Ranking the College Basketball Teams That Have Had the Best Offseasons So Far

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2013

Ranking the College Basketball Teams That Have Had the Best Offseasons So Far

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    All college basketball offseasons are not created equal.

    On one end of the spectrum, you have a school like New Mexico that lost its coach to UCLA a mere days after he signed a 10-year contract, while on the other end a school like Kentucky spent the spring months finalizing the commitments from approximately 300 5-star recruits.

    Read on to see exactly which teams have had the best offseasons thus far.

No. 8: Baylor

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    Plenty of talented underclassmen declared early for the NBA draft this offseason, but a handful of players that most assumed would leave decided to return to school.

    Baylor was the benefactor for two of those decisions. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson both elected to don the Bears uniform again in 2013-14, which will give Baylor one of the best frontcourts in the entire nation. Considering the talent coming in for Kansas and staying at Oklahoma State, the post in Waco will be critical for keeping the Big 12 a three-team race.

    The positive offseason news didn’t stop with Austin and Jefferson coming back to school, though. Baylor brought in a talented recruiting class that is highlighted by Allerik Freeman in the backcourt and Ishmail Wainwright as a potential point forward.

    With such a loaded frontcourt already returning, the signing of these talented ball-handlers gives Baylor weapons at nearly every spot on the floor. Look for the Bears to be a factor in the NCAA tournament this year after a one-season absence.

No. 7: Wichita State

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    For all the talk about Florida Gulf Coast during the NCAA tournament, it was Wichita State that was the real Cinderella story.

    The Shockers made it all the way to the Final Four, knocking off squads like Gonzaga and Ohio State along the way before ultimately falling to national champion Louisville in heartbreaking fashion. The good news for Wichita State fans is that this year’s squad could be even better.

    A sizable amount of the talent from that Final Four team returns, including potential superstar Cleanthony Early who will look to make the next step in 2013-14. Ron Baker, who was key during the NCAA tournament, Tekele Cotton and transfer Kadeem Coleby will all be in the fold as well.

    While the returnees are nice, perhaps the best news for Wichita State (in terms of clearing the path to another NCAA tournament at least) during the offseason is the fact that Creighton is no longer in the Missouri Valley Conference. With the talent the Shockers will send to the floor, they should be able to storm their way through the regular season to a favorable seed in March.

No. 6: Michigan State

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    The Big Ten title contenders not named Michigan State were hit hard this offseason by early entries to the NBA draft. Superstars such as Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Cody Zeller and Deshaun Thomas all left school before their eligibility was up, but the Spartans returned both of their question marks.

    Adreian Payne and Gary Harris will both be back in East Lansing for the 2013-14 campaign, which gives Tom Izzo a weapon at nearly every position. Yes, there is no more Derrick Nix, but between Harris, Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling in the backcourt, Payne in the post and Branden Dawson on the wing, there is tons of talent on the Spartan roster.

    Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan all have some holes to fill, which leaves Michigan State as the Big Ten favorite heading into 2013-14. Izzo’s team has even picked up the hypothetical momentum that comes from being viewed as one of the biggest challengers to Kentucky on the national stage in some corners.

    The return of Harris and Payne was more than enough to lock up a productive offseason for the Green and White. Next up is delivering on the court.

No. 5: Duke

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    On the surface, the best thing that happened to Duke this offseason is the fact that Coach K once again brought in a loaded recruiting class.

    The Blue Devils will enjoy the services of multiple 5-star prospects, including those of Jabari Parker. You may remember Parker as the greatest high-school player since LeBron James that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before Andrew Wiggins was deemed the best high-school player since James by the mythical hype machine that decides such things.

    Semi Ojeleye, Matt Jones and transfer Rodney Hood will also look to light up the scoreboard in Durham. The new-look ACC will be an intriguing race, and Duke will be right in the thick of it because of the offseason.

    Despite the merits of that class, the real positive headline for the Blue Devils is the fact that the NCAA failed to find anything of significance in the Lance Thomas case (much to the chagrin of Duke haters everywhere who just may theorize that the NCAA is sweeping stuff under the rug for the Blue Devils if asked).

    Click here for details of the case, but the true headline in today’s NCAA environment is that Duke will not be facing any sanctions.

No. 4: Memphis

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    Memphis basketball fans may be a bit preoccupied with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol right now, but there has been plenty of good news rolling in on the college front as well this offseason.

    The Tigers brought in the best recruiting class this side of Kentucky per Scout.com. Austin Nichols, Kuran Iverson, RaShawn Powell, Markel Crawford and Nick King gives Memphis a fivesome that could make noise in the American Athletic Conference for years, including its first one together.

    Throw in the fact that a number of critical pieces from last season’s 31-5 squad return, and the Tigers are set to challenge Louisville in the Cardinals’ brief hiatus in the new-look league. Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Shaq Goodwin should all be more productive with another year of experience under their collective belts.

    Even the fact that the Tigers will be in a new conference is good news. For years they dominated the Conference USA but earned little national respect, thanks to a lack of competition, unless there was a deep run in March. That will change in 2013-14.

No. 3: Oklahoma State

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    Perhaps no college basketball player surprised more people this offseason than Marcus Smart when he decided to forego being a lottery pick in the NBA draft and return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season.

    Smart will be on the short list of national player of the year candidates when the 2013-14 season tips off and represents the rest of the Big 12’s best chance to end the nine-year reign of terror that Kansas has enacted on the league title (the Jayhawks have also won at least a share of 11 of the past 12).

    As if Smart’s decision to return wasn’t enough this offseason, his running mate LeBryan Nash will also be back in Stillwater. Throw in Markel Brown, and the Cowboys have one of the best trios in all of college basketball.

    This has been such a productive offseason for Oklahoma State because the Cowboys are now widely considered at least a top-15 caliber squad, if not better. Had Smart and Nash not returned, they likely wouldn’t even be in the rankings.

No. 2: Kansas

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    Had this list been compiled a week ago, Kansas probably wouldn’t have even been on it. After all, the Jayhawks lost all five starters from a year ago and were in serious jeopardy of possibly relinquishing their monopolistic grasp on the Big 12 title in 2013-14.

    And then Bill Self went ahead and locked up Andrew Wiggins.

    If you think Wiggins is overhyped, just know there is a reason so many people have sung his praises. He has the size of a power forward, the handles of a shooting guard and the freak athleticism to go with it. He is the perfect package in today’s stretch-forward crazed college basketball world.

    The Wiggins factor is enough to propel Kansas from middle of the road in the rankings to possible Top-Five status when they come out. The Jayhawks also have to be considered at least co-favorites with Oklahoma State in the Big 12 if not the outright choice.

    Throw in Wayne Selden as a talented and overlooked running mate, and Kansas will be tough to deal with this season.

No. 1: Kentucky

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    Andrew Wiggins or no Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the history of college basketball. Not a bad offseason for a squad that saw its campaign end in March at the hands of Robert Morris in the NIT.

    The Harrison twins will lock down the perimeter and set up the litany of talented teammates that will be joining them on the court. Aaron Harrison will also do plenty of scoring himself from the shooting guard spot.

    Julius Randle will give John Calipari his next great post presence in a frontcourt that will also feature Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. The fact that the Wildcats will get some returning players back to lend some experience to the roster only makes this offseason all the better.

    James Young will give Kentucky a high-scoring wing presence as well. Calipari has his machine humming again, and the Wildcats may be ranked No. 1 in the land when the official poll is released.