The 2013-14 college basketball season does not kick off for another four months. Is it ever too early to look ahead and think of the teams that will shine in the coming campaign?
I submit to you that it is never too early.
Instead of considering the teams that will be their conference favorites, let's think through the squads who could make a run at the upper tier of their respective leagues.
Here is one dark-horse team with the potential to shake up each major NCAA basketball conference.
We will look at these challengers' stats, strengths and stars.
Points: Joseph Young (18 PPG)
Rebounds: TaShawn Thomas (9.8 RPG)
Assists: J.J. Thompson (2.9 APG)
The Houston Cougars have made steady progress under the leadership of head coach Larry Dickey. They have increased their win total from 12 to 15 to 20 in his first three seasons. Dickey has upgraded the talent on his roster through quality recruiting. They will need to bring the action when they transition to the new American Athletic Conference.
U of H still likes to play up-tempo. They were the No. 10 scoring team in the nation (78.1 PPG).
They are a young, highly efficient (1.32 points per shot), good rebounding (38.4 RPG) unit that will continue to improve as they mature and develop.
On defense, Houston does a quality job of challenging shots from beyond the arc. Their opponents only connected on 31.9 percent.
Keep an eye on Houston’s frontcourt. Dickey has some pretty impressive pieces in place.
TaShawn Thomas was an All-Conference USA first-team selection. He is a solid, low-post scorer and durable rebounder.
Danuel House was named to the Kyle Macy freshmen All-America team and was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year.
Danrad "Chicken" Knowles, a redshirt freshman, will be eligible this season. He could end up being the best of the bunch.
Points: Joe Harris (16.3 PPG)
Rebounds: Akil Mitchell (8.9 RPG)
Assists: Justin Anderson (2.3 APG)
While the ACC is getting ready to expand, could this be a year for the Virginia Cavaliers to sneak up on the rest of the field like Miami did last year? Head coach Tony Bennett has taken several small steps toward re-establishing the UVA program. He will put a talented unit on the floor that may have a breakthrough season in 2013-14.
If you play the Cavs, get ready to play slowly. They were the No. 5 scoring defense team, only allowing 55.6 points per game. Four of Virginia’s opponents (Tennessee, Mississippi Valley, Wofford and Florida State) didn’t even make it to 40 points.
Since Bennett’s bunch took down Duke, North Carolina and NC State last season, possibly they have figured out how to compete with the conference’s “Big Boys.”
I agree 100 percent with B/R’s David Aldridge: Joe Harris is the most underrated player in the ACC. Beyond being the Cavs' leading scorer, he is also one the best three-point shooters in the league (43.2 percent).
If Akil Mitchell takes another huge leap forward this season, he could be the ACC’s best post player. Instead of being a third team All-ACC selection, he might end up in the league’s top tier of stars.
Points: Georges Niang (12.1 PPG)
Rebounds: Melvin Ejim (9.3 RPG)
Assists: Georges Niang (1.8 APG)
Iowa State, under the leadership of head coach Fred Hoiberg, has been on the verge of breaking through in the Big 12. After an initial 16-16 season, Hoiberg’s bunch has won back-to-back 23-win seasons and a pair of NCAA “second-round” wins.
Though it turns over its roster more than any team besides Kentucky, Iowa State will again be a troublesome team for the conference favorites (Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor).
Iowa State will still look to play up-tempo but may not be nearly as geared toward shooting three-pointers as they were last year.
Hoiberg pulled in a notable recruiting class that features two 4-star guards and four JUCO players.
The ‘Clones could have one of the most brawny front lines in college hoops with Niang (6’7”, 245 pounds), Ejim (6’6”, 230 pounds) and Percy Gibson (6’9”, 260 pounds).
What kind of season would it be if Hoiberg did not have a big-time transfer ready to jump into the mix? DeAndre Kane averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and seven assists last year at Marshall. Even though he will be in town for only one season, he could be a huge difference-maker on this team.
Points: D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG)
Rebounds: Jakarr Sampson (6.6 RPG)
Assists: Sir’Dominic Pointer (2.8 APG)
Unpredictability would describe St. John's last few seasons. Head coach Steve Lavin has completely turned over his roster and is trying to make all of the pieces fit together better.
Make no mistake about it: The Red Storm has talent and flair galore.
Very few teams have the raw athleticism that SJU has. Every player that Lavin puts on the court is a physical freak.
Opponents should not go inside against the Red Storm or they may get their FGs rejected. St. John’s was the best shot-blocking team in the nation with 7.3 BPG.
D’Angelo Harrison rejoins the Johnnies after being suspended for the final six games of the 2012-13 season. Harrison is a dynamic backcourt beast.
Jakarr Sampson was the Big East Rookie of the Year and may be ready to become a star on the national scene.
Incoming freshman PG Rysheed Jordan could be an instant Red Storm sensation and a difference-maker for St. John’s as it begins the new era of the Big East.
Points: Roy Devyn Marble (15 PPG)
Rebounds: Aaron White (6.2 RPG)
Assists: Roy Devyn Marble (3 APG)
This could be a special year for Iowa basketball.
Fran McCaffery has made good strides each of his three years as the Hawkeyes head coach. After going 11-20 (10th place in the Big Ten) in his first season, McCaffery went 18-17 in 2011-12 and 25-13 in 2012-13.
Iowa even experienced some postseason success last year. They were the 2013 NIT runner-up.
Iowa’s brand of basketball is not glitzy or flashy. The best parts of their game won’t get them on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 very often, but they could help them climb into the upper tier of the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes are strong on the boards (39.4 RPG).
They actively get out and defend the three. Their opponents last season were held to 29.5 percent shooting (No. 11 in the nation) from beyond the arc.
They took good care of the ball (1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio; No. 43 in the nation).
Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are one of the most undervalued one-two punches in the Big Ten. They were both third-team All-Big Ten selections in 2012-13 season.
Iowa welcomes Wisconsin transfer to Iowa City Jarrod Uthoff. The 6’8” hybrid PF was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. He brings added scoring and skills to a deep bench.
The Hawkeyes return all but one player in their 10-man rotation.
Points: Dwight Powell (14.9 PPG)
Rebounds: Josh Huestis (9 RPG)
Assists: Aaron Bright (3.4 APG)
This could be a make-or-break season for Stanford’s head coach Johnny Dawkins. So far, the Cardinal have not made it to the NCAA tournament in Dawkins’ five seasons in Palo Alto.
All of the size, talent and experience are here. Now, Stanford just needs to get it done.
Traditionally, Stanford has size and length inside. This year’s team is no different. Powell (6’10”, 235 pounds) and Huestis (6’7”, 230 pounds) can bang with the best of them.
The free-throw line is a good place for the Cardinal. They knock down almost 75 percent of their freebies.
Dwight Powell has shown flashes of dominance. If he can become more aggressive and more consistent, he could be a force in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal backcourt may lack size, but both Bright and Chasson Randle are capable scorers and distributors.
Points: Johnny O'Bryant III (13.6 PPG)
Rebounds: Johnny O'Bryant III (8.7 RPG)
Assists: Anthony Hickey (3.8 APG)
LSU's second-year head coach Johnny Jones is laying the foundation for something special in Baton Rouge. His first season’s record of 19-12 is a good launching pad for what could be an astonishing 2013-14 season.
Jones is having no trouble recruiting at his alma mater, and this year’s No. 9 recruiting class may be the catalyst for the Tigers to make a run at the top teams in the SEC.
The Tigers applied pressure on the ball and poached the passing lanes last season. They were No. 10 in steals in 2012-13 (9.1 SPG).
When Johnny O’Bryant III decided to return to campus for his junior season, the upcoming season looked brighter and better. The All-SEC selection is the kind of low-post player that Jones can build a great team around.
Besides O’Bryant III, LSU welcomes back mighty mite Anthony Hickey and multitalented wing Shavon Coleman. While both of these players are dynamic scorers, they can stuff the stat sheet in other ways, too.
Tigers fans are ecstatic about the 2013 recruiting class. McDonald’s All-American Jarrell Martin is a strong candidate for SEC Rookie of the year. Four-star PF Jordan Mickey could come in and make things happen from Day 1.