Five Things I'm Looking Forward To For 2013-14
As hard as it is to let go once any season ends, the transition this year may be easier because there are so many juicy storylines already in play for 2013-14 season. From an influx of great young players to huge conference realigment changes to interesting coaching moves, there's a ton of things to look forward to.
Here are five of the biggest ones I'm eager to dig into as soon as possible, but I guess we'll have to wait until November to really see:
Andrew Wiggins (and the rest of the newbies)
Regarded by many as the best prep prospect since LeBron James, Wiggins's college decision (coming at some point ... maybe in May, after the NBA draft deadline decisions are finalized) could be a massive change point for the national landscape next season.
Wiggins's final four contending schools are Florida State, Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas. If he goes to Lexington, a 40-0 watch is not unreasonable. If he lands in Chapel Hill, you could suddenly have a new ACC favorite, even with Syracuse coming in and Duke having a really good team as well. I'm pretty sure Bill Self would figure out how to use him well enough to win the Big 12 again. And Florida State, well, his parents went there, and maybe he wants to test himself with a decent team against a loaded ACC schedule. Consensus seems split between Kentucky and Florida State, but Kansas is getting some late run on Twitter, with North Carolina looking (at least to outsiders) as the longest shot.
Wiggins spearheads what should be a very good class of freshmen, including Julius Randle (heading to Kentucky), Jabari Parker (Duke), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Andrew and Aaron Harrison (Kentucky) and more. The Wildcats already have five of ESPNU's top 11 signed. If Wiggins wants to join the fun, you have your top story line for the 2013-14 season, and maybe a bunch of beat jobs available in Lexington for national media sites.
Louisville vs. Kentucky
They're not in the same conference, but they have their annual nonconference meeting and now that will happen as a meeting between the last two national champions. Mix in all the normal Commonwealth drama between the programs and the respective head coaches, with John Calipari coming off this season's unexpected failure while Rick Pitino raised the national title, and it's so very on.
The Cardinals losing Gorgui Dieng to the draft is a blow, for sure, but they have some incoming guard talent to help replace Peyton Siva and (assumedly) Russ Smith, who apparently is now 50-50 on his pro decision after his father said he was gone post-national championship game Monday night. They will spend one transitional year in the renamed American Athletic Conference, jousting with UConn, Cinncinnati, Memphis and Temple, before heading to the ACC in 2014.
As mentioned above, Kentucky is absolutely loaded with high-impact freshmen and could have Wiggins aboard, too. The Wildcats will be playing Michigan State in the Champions Challenge in Chicago and will be at North Carolina next season as that series restarts. Add in games with Baylor (at Cowboys Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four) and Providence and that's a nice nonconference slate before they duel with Florida for the SEC crown.
The new Big East and the 'Real American'
The long-debated split finally happened and now we get a 32nd conference with an auto bid, meaning there will be 36 instead of 37 at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament. Both of these "new" conferences should be multi-bid leagues, so the lack of an at-large shouldn't really matter aside from the slightly greater chance there's an auto-bid thief that knocks someone out at the last second.
The new Big East should be fun, with Butler, Xavier and Creighton joining Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and others from the non-football side of the old Big East. There should be some great new rivalries and the smaller, more like-minded league should provide more opportunities for programs like St. John's and Providence to find their footing and play their way back into NCAA Tournament contention.
Likewise, the newly christened American Athletic Conference, especially in its first season with Louisville still in the league, should be a fun watch. Memphis steps up with what should be another very good team, Cincinnati and Connecticut should be formidable, and Temple, despite personnel losses, is never an easy out. It will be up to the rest of the league, filled with relative outsiders, to make the conference stronger down the road. In the meantime, the new name spawned a number of spoof Twitter accounts, including my personal favorite, @RealAmeriCon. What're ya gonna do, when the AmeriCon drops the people's elbow on youuuuuu, brother??
The new ACC
After a few years of relative struggles by this league's lofty standards, the ACC should be back in a really big way in 2013-14. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join the league to joust with Duke, North Carolina and others for supremacy. Throw in what should be a very good Virginia team, one final season of Maryland, and, if Florida State does land Wiggins, the best player in the nation, and this league could be nuts. Once Louisville joins the following season, the ACC is clearly the best basketball conference in the nation. Sorry, Big Ten fans.
West Dunk City vs. UCLA
Both L.A. schools hired new coaches. UCLA's Steve Alford spent the first week and a half under some media fire. USC's Andy Enfield went on the Today Show. The Trojans definitely won the press conference with the likeable, rising star Enfield bringing his dunk-fueled attack to the West Coast after making the Sweet 16 with Florida Gulf Coast. Enfield then made a couple of strong hires, luring Tony Bland from San Diego State and nabbing Jason Hart from Pepperdine to add two local recruiters to the mix.
It's way too early to say USC can build a program that can even come close to challenging UCLA in terms of brand quality and prestige, but the Trojans definitely have rolled the dice on what could be a very savvy gamble. They're offering a more entertaining style and a realistic alternative for AAU factions in the city who fell out with Ben Howland during his time there and may not fully trust Alford, either. Arizona will be a strong favorite in the Pac-12 next season, but the battle for L.A. should be the most compelling story going forward.