You thought this season was good
Returning stars, elite freshmen and numerous title contenders set for 2013-14
The ink still may be drying on the champ stamp on Rick Pitino's upper-left shoulder, but the 2012-13 season already is fading into the background, a distant memory at only three weeks old.
Such is the fickle world of sports, where we spend a season waiting to crown a champion and then start looking toward the next year before the last piece of confetti settles to the ground.
Ordinarily I am among the stop-and-smell-the-roses group, content to linger over and savor what happened instead of impatiently pushing forward to what might occur. But with the promise and potential of 2013-14, it's hard not to get caught up in the future.
As wildly unpredictable and at times downright wacky as this past season was, the one around the corner promises to be just as good, if not better. Returning stars, plus a freshman class so talented it's downright silly, multiplied by a collection of teams that already have separated themselves from the pack equals a season that, even six months away, teases and tantalizes.
No wonder coaches and fans are hoping that on Thursday, the NCAA Board of Directors endorses an earlier start to practice.
Usually once the NBA draft dust has settled here in the one-and-done era, college basketball is left to lick its wounds and figure out its unclear future. Not this time. Within the past couple of weeks, all of these guys told the NBA it could wait:
• Creighton's Doug McDermott, who was on most final ballots for player of the year and now has a chance to become the first player since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale to be named first-team All-American three years in a row.
• Marcus Smart, the consensus freshman of the year, who defied logic and and an almost-certain top-five slot to come back to Oklahoma State.
• Russ Smith, the playmaking star for Louisville who puts the Cardinals right back on the fast track to another title.
• Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, who combine to make the state of Michigan a guaranteed destination vacation for college basketball writers and fans.
• Not to mention UConn's Shabazz Napier, Baylor's Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, Syracuse's C.J. Fair, Kentucky's Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, Arizona State's Jahii Carson, UNC's James Michael McAdoo and Florida's Patric Young.
That group alone would make next season intriguing.
Now for the mixers: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, the Harrison twins and so forth, a freshman class that long has had college coaches, analysts and fans salivating over its talent.
It is a silly collection of experienced talent and raw talent that already has next season seeming more clear-cut than the one we just put to bed. Last season was the year of the "Yeah, buts." Yeah, Team X is really good … but there's this glaring question mark.
There always will be questions, but the ones for 2013-14 seem a lot easier to answer. Instead of who's No. 1, as in, who can you really count on, it's who's No. 1, as in, which of these really great teams is better than the other really great teams?
Consider: With Smith's decision to return for his senior year, defending national champion Louisville's roster will include seven players who contributed significantly to this season's title. Not since Florida made a group pact to pursue a repeat title have so many veterans reconvened for another run.
Yet unlike the prohibitive favorite Gators, the Cardinals aren't guaranteed to start the season atop the polls.
That honor instead could go to Kentucky, which welcomes Once-in-a-Generation Freshman Class Part III (following on the heels of the 2009 original Once-in-a-Generation Freshman Class and the 2011 Return of Once-in-a-Generation Freshman Class). But this time, unlike like last season, the young'uns have some guidance in the form of Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer.
Or perhaps Arizona, which is foolishly loaded with talent thanks to the combination of last year's highly regarded freshman class and this year's highly touted additions.
Or maybe it's Michigan State, which lost just one player, senior Derrick Nix, from its Sweet 16 team.
Or could the top team be on Tobacco Road? Either in Durham, where Parker will now reside, or Chapel Hill, where McAdoo and P.J. Hairston return?
And then there is the wild card. His name is Andrew Wiggins. The top freshman in this class, the one plenty think is the most talented high school prospect since a guy named LeBron, has yet to make his decision. When Wiggins opted to cancel the rest of his in-home visits a week ago, the announcement was broken down and analyzed with more precision than the posturing out of North Korea.
When Wiggins makes his choice, the college basketball landscape for 2013-14 could shift seismically. If he joins Kentucky, the Cats will have five of the top seven freshmen in America. If he joins Florida State, the Seminoles will be considered ACC contenders. If he joins North Carolina or Kansas, those two will be in the Final Four conversation.
He's that good.
Until then, unfortunately, the only advice we can offer to fans of those four teams is to be patient.
Of course that's good advice for college basketball's entire kingdom to heed.
There still are more than six long months to fill between now and the start of the 2013-14 season.
But at least it will be worth the wait.
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