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November 7, 2006

Hoops season finally officially arrives

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College hoops junkies can stop going through withdrawal.

The 2006-07 season begins tonight with the first round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. The event features matchups between Vermont and New Orleans at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern) and Maryland and Hampton at 8:30 p.m in College Park, Md.

The Terps, who return four starters from a 19-13 season, are facing a pivotal campaign. Since winning the 2002 national title, the program has been on a gradual slide, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

The same event will also feature the college debut of Texas' prize recruit Kevin Durant Rivals.com's No. 2 prospect in the class of 2006 when the Longhorns play host to Alcorn State.

Many other teams are playing their season openers in tournaments.

The College Basketball Experience Classic features No. 4-ranked Pittsburgh, the favorite in the Big East. The Panthers play Western Michigan on Sunday in West Point, N.Y.

Bob Knight's march towards becoming college basketball's all-time winningest coach continues in the CBEC when Texas Tech plays host to Gardner-Webb on Monday. Knight begins the season needing 11 wins to break Dean Smith's record of 879.

Indiana and No. 24 Tennessee play in the preseason NIT on Monday. The Hoosiers' new coach Kelvin Sampson makes his debut for the Crimson-and-White against Lafayette in Indianapolis.

The Volunteers, who emerged as one of the biggest surprises of last season with a 22-8 record and an SEC East title, face Fordham in Nashville, Tenn.

No. 2 North Carolina, which hauled in the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class, faces Sacred Heart in the preseason NIT on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. The Tar Heels return nearly all their key players from last season's 23-8 squad, including 2005-06 National Freshman of the Year Tyler Hansbrough.

Top-ranked Florida begins its quest to become just the second team to win two consecutive national titles in the last 34 seasons (Duke pulled it off in 1991-92) when Samford visits Gainesville, Fla., on Friday night.

Third-ranked Kansas, the heavy favorite in the Big 12, tips off its season at home against Northern Arizona on Saturday.

Both games will serve as tuneups for the Jayhawks and Gators, who meet in a heavily anticipated showdown in Las Vegas on Nov. 25.

No. 5 UCLA appears to have the toughest season opener of any top-10 team. The 2006 national runner-up plays host to BYU on Nov. 15. The Cougars are coming off a 20-win season and are picked to finish in second place in the Mountain West.

One of the most intriguing matchups of the first week involves Pac-10 and ACC schools. Virginia opens its new John Paul Jones Arena against No. 10 Arizona on Sunday. JPJ, whose capacity is 15,219, is almost twice the size of University Hall - where the Cavaliers played their home games for the last 41 years.

That matchup will also serve as the college debut of highly touted Arizona freshman Chase Budinger. The 6-foot-7 wing was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the class of 2006, and coach Lute Olson has already called him the best freshman he's had in his career.

Let the games begin, and follow the action all season long at Rivals.com

Conference Previews: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC



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