Tuesday June 16th, 2009

Taking into account everything that's happened since North Carolina cut down the nets in Detroit -- the coaching carousel, the spring signing period and NBA draft decisions -- these are the four best and worst offseasons in college basketball:


Sherron Collins pulled out of USA Basketball's college trials at the 11th hour Monday, citing family reasons. This could adversely affect the Americans' medal hopes at the World University Games, but also leave Collins more rested for a national-title run with the Jayhawks, who had a near-perfect offseason. Not only did Collins, one of the country's best scoring point guards, stay out of the NBA draft, but so did sophomore center Cole Aldrich, who might have gone as high as No. 6 -- to his home-state Timberwolves -- had he opted to turn pro this year. Coach Bill Self then went and landed his No. 1 recruiting target, Xavier Henry, after he was granted a release from Memphis following John Calipari's departure. Henry gives Kansas the electric wing scorer it lacked last season, and makes it a solid preseason No. 1.

I would have considered the Jayhawks the 2009-10 title favorites even if Jodie Meeks had come back to Kentucky. The Wildcats would've had more overall talent, but the presence of a veteran floor general (Collins), an elite defensive stopper (Aldrich) and a championship coach with his system in place (Self) would've given Kansas the edge.


DD (Draft Deadline) Day was a letdown for the Wildcats, as coach John Calipari sent this Tweet just before noon: "Jodie called. He's keeping his name in the draft. He's excited and I'm excited for him. I wish I got the chance to coach him." Jodie is Jodie Meeks, the only college swingman with his own Witness T-shirt. He would've been a preseason first-team All-America had he returned to join a dream lineup of five-star freshmen point guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, All-America power forward candidate Patrick Patterson, and five-star center DeMarcus Cousins.

The big picture is still pretty for Big Blue Nation, though: In the two months following their NIT appearance, the Wildcats managed to rid themselves of a bad-fit coach (Billy Gillispie); put one of the game's hottest coaching commodities (Calipari) in his place; persuade a top 20 draft pick (Patterson) to stay in school; and land perhaps the best recruiting class of the decade. Other programs would kill to have such an offseason.


Imagine what would've happened had Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood hired USC's Tim Floyd in April, only to have him resign amid O.J. Mayo-related payment allegations in June: The Wildcats' program would've imploded, Indiana-style, and Livengood would've lost his job. Regardless of what actually transpired in that wooing process (Floyd said he turned down the gig, but Livengood said it was never offered), Arizona fortuitously took a different path, hiring the best mid-level coach in the country, Xavier's Sean Miller. He salvaged a respectable recruiting class by landing two former Xavier targets, three-star small forward Kevin Parrom and four-star center Kyryl Natyazhko, and also reeled in a former USC commitment, four-star small forward Solomon Hill. Junior point guard Nic Wise's late decision to pull out of the NBA draft pool was huge, too -- it means the 'Cats have a reasonable shot at making it back to the NCAA tournament. They aren't going to be a powerhouse right away, and probably won't be in the top 25, either, but things could have gone much worse in Tucson.


Following the school's first Final Four trip since 1985, Jay Wright could've pursued the 76ers' job, figuring his coaching stock might never be higher, and junior point guard Scottie Reynolds could've stayed in the draft, figuring his stock (albeit as a second-rounder) might never be higher, either. Both of them stayed at Villanova, making the Wildcats a preseason top five team. Wright didn't need to make any spring recruiting splashes, because he already had one of the country's best classes -- including five-star power forward Mouphtaou Yarou and four-star guards Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns -- locked up in the fall.

WILD CARD: Mississippi State. Getting shot-blocking maestro Jarvis Varnado back was key for the Bulldogs' SEC title chances, and Renardo Sidney is one of the best recruits to come to Starkville. But will Sidney, who's been dogged by concerns about his amateur standing, ever get eligible? And if so, will State run into residual NCAA trouble for playing him?

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: West Virginia (for keeping Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler out of the draft); Oklahoma (Willie Warren); Notre Dame (Luke Harangody), Tennessee (Tyler Smith), Maryland (Greivis Vasquez), Texas (Damion James).

1. USC

This has a been a catastrophic offseason in Trojanland. Floyd resigned June 9 by giving a brief statement to the Clarion-Ledger -- that's in Mississippi, mind you -- and not telling anyone at USC first. Floyd's presence will continue to be felt in the form of an NCAA investigation into a cash payment he allegedly made to O.J. Mayo handler Rodney Guillory, and the program could face heavy sanctions. The turmoil sparked a mass exodus of current players (DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, Marcus Johnson and Taj Gibson) and recruits (Solomon Hill, Lamont Jones and Derrick Williams) that leaves the roster decimated for whoever's willing to take over. Had everything gone right this spring, the Trojans would've been a Pac-10 title contender. Instead, they're in shambles.


The empire that John Calipari was building in Memphis fell quickly once he left for Kentucky: Recruits John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson all followed to Lexington, and Xavier Henry (as well as his brother, Tigers walk-on, C.J.) went to Kansas. Forward Shawn Taggart decided to turn pro. Details surfaced of an NCAA investigation into Derrick Rose's SAT score, which could result in Memphis' 2008 runner-up finish being vacated -- and then there was the strange revelation that athletic director R.C. Johnson had sat on the information since January, despite the fact that its unveiling could have kept other schools from pursuing Calipari. All has not been lost at Memphis, though: Johnson gambled by hiring a coach with upside, 31-year-old Josh Pastner, whose tireless recruiting efforts have already yielded Latavious Williams for '09-10 and five-star guard Will Barton for '10-11. Whether the empire can be rebuilt remains to be seen.


The Demon Deacons' prospects for '09-10 just keep diminishing. In January, there was talk of how Wake could enter next season at No. 1 if its talented nucleus of freshman Al-Farouq Aminu and sophomores James Johnson and Jeff Teague remained intact. Aminu kept his name out of the draft despite being projected as a lottery pick -- a major score for the Deacons -- while Johnson and Teague declared. The initial expectation, stated in the press by coach Dino Gaudio, was that Johnson would stay in and Teague would come back.

Teague was the key: With his scoring power in the backcourt, the Deacons could've still contended for the ACC title; without him, they're doomed. He remained squarely on the fence until deadline day, looking for a first-round promise, and was comfortable enough with his standing to stay in the draft. What was once a potential No. 1 team will now be unranked to begin the season.


Had St. Mary's point guard Patty Mills and Gonzaga forward Austin Daye gone back to school, the WCC would have been by far the most visible mid-major league in the country, with two top 25 teams and (at least) two first-round prospects for the 2010 draft. With Mills gone, St. Mary's is likely to fall off the national radar; with Daye gone, Gonzaga is likely to fall out of any top 15 preseason rankings. Seeing Daye turn pro must've been painful for the Zags' staff because he -- more than any frontcourt underclassman in the draft -- needed an extra year of college to prepare himself for the physicality of the NBA. Gonzaga can still make the dance without him, but the WCC may once again be a one-bid league.

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Xavier (for losing Sean Miller, Derrick Brown and recruits); Florida (losing Nick Calathes and missing out on John Wall); Duke (losing Gerald Henderson and missing out on Wall); UCLA (losing Jrue Holiday before he could make any impact on the program).

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