For the basketball fanatic, the 31 days of March are without question the best of the year. There are games galore, beginning with the decisive games of the regular season, followed by the conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament.

What is perhaps most fun about the month -- other than the games themselves -- are the debates. Who should get into the NCAA tournament? The NIT? Who is the player of the year? Who should make all-America? All-conference? Coach of the year?

Then there are the coaching rumors. Is Tennessee's Don DeVoe going to Ohio State? (Probably.) Will Navy Coach Paul Evans be offered the Pittsburgh job? (Good chance.)

And who among the top underclassmen will leave college early? St. John's Walter Berry? (Likely.) Kansas' Danny Manning? (Unlikely.) N.C. State's Chris Washburn? (Possible.) UCLA's Reggie Miller? (Possible.)

Another question: Should Maryland's Lefty Driesell, who pulled a tattered team together after a 0-6 ACC start to finish 6-8, be ACC coach of the year?

It's certainly worth considering, although Georgetown Coach John Thompson -- speaking generally and not about this specific situation -- maintains that it is tougher to be picked near the top and finish there than to be picked low and finish a little higher. Maryland was picked sixth in the ACC in the preseason and finished sixth.

The pick here, with apologies to Driesell, is Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Picked third, the Blue Devils finished first, winning their last eight ACC games to do it.

Player of the year is a different story. Johnny Dawkins is great and Duke finished first, but without Len Bias, Maryland couldn't beat North Carolina-Charlotte, much less North Carolina. He has to be ACC player of the year.

In the Big East, there are no tough choices. Berry is clearly the player of the year, and his coach, Lou Carnesecca, is coach of the year. He and Krzyzewski should be the leading national candidates for coach of the year.

But a big nod also should go to Providence's Rick Pitino, who made the Friars competitive again very quickly. Another nod goes to Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, who actually has developed something resembling a half-court game this season. He still has yet to play one second of defense, however.

One other kudos: Among all the top freshmen in the country, one who has played superbly and gone almost unnoticed is Notre Dame's Mark Stevenson. Since he entered the starting lineup, the Irish have been a much more solid and consistent team. Most improved player? Might be St. John's point guard Mark Jackson, who has gone from part-time player to the national leader in assists.

And here are The Post's three basketball writers' picks for all-America:

Sally Jenkins -- First team: Berry, Bias, Dawkins, David Robinson of Navy and Dell Curry of Virginia Tech. Second team: Scott Skiles of Michigan State, Bruce Dalrymple of Georgia Tech, Washburn, David Henderson of Duke and Roy Tarpley of Michigan.

Michael Wilbon -- First team: Berry, Bias, Dawkins, Skiles, Robinson. Second team: Reggie Williams of Georgetown, Ron Harper of Miami (Ohio), Brad Daugherty of North Carolina, Ron Kellogg of Kansas and Ken Norman of Illinois.

John Feinstein -- First team: Bias, Berry, Dawkins, Skiles and Harper. Second team: Daugherty, Robinson, Curry, Steve Alford of Indiana and Manning.

Today was a big day for Indiana Coach Bob Knight. First, his Hoosiers defeated Iowa, 80-73, putting them in a first-place tie in the Big Ten with Michigan and giving them a 20-6 record. Then one of his coaching proteges, Krzyzewski, won the ACC title, and another, Bob Weltlich of Texas, tied for the Southwest Conference title. Also, Tom Miller of Cornell, another Knight protege, lost the Ivy League by one game to Brown.

Quote of the week: Iowa Coach George Raveling to the officials during today's loss, after the clock started too soon near game's end: "The only thing that shouldn't have started today is this game, with you guys being allowed to officiate."

The Upset Pick -- in a major upset -- finally won one last week. Special thanks to Norman Sloan and Florida for beating Alabama to make the record 6-9. This week: There is only one possible game to pick: Charles G. Driesell shocks the world -- not to mention Dean Smith -- and beats North Carolina in the opening round of the ACC tournament. Yes, Dean, there is a Lefty.