Returning young stars add juice to 2013-14 rivalry games
Michigan's national title game appearance won't be a one-and-done, at least in terms of national relevance, as freshmen standouts Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III jointly announced Thursday afternoon that they would be returning to Ann Arbor for their sophomore season. This is very welcome news for Wolverines fans, whose team will lose National Player of the Year Trey Burke and small forward Tim Hardaway Jr. to the pros, but now should remain a strong Big Ten contender next season.
I think both players are making solid decisions. While McGary's advanced age for his class is a draft question, both he and Robinson likely will benefit from a full season of being primary options in Ann Arbor. And, hey, they're best friends and they get to chill in a great college city another year. What's wrong with that, given there's not a ton of downside risk to their future NBA prospects?
And you know who else benefits from this news, along with the rest of the growing spate of returnee announcements this week? You! Specifically if you enjoy rivalry games between big boy teams. Which is, basically, everyone (except for fans of rivals of those rivals, who just root for injury and horrible games).
With the news that Michigan State point guard Gary Harris also is returning for another season, the games between the Wolverines and Spartans, so very feisty this past season, will again be must-watch. If Adreian Payne also comes back for Michigan State, all that much better, but either way, these two teams should compete with Ohio State which, you know, has its own little rivalry thingy with the Wolverines.
In ACC land, North Carolina is getting James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston back. Even if they don't win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, the Tar Heels should be well stocked for a major national run next season. Duke is also reloaded, with two sizable skilled wings coming in to aid the returnees. Not like the Tobacco Road showdown ever needs hype, but next year's two (or three ... or four?) clashes should be very high level.
Kentucky, also in the running for Wiggins, already has one of the most hyped recruiting classes in college hoops history. Louisville, despite some personnel losses, will be very good again next season, especially if they can hold on to Russ Smith for his senior season. Again, not a rivalry game that needs some spice, but the last two seasons have featured unsatisfying wins for strong favorites. Next year's matchup has the potential to be really compelling.
Add in Oklahoma State's crew coming back and their anticipated run at Kansas' Big 12 throne (against Cowboy alum Bill Self), the sudden intrigue in Los Angeles between UCLA and USC, and the latest installment of the vicious UConn-Tulane rivalry (sorry, couldn't resist. It's also a chance to re-link to @RealAmeriCon, brother!), college hoops next season looks like it will be full of juicy throwdowns. And that doesn't even count stuff like the Champions Classic, holiday tournament season, and other one-off nonleague matchups between elite teams that are on tap. For the most part, this draft-declaration season has made sense. For awhile, it was the departing players who were receiving the benefit, but now, fans of the game can rejoice, as well. 2013-14 is looking better and better.