In seemingly every college basketball season, there are a handful of teams that make the leap from good to great.
These squads can be historically excellent programs that had a solid, but not spectacular, effort the year before—think Louisville going from the second round in the 2011 NCAA tournament to the Final Four in the 2012 version—or upstart programs that finally arrive.
The 2013-14 season will be no different. Read on to see the five teams that will jump from good to great this time around.
Before delving into Michigan State’s 2013-14 prospects, a bit of clarification between good and great is in order.
The Spartans’ 2012-13 campaign would have been considered great at the vast majority of schools, but head coach Tom Izzo has set the bar so high in East Lansing that a tie for second place in the Big Ten and an earlier-than-usual Sweet 16 exit is somewhat disappointing.
Look for the Green and White to return to the Final Four again this year.
Derrick Nix is the only primary contributor from last season’s squad that will not return, and the backcourt combination of Gary Harris and Keith Appling will be scary for opposing defenses. Throw in the athleticism and rapidly improving game of Branden Dawson on the wing, and Michigan State may be the team most poised to challenge Kentucky and Louisville for the early No. 1 ranking.
That’s not even mentioning Adreian Payne, who will be the main attraction in the post without Nix. His rebounding prowess, defensive ability and soft touch from the perimeter make Payne an all-around threat and a legitimate contender for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Arizona did not have a disappointing 2012-13 season by almost any metric, but the Wildcats had to be disappointed they finished with the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament of what was a wide open Pac-12, especially considering how much talent they had on paper.
Furthermore, a Sweet 16 finish is nothing to sneeze at, but Arizona controlled much of that game against Ohio State before LaQuinton Ross hit the game-winning three in the final seconds. What was a solid season could have been spectacular for the Wildcats with a couple more breaks.
Fortunately for Sean Miller’s squad, the 2013-14 season will be a major step in the right direction. There is plenty of roster turnover, including the loss of talented (but walking turnover machine) Mark Lyons, but the Wildcats will still be favored in the Pac-12.
The combination of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Jefferson, as well as point guard transfer T.J. McConnell and returner Nick Johnson, gives Miller plenty of horses in the stable.
McConnell won’t score as much as Lyons, but he will set his teammates up effectively without the high turnover numbers.
Losing before the Sweet 16 is not supposed to happen in Chapel Hill. Neither is a third-place finish in the ACC, especially when one of the two squads the Tar Heels were looking up at was the Miami Hurricanes.
That, however, was exactly what happened in 2012-13, but things look much more promising for North Carolina this season.
The decision by Reggie Bullock to bolt for the NBA certainly hurts, but Roy Williams’ squad will be ready to challenge archrival Duke and newcomer Syracuse for a conference crown.
The return of P.J. Hairston certainly helps alleviate some of the concerns regarding Bullock’s departure. Furthermore, point guard Marcus Paige will need a productive and consistent sophomore season, something that could very well happen.
James Michael McAdoo’s decision to return alongside Hairston gives Williams yet another weapon to utilize. Look for a return to normalcy in Chapel Hill in 2013-14.
If anybody is going to put an end to Kansas’ nine-year reign of terror in the Big 12 in the 2013-14 season it will be Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys had a good 2012-13 campaign but it came to an abrupt end in the first game of the NCAA tournament at the hands of the No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks. It seemed like the beginning of the end for the recent basketball resurgence in Stillwater because superstar freshman Marcus Smart was expected to declare for the NBA draft.
Smart instead shocked most prognosticators by deciding to return to campus, and he has to be considered one of the favorites for both conference and national Player of the Year honors, although he will compete for that with some Jayhawk named Andrew Wiggins.
Smart isn’t the only returner for Oklahoma State. Teammates Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown, along with sharpshooter Phil Forte, give the Cowboys a formidable core surrounding Smart.
Look for Oklahoma State to be a fixture in the Top 10 all year as it challenges the Jayhawks for a conference crown.
Oregon’s 2012-13 season was absolutely outstanding by Oregon basketball standards, but the level of expectations have been raised in Eugene.
That means a No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and a Sweet 16 exit were only good, but not great.
The 2013-14 campaign, however, has a chance to be special.
A primary reason for that was the decision by Oregon native Mike Moser to return to his home state and transfer to Oregon from UNLV. He is eligible to play immediately, which is critical considering the Ducks’ biggest losses came in saying goodbye to E.J. Singler and Arsalan Kazemi.
Moser should help fill the void at both vacated forward spots and will look to return to his sophomore form, when he challenged for Mountain West Player of the Year. He struggled as a junior with an injury and a deep UNLV rotation, but a return to the power forward spot should set him up for a big season.
The combination of Moser, Dominic Artis and Jonathan Loyd—along with a number of young players who should continue their development—makes the Ducks dangerous contenders in the Pac-12.
Arizona has officially been warned.
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