The 20 Biggest Offseason College Basketball Storylines

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IApril 15, 2013

The 20 Biggest Offseason College Basketball Storylines

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    Louisville’s national title isn’t even a week old, but it’s already time to start looking ahead to next season. From coaching changes to roster makeovers, the offseason provides no shortage of stories to follow for fans of the nation’s top teams.

    One of last year’s best squads, the Kansas Jayhawks, is in the unenviable position of replacing its entire starting lineup. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bill Self’s team won’t have plenty of punch, both from returnees such as Perry Ellis and from Self’s pool of impressive recruits.

    Herein, more on KU’s chances and the rest of the 20 hottest topics for offseason conversation in the college hoops world.

20. Can Miami Possibly Put Together a Winning Season?

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    Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes are coming off a historic season that saw them climb to No. 2 in the national polls and reach the Sweet 16. However, they also look to be headed for a catastrophic collapse.

    Six players from last year’s 13-man roster were seniors, and star PG Shane Larkin is mulling a jump to the NBA.

    If Larkin goes, reserve three-point specialist Rion Brown will be awfully lonely as the one remaining contributor from last year’s surprise ACC champs.

19. What Will the Big Ten Do for an Encore?

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    The Big Ten was the dominant conference in the nation last year, putting eight teams in the NCAA tournament and four in the Sweet 16.

    The league has lost a lot of star power—Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Deshaun Thomas—but don’t expect a massive dropoff in performance from the Midwestern powers.

    Michigan State returns four starters, including versatile big man Adreian Payne, and the Spartans aren’t even runaway favorites for next year.

    Ohio State (with Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. returning) and even Michigan (if it keeps its other underclass stars) will be right back at the top of the polls next season as well.

18. Can Andy Enfield Be More Than a Publicity Stunt at USC?

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    Three days after arch rival UCLA hired Steve Alford for its vacant coaching position, USC grabbed headlines of its own by bringing in Andy Enfield.

    The young coach was an instant hit in guiding 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16, but has woefully little experience to draw on as he moves to the City of Angels.

    Obviously, Enfield did a lot of things right in helping the Eagles make the leap to Division I, but he’s only been in Division I as a head coach for two seasons himself.

    His hiring was certainly a publicity coup, but for a Trojans program that seems to have lost its way, it’s also a huge gamble that the youngster will be more than a flash in the pan.

17. Will Georgetown Be Able to Cobble Together an Offense?

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    Obviously, this question becomes doubly serious if All-American Otto Porter Jr. jumps to the NBA, but even if Porter returns, the Hoyas will need to figure out a way to score.

    No defense can afford to count on getting wins by 37-36 and 46-40 margins in the span of two weeks as Georgetown did last fall.

    Regardless of Porter’s decision, three-point gunner Markel Starks and up-and-comer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are back on the perimeter.

    Whether that duo will be enough to put up points in an offense designed for five equal contributors is a question whose answer will say a lot about Georgetown's Top 25 chances.

16. Will the MWC or Atlantic 10 Finally Get Their Breakout Team?

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    In the last few years, the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 have made huge gains in terms of national respect and attention.

    Their best teams consistently find places in the Top 25, they get outstanding RPI rankings, and no power-conference foe is safe from falling to a team in either league.

    All that said, though, neither conference has yet managed to match its regular-season performance with NCAA tournament success.

    Until a St. Louis or a New Mexico turns in a deep March Madness run, these top mid-majors won’t be treated as the equals of the power-conference warhorses.

15. Will Chris Walker Be a Difference-Maker for Florida?

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    Florida’s hopes of repeating as SEC champs depend heavily on how well the Gators can replace starting big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy.

    Top reserve Will Yeguete is a safe bet to handle one of those jobs, but the other is likely to fall to a newcomer: star freshman Chris Walker.

    The 6’10” Walker is a sensational athlete who showed off impressive shot-blocking instincts in the McDonald’s All American game. If he can adapt to the college level quickly, Walker could be the biggest factor in keeping the Gators at the top of the heap.

14. Can Anyone in the Missouri Valley Challenge Wichita State?

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    Wichita State thrust itself into the national picture with a stunning Final Four run. With fellow MVC power Creighton departing for the Big East, the Shockers are also in a great position to follow up that performance with a strong 2014 postseason.

    Star forward Cleanthony Early leads a wealth of returning talent for Gregg Marshall’s team, which brings in another promising JUCO transfer to join Early in PF Earl Watson.

    Meanwhile, Northern Iowa (the Shockers’ closest competitor last year among returning MVC squads) must replace three senior starters, not a great position from which to take on a tournament-tested team.

13. How Much Respect Will the New Big East Earn?

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    The fragmentation of the old Big East leaves both the AAC and the new version of the Big East in limbo, somewhere between a power conference and a mid-major.

    The smaller population of the Big East (just 10 teams for next season) makes it particularly important for that league to get off to a good start to prove that it’s strong enough to stand on its own.

    Both Georgetown (Otto Porter Jr.) and new arrival Creighton (Doug McDermott) are anxiously awaiting NBA decisions from their top stars. If both underclassmen declare for the draft, the Big East will have precious few big names on the floor.

    Butler, Marquette and the Hoyas should do well enough either way to keep the conference competitive, but whether it can even outperform the similarly stripped-down Big 12 remains to be seen.

12. Are Indiana’s Youngsters Ready for the Spotlight?

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    Tom Crean’s rebuilding project at Indiana has made meteoric progress, with last season’s Hoosiers grabbing the No. 1 ranking during the regular season and making the Sweet 16.

    With Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller off to the NBA, however, the continuation of IU’s rise will rest with some far less experienced stars.

    PF Noah Vonleh leads a strong group of freshmen, but it’s last season's recruits who will face the most pressure.

    Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Jeremy Hollowell will have to join classmate Yogi Ferrell in the spotlight if the Hoosiers are to weather the loss of four starters and remain Big Ten contenders.

11. Which Current ACC Teams Will Get the Worst of Expansion?

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    Next year’s ACC adds Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, three teams that earned bids to the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    By sheer weight of numbers, that means that some existing ACC team is likely to get squeezed out of an at-large bid it would otherwise have earned.

    Prime candidates include last year’s bubble teams from the conference, Virginia and Maryland, though the Terps will drop significantly if Alex Len leaves for the NBA.

    Another team that’s clearly headed for a fall is erstwhile eighth-seed N.C. State, where Mark Gottfried’s reshuffled roster might earn just enough wins in a tough new conference to find itself in the First Four Out of next year’s field of 68.

10. How Will Gonzaga Respond to Its Postseason Collapse?

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    2012-13 saw Gonzaga go from a perennial Top-15 team to the No. 1 ranking in the country and a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.

    Then ninth-seeded Wichita State spoiled the Zags’ fun, leaving a large set of question marks about how Mark Few’s squad will hold up under pressure.

    Whether star center Kelly Olynyk jumps to the NBA, Kevin Pangos should have enough help to keep the Bulldogs in the Top 25 yet again.

    Once they get to March Madness, though, it’s going take a major gut check for this talented team to avoid another implosion.

9. Is T.J. McConnell the Answer at Arizona?

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    Sean Miller has brought a second straight elite recruiting class to Tucson, leaving the Wildcats loaded up front. Multi-talented Nick Johnson returns to man the SG spot, leaving only point guard as a major question mark.

    The front-runner for that role is Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, one of the country’s top defenders at 2.8 steals a game over his first two college seasons.

    McConnell isn’t remotely the scorer that the graduated Mark Lyons was, but his superior ball-handling ability and passing instincts might turn out to be even more valuable in the long run.

8. Will Rebuilding Kansas Manage to Win Yet Another Big 12 Title?

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    The last time Kansas failed to win a regular-season conference title was 2004.

    Next season’s Jayhawks will need to replace the entire starting lineup from the team that earned a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, but even that may not be an obstacle to continuing the streak.

    Bill Self has brought in yet another highly touted recruiting class, a group highlighted by McDonald’s All American Wayne Selden in the backcourt.

    Coupled with high-powered returnees such as PF Perry Ellis and PG Naadir Tharpe, that group could well be enough to come out on top in a conference with no clear front-runner for next season.

7. How Much Can Steve Alford Do for UCLA?

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    A string of disappointing seasons prompted UCLA to fire Ben Howland and grab New Mexico’s Steve Alford to replace him.

    Alford inherits a loaded Bruins roster (even if Shabazz Muhammad leaves for the pros), but it’s going to be interesting to see how much of a difference he can make in his first season in Westwood.

    Fellow Pac-12 powers Arizona, Oregon and Cal also have strong teams returning for 2013-14, and Alford’s last job in a power conference (at Iowa) wasn’t exactly a rousing success.

    A lot will depend on how fast he can get an athletic group of sophomores to buy into his approach, since many of them could be NBA-bound by season’s end.

6. Who Will Rule Tobacco Road?

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    Year in and year out, few rivalries have more impact on the national college hoops scene than Duke-North Carolina. Next season’s edition will be especially unpredictable as both teams will likely be recovering from the loss of their biggest stars.

    The Blue Devils have the more impressive recruiting class (led by Jabari Parker), but the Tar Heels are expected to return more proven productivity from P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock.

    Roy Williams’ squad also has the biggest X-factors in this calculation: Will James Michael McAdoo return for his junior year (unlikely) and will prize recruit Andrew Wiggins come to Chapel Hill (very possible)?

5. Who Will Replace Trey Burke as King of the Point Guards?

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    Trey Burke’s coronation as consensus national Player of the Year capped a season in which superstar point guards carried many of the nation’s top teams.

    With Burke (and many of his compatriots) heading to the pros, who will be the top floor general in 2013-14?

    Two obvious front-runners are still weighing their own NBA decisions: Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Miami’s Shane Larkin.

    In the event that both of them make the jump, look for Ohio State senior Aaron Craft and Kentucky freshman Andrew Harrison to lead the pack.

4. Can Memphis Finally Become a Winner as It Joins the AAC?

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    Despite gaudy 25- and 30-win totals, the Memphis Tigers have been roundly disappointing under fifth-year head coach Josh Pastner.

    Rosters loaded with talent have repeatedly gotten sent home early from the NCAA tournament, not least because of subpar seeds arising from the Tigers’ second-rate Conference USA competition.

    That excuse is gone now, as Memphis joins defending champ Louisville and postseason-eligible UConn among the powerhouses of the new AAC.

    Another superlative recruiting job by Pastner has the roster stacked again, and even if Memphis doesn’t go 16-0 in conference, it should be headed for a much better postseason fate.

3. How Will Louisville Handle Having a Bulls-Eye on Its Chest?

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    There are a lot of unknowns surrounding which underclassmen will or won’t return for the defending champion Cardinals, but there’s little doubt Rick Pitino’s team will be one of the nation’s best again.

    Standout bench players such as Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware provide impressive replacement options for Russ Smith and other possibly NBA-bound stars.

    However, the Cards are about to find out how tough it is to win from the top, as every opponent will give Louisville its best effort in an attempt to knock off the defending champions.

    The Cardinals handled that pressure well as the NCAA tournament's top overall seed, but going an entire year as the game circled on everyone’s schedule is a very different challenge.

2. Where Will Andrew Wiggins Sign?

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    Andrew Wiggins, son of former NBA reserve Mitchell, is the No. 1 recruit in next year’s freshman class. He’s also a major unknown in the balance of power, as he hasn’t yet declared which school will have the benefit of his one year of college hoops.

    The versatile SF (who played sensationally at the McDonald’s All America game) has several schools still in contention, among them Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State (his parents’ alma mater).

    It’s largely a crapshoot at this stage, but the prediction here is that his bloodlines will send Wiggins to Tallahassee, where he’ll make the Seminoles instantly relevant in the ACC again.

1. How Dangerous Is Reloaded Kentucky?

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    From the offseason hype Kentucky is getting, you’d never know the Wildcats’ last game was a massive upset loss to Robert Morris in the NIT.

    A popular pick for the top ranking in early preseason polls, UK has an astounding six McDonald’s All Americans arriving to join the high-powered freshmen who stayed around from last year’s roster.

    The latter group includes versatile forward Alex Poythress and towering Willie Cauley-Stein in the middle. They’ll get ample support from the Harrison twins (including star PG Andrew) as well as yet another prime big man, 6’9” Julius Randle.