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Drawing the new line

Dufresne is a Times staff writer.

Basketball has arrived, it’s exciting, but we all need to relax and take a step back.

How far?

Try one foot.

The most dramatic change in college basketball is not the loss of analyst Billy Packer from NCAA tournament coverage.

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It won’t be Lute Olson’s retirement at Arizona -- he didn’t coach at Arizona last year.

It’s not that the president-elect’s brother-in-law/coach has become head of state at Oregon State, which picked up zero (out of 18 possible) electoral votes in last year’s Pacific 10 Conference race.

The big news is a line that had been drawn on the court has been redrawn.

The three-point parabola has been pushed back 12 inches, from 19 feet 9 inches to 20 feet 9 inches.

It’s not a rule change dramatically comparable to, say, outlawing long shorts, but it leads our list of this season’s top 10 topics.

1. I’m still open!

Will players jacking up threes this year need eye surgery to see the rim? No, one foot -- think of a Dodger Dog -- is not that big of a deal . . . or is it?

Washington State Coach Tony Bennett, the NCAA’s all-time leader in three-point field-goal percentage at .497, said his players have had a tough time adjusting.

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“Their feet are all over the line when they’re shooting,” Bennett said. “This will maybe make some of those guys be more selective with the shots.”

Oregon Coach Ernie Kent didn’t think the rules should have been messed with, but since they were, he offered, “I really think it’s going to bring back the mid-range game.”

The line was moved back with the idea that it would unclog the middle and open up the game.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland thinks the rule might backfire.

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“You’re going to see a slower-paced game,” he said.

2. The drive to four

Old-timers at UCLA don’t get too worked up over Final Four appearances. The Bruins went to 10 straight under John Wooden from 1967-76. Yet, UCLA’s current streak of three straight Final Fours is certainly modern-day impressive, even if the Bruins have not cashed in with a national title.

If UCLA makes it to Detroit this year, Howland would be in rarefied air. The only streaks longer would be UCLA’s 10 straight, and five straight appearances by Duke (1988-92) and Cincinnati (1959-63).

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3. Life without Lute

The Pac-10 will be different without Olson, forced by health issues to resign before the start of the season.

“He changed the place,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said, “and he changed the place forever. Nobody with the exception of Coach Wooden has had the success he’s had in this league.”

Olson’s departure could shift the in-state paradigm to Arizona State, rising fast under third-year Coach Herb Sendek. The Sun Devils were picked to finish second behind UCLA in the Pac-10.

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With hotshot recruits suddenly making other plans, can Arizona interim Coach Russ Pennell hold the program together? At risk this season is Arizona’s streak of 24 straight NCAA appearances.

4. Old faces, new places

Follow the bouncing coaches . . .

* Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana.

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* Keno Davis cashed out at Davidson and is now at Providence.

* Bill Bayno ditched NBA assistant-coach comfort for the discomfort of Loyola Marymount.

Bayno claimed last month that LMU would be the first school in NCAA history to start five freshmen.

What about Michigan’s Fab Five?

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“Two years in a row,” Bayno quipped.

* Tom Asbury is back at Pepperdine. Like Bayno, Asbury faces a major overhaul project, but you can’t beat the on-campus lodging.

Asbury: “I live four speed bumps from my office.”

* Former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, who couldn’t resist the NBA cash dash, is back in the Pac-10 . . . only this time at California.

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* Johnny Dawkins, longtime assistant at Duke, takes over at Stanford for Trent Johnson, who left for Louisiana State.

5. How long before

the tourney starts?

Come now, kids, the college regular season isn’t just two Atlantic Coast Conference games between North Carolina and Duke.

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There’s um, well, let me think. . . . Actually, if things break right, we could get early tournament games pairing UCLA and Duke, Davidson at Oklahoma.

Texas and Oklahoma could meet in a semifinal of the Maui Invitational, with the winner playing North Carolina.

6. Call it . . . the Big Beast

The Big East received eight NCAA bids last season, but there’s speculation the conference may be worthy of 10 in 2009. Those 10 might be: Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Marquette, Louisville, West Virginia and Providence.

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Get this: Syracuse, which won 21 games last season, was picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches’ poll.

And once again, Notre Dame’s basketball team, led by a Luke (Harangody), is better than Notre Dame’s football team, led by a Jimmy (Clausen).

7. Thanks for stopping . . . bye

Last year saw a mass exodus of one-and-done players: Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose.

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Here are the freshmen you may want to catch before they take their games to a higher tax bracket: Samardo Samuels (center, Louisville), Jrue Holiday (guard, UCLA), B.J. Mullens (center, Ohio State), DeMar DeRozan (forward, USC).

8. All-name team

Say hello if you see them: Olek Czyz (Duke), Dogus Balbay (Texas), Idong Ibok (Michigan State), Tweety Carter (Baylor), Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Derwin Kitchen (Florida State), Orion Outerbridge (Rhode Island), Papa Dia (Southern Methodist), Chop Tang (Wisconsin-Green Bay), Takayo Siddle (Gardner-Webb), “Noopy” Crater (Ohio State), Trian Illiadis (Old Dominion; hometown Gwelp, Australia).

9. Can anyone stop

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North Carolina?

No, and yes. North Carolina, led by senior center Tyler Hansbrough, should dominate the regular season and keep Dick Vitale’s throat doctor employed well into winter.

The Tar Heels are the first unanimous No. 1 pick by the Associated Press since the preseason poll began in 1981-82.

The problem is winning six single-elimination games in the NCAA tournament, where a sweat spot on the floor, calling time out when you don’t have one, a bad official’s call, or a school from Valparaiso can all knock you out.

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No one has to remind North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. In 1997, his star-studded No. 1 Kansas team, led by Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, lost in the tournament to Arizona, which finished fifth in the Pac-10.

10. Final Four picks

It will be cold. The event is being staged in Detroit. We envision sidewalk ice sculptures of Coach Wooden and James Naismith.

Final Four teams: North Carolina, UCLA, Connecticut, Gonzaga . . . or four other schools.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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