If sophomore Semaj Christon improves this season, Xavier could become much more formidable. (Al Behrman/AP)
In Ken Pomeroy's world, "luck" is defined as the difference between the record your offensive and defensive efficiencies imply and your actual mark. Every year, it seems like there are a number of logical candidates for teams that should make a jump the following season just assuming things break a bit better for them on average.
Looking ahead to 2013-14, though, the choices are really muddled. Limiting things to teams in the upper half of Division I conferences, you run into teams with a variety of potential maladies including coaching, weird roster construction, personnel losses, the fact that they were still actually really good last season (ahem, Florida) or, maybe in Dayton's case, just some plain ol' bad juju.
If you dig deep enough, though, you can usually find something. Here are a handful of decent bets to see improvement this season, assuming the trials and tribulations of last season taught some valuable lessons.
The Dragons may have been the biggest disappointment in the nation last season, plummeting from a 29-win campaign to 13-18. Yes, they lost productive big man Sammy Givens from that 2012 team and yes, guard Chris Fouch was injured, but there was no excuse for what happened, especially in what was a really poor CAA last season. The good news? Most of the talent is back again. Fouch was granted a sixth year of eligibility, so he'll combine with Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat to form a good talent core.
Massenat dropped off precipitously last season from the three-point line, making seven fewer three-balls in 25 more attempts than the previous season. Combine that with the absence of Fouch (a 36 percent shooter or so for his career) and Derrick Thomas also dropping off a cliff from the arc, and the Dragons went from one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country to a really mediocre one. The 2012 numbers were actually a huge outlier for a Bruiser Flint team, but the personnel remains pretty consistent and more experienced. There's no reason the Dragons shouldn't make more Js next season.
The Musketeers were jarred by several personnel situations, unexpectedly losing Dez Wells when he was booted from the school following allegations of sexual assault. Wells was never charged in the case, but that didn't sway the school's decision. Combine that with freshmen Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds not qualifying academically, and the X-men were really shorthanded last year. That should change this season, as the Muskeeters welcome Davis, Reynolds and transfer Matt Stainbrook to the fold.
Assuming sophomore year progression from leading man Semaj Christon and another jump from Dee Davis in the backcourt, Xavier should be much more formidable, even as it transitions into the new Big East. X was very short on scoring last season and was markedly sloppier with the ball than in previous years under Chris Mack. That should change with the growth and depth of the roster, and they should be better positioned to close out tight games.
The Bulldogs improved a ton over the course of last season. In the last 10 games of the campaign, they beat UNLV twice and played Colorado State (twice) and New Mexico within seven points. Athletic, slashing guards Allen Huddleston and Tyler Johnson return, as does 7-footer Robert Upshaw. The Bulldogs need more consistent perimeter scoring, and they at least add another threat this year in Oklahoma State transfer Cezar Guerrero. Guerrero's confidence should rub off on his new backcourt mates and Fresno only needs one other guy to rise to Johnson's efficiency level to be much improved.
The Bulldogs could really use Upshaw (who was suspended twice last season) to mature and become a better rebounder. The Bulldogs got pummeled on both backboards last season, a large part of why their offense (which featured awful shooting) was poor and their defense, which was actually good at forcing misses, wasn't better overall. Add in more familiarity with the conference and several teams taking a step back, and Fresno looks like a solid bet for a much stronger season.
The Cavaliers should pop by following a very simple formula: 1) Don't play any CAA teams and 2) Get the ball to Joe Harris as much as possible. OK, you can also give it to Akil Mitchell, who should combine with Harris (and Mike Tobey) to form one of the best frontcourts in the ACC.
Yes, the conference is supercharged now with the addition of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, but the Cavaliers should be one of the most experienced (and potentially talented) teams in the league. And good teams weren't Virginia's big issue last season. If an unproven commodity can provide decent point guard play, this should be a team that could make the second weekend of the NCAAs.