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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

College basketball's ultimate focus on March Madness provides a calming escape from the life-and-death nature of college football — so it's a good thing that beginning Tuesday we have both to choose from.

The big picture: With Michigan State heading up the men's poll and Oregon on top of the women's, there are a slew of storylines to follow as the season kicks off.

Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals
Men
  • The beginning of the end: The "one-and-done" era began in 2006 when the NBA implemented a controversial age eligibility rule. All signs point to that rule being changed back prior to the 2022 draft, restoring the legal right of 18-year-olds to declare out of high school. In other words, the sport you've come to know over the past decade-plus — the landscape you've grown so familiar with — might soon collapse into oblivion. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  • The Great Western Drought: It's been 23 years since a national champion emerged west of Lawrence, Kan. Heck, the Eastern Time Zone has produced 21 of the past 22 national titles! Will the drought continue? Gonzaga is probably the West's best bet.
  • Coaching carousel: Former NBA coaches Juwan Howard (Michigan), Jerry Stackhouse (Vanderbilt) and Fred Hoiberg (Nebraska) go back to school. Also: Mick Cronin (Cincy to UCLA), Eric Musselman (Nevada to Arkansas), Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech to Texas A&M), and many more switched jobs.
Expand chart
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals
Women
  • The year of Sabrina: Sabrina Ionescu averaged 19.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.2 assists last year, led Oregon to the Final Four and has 18 career triple-doubles — a record for both men and women. When she spurned the WNBA to return for her senior season, she instantly became the face of the sport. Next up: Becoming the first player, man or woman, to record 2,000 points, 1,000 boards and 1,000 assists in a career.
  • Pac-12 rising: With Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State all ranked in the preseason top 7 — and UCLA at No. 11 — the Pac-12 could become the first conference to ever have three No. 1 seeds. Even if they don't, this should be the most thrilling season in recent memory for a league that hasn't won a national title since 1992 (Stanford).
  • Changing of the guard: Oregon is No. 1 for the first time ever, while longtime power Tennessee isn't in the preseason Top 25 for the first time in 43 years. Meanwhile, No. 5 UConn remains a giant, but other top-tier programs have closed the gap that once existed between the Huskies and everyone else.

Go deeper: This decade's college hoops champs, ranked

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.