The drought could be over in Los Angeles. After a three-year hiatus to permit everyone else to fight over the crown, the UCLA Bruins are ready to again step forward and claim the national college basketball championship.
Despite a young and exiting Duke team, a magical Michigan State and a roughhouse Notre Dame - all capable of taking the title - the Bruins figure to be the team to beat this season.
"If we don't win the NCAA championship this year, it'll be our own fault," said 6-foot-9 All-American forward David Greenwood.
Greenwood may be the best big man in college basketball this season, but he is one of only four returning UCLA starters. Another is guard Roy Hamilton, who shot a UCLA record for a guard, 54 percent, from the field last year and is a steady and highly efficient ball handler.
It shouldn't hurt the Bruins that their first eight games are at Pauley Pavilion. They are 201-6 at that home arena.
If the Bruins should stumble, the young Blue Devils, last year's NCAA runner-up, probably will not. They have one of the more fun-to-watch teams and have their five starters back, plus a more-than-adequate bench.
Guard Jim Spanarkel, forward Eugene Banks and center Mike Gminski are as good at their positions as anyone in the college ranks.
Perhaps Duke's only weakness is that last year they were exclusively a zone defense team. It's been a long time since a zone team has won the national championship.
Michigan State, much like Duke, came practically out of nowhere last year with a young team and will be even better this year.
The Spartans perhaps have the most exiting player in college basketball today in sophomore Earvin (Magic) Johnson.
The 6-7 sophomore guard-forward had 222 assists last year and if he could shoot, he'd be the greatest thing to hit the game since the jump shot.
Alas, it is a jump shot that Johnson lacks. He did average 17 points a game last season and says he found his missing jumper during the summer. If he's telling the truth, look out.
Notre Dame is missing Dave Batton and Duck Williams from last year's final four team, but Digger Phelps has 10 players back and the Irish will be as rough inside as even Phelps could want.
There is more than enough muscle for the Irish to bogart their way to the title with 6-11 Bill Laimbeer, 6-9 Bruce Flowers and 6-7 Kelly Tripucka. Rich Branning is the ideal ball-handling guard for that team.
Syracuse has 6-11 center Roosevelt Bouie, who will be one of the best big men around. A fairly easy schedule should keep the Orangemen winning, at least until tournament time.
Michigan State isn't the only Big Ten team with style and a shot at the top this year. Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana are capable of making a run of it.
Michigan was only one player away from a great team last year and they have the player this year in Phil Hubbard.
It's the same Phil Hubbard who was an All-American two years ago and a 1976 Olympic before tearing his knee and having to sit out last season.
The Southwest Conference is a fastrising basketball conference. Houston is good, Texas A&M will be strong, Arkansas was third in the NCAA finals last year and Texas won the NIT champ. Only Arkansas will not be as good as it was last year. Others will be better.
The Razorbacks have one of the nation's best and nicest coaches in Eddie Sutton, but they lost Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer. Coming back is Sidney Moncrief, a smooth, high flying 6-4 All-American guard-forward.
Texas has its top four scorers and top two rebounders back, along with Abe Lemons, one of the funniest coaches in the country. Sharpshooting guard Jim Krivacs, with his 22-point average last year, continues as team leader.
Denny Crum has a powerhouse brewing in Louisville, too, with Darrell Griffith, Bobby Turner and Larry Williams still around and first-class freshman coming in.
Individually, Bill Cartwright of USF, Ronnie Perry of Holy Cross, James Bailey of Rutgers, Albert King of Maryland, Larry Bird of Indiana State and Mike O'Koren of North Carolina are standouts.
Last year's national champions, Kentucky, lost two All-Americans, Rick Robey and Jack Givens, but brought in two of the most sought-after freshmen in Dwight Anderson and Clarence Tillman. The Wildcats will be trying to go from a big muscle team to a speed-oriented fast-break team and will probably have a difficult transition.