Reporting Matt Ryan
The 2013 NCAA Tournament has come to a conclusion. Louisville cut down the nets in Atlanta after beating Michigan 82-76 in the championship game. It was a great ending to the college basketball season, with a Final Four that featured, two exciting semifinal matchups and a competitive national title game. College Basketball will be on hiatus for seven months, but these headlines will get plenty of attention going in to next season.
The Empire Strikes Back:
John Calipari quickly led Kentucky back to national prominence after arriving in Lexington in 2009. The Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight in year one, made it to the Final Four in year two, and cut down the nets in year three, before losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT in year four. It was quite a step back for Coach Cal, but Big Blue Nation has plenty of reasons to be excited about next year.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are retuning for their sophomore seasons after a disappointing first year on campus. Kyle Wiltjer is back as well and will be the elder statesmen of the group as a junior.
Archie Goodwin is leaving school after one season and is expected to be joined by potential number one overall pick Nerlens Noel, but there will be plenty of diaper dandies ready to step up in their place.
Kentucky has signed what many are calling the greatest recruiting class of all-time (not the first time that has been said about a Calipari recruiting class). This seven man group has a record of six McDonald’s All Americans and includes the top point guard, shooting guard, power forward, and center in the nation. The 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats could be the deepest team that John Calipari has ever coached, between the combination of the incoming freshman and returning players that he will have on the court next season.
Many are already comparing them to the 1996 Kentucky team that won the Final Four with nine future NBA players. There’s even talk of 40-0, if the Wildcats can still get a commitment from the nation’s top small forward and number one overall player Andrew Wiggins. Perfection may not be in the works, but this collection of talent could be a team for the ages.
Hollywood Rivalry In The Making:
The City of Angels will have two new coaches on campus this fall.
Andy Enfield became a hot commodity when Florida Gulf Coast became the first 15-seed to ever make the Sweet Sixteen. Now he will look to replicate the success he had in Dunk City in the land of Troy. Enfield brings a lot of hype and anticipation to USC, a program that has only advanced to the second weekend of the tournament on three occasions since 1979. While the Trojans are often a national title contender on the gridiron, they are usually playing second fiddle to their crosstown rivals on the hardwood.
The Bruins will also have a new basketball coach next season with Steve Alford replacing Ben Howland, who once lead the program to three consecutive Final Four appearances. UCLA has failed to live up to a championship pedigree in recent years, but it still remains as one of the elite jobs in college basketball. Alford helped New Mexico become one of the better mid-majors in the country, but the expectations will be much higher in Westwood than they were at The Pit.
The Pac-12′s prestige could be boosted if both coaches could revive their programs in Los Angeles.
Same Name, Different League: Many predicted that the Big East would cease to exist as a conference as result of all the NCAA realignment in recent years. The current Big East will soon become the American Athletic Conference and there will be a new Big East, that will be a hoops-centric league like its predecessor originally was.
The Catholic 7 (Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. Johns, DePaul, and Providence) will be joined by Butler, Xavier, and Creighton in a new ten team league that will be playing an 18 game round-robin schedule next season. It may have not have the prestige and success of the “old” Big East, but this new conference could be consistently send five or six teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Their membership could reach 12 schools down the road with Saint Louis, Dayton, Richmond, and VCU as possibilities to get invites.
Atlantic Coast Superconference: The ACC will be the biggest basketball conference next season when its membership reaches 15 schools, but the question remains if it can be the best conference. Despite its storied history and prestige, the league has underperformed as of lately.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame will add depth that the conference has lacked in recent years. The former Big East trio along with Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and Miami gives the ACC seven schools next season who made the Big Dance in 2013.
That’s as good of a core group as any other league, but if the ACC is going to becoming the undisputed top conference in college hoops once again, some schools from the bottom half like Virginia, Maryland, and/or Georgia Tech will have to emerge as bubble teams.
Then again with Louisville set to join the ACC in 2014 (replacing Maryland), that title could soon be theirs, along with 8 or 9 tournament bids on a regular basis.
The previous two headlines are a direct result of the seemingly never ending changes to conference membership in college athletics. Every league has been impacted by this domino effect and it trickles down from the power conferences to the mid-majors and non-BCS leagues. If Conference A adds two or three teams from Conference B, then Conference B will look to Conference C or D for replacements, so on and so forth.
The Big Ten started the last round of expansion fever by adding Rutgers and Maryland, and could do so again if Jim Delaney wants his league to reach 16 members. That could result in the ACC losing the likes of Virginia and Georgia Tech to the Big Ten, with UConn and Cincinnati becoming their replacements.
If this all happens, the SEC might look to expand to 16 members as well, with Virginia Tech and NC State as possibilities to become their next members. Conference Realignment may be far from over and could once again steal the headlines in college basketball (and football) next season.