College Basketball Nation: Indiana Hoosiers
Here are a few surprises from the initial set of rankings:
Buzz Williams (No. 38): Marquette entered last season as the favorite to win the title in the (new) Big East’s first season. The Golden Eagles fell short of those expectations when they finished sixth and missed the NCAA tournament. Not the best regular season for Williams, who left to fill Virginia Tech’s opening a few weeks ago, but Marquette was coming off a shared league title in a much tougher version of the conference. The Golden Eagles split that 2012-13 crown with a Louisville team that won the national championship that season and a Georgetown team that looked like a Final Four squad before Dunk City ruined those plans in the opening round. Marquette made five consecutive NCAA tourney appearances (2009-2013) under Williams. That run included two Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight run in 2013. Nothing against Colorado's Tad Boyle (No. 34) and Nebraska's Tim Miles (No. 32) -- both good coaches -- but they can’t match that. Seems too low for Williams.
Archie Miller (No. 26): Miller is no longer just Sean Miller’s brother; he has his own legacy now. Last season, he not only led Dayton to its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2009 but also guided the program to its first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years. It was an impressive feat. The Flyers won 26 games as Miller became one of the hottest young coaches in the game with that memorable tournament run. But No. 26 in the rankings? It’s only Miller’s third season as a head coach. Although he's done more in three seasons than other coaches with lengthier résumés have achieved in their careers, longevity has to be a factor, and it’s too early to know whether Miller will continue this success in the coming years. Plus, he has to turn Dayton into a consistent contender for the A-10 crown. He definitely has the tools to get there, but No. 26 might be premature.
John Thompson III (No. 46): Georgetown struggled in the new Big East last season. After losing key pieces from the previous season, the Hoyas finished seventh in league play. Plus, the 2012-13 Georgetown team lost in a major upset to Florida Gulf Coast in the Big Dance. But the program also has won or shared three Big East championships and reached the Final Four in 2007 and the Sweet 16 in 2006 under JTIII. Those achievements seem ancient now, though; Thompson has amassed a 2-5 record in the NCAA tournament since that Final Four appearance. That’s why JTIII barely cracked the top 50 in these rankings. But again, he has a résumé that surpasses what some of the coaches ranked ahead of him have.
Scott Drew (No. 50, tie): Drew is one of the most polarizing coaches in college basketball. Ask other coaches or media folks about him, and they’ll probably express an extreme view. The people who think he’s a bad coach think he’s a really bad coach. The folks who think those critics are just haters believe that he’s flawless. The truth, as it is with any coach, is somewhere in the middle. But here’s the reality: Drew turned Baylor into a player on the national scene after a major scandal nearly crippled the program before his arrival in 2003. Drew’s talent hasn’t always matched his team’s results. Last season, Baylor began Big 12 play with eight losses in 10 games, but the Bears recovered and reached the Big 12 tournament championship game and the Sweet 16. Drew has guided Baylor to four NCAA tourney appearances and two Elite Eight berths. Baylor had reached the NCAA tournament only four times before his arrival. He’s certainly guilty of missed opportunities and in-game coaching errors, but Tubby Smith (No. 39), Jim Crews (No. 29) and Ed Cooley (No. 41) can’t match his achievements over the past six seasons. An argument, a strong one, could be made that Drew deserves a higher ranking.
Some of the best one-on-one matchups will take place before the 2014-15 season tips off. They will come in the form of position battles within a team to determine a starter, which will in some cases shape an entire lineup.
Starting with point guard, ESPN.com will examine those quiet battles on a position-by-position basis this week while also promising we will never use the phrase "iron sharpens iron" to describe the competition.
Here are shooting guard battles to keep an eye on:
As C.L. noted Monday, Sulaimon won a big share of Quinn Cook's perimeter minutes down the stretch of the 2013-14 season, and there's good reason to be very bullish about Sulaimon's junior season. I'm so bullish Virginia fans thought I included Sulaimon at the expense of Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon last week. Brogdon was a regrettable omission, but I do think Sulaimon is "worth watching" for a whole variety of reasons, and this list is one of them. If Sulaimon has the same kind of early-season struggles as last season, he'll have a very capable five-star shooting guard in Allen just waiting to soak up his minutes at the 2 -- not to mention the chance that Coach K could decide to play Tyus Jones and Cook together. There is competition for minutes all over the Duke backcourt. If Sulaimon plays a lot, that means he'll be playing well.
Kentucky's most fascinating positional intrigue will come from the frontcourt, where John Calipari has approximately 754 NBA-prospect forwards to parse into some recognizable rotation. It's harder to imagine him shaking things up in the backcourt after March's runner-up run, especially now that the Harrisons seem to have figured things out. But Booker is absolutely a player to watch, especially if one or both of the Harrisons regress.
If trades were allowed in college basketball -- maybe this could be one of the hidden upsides of unionization! -- Indiana would be burning up the phones. The Hoosiers have real holes in their frontcourt after losing freshmen Noah Vonleh (to the lottery) and Luke Fischer (to transfer). But boy, do they have guards: Besides star point guard Yogi Ferrell, there's fan favorite Robinson, 6-foot-7 wing Troy Williams, and now two top-rated incoming freshmen. Five-star prospect Blackmon is too good to sit on the bench, but where does that leave Johnson, the No. 10-ranked shooting guard in the class? There are a lot of bodies here. The best possible outcome is that Tom Crean has a ton of 2005-era Phoenix Suns tape on his shelf, says "hey, why not," puts Williams at the center, and plays 80 possessions a game.
Illinois: Kendrick Nunn versus Ahmad Starks
John Groce has a bunch of starters back and an interesting little backcourt situation on his hands. Nunn looked promising as a freshman, but Starks was a knockdown shooter for Oregon State, and it's not like Rayvonte Rice is going to be giving up any of his minutes.
Given how awful Virginia Tech was last year, new coach Buzz Williams will put his best players on the floor regardless. But it is worth noting that his best players -- and the three best players in his four-person recruiting class -- are all designated as shooting guards. Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs are both top-100 guys, and Jalen Hudson should get some run, too.
Francis won't unseat Frazier -- you don't bench a guy who made 118 of his 264 3s a season ago -- but Francis may work his way into the backcourt as a more versatile change of pace if Frazier doesn't add a skill or two to his offensive set.
North Carolina, sort of
Having lost Leslie McDonald to graduation, J.P. Tokoto may now be the closest thing the Tar Heels will have to a shooting guard in 2014-15. The good news: Tokoto is a tough, physical player who excels in transition, and he's even better on the defensive end. The downside: He can't shoot. The question here is which of the Tar Heels' incoming players can provide perimeter production. Small forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson are both top-10 overall players in the incoming class, and point guard Joel Berry may be able to play off the ball a bit as well. There isn't a good way to describe this personnel in the context of just one position. Save Marcus Paige, the shape of UNC's backcourt is very much up for grabs.
For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.
The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.
The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.
The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.
Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.
As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.
From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:
1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.
2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.
3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.
4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.
5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”
6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.
7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.
8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.
9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.
10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.
11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.
12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.
13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.
14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.
For the first time since the end of the season, the coaches finally know whom they will have and whom they won’t for next season.
Here are the winners and losers after the early-entry deadline. Keep in mind, some teams -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Arizona State and Tennessee -- knew long ago they would be losing players, so they don’t fit in either category.
Kentucky: The Wildcats could have been starting from scratch again next season. The players would have had plenty of reason to bolt after making the national title game. But only two did, and the Wildcats can absorb the losses of Julius Randle and James Young. The decisions by Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to stay, coupled with newcomers Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., give Kentucky a deeper and more versatile frontcourt. The return of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison means coach John Calipari doesn’t need to restart his perimeter. Kentucky is probably the only program in the country that can be in the winners column by losing two lottery picks because of the NBA draft-level depth of the freshman and sophomore classes.
Wisconsin: The Badgers were within one stop of advancing to the national title game before Aaron Harrison’s 3-point dagger in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky easily could have put their postgame emotions behind them and said goodbye to Madison. But they did not. The return of the two scorers -- one on the wing and one inside and out -- means the Badgers have enough returning to be a Big Ten preseason favorite, a top-five team and a national title contender.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels were in a danger zone. UNC lost James Michael McAdoo, who had been inconsistent at times during his career. It could have seen point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson bolt too. But that didn’t happen. Having Paige return is huge for coach Roy Williams. Paige will be the preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year. His return was a must for UNC to be a conference title contender.
Louisville: The Cardinals had the most electric frontcourt player in the American last season in Montrezl Harrell. Few players could keep him off the backboard when he was going for a flush. The Cardinals continue to reload but don’t need to restart in the ACC sans Harrell. They won’t have to with his return.
Arkansas: The Hogs were a bit of an enigma last season with a sweep of Kentucky and a near-miss overtime loss at home to Florida. But the chances for Arkansas to make the NCAA tournament next season under Mike Anderson would have been reduced considerably if 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis and 6-6 Michael Qualls declared for the draft. Anderson was pleased to report Sunday that they did not.
Nebraska: The goodwill created by the Huskers’ run to the NCAA tournament could have been snuffed out if Terran Petteway was romanced by the good fortune and declared for the NBA draft. But he chose against it, and as a result Nebraska should be in the top six in the Big Ten and competing for a bid again.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers had moments last season when they looked like an NCAA tournament team. They should be next season with the decision by point guard Juwan Staten to return to Morgantown. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He will enter the season with a strong case to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
Oregon: The Ducks are constantly in transition but needed some sort of consistency from one season to another with a key transfer. Joseph Young had the goods to declare. But he’s coming back to give them a legitimate scorer going into next season and an all-Pac-12 player in the quest to return to the NCAA tournament.
Utah: Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes on the verge of being an NCAA tournament team. That plan could have easily been derailed if Delon Wright took the bait of being a possible first-round pick. Wright’s return means the Utes will be an upper-half Pac-12 team and a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament.
UCLA: The Bruins found out late Saturday night that Jordan Adams was gone. He joins Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine. That means four of five starters are not back from the Pac-12 tournament champs. Steve Alford has a stellar recruiting class, but this team will be extremely young.
Michigan: The Wolverines are a prisoner of their own success. Nik Stauskas was hardly a two-year player when he was signed. But he matured into a Big Ten Player of the Year. He jumped with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who had no choice after a one-year ban because of a failed drug test for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines will enter a new era under John Beilein.
Syracuse: Tyler Ennis was probably more of a two-year point guard when he was signed. But he was one of the best players in the country as a freshman and capitalized on his success by leaving for the lottery. Jerami Grant's departure means the Orange will look quite a bit different in their second year in the ACC.
Missouri: The Tigers lost coach Frank Haith to Tulsa and their two best players in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. They will be pushing a restart button next season.
Xavier: The Musketeers had one of the most dynamic players in the Big East last season in Semaj Christon. Xavier is never down, but this presents yet another challenge for Chris Mack.
New Mexico: Alex Kirk was a potential early entrant. Add his departure to the known exits of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams and the Lobos are rebuilding under Craig Neal.
Clemson: The Tigers had serious momentum with a strong finishing kick led by K.J. McDaniels. Brad Brownell always finds a way to keep his teams competitive. He’ll need to reinvent the team again with the loss of McDaniels.
Oregon State: The Beavers had a real gem in Eric Moreland, if he came back to work on his skills. He is tantalizing with his length and athleticism for the NBA, but he leaves the Beavers as a raw product when he and Oregon State could have benefited from his return.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have recruited at a high level the past four years under Tom Crean. Noah Vonleh is the latest to bolt. The problem for the Hoosiers is that he left a year too early, before he could have a full effect on the program with an NCAA berth.
NC State: The Wolfpack made a remarkable late surge to the NCAA tournament and won a game in the First Four before a late-game loss to Saint Louis in the round of 64. They had the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack were supposed to be rebuilding last season and at times looked the part. But the run to the tournament changed the narrative. Now, with Warren gone, the rebuild might be underway.
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were a disappointment last season even with Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. Now they’re both off to the NBA draft, putting more pressure on Dave Rice to keep the Rebels chasing San Diego State, among others, next season.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player and leader in Aaron Craft. Now one of their top scorers is gone, too, with LaQuinton Ross' decision to declare.
Arizona: The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson -- two significant body blows. But the return of Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, coupled with another elite recruiting class led by Stanley Johnson, means the Wildcats will be the pick to win the Pac-12.
UConn: The Huskies could afford to lose DeAndre Daniels with the addition of transfer Rodney Purvis but couldn’t handle the loss of Ryan Boatright. His return gives Kevin Ollie a lead guard to run the offense and jump-start the defense. No one will pick the defending champs to win the title again, but that’s exactly how UConn likes the odds.
LSU: Johnny Jones knew he was likely going to lose Johnny O’Bryant III, but there were questions about whether he would be without freshmen bigs Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. He got them both back, and the Tigers should be in contention for the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t surprised Gary Harris left after two seasons. But Michigan State would have taken an even deeper dip if Branden Dawson had jumped at the chance for the NBA. Dawson wasn’t a lock for the first round. He took the advice and stayed.
There was no denying the Big Ten had its share of great teams, with Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State all ranking in the top 10 at some point in 2013-14. But the league finished yet another season without having the best team in the nation. The Big Ten’s national championship drought added another year of distance since its last glory year, when the Spartans cut down the nets in 2000.
As an indication of the conference's depth, Minnesota brought home the NIT championship.
What we saw this season:
Michigan seemingly reinvented itself during the course of the season. Mitch McGary was expected to play a big role for the Wolverines, but he was hampered by a back injury that eventually sidelined him for the last half of the season. Nik Stauskas helped shoot them out of disappointment as they captured the league’s regular-season title.
Wisconsin abandoned the methodical style that had come to define it during Bo Ryan’s tenure, and became a team with enough offensive weapons to outscore its opponents. Despite losing five of six during a stretch in conference play, the Badgers bounced back to reach their first Final Four since 2000 and the first under Ryan.
Michigan State was arguably the best team in the nation before injuries sabotaged its national title hopes. The Spartans battled through those injuries and were again a popular pick as a No. 4 seed to win it all when the NCAA tournament began. They were eliminated by eventual national champion UConn in the Elite Eight. It marked the first time a group of seniors who stayed four years under coach Tom Izzo did not appear in a Final Four.
And what team proved to be more resilient than Nebraska? The Cornhuskers, picked to finish 12th in the conference’s preseason media poll, started conference play 1-5. Coach Tim Miles held his team together and guided it to an 11-4 record -- with wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State -- to close out the season. The Cornhuskers finished fourth in the league standings and earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1997-98.
Iowa and Ohio State went from hot to not and fizzled down the stretch. The Hawkeyes had problems stopping opponents, and the Buckeyes had trouble scoring. Ultimately both fizzled out of the NCAA tournament without winning a game.
Minnesota’s Richard Pitino and Northwestern’s Chris Collins, a pair of first-year coaches, gave a possible glimpse of what is to come. Pitino rejuvenated the Gophers in leading them to the NIT championship. Collins led the Wildcats to a pair of upsets over ranked teams in Wisconsin and Illinois.
What we expect to see next season:
The Big Ten title could be Wisconsin’s to claim. The Badgers again have a chance to be a special team, returning all of their key players except guard Ben Brust. Center Frank Kaminsky will be a household name in college basketball circles thanks to his NCAA tournament performance. Rising sophomore forward Nigel Hayes is poised for a breakout season in what should be an expanded role.
Wisconsin will hang with the nation’s elites next season, but not many others in the Big Ten will be considered very highly -- at least, that will be the case early on.
Michigan State and Michigan both took big hits with departing players. The Wolverines lost both Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA draft. McGary still has until April 27 to decide if he’ll join them in turning pro. If he leaves, the Wolverines won’t have any starters from their 2012-2013 team that played in the national title game. They won’t be devoid of talent, with Caris Levert and ever-improving Derrick Walton Jr., returning, but they will be rebuilding.
The Spartans will face a similar retooling after Gary Harris announced he would forgo his final two seasons and enter the draft. Branden Dawson could have made it a devastating loss, but he will be back for his senior season. And Izzo will be welcoming new talent, such as point guard Lourawls Nairn.
Iowa and Minnesota are positioned to make a move into the league’s upper echelon, as both are expected to return key rotation players. Illinois brings back one of the league’s best scorers in Rayvonte Rice. Nebraska will be out to prove this past season was no fluke. The Huskers return Terran Petteway, who led the Big Ten in scoring with 18.1 points per game.
Indiana returns arguably the league’s best point guard in Yogi Ferrell and will add a couple of big scorers to its mix, led by James Blackmon Jr.
There will be plenty of new names to usher in next season across the Big Ten. Ohio State welcomes a recruiting class -- led by guard D'Angelo Russell -- ranked fifth by ESPN.com Recruiting Nation that could thrust it back into the Top 25.
It will be a bit of an adjustment seeing Maryland and Rutgers count as Big Ten conference games next season, as both teams will be making their league debut.
Connecticut’s national title as a No. 7 seed provided the conclusive evidence of what we knew early on in the 2013-14 men’s college basketball season. There was no dominant team. Arizona settled down the revolving door of No. 1 teams -- the Wildcats were the third to hold the mantle just six weeks into the polls, and their eight weeks atop the Associated Press poll was the longest of the five teams (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Florida) to be ranked No. 1. With the odds of winning the Billion Dollar Bracket already outrageous, parity in college basketball made it downright impossible.
With the book finally written on the season, here are the chapters we’ll remember most:
Freedom of movement: Officials were quick to say this season they weren’t creating new rules, they were enforcing the old ones. College basketball had become too defensive, the critics said. Physical play was ruining the game. The season started with an emphasis on allowing freedom of movement and handchecking was called to the point of being a “touch foul.” Players, coaches and officials alike never came to a consensus of understanding how a block/charge would be called. While scoring on the whole increased slightly, there was no denying that foul calls and free throws had a substantial spike.
Champions Classic: Teams were allowed to begin practice two weeks before the traditional Oct. 15 start date, which in a practical sense meant earlier than ever. It resulted in a November filled with high-quality games beginning with a special night in Chicago. The Champions Classic doubleheader featured Michigan State’s win over Kentucky and Kansas beating Duke and ushered in the season with big-name matchups with budding superstars to get college hoops buzzing even in the midst of the BCS race and the NFL, the overlord of American sports, in the middle of its season.
Senior spotlight: Plenty of seniors weren’t going to let the young guys hog all the spotlight and reminded us of the value of staying four years. No way UConn’s Shabazz Napier was mature enough in his previous three seasons to lead a team to the national title the way he did this season. Creighton’s Doug McDermott returned to school -- as a walk-on no less -- and finished as the fifth leading scorer in Division I history. He was also the first player since Wayman Tisdale (1983-85) and just the sixth ever to have three consecutive seasons scoring 800 points or more. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned and ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency by kenpom.com for a second straight season.
Conference realignment: With the dust finally settled (we think), and teams shuffled into new leagues, we saw the good and the bad from the new configurations. A record crowd of 35,000-plus at the Carrier Dome watched Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win against Duke become an instant classic in their first meeting as ACC foes. The future of ACC basketball, which adds Louisville next season, is partly why Maryland’s season-long swan song as a former ACC charter member was overshadowed. Creighton excelled in its new locale, finishing second in the new Big East, even though its move from the Missouri Valley hurt Wichita State. (More on that below.) The brand-spanking new American Athletic Conference truly reflected the nation with its huge disparity between the haves at the top of the league and the have-nots at the bottom. In the end, the national championship trophy resides in the rookie league.
Shockers chase perfection: Wichita State became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated. Instead of drawing praise, it drew some skepticism from those who pointed to a weakened Missouri Valley schedule. Still the Shockers plugged along reaching 35-0 -- one game better than the 1990-91 UNLV squad that went 34-1 and lost to Duke in the Final Four -- and grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended against eventual national runners-up and 8-seed Kentucky in the round of 32.
Coaches behaving badly: The season provided Internet trolls a seemingly endless supply of memes and GIFs to loop. The list was long, including Iowa’s Fran McCaffery slamming chairs against Michigan State, Nebraska’s Tim Miles ending the Cornhuskers’ most memorable season in decades with an NCAA tournament ejection and Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson’s postgame rant that included that his wife, not his players, knows to, “at least shot-fake one time.” But a few stand out. Who can forget the sight of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nearly losing his jacket while running on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor to protest a charge with 10 seconds left in a loss at Duke? Boeheim joked after the game that his first trip to Tobacco Road, which resulted in his first regular-season ejection, would be a memorable one. Then there was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (insert sarcasm font here) who will certainly think twice before throwing a pen toward his bench. Krzyzewski got a technical foul for doing so in the ACC tournament final against Virginia.
Safety issues: There were the things out of man’s control like the postponement of Iowa’s game at Indiana due to a pane of the ceiling crashing into the stands. North Carolina and Duke postponed their first meeting when a snow storm left the Blue Devils’ bus unable to safely travel eight miles to Chapel Hill. It was the Tar Heels’ first postponed game since the Gulf War. Court storming continued to be a topic when a fight broke out at the end of Utah Valley’s win over New Mexico State. The incident started when an agitated K.C. Ross-Miller of NMSU hurled the ball at Holton Hunsaker as time expired. Two Aggies were suspended for their roles in the altercation. Thankfully no one was hurt when an alcohol-fused adrenaline rush sent a UC-Santa Barbara student running onto the court during the first half of a game against Hawaii; the fan got close enough to confront Hawaii coach Gib Arnold before players pushed him away and he was escorted out.
Those were the top highlights from the season. Just missing the cut were: how teams turned around their seasons (including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee); the impact of transfers (from the spectacular, including Duke’s Rodney Hood; to the cautionary, including Georgetown’s Josh Smith); the Carolina blues (potential All-American P.J. Hairston sat out the first nine games before the school announced it would not seek his reinstatement); and basketball as an emotional outlet (cellar dweller Boston College handed Syracuse its first loss after the passing of longtime BC media relations director Dick Kelley, and Georgia coach Mike Fox winning at Missouri after attending his father’s memorial service).
While the 68 teams that made the NCAA tournament prepare for the madness, fans of teams on the outside must turn the page to next year. Thanks to a core of returning players and strong incoming recruits, here are five programs that could be dancing at this time next year.
Who it loses: Four players will be gone for coach John Thompson III. Markel Starks and Nate Lubick have been starters since they were sophomores and were instrumental to last season's Big East championship team. Starks was first team All-Big East this season, scoring 17 points per game. Aaron Bowen played a big role as the sixth man and gave the team a spark off the bench. At times, he played starter's minutes. Moses Ayegba was a front-court presence off the bench and was a strong presence in the paint.
Who it adds: This four-man class is the nation's seventh best and it includes three ESPN 100 players. This class is loaded with versatility and scoring talent as the Hoyas will continue to cause matchup problems for opponents. Isaac Copeland's growth continues to impresses us, as he combines size and athletic ability with a very fluid set of skills. He won a championship at Brewster Academy in the New England Prep school league, which is some of the best competition in the country. Paul White is the consummate forward in the Georgetown system as he showed he could be a facilitator, bucket-getter or defender. L.J. Peak is a battle-tested and tough small forward who can score in different ways and someone who can play right away because he competes so hard. Tre Campbell was a first-team all-league performer as a point guard in the prestigious WCAC, an ultra-competitive Washington, D,C.-area high school conference. Georgetown predicates its system of having a high level of skill on the floor at all times and this class gives them that edge plus a whole lot more.
What it means for next season: Next season's team could be more gifted and athletic as the freshman class gives them a big boost. The one freshman who needs to be good early is Campbell, because of the departure of Starks. With Smith-Rivera returning as the team's leading scorer and best 3-point shooter, and Smith back controlling the inside, this team could be a contender for a Big East title. Georgetown has always played the game with many interchangeable parts and next season it will have plenty of pieces to choose from.
Trending: Up. The Hoyas return the strength of their roster and add a lot of talent. Under the guidance of JT3, that means more postseason appearances. - Paul Biancardi
For breakdowns of Indiana, Maryland, Seton Hall and USC, click here .
INDIANAPOLIS -- The question wasn’t terribly difficult or even unique. Odds are Tom Crean has heard it a few hundred times in his coaching career.
“We have to match the toughness and competitive spirit every time we play,” he said.
Crean went on for a bit longer on that same theme, until finally he came around to the real answer and the reason for that long pause.
“I try to deliver that message differently,” he said, “because I’ve given it a few times.”
Which, of course, is exactly the problem with the Hoosiers. The message isn’t getting through now and hasn’t gotten through all season. The same things that ailed them in November are still points of emphasis now -- smart defense, commitment for an entire game, grit and determination.
It’s all added up to an abysmal 17-15 record that, as pedestrian as that reads, is actually not that good. It includes the helter-skelter results that mirror this helter-skelter season -- wins against Iowa and Ohio State, losses to Penn State and Purdue.
Indiana is young, relying almost exclusively on freshmen and sophomores (Will Sheehey being the exception), but just like folks down the highway in Kentucky are tired of hearing that refrain, the message is falling on deaf ears in Bloomington too.
The Hoosiers are headed to the NIT -- Crean made it perfectly clear after the loss to the Illini that he believes and wants his team in the postseason -- except no one wants to go to the NIT.
In a lot of ways, it’s not entirely this particular team’s fault. The aggravation and impatience that is suddenly voicing its displeasure around the Hoosier State (a Twitter pulse check postgame found serious elevated blood pressure) is almost a lingering hangover from last year’s Sweet 16 exodus.
So much was expected from that team a year ago, promised even. After the long road back from Kelvin Sampson Exile, Indiana was back -- preseason No. 1, Final Four aspirations, a national program enjoying its place in the sun once again -- but it never materialized, ending a weekend before the Final Four in Atlanta.
Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo left, and so some reorganization was to be expected. But with a good freshman class coming in and Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell back, this was supposed to be the time that the Hoosiers do what the Hoosiers always did. They would regroup because the top programs never had to be rebuilt over and over again.
And now this, back to the dregs of the NIT, back to asking fans to be patient through some growing pains after there were so many rebirthing pains before then.
“We have the talent,” Crean said. “We just have to get to growing up and continue to learn.”
Except that’s a tough message for Crean to deliver, almost as difficult as trying to drive the message home to his team.
The beautiful chaos in the Big Ten this season didn’t disappoint. Michigan emerged from the rubble despite losing former Wooden Award winner Trey Burke and competing without Mitch McGary for most of the season.
Wisconsin’s streak of top-four finishes and NCAA tourney appearances under Bo Ryan continues. Nebraska might be dancing, too.
The league’s perennial mantra -- there are no easy wins in the Big Ten -- is more than just talk. Penn State swept Ohio State. Northwestern beat Wisconsin in Madison. Illinois went to East Lansing and upset Michigan State.
"As soon as you act like you've arrived, you're going to fall pretty quickly," Illini coach John Groce told reporters after that March 1 victory.
Every team in this league has experienced that to some degree this season.
The highs and lows to date makes this event in Indianapolis the most intriguing conference tourney in the country.
What’s at stake?
They’re 55th in adjusted defensive efficiency now, per Ken Pomeroy, but they approached triple digits during that rocky stretch. They recovered, however, with an eight-game winning streak that Nebraska snapped on Sunday.
Now Wisconsin could have an outside shot at a top seed. The Badgers boast a 15-5 record against the RPI’s top 100 and a résumé that includes nonconference wins over Florida, Saint Louis and Virginia. Perhaps a Big Ten tournament championship would be a convincing argument for the selection committee.
But the Badgers might have to get through Michigan State in the semifinals to get there. The Spartans are finally (somewhat) healthy, but the complete Michigan State squad has struggled. Tom Izzo’s team has suffered losses in seven of its past 12 games. It’s hard to imagine Michigan State preserving Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he’s ever coached in East Lansing to the Final Four, unless it finds some mojo in Indianapolis.
The field, however, is a gauntlet. Top-seed Michigan was a step above the rest of the conference. John Beilein’s team has that same bravado right now that the Wolverines used to fuel last season's Final Four run.
Nebraska’s win over Wisconsin on Sunday might have sealed its first NCAA tourney bid since 1998. But Tim Miles isn’t preaching guarantees to the underdogs in Lincoln, Neb. Will this ride continue in the Big Ten tournament? It’s certainly possible.
Iowa might have the most to lose. The Hawkeyes’ strength of schedule (21st) has helped them preserve their dreams of earning their first NCAA berth since 2006. But a Thursday loss to Northwestern would be its sixth defeat in seven games. Iowa entered the season as a team that appeared to be capable of winning a few games in the Big Dance. A stumble this week, however, could put the Hawkeyes in a bad spot in their first-round matchup.
Ohio State, second in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy, is still a threat to the field. And Illinois (4-1 in its past five games) is probably the sleeper. And who knows, maybe Yogi Ferrell and a strong showing by Indiana fans will make the festivities interesting for the Hoosiers.
Team with the most to gain
When Richard Pitino took the Minnesota job, folks around the program were talking about its future, not its present.
But the Gophers have the most at stake entering the Big Ten tourney because this could be the difference between an NIT bid and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Their 6-10 record against the RPI’s top 100 could be a problem they could address with a few quality wins in the Big Ten tournament. They’ve been on the bubble for weeks. But a strong outing in Indianapolis could really help a program that’s living off its No. 5 SOS right now.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
It is a testament to how good Arizona has been for so long that today, Feb. 3, is the first in which it is appropriate to talk about what they can’t do, what they don’t have, what adjustments they need to make.
It is also, of course, a testament to Brandon Ashley.
On Saturday night, the best and most balanced team in the country lost its first game of the season. It did so at Cal in a brutal shooting performance that persisted until the final minute, when guard Nick Johnson earned a great 15-foot look at a go-ahead bucket and just plain missed. Cal’s Justin Cobbs took a much more difficult shot on the other end -- a 17-foot step-back baseline jumper over Kaleb Tarczewski -- and banged it. Cal fans stormed the court with time on the clock, Mike Montgomery screamed at them like a frustrated high school dean of discipline and then Cal fans stormed the court again, joyously and officially, when the clock said zero.
But Arizona’s loss was much greater than any single game. It lost Ashley, its starting power forward, to a broken foot that ended his season.
Miller’s immediate pessimism after the game Saturday proved prescient. Now he and the Wildcats have to figure out exactly what to do without one of their most important players. They have to find out whether a team without Ashley can be as good as one with him.
There is some good news. If there is one position the Wildcats could afford an injury to, it is the frontcourt. Losing either point guard T.J. McConnell or All-American-level shooting guard Johnson would leave Miller with a gaping hole in his rotation. Losing Ashley still leaves the Wildcats with one of the best centers in the country (Tarczewski) and one of the most athletic, active forwards (freshman Aaron Gordon).
But that’s also kind of the downside: Being bigger and more physical and more active in the paint is exactly the thing that has separated Arizona from most of the country’s national title contenders. And not only was Ashley great around the rim and on the glass, his ability to step outside and make spot-up shots (his second most-frequent play type, according to Synergy) kept the Wildcats from becoming too crowded and bogged down. It kept a strength from morphing into a weakness.
On Saturday night, Miller said his staff needs to get back to the proverbial drawing board and "make sure we can move forward if Brandon is not with us." That if is now when. So what will that entail?
It appears Miller has two options. The first is a simple insertion of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s other hyper-athletic freshman, and maybe moving Gordon to the power forward spot. The problem with this is that both players do similar things, and neither spaces the floor like Ashley. (Cal all but begged Gordon to shoot Saturday night. He usually demurred.) The other option is Gabe York, the Wildcats' best 3-point shooter. York forces defenses to be honest out to the 3-point line, but he’s also 6-foot-3 and offers little in the way of penetration. The latter option might make Arizona’s offense more efficient, its personnel less redundant. But it could cost the Wildcats their identity.
The answer is not cut and dry, of course; Miller will play a combination of lineups, just as he has all season. Situation and opponent will often dictate the decision, and adjustments will be made. Still, just because Arizona lost a player at a loaded position doesn’t mean the injury won’t profoundly change its season.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Malcolm Brogdon stuns Pitt on last-second 3, Cavaliers remain factor in the ACC race. On Saturday night’s "College Basketball Live," Andy Katz made special note of the Virginia Cavaliers; he reminded people that while Syracuse still looks like the favorite to win the ACC (especially after Saturday night’s thrilling win over Duke), the Cavaliers and their much easier schedule were lurking. And that was before Sunday. The Cavaliers came away with a great -- if slow-paced, defensive, and often ugly -- 48-45 win at Pittsburgh thanks to a last-second 3 from Brogdon and a brilliant defensive effort that held Lamar Patterson to just 3-of-14 from the field. There are immediate implications for Pitt, namely that the Panthers still have anything resembling a marquee win on their résumé. But just as important is what the win means for Virginia. It’s close to a guarantee of an NCAA tournament bid, for starters, but it also establishes Tony Bennett’s team as the one obvious disruptor of Syracuse’s ACC title march.
Oh, and then there’s Syracuse. If you somehow missed Saturday’s 45-minute expression of basketball beauty, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil was there: "Syracuse beat Duke 91-89 in overtime. That’s the short story. The long version is almost too hard to explain, played as much on guts as talent, with as much intensity as heart. It went an extra five minutes. It still didn’t seem like enough. It was that good. Rasheed Sulaimon hit a buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime. Rodney Hood missed a one-handed, would-be game-winning dunk that would have been so monstrous had it gone down instead of off the back of the rim, it would rank as a top 10 for the season. C.J. Fair scored 28 on every sort of floater and muscle drive you could conjure. A record 35,446 Orange juiced fans filled the Dome, cheering so loudly that even Seattle Seahawks fans had to be impressed. That’s a season’s worth of highlights in one game. 'How many people can say they were a part of a game like this?' Krzyzewski said."
STAT OF THE WEEK: Stat of the week has spent most of its existence serving as the default Creighton-Doug McDermott dumping ground, so let’s change it up and honor another 3-point wizard. On Saturday, Oakland guard Travis Bader broke J.J. Redick’s record for most 3-pointers in the history of college basketball. Let’s go to Oakland coach Greg Kampe: "You've got a guy sitting in the room that's the greatest of all-time at something, and we're not talking about flipping a tiddlywink or something like that. This game's been played for a long, long time, and he's the best ever. And he's still got seven, eight games left."
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games week to come, check back for Monday morning’s "Planning for Success" series.)
Wichita State at Indiana State, 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3: Wichita State’s quest for perfection rolls on. The Shockers had their hands full against Evansville Saturday; they trailed by 15 at one point in the first half, but, just as they did weeks ago at Missouri State, Gregg Marshall’s team rallied in time to put yet another win on the board. They also set up this massive contest. The Sycamores are the second-best team in the Missouri Valley Conference and difficult to beat on their own floor. If Wichita State escapes Terre Haute, Ind., with a win, the chances of it finishing the regular season unbeaten -- and making it to the NCAA tournament without a loss -- will be a statistical probability.
Oregon at Arizona, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The good news for Arizona is that its first game in the post-Ashley era comes against a flailing Oregon team that has (A) lost five of its past seven games and (B) doesn’t really have post players.
UConn at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Cincinnati’s defensive brilliance has been documented at length in this space before, but it was on full display last week at Louisville, when it held the Cardinals -- a truly efficient offensive group -- to a seven points in their first 20 possessions. Louisville’s full-court pressure made it a game late before Sean Kilpatrick took matters into his own hands, but it was that ability to put good opponents in a hole (and generally make life miserable for 40 minutes) that earned Cincy the win.
Michigan at Iowa, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: From the first week of January onward, no team in the country was as hot as Michigan, and it was probably only a matter of time before the Wolverines experienced a brush with the regression of the real world. That came Sunday at Indiana. Iowa, meanwhile, can no longer rely on its win at Ohio State to secure its reputation. RPI-wise? Maybe. Perception-wise, no. This is a big game for both, but far bigger for the Hawks.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
The opponent mattered as much as the circumstances Tuesday night.
Although Michigan State had the luxury of competing in East Lansing, it still faced a viable Indiana team that’s searching for an identity. That’s always a dangerous predicament for a favored home team because an opponent might find it midgame.
Plus, Wooden Award candidate Adreian Payne missed the matchup due to a sprained right foot that reportedly could sideline him for the next two weeks.
The Hoosiers were combative in their hunt for a significant road win -- the only elixir for a recent loss to Northwestern -- as expected. But Michigan State emerged from the rubble with a 71-66 victory and a remarkable 7-0 start in the arduous Big Ten.
The Spartans continue to regroup when personnel limits threaten their success.
No Payne? Fine.
The Spartans were down 46-41 with 11:51 to play. But by the 3:53 mark, they were ahead by 10. A few free throws in the final minute and the Spartans had proven, again, that they’re the current Big Ten kings and threats to reach Arlington, Texas, in April.
“I made no bones about it at the beginning of the year that this is one of those teams that I think has a legitimate shot,” Tom Izzo told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game. “And, I think that we've proven that we do. We could lose three games in a row and still prove that we do.”
That potential is tied to its overall health, though.
And the Spartans haven’t really been 100 percent all season.
That hasn’t stopped them from climbing to the top of the league and winning their last 11 games, following a loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4. But it’s still the lingering concern for the program.
Payne is out. Harris has dealt with an ankle injury -- he played with a bad shoulder last year. Travis Trice missed time due to illness. Matt Costello, too. Just three players saw action in each of the team’s first 18 games.
The Spartans are deep enough to tussle with any team in the Big Ten, even if Payne can’t go or Harris is hobbled or Trice doesn’t feel well. They’ve shown that multiple times.
Their ceiling is high. To reach it, however, Izzo will need a healthy roster.
Noah Vonleh is an NBA-ready freshman who’s gradually opening the toolbox and showing off talents that should compel scouts to slobber. He took advantage of Payne’s absence in a performance that carried the Hoosiers (13 points, 13 rebounds, one block, one steal).
Payne is a significant component on offense and defense for the Spartans. He’s agile enough to contain shooters and big enough to stop post players. Yogi Ferrell (19 points, 4-for-13) might have had even more trouble finding good shots with Payne on the floor.
Yet, they won without him.
Tuesday’s win provided more proof of Michigan State’s resilience. The best teams ignore circumstances and adjust.
But injuries -- especially if Payne isn’t available for a lengthy period or if he’s bothered by the foot injury for the remainder of the season -- could be detrimental in the coming weeks. The Spartans will play Michigan, Iowa (in Iowa City), Georgetown, Penn State and Wisconsin (in Madison) in their next five games. It’s a stretch that will either solidify their spot atop the Big Ten or jeopardize it, as conference frontrunners ascend.
An interesting transition is taking place in college basketball right now. The true contenders are beginning to emerge.
Arizona is a versatile juggernaut that would be a nightmare for any team in the country. Tyler Ennis has helped Syracuse stay on top of the ACC. And Joel Embiid’s presence might position Kansas to be the scariest team in the field of 68 come March.
In late January, squads often take shape and turn the corner, for better or worse. The overrated are exposed. The elite young teams tend to evolve this time of year as they finally reach a level of chemistry and maturity that they just didn’t have in November and December. The veteran programs win the gritty games and showcase the true value of experience.
Things begin to make sense in college basketball as February approaches.
Or fall apart.
The Spartans continue to avoid the latter scenario even as injuries affect their lineups.
If Izzo’s squad does what it’s capable of doing and wins the Big Ten and makes a commendable run in March, then the program will earn rightful praise for its ability to navigate this midseason turbulence.
But if this injury bug undercuts the Spartans, and if it refuses to relinquish its hold the rest of the way, then Michigan State’s year could end with disappointment and a question.
What if the Spartans had been healthy?