As the summer rolls on, I have started thinking ahead to the college hoops season.
Let me lay on you five schools that have faded from headlines in recent years. However, I believe all of them have the potential to return to greater prominence during the 2013-14 campaign.
Let's start in the Big Ten. I visited Iowa over the summer, and the fans are encouraged by Fran McCaffery's progress. The Hawkeyes made it to the NIT finals last season, and that was a great learning experience for a young squad. Iowa will be very competitive in an extremely tough conference. With Aaron White and Adam Woodbury up front and Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell in the backcourt, Iowa can make some noise this season.
The ACC is going to be a lot tougher with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. However, one school that deserves some attention and may be flying under the radar is Virginia. I love what Tony Bennett has done there as his team scraps and claws in every contest. Bennett will rely on All-ACC first-team guard Joe Harris to lead the way, and he should improve on his 16.3 points per game average in 2012-13. Bennett has his top five scorers back, and 11 lettermen overall, from a 23-win club that fell short of the NCAA tournament.
In the Big East, Steve Lavin has good reason to be confident. JaKarr Sampson is back to key the Red Storm. D'Angelo Harrison, who was suspended late last season, is also slated to return. An added year of experience will help young shot-blocker extraordinaire Chris Obekpa. And a lot is expected from a pair of newcomers, diaper dandy Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez.
Johnny Jones is assembling a nice team at his alma mater. He has big man Johnny O'Bryant returning and has a solid recruiting class coming in, featuring Louisiana's Mr. Basketball, Jarell Martin. LSU has totaled just 37 wins over the past two years and should break the 20-win mark this season.
Oklahoma won 20 games last season and made it to the Big Dance before falling to San Diego State. Lon Kruger's team gained valuable experience on a European Tour this summer, and Sooner fans will have more than just football to cheer in Norman this season.
Take a look at these teams when the season rolls around. There should be enthusiastic responses on their respective campuses.