Answer: College basketball.
Thanks to the NBA's new rule requiring high school players to wait an extra year before going pro, college basketball has gotten the same injection of year-to-year volatility previously reserved for the National Football League. And at the risk of making a hasty generalization, I think it's made things profoundly more interesting.
Standing at the dawn of a new season, it's almost like last year never happened. Everything is different. Teams are forced to rebuild. Expectations have changed. Even coaches have shuffled. And it's clearer now than ever before that any team can compete with perennial powers simply by adding a freshman phenom -- say, oh, a Derrick Rose -- to the roster.
So to prepare for the 2007-2008 college basketball season, let's hand out some pre-season hardware to put you in a basketball frame of mind and clue you in on how this year is shaping up...
To North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, the main character in the Tar Heels' inevitable title run and the slam-dunk favorite for National Player of the Year. Hansbrough's fiery temperament was more than evident in last season's late-season matchup with Duke, as was his moxie in the NCAA tournament when he ditched his protective facemask and gamed on. One thing's for sure: come hell or high water, Hansbrough will be a force with which to be reckoned and is likely to see more double teams than Michael Jordan in Spacejam.
To Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, who's about as perfect an ambassador for the cellular phone industry as any human walking the planet. Anyone else think Sampson is in the wrong profession? Shouldn't he be selling Treos at the local mall? Couldn't he replace that dorky Verizon guy or that teenage girl in the Cingular commercials texting her "BFF Jill"? Would anyone be opposed to this? Heck, Sampson's already been docked $500,000 for repeatedly violating the NCAA's rules on phone usage -- the man is obviously missing his calling. Why not switch careers?
To any player who chooses to style his hair before a basketball game. This has been a mammoth pet peeve of mine dating back to the college years of Bobby Sura. Why even bother if you're just going to run around and sweat like a spigot? Scouts don't grade hair styles, do they? Never could understand that one. As of now, there are no frontrunners, but keep your eyes peeled for some obscure white guy who averages eight minutes per game. He's the usual suspect.
To USC freshman O.J. Mayo, easily the best freshman in college basketball. Just ask him. Mayo enters USC with as much hype -- and even more baggage -- than dynamic freshmen of the past, and seems a mortal lock to declare for the NBA the second USC's season ends. But here's the better question: Is Mayo more likely to lead all freshman in scoring or disciplinary problems? Let's hope Mayo doesn't end up being the next Pacman Jones.
To fans of the Kansas State Wildcats, who despite having older options will clearly forge a full-fledged love affair with freshman forward Michael Beasley before season's end. Beasley enters K-State the lone relic from the short-lived Bob Huggins regime and already figures to be the Wildcats' go-to guy after pouring in 32 and 30 points, respectively, in his first two games. Unfortunately, the "Beastly" era in Manhattan could be just as short, as Beasley figures to be a top NBA prospect come April.
To UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, whose full name makes him sound like a combination between a Canadian hockey player and Manute Bol. All kidding aside, this Cameroonian prince -- no really, he's a prince in his native village -- has the quirkiest name on a squad featuring more diversity than Ellis Island. UCLA's roster is a virtual spelling bee unto itself, ranging from toughies like Lorenzo Mata-Real, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, Alfred Aboya, and Nikola Dragovic to cakewalks such as Matt Lee, Michael Roll, Josh Shipp, and of course, Kevin Love.
To the Davidson Wildcats, who almost dumped top-ranked North Carolina on Tuesday in Charlotte and could very well be this year's Cinderella. There's a problem, however: everybody already knows about this Cinderella. Davidson is the proverbial middle-of-the-road chick from high school that got progressively hotter with each passing year. Now, the Wildcats can't sneak up on anybody, especially with super sophomore Stephen Curry pouring in 25 points per night. Keep Davidson on your radar when filling out your brackets in March.
To the Duke Blue Devils, whose roster is predictably smarter, whiter, and smaller than most of its ACC competition. With only one player taller than 6-foot-8 (Brian Zoubek), you can almost feel another season entirely dependent on the three-point shot. And that usually spells an unceremonious exit from the NCAA tournament in the second or third round against a less prestigious mid-major.
To Florida's Billy Donovan, who opted out of his deal with the Gators and accepted a position with the Orlando Magic ... before changing his mind and crawling back to Gainesville two days later. Well, that was fun. Donovan's departure from Florida would've been a Piston Honda punch to the program at a rebuilding point in its evolution, and the Gators would've lost not only college's premiere coach but also the best male-pattern baldness in the game.
To Jay Bilas, whose linguistic experiments during the college basketball season will undoubtedly have dictionaries around the world adding four-letter words to their pages. If it seems like I've given this award to Bilas before, it's because I have. Any announcer worthy of his own drinking game -- don't worry, I'll invent one this season -- is deserving of this award whenever possible.
Ty Hildenbrandt writes Campus Quick Slants every Wednesday. E-mail Ty at email@example.com with your comments, questions and random observations.