College Basketball Teams Poised to Bounce Back in 2013-14 Season
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Every college basketball program falls on hard times sooner or later. Some are able to bounce back quickly, while others stay down for quite a while. Seven teams that endured a mediocre, or in some cases just plain awful, 2012-13 season are ready to rebound right away.
The process is usually expedited if a program can recruit at a high level or does not have significant roster turnover.
None of these seven teams made the NCAA tournament last season. Most of them will be dancing this March, while a couple others will have to sweat it out on the bubble.
Anyone counting the following teams out should think again, because not believing in them would be a mistake.
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This one is not going to surprise a whole lot of college basketball fans, so it only makes sense to get it out of the way first. Most schools would love to win 21 games and finish fourth in their conference. The Kentucky Wildcats are unlike any other program in the country in terms of expectations, though. It is an NCAA title or bust.
Last year's tumultuous season, which ended with a first-round exit in the NIT, had to feel worse than walking on glass to Wildcat fans.
Haters should get all the Kentucky jokes out of their system now, because come November no one is going to be laughing at John Calipari's group.
Rising stars Willy Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress will bring experience and motivation to the Wildcats' locker room. Those are two things Kentucky seemingly did not have much of in 2012-13. Cauley-Stein and Poythress will be responsible for helping the nation's No. 1 recruiting class adjust to the pressure of donning the blue and white uniform.
This crop of freshmen seems to be dealing with the hype better than its predecessors. Five-star prospects Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison already appear capable of assuming leadership roles for the Wildcats.
Whether or not Kentucky should be ranked No. 1 when the preseason polls come out is very debatable. Projecting the Wildcats to miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight year would just be plain foolish, though.
Johnny O'Bryant and the LSU Tigers will be contenders in the SEC this season.
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Recruiting well solves a lot of problems. Second-year head coach Johnny Jones is well on his way to fixing the LSU Tigers and ending a three-season NCAA tournament drought.
Last season's leading scorer and rebounder Johnny O'Bryant III is back. Joining him will be rising junior guard Anthony Hickey and sixth-man Shavon Coleman, who were second and fourth in scoring for the Tigers, respectively. Hickey also ranked second in the nation in steals with 2.9 per game.
As for those talented recruits, 5-star power forward Jarrell Martin is going to be a force right away. Highly touted prospect Jordan Mickey is now eligible, which is great news for LSU. The rest of the SEC is not going to be so happy. Martin and Mickey should be one of the best big-man tandems in the conference.
Despite finishing the 2012-13 campaign with a lackluster 19-12 record, things were coming together for the Tigers. Jones' team went 10-6 to close out the campaign and upset then-No. 17 Missouri at home.
Look for LSU to build off its late-season success and earn a spot in the Big Dance.
St. John's Red Storm
Chris Obekpa will be a dynamic rim protector once again.
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Despite bringing in a talented recruiting haul in 2012, the St. John's Red Storm endured some significant growing pains last season. The young and offensively challenged Red Storm stumbled to a 17-16 overall record and an 8-10 mark in the Big East Conference.
This group had its struggles but should be much improved come November. Rising sophomore Chris Obekpa is a dominant shot-blocker (4.0 per game) who just needs more development offensively. If Obekpa has made some improvements over the offseason, he could be one of the top big men in college basketball.
The Red Storm also return their top two scorers, D'Angelo Harrison (17.8 points per game) and Jakarr Sampson (14.9 per contest).
Rebounding will not be an issue, either. Sampson and Obekpa combined to average 12.8 boards per game in 2012-13.
Add 24-year-old Dominican forward Orlando Sanchez and 5-star point guard Rysheed Jordan into the mix, and St. John's looks like an NCAA tournament team. Not only that, the Red Storm will find themselves near the top of the new-look Big East for much of the 2013-14 campaign.
Chris Mack and Xavier should be dancing come March.
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Despite losing four of its top players before the 2012-13 season even began, the Xavier Musketeers strung together a 17-win season and finished 9-7 in Atlantic 10 play. Missing out on the NCAA tournament is not something Musketeer fans are used to, though. Fear not, because Xavier will be dancing in 2014.
Three seniors are gone, but point guard Semaj Christon is back. The rising sophomore averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game and dished out 4.6 assists per contest. Betting against a team with a point guard like Christon would be unwise.
There are plenty of weapons around Christon as well. Upperclassmen Dee Davis, Justin Martin and Isaiah Philmore all will suit up once again. Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook has shed over 50 pounds of excess weight and should be ready to contribute for the Musketeers.
Do not expect Xavier to contend with Marquette for the Big East title. However, the Musketeers will be in everybody's brackets come March.
A.J. Hammons is going to be one of the Big Ten's top big men.
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The Purdue Boilermakers' run of six-straight NCAA tournament appearances came to an end after a rocky 16-18 season.
However, departing senior D.J. Byrd is the only one of four double-digit scorers not returning to West Lafayette this year, and aside from losing four other minor contributors, the bulk of Purdue's roster remains intact.
A.J. Hammons is poised for a breakout campaign for the Boilermakers. The 7-footer displayed flashes of dominance in 2012-13, but never put everything together consistently. With a year of experience under his belt, Hammons should be one of the top big men in the Big Ten Conference.
Ronnie and Terone Johnson give Purdue a solid backcourt. Adding 4-star shooting guard Kendall Stephens to the group will force opponents to respect the Boilermakers on the perimeter.
The Big Ten will be stacked once again, so do not expect Purdue to rise to the top of the league this season. On the other hand, the Boilermakers appear to have enough talent to get themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble and potentially steal a bid.
Johnny Dawkins has a team worthy of NCAA tournament consideration this season.
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The Stanford Cardinal have been on the cusp of a breakout campaign each of the past two seasons. Now, head coach Johnny Dawkins has the combination of talent and experience needed to crack the NCAA tournament field.
Four starters will more than likely be upperclassmen. If small forward Anthony Brown can return to full strength after last season's hip injury, the Cardinal's starting five could be made up entirely of juniors and seniors.
Big men Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell will be the driving force of Stanford's offense. Both have made improvements to their outside shooting and are going to be tough matchups for opposing forwards. Not many teams in the Pac-12 Conference will have two bigs as good as Huestis and Powell.
Even with guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle shooting below 40 percent from the field, the Cardinal went 19-15 a season ago. Stanford will be a Pac-12 contender and an NCAA tournament team as long as those two can bring their shooting percentages up.
Keep your eyes out for the Cardinal come Selection Sunday.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Last season could not have gone much worse for West Virginia.
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This is by far the toughest sell of any team listed so far. Not much went right for the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2012-13 season. Six players from last year's group, which finished with an abysmal 13-19 overall record, are gone (subscription required).
So, what is there to believe in?
Bob Huggins. The man has made the NCAA tournament 19 of the past 21 years he has coached. It is hard to bet against Huggins, even if his team's roster is not exactly easy on the eyes.
Juwan Staten should be much more efficient at point guard this season after adjusting to Huggins' system last year. Rising sophomore guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson were two of the Mountaineers' top four scorers, but inexperience plagued them. Both will be much improved and less overwhelmed by the speed of the college game in 2013-14.
The most important piece of the puzzle, though, could be 4-star power forward Devin Williams. If the nation's No. 42 overall prospect can be a reliable option in the post, West Virginia can fight its way onto the bubble. Getting similar production from 4-star big man Elijah Macon will be crucial, too.
An NCAA tournament bid may be a long shot, but it is tough to bet against Huggins given his track record.