Originally created 11/12/06

Stories paving road to Atlanta



Bob Knight needs 11 victories at Texas Tech to put the ultimate stamp on his coaching career. Bob Huggins is back on the bench at Kansas State, looking to re-establish his.

And the Florida Gators have five reasons to believe they can repeat their dominating national championship run, in the form of all returning starters.

A lot of familiar faces will dot the landscape of the 2006-07 college basketball season. But as George Mason showed this past season, it's never a predictable ride.

A few old favorites will be missing from the mix, too. This will be the first season in decades without John Chaney and Eddie Sutton coaching teams, but it will mark the return of Bobby Cremins, back from retirement, and Todd Bozeman, whose long NCAA suspension finally expired.

Ron Everhart, meanwhile, will try to keep the Duquesne program moving forward. After a night that changed most of his players' lives, the Dukes start the season with only a handful of guys in uniform.

Before everything is said and done, March Madness will culminate in Atlanta, as the NCAA Tournament's Final Four will be at the Georgia Dome.

College basketball will start, as usual, with early season tournaments that are loaded with power teams. Next comes conference rivalries, followed by a month of madness to deliver a national champion.

All five starters from the Florida team that won the title in Indianapolis in April are back, a rare fact in age of underclassmen heading for the NBA.

Florida wasn't a team many expected to win it all last season, having lost its starting backcourt when Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh opted to leave early for the NBA. That left three sophomores as the core of the team that was wasn't ranked at the start of the season.

A 17-game winning streak to open the season brought them to the country's attention and the Gators ran, shot and defended their way to a No. 3 seed and a title run. Most people thought Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer - three of Florida's top scorers and its top three rebounders - would be heading for the NBA.

Not so.

"Chances are those guys would have been first-round draft picks," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "But they came back for the right reasons, and I think they need to be celebrated for what they've done."

Knight needs 10 wins to reach 879 for his career and tie former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for No. 1 on the all-time list in men's college basketball. Knight will pass Smith's Division I mark with his 11th victory.

One of the most controversial coaches in the sport's history for his success, integrity, and yes, that temper, Knight stayed true to his ways by suspending his best player, Jarrious Jackson, for not maintaining academic standards just before Texas Tech was to open the season.

One of the coaches Knight will go against in the Big 12 this season is Huggins, who returns to the bench at Kansas State after sitting out this past season following his dismissal after 16 successful but stormy seasons at Cincinnati.

He is one of six new coaches in the conference, including Sean Sutton, who replaces his father, Eddie, who retired from Oklahoma State two wins shy of 800 in his 36-year career.

Chaney retired from Temple after compiling 741 wins in 34 seasons.

Cremins, who won 324 games and led Georgia Tech to one Final Four before retiring in 2002, returns to coaching this season at the College of Charleston.

Bozeman is the new coach at Morgan State, returning in the first season he is eligible after serving an eight-year ban from the NCAA over recruiting violations when he was the head coach at California.

But perhaps no one has a tougher comeback road than Duquesne. Five Dukes players were shot in an on-campus incident in September and the program will spend its first season under Everhart trying to return to normalcy with as few as eight players, including walk-ons, available for practice.

"There's no question from a basketball perspective we've taken a major blow and it's going to be a major obstacle to overcome," Everhart said.