West Coast where Gonzaga hasn't been Cinderella since 1999, and now they have perhaps their best team in 10 years.

MONTAGNE: Although, there has also been a significant change in the rules.

FEINSTEIN: There absolutely has been. Finally, after 22 years, they've moved the three-point line back a foot. Now that may not sound like much, but it will make a big difference in who takes three-point shots and how many are made. I don't want to say the line was really short, but it was best described by the late Jim Valvano years ago, who said, I don't want to say it's too close, but my 80-year-old mom made 7 out of 10 the other day. So moving it back a foot is definitely something that was a long time coming and I think will improve the quality of play.

MONTAGNE: Let's switch topics here for just for a few seconds. We're down to two undefeated college football teams from the major conferences, the BCS conferences. How is the national title picture shaping up?

FEINSTEIN: Well, at this moment, if the season ended today, Alabama and Texas Tech would play for the national championship. They're, as you said, the two undefeateds left in the BCS. There are three other undefeated teams, Boise State, Utah, and Ball State. But of course, under this ridiculous system, even if they finished undefeated, they wouldn't have a chance to play for the national title. But both Alabama and Texas Tech have very difficult games remaining. So when we get to December 7 when the championship game is announced, you can have five or six one-loss teams vying for those two spots in the BCS. It's really a mess, which is kind of fun. But there should be a playoff, as we all know, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, you know we'll be talking about this again?

FEINSTEIN: Very soon, I'm sure.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein. He's author of "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery."

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