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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Writers' roundtable: What's next?

ESPN.com

Our writers go around the country to answer five big questions about what's next in college basketball:

1. What's the next big college basketball storyline that we're not talking about right now?

Eamonn Brennan: For years, and mostly during the offseason (when there isn't, you know, actual college basketball to write about), many writers have lamented the state of college hoops' scholarship and transfer rules. Particularly bothersome is the lack of codified rights for players, especially when compared with their coaches. Former Saint Joe's transfer Todd O'Brien has a strange story, one slightly different from most transfers, but if his tale of a Phil Martelli-inflicted transfer woe highlights this particular imbalance in the next few weeks or months, I say all the better.

John Gasaway: The next big college basketball storyline is something we are kind of talking about now -- but it's about to get much, much bigger. Very soon the NCAA will abandon its strict and antiquated conception of amateurism and will allow student-athletes to function as the legal adults they are, up to and including signing endorsement deals and entering into agreements with agents. It's what star athletes do, and it's not a problem.

Isaiah Canaan
Isaiah Canaan and Murray State could be the next big storyline in college hoops.

Andy Katz: Murray State could go undefeated into the NCAA tournament. Of course, we have no idea how the Racers will handle being the target in every road game in the Ohio Valley Conference. But they don't have a game left on their schedule that they cannot or won't be favored to win.

Jason King: I think Connecticut is about to thrust itself back into the national spotlight. Andre Drummond has reached double figures in scoring in four of his past five games and Ryan Boatright is getting more and more comfortable. The Huskies have flown under the radar since losing to Central Florida last month. That's about to change.

Myron Medcalf: The next big storyline in college basketball is the emergence of Baylor as a national title contender. Along with Missouri and Kansas, the Bears are serious players in the Big 12 race. But with the way that Perry Jones III is playing, they could set themselves apart early.

Dana O'Neil: I wouldn't be surprised if, down the road, the NBA decides to change the age limit, either pushing it back to 20 or following the MLB model. That will technically be an NBA decision, but one that will have major implications on the college game.

2. After the Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC and ACC, what's the best conference?

Brennan: Maybe I'm optimistic, but by the end of the season, I think the Pac-12 will have improved to the point where we don't have to ask this question. Right now, I'll go with the Mountain West, which has a very tough UNLV team, a good New Mexico squad, surprising San Diego State and -- believe it or not -- an 11-2 Wyoming team ranked in the top 100 in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. Not too shabby.

Gasaway: The Pac-12. People are down on it because it's not as good as a major conference "should" be, and they're right. The Pac-12 is down. But it's still better than any other conference in the country besides the ones named above. California is better than it looked against Missouri. Stanford is a good, solid team, and even Arizona might get its act together.

Katz: The Mountain West. I would take UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico against the top three of any other conference outside those five, have them play a tournament and expect the MWC to fare quite well.

King: Wouldn't have guessed it entering the season, but right now I'd say the Mountain West. San Diego State thumbed its nose at the "transition year" tag. UNLV owns wins against North Carolina and Illinois, and Drew Gordon leads a scary New Mexico squad. Also deserving of props is Wyoming, which has turned its program around under Larry Shyatt.

Medcalf: The Atlantic 10. At the top, the conference boasts a team with Final Four potential (Xavier). Saint Louis is one of the country's most underrated teams. Plus, Dayton, Charlotte, UMass, Saint Joe's and Temple may all vie for NCAA tourney slots.

O'Neil: I'm going to go with the Atlantic 10. Xavier and Saint Louis already have inserted themselves into the national conversation, while Saint Joseph's is making noise with eye-opening wins against Creighton and Villanova. Don't count out Temple when Fran Dunphy's crew gets healthy. Dayton is making some noise with a win against Alabama; Charlotte has quietly won five in a row and St. Bonaventure has an NBA player in Andrew Nicholson.

3. Who's the next mid-major coach that will get all the calls this offseason?

Brennan: Wichita State's Gregg Marshall has been the subject of rumors here and there over the past few seasons. Fellow MVC stalwart and Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson may soon join him. When you consider the run of sustained success Jacobson has had with the Panthers (the school is in the longest streak of 18-win seasons in its history), most recently in spite of heavy roster turnover, well, you'd be surprised if schools haven't already tried plying Jacobson away from his 10-year extension with big-money offers.

Gasaway: Mark Few and Brad Stevens will continue to get calls, of course, but when those guys turn down the offers the next coach to pick up the phone will be Iona's Tim Cluess. Between Michael Glover and Scott Machado, the coach has the star power to get noticed. And the Gaels are lined up nicely to be the class of the MAAC this season. If Iona makes it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament -- and it very well could -- get ready to hear Cluess' name mentioned for the latest round of major-conference openings.

Tim Cluess
If Iona continues its success, Tim Cluess could be one of the hot coaching commodities of the offseason.

Katz: Indiana State's Greg Lansing should be on the radar if there is a Big 12 or Big Ten job open. Lansing has done remarkably well in a season-plus in Terre Haute. The Sycamores won the Valley tournament last season and should be in the hunt again for a title after a solid win at Vanderbilt.

King: Miami made an unsuccessful attempt to lure Tommy Amaker away from Harvard after last season. It wouldn't surprise me if a bigger-name school went after him this spring. Harvard is 9-1 and ranked for the first time in school history.

Medcalf: Iona's Tim Cluess. His Gaels are in the top five in scoring. They've been tremendous on neutral floors and on the road (they're 7-2 outside of New Rochelle, N.Y.). He's attracted under-the-radar prospects who've matured into some of the best players in the country in Machado and Glover. He should upgrade to one of those unlimited calling plans.

O'Neil: Presuming Brad Stevens' phone is off the hook, I'll say Tommy Amaker. The Harvard coach may not answer -- he was wooed some last year -- but if the Crimson continue to play this well and, more, make their first NCAA tournament since 1946, he's going to get more than a few jingles. Second choice: Ben Jacobson, 10-year extension be damned.

4. Who's the next mid-major player that will steal our hearts in March?

Brennan: If South Dakota State can outlast a Summit League conference tournament gauntlet (including potential foes Oakland and Oral Roberts), Jackrabbits guard Nate Wolters could be that player. Wolters is a high-volume scorer who can fill it up from pretty much anywhere, and he has a plethora of nontraditional (some would say "ugly") but effective moves that are prerequisites for any lovable March star turn. (Wolters and the Jackrabbits got a dominant win at Washington the other night. You've been warned.)

Gasaway: Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos' offense revolves around the 6-foot-5 senior to an almost Jimmer-like extent, and Johnson has shown he can take over a game. Against UNLV, he scored 36 points on 11-of-24 shooting, albeit in a losing effort. UCSB will have to get past Long Beach State to go dancing, but if it does, you will be hearing Johnson's name come March.

Katz: There is nothing mid-major about Doug McDermott. The Creighton wing scored 35 in a Bluejays win this week. McDermott was the best scorer on a Team USA squad last summer, and he has the ability to carry Creighton quite far in March.

King: Long Beach State's Casper Ware is one of the best players in the country that no one is talking about. Ware averages a team-high 17.5 points per game and is tied for the team lead in assists (3.8). And it's not as if he amassed those figures against sub-par competition. Long Beach State won at Pittsburgh and lost by single digits against Kansas and North Carolina.

Medcalf: Creighton's McDermott. He's the coach's son. But he was expected to walk-on prior to last season. A season later, he's the No. 2 scorer in America (25.2 points per game) and an All-America candidate. Boosting his made-for-March-TV storyline is the fact that he played with Harrison Barnes in high school. Get ready to fall in love, America.

O'Neil: Sometimes obvious is obvious for a reason, so my pick is Murray State's Isaiah Canaan. The sprite of a guard is averaging 19.3 points per game and has reached double figures in every game. The Racers are legit, a very good team, one that should linger in March, which should make Canaan and his compelling backstory -- he's a Katrina survivor -- a March Madness darling.

5. There were two Top 25 upsets Monday. Who will be the next to fall?

Brennan: Louisville escaped from Tuesday's home date with Charleston unscathed, but it never looked particularly convincing in the effort. The Cardinals have their biggest game of the season on New Year's Eve -- that's the fateful date of their trip to hated rival Kentucky -- but if Rick Pitino's team comes out flat against Western Kentucky on Friday, the Cardinals could end up being the latest victim.

Gasaway: Georgetown will be "shocked" at home by Memphis on Thursday night. The Tigers are just 6-4, and they looked anything but impressive against Lipscomb on Monday night. But Will Barton is having an amazing season, and if Josh Pastner's team can go to Louisville and play the Cardinals close, it can certainly dish out the same treatment to the Hoyas. I see Memphis winning a close one.

Will Barton
Might Will Barton and Memphis pull off an upset against Georgetown?

Katz: It won't be an upset, but it will look like that in the rankings. But I can't see Indiana winning at Michigan State next Wednesday. This wasn't even on anyone's radar as a possible "upset" in the preseason. But it's when Indiana will suffer its first loss.

King: I think Georgetown will win at Louisville in the Big East opener for both teams on Dec. 28. The Hoyas are one of the country's surprise teams thus far, and Louisville is bound to lose eventually.

Medcalf: No. 6 North Carolina. Again. The Tar Heels face a surging, albeit unranked Texas team Wednesday night. The Longhorns have won seven straight, all by double digits. And I think they'll be in the mix once Big 12 play begins next week. They'll announce their arrival with a road win over the Tar Heels.

O'Neil: It would only qualify as a mild upset, but I think Florida might have a tough time with Florida State on Thursday. The Seminoles' defense requires a team to be patient and disciplined, and those aren't necessarily the Gators' strong points. If Florida State can frustrate Florida's backcourt, the Sunshine State's balance might get a little topsy turvy.