The start of a new college basketball season is here, replete with intriguing storylines and captivating characters.
And that's just the off-the-court stuff.
This is a unique year for the game. We refuse to let you jump into the mix without the proper preseason tutorial.
Are you a college-basketball junkie? This will help. Are you just a novice hoping to add your two cents when the crazy college hoops fans talk basketball at work? Read this. Are you somewhere in between? We're here for you.
We present "The Ultimate Preseason Viewer's Guide to College Basketball":
Of course LaVar Ball's family is tied to an international incident because this wacky season has to start this way.
Before Tuesday, LiAngelo Ball was the least familiar Ball brother. Then he and two of his teammates were arrested and charged with shoplifting during UCLA's trip to China, where the Bruins will face Georgia Tech (another school mired in controversy) in the season opener for both programs Friday. Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were released on bail Wednesday, but the severity of the ramifications they might face in a heavy-handed country is unknown. LiAngelo does not play like his flashier brothers, LaMelo and Lonzo. But he is the first Ball brother attached to international drama. How serious is this? LaVar Ball canceled a news conference to respond to his son's arrest after he received legal advice to stay quiet. That's a first.
But that isn't the only reason college basketball feels like a Netflix drama right now.
You know that moment in "Law & Order" when a bunch of people get busted, shocking their close friends and associates who never see it coming? That's college basketball right now. In September, the FBI unveiled a bribery scandal that resulted in the arrests of four Division I assistant coaches, the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, the second-guessing of multimillion-dollar deals between shoe companies and schools, and a damaging cloud that will linger throughout the season. Louisville five-star recruit Brian Bowen Jr. might never play college basketball after his father was accused of arranging a $100,000 deal with Adidas and Louisville coaches to guarantee his son's commitment to the Cardinals. That's just one of the dominoes. At the initial news conference, William Sweeney, New York FBI assistant director in charge, proclaimed, "We have your playbook." This and the plight of LiAngelo Ball are the most significant themes in college basketball right now.
Wait. Wasn't Louisville just involved in a scandal?
Yes. Confusing, we know. Louisville has appealed the sanctions (loss of scholarships, fines) from its sex-for-pay scandal two years ago. The NCAA has not yet alerted the school of any new charges stemming from the latest allegations.
But the NCAA has created the Commission on College Basketball to fix the broken culture.
The group is led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other non-basketball folks who have never been recruited or enticed by the agents and shoe companies they must thwart. This should work.
It isn't all drama and scandal, though. This next crop of freshmen will dazzle crowds all season.
Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr., Texas' Mohamed Bamba, Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Kentucky's Kevin Knox could play their way onto the first-team All-America lists by the end of the season.
What is PK80?
A massive tournament to honor shoe giant Phil Knight and his 80th birthday, and to try to draw attention back to basketball. The tournament is so vast that it will require two brackets and two venues. On the marquee: Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Gonzaga and 12 other teams.
But a Michigan State sophomore is the game's must-see player.
Miles Bridges, the consensus national preseason player of the year, averaged 16.9 PPG (39 percent from the 3-point line) and 8.3 RPG as a freshman last season. But he decided to wait on a projected eight-figure NBA contract to return and get better. How, Miles? How you gonna get better when you're great already?
The youth movement is relevant among coaches, too.
New Butler coach LaVall Jordan, a former player for the Bulldogs, is just 38 years old. Richard Pitino, 35, could lead Minnesota to its first Big Ten title in 20 years. David Padgett, Louisville's interim coach, is only 32. Florida's Mike White and Texas' Shaka Smart, who both recently turned 40, lead two of the most intriguing programs in America.
Veterans Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams still run the one-and-done era, though.
They're the only active coaches who have won multiple titles since the NBA instituted an age limit for draftees in 2006. Krzyzewski is leading a Duke squad that's favored to win the NCAA title. Grayson Allen, humbled after last season's suspension for multiple tripping incidents, returns, and he'll anchor a Blue Devils squad that features Marvin Bagley III and America's top recruiting class, per ESPN.com. Williams, fresh off last season's national championship run, will field a team with inexperienced big men but the leadership of Joel Berry II, the reigning Most Outstanding Player from the Final Four.
Didn't the NCAA threaten to take Williams' national title banners?
Yes. The NCAA investigated North Carolina's athletic department for years after accusing the school of arranging impermissible benefits for athletes in questionable courses. The final verdict? The NCAA penalized a professor this offseason. North Carolina's banners will stay.
But Williams has other problems. His starting point guard and Final Four star broke his hand over a video game.
North Carolina must wait for Berry to get healthy after he punched a wall when he lost to teammate Theo Pinson in "NBA 2K18" last month. Kids these days.
That isn't the only personnel challenge affecting a promising team entering the season.
Wichita State's Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, the team's top scorers a year ago, suffered offseason foot injuries. Shamet returned in the team's recent exhibition game, but McDuffie is still recovering. Kentucky's Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and Jemarl Barker (knee) could both miss the nonconference season with their injuries. We still aren't sure whether five-star recruit Brian Bowen Jr., the focus of the corruption scandal that cost Rick Pitino his job, will regain his eligibility to play this season, but he has hired a lawyer to fight for him. Georgia Tech's Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson have both been suspended indefinitely after the school recently self-reported NCAA violations. Alabama is still waiting for five-star standout Collin Sexton, reportedly tied to the FBI's corruption scandal, to earn clearance from the NCAA.
It's not just players. Notable coaches face an uncertain future, too.
Miami's Jim Larranaga, Arizona's Sean Miller, USC's Andy Enfield, Auburn's Bruce Pearl, Alabama's Avery Johnson and South Carolina's Frank Martin -- all connected to men who were arrested or players, agents and financial advisers who were cited in the investigation's documents -- will endure questions about their ties to the corruption scandal all season. That coupled with potential challenges on the court could alter their careers and cost them their jobs.
Arizona is a squad, however, that could end the season on top.
Deandre Ayton is a 7-foot monster and the greatest recruit of Sean Miller's tenure. With Allonzo Trier, a first-team member of the ESPN.com's preseason All-America squad, and Deandre Ayton, the Wildcats could dominate the Pac-12 and reach Miller's first Final Four months after former assistant Emmanuel "Book" Richardson was arrested after allegedly accepting a bribe to steer players to a financial adviser and agent implicated in the scheme.
The West Coast Conference is a giant geography quiz.
Jock Landale is a superstar and one of six Australians on Saint Mary's roster. Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura (Japan) and Killian Tillie (France) will play significant roles for the Bulldogs. San Diego's Cameron Neubauer (Germany) averaged 11.0 PPG last season. The tallest player on Loyola Marymount's roster is 7-foot-3 center Mattias Markusson of Sweden.
One of the tallest coaches in college basketball is Georgetown's Patrick Ewing.
He's the third coach to follow "Big" John Thompson Jr. at Georgetown and the third coach with direct ties to the legendary leader who led Ewing & Co. to the 1984 national championship.
John Calipari wishes he still had a few of the guys he sent to the NBA in recent years.
Calipari's current Kentucky squad is the youngest group of his tenure. Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel is the most experienced player on the roster. Five-star prospect Kevin Knox will try to lead the Wildcats to the SEC title and avoid a collapse comparable to the one suffered by the 2012-13 NIT squad.
Because the SEC is strong
Texas A&M features projected lottery pick Robert Williams. Georgia's Yante Maten is a double-double machine. Florida brought back the nucleus of an Elite Eight team and added Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov (18.2 PPG, 47.4 percent from the 3-point line). And Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. is one of the most talented players in the country and a potential No. 1 pick in next summer's NBA draft.
Meanwhile, Kansas wants to make history.
With Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, the Jayhawks look like Big 12 kings again. Bill Self has been winning Big 12 titles since 2005, two years before the first iPhone. But this year's squad could establish a Division I record of 14 consecutive conference crowns, topping the mark established by UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s.
There is an Angel chasing Villanova.
Villanova returns Jalen Brunson and adds former top-50 recruit Omari Spellman to a roster capable of winning a national championship. But Seton Hall and Angel Delgado, a 6-foot-10 titan who averaged 15.2 PPG and 13.1 RPG, could disrupt Villanova's path to the Big East title.
Jay Wright is still the undisputed king of fashion in college basketball.
Rick Pitino was his only true opponent. Now, Wright's tailor and hairstylist can live comfortably, knowing their client is unmatched.
Well, Northwestern is just worried about traffic.
The Wildcats, who reached the NCAA tournament for the first time last season, will play at Allstate Arena while Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes a $110 million renovation this season. Northwestern's goal? Get back to the tourney and avoid Chicago's hectic rush hour on the way to its temporary, off-campus home on game days.
The Big 12 should be worried about TCU.
Yes, TCU. Jamie Dixon led the Horned Frogs to the NIT title last season. With Vladimir Brodziansky (14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 77.5 percent from the free throw line) and the other anchors from that squad returning, TCU looks like a Big 12 sleeper and NCAA tournament team.
Wichita State is at ease in its new home.
The Shockers could win the American Athletic Conference title in their first season. But an aggressive Cincinnati squad and a Shake Milton-led SMU team will attempt to end those dreams.
Want to see fast breaks and dunks this season while you're watching from home?
Pay attention to freshman Lonnie Walker and Miami.
More of a fundamental basketball connoisseur?
Wisconsin's Ethan Happ won't crack every highlight reel. But America's most dominant two-way player will fight for the Wooden Award this season.
The player who deserves more preseason hype?
College basketball folks know Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson (17.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG). But he'll attract a larger audience this season. He deserves the attention.
A team more folks should be talking about?
Xavier. Trevon Bluiett led the Musketeers to the Elite Eight last season, and UW-Green Bay grad transfer Kerem Kanter will give Mack's team a versatile big man.
Do you dig tall, skilled players?
His name is Tacko Fall. Central Florida's star is a 7-6 center who made a ridiculous 72 percent of his shots last year. Watch him.
Overlooked player who could make a splash in March?
Maryland's Justin Jackson might play four positions for Mark Turgeon's squad this season and turn pro next summer.
But you won't have to wait until March to see great action.
Tuesday's Champions Classic will feature two Final Four-like matchups at the United Center in Chicago: Michigan State-Duke and Kansas-Kentucky. Your favorite NBA team's next rookie star might play in Tuesday's game. Don't miss it.
Finally, we're just glad college basketball is back.
Get your snacks. Alert your friends. And enjoy a season that might be unlike any we've ever experienced.