With the college basketball season merely days away, it is worth looking back at the long offseason that was and assessing some of the winners and losers.
Recruiting, off-court issues and returning stars dominated the storylines for these teams and will shape conference races throughout the country during the actual season. Read on to see exactly who these winners and losers were before the 2013-14 campaign begins.
Kansas has an absolute stranglehold on the Big 12 title, but in the early offseason it appeared as if the Jayhawks would be vulnerable in 2013-14.
After all, Bill Self would be replacing all five starters, and Oklahoma State received the welcoming and surprising news that Marcus Smart would be returning for his sophomore campaign. If there was ever a year for someone else to win the Big 12, it was this one.
And then Andrew Wiggins picked his college of choice.
Wiggins elected to take his talents to Lawrence, and now Kansas is a Top Five team with national championship aspirations, to say nothing of winning the conference again. This is not to suggest that the Cowboys can’t mount a formidable challenge to Self’s squad and perhaps even win the league, but with Wiggins in tow, the Jayhawks look like a much safer bet than they did at the start of the offseason.
Andrew Wiggins was considering a handful of traditional college basketball powerhouses during his recruitment process, but Florida State was also a finalist.
While the Seminoles may look out of place next to Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina if we are talking about hoops, Wiggins’ parents both attended Florida State. In fact, Wiggins’ father played basketball there, and many experts thought this would perhaps steer the talented freshman toward Tallahassee.
Kentucky and North Carolina are going to be fine without Wiggins, but had he elected to go to Florida State, it would have reshaped the entire program. The Seminoles would have been a Top 25 team this year and garnered incredible recruiting momentum and confidence going forward.
For now, Seminole fans will have to settle for a possible shot at the national title in football.
Lost in much of the Andrew Wiggins drama was the fact that Oklahoma State has built itself as a solid challenger to Kansas’ Big 12 throne this offseason.
Marcus Smart electing to return to school was the biggest offseason decision in the country that did not involve recruiting, and he is on the short list of National Player of the Year discussions. Unlike many superstars, Smart is one of the best players in the country on both ends of the floor and should take home some accolades this season to prove it.
With Le’Bryan Nash by his side, Smart will give the Jayhawks everything they can handle this year. The Big 12 race will be one of the most entertaining to follow across the college basketball landscape.
While Oklahoma State was the beneficiary of decisions to return to school, Indiana certainly was not.
Perhaps no team in the country lost as much talent as the Hoosiers, who spent much of last season atop the Top 25 rankings before ultimately disappointing with a Sweet 16 bow out in the NCAA tournament. It was a missed opportunity that might not come around again this year.
Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo departed for the NBA, while Remy Abell and Mo Creek elected to transfer. Zeller and Oladipo were the two most critical cogs in the turnaround that Tom Crean orchestrated in Bloomington, and losing Abell and Creek puts a dent in the depth for this season.
Fortunately for Hoosier fans, Crean landed a solid recruiting class and still has Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, but Indiana lost a lot of important talent this offseason.
Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling all decided to stay in school this offseason and attempt to lead Michigan State to a national title in a college basketball world dominated by impact freshmen.
The decision by those three alone lands the Spartans on the winners list for this offseason, considering the fact that it is hard to find a trio with the combination of experience and talent that these three possess.
Tom Izzo is in a Final Four drought by his incredible standards (no player who stayed for four years under him has not appeared in a Final Four, but that will be the case with these seniors if they fall short), but with these three in place in East Lansing he should be playing late into March. There are few coaches in the country better at maximizing his players than Izzo, and the Spartans may be the best team this side of Kentucky in 2013-14.
From a pure who-did-they-lose standpoint, Florida has to replace its top three scorers from a season ago.
Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario are no longer on campus, but Billy Donovan brought in a solid recruiting class featuring Kasey Hill and Chris Walker to go along with returning big man Patric Young. Yes, the Gators lost plenty of talent, but considering what they were bringing in, they probably don’t make this list were it not for off-court issues.
Scottie Wilbekin, Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith were suspended indefinitely late in the offseason, and Michael Frazier will miss some games as he recovers from mononucleosis. That leaves Florida notably shorthanded for the early going, even if the suspensions don’t last very long.
You never want to have an offseason marred by off-court concerns, but that is exactly what Florida is dealing with now.
Let’s take a minute to compare where Kentucky was at the end of the 2012-13 season to where it is at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
The Wildcats capped off an incredibly disappointing regular season with a stunning first-round loss to Robert Morris in the NIT. It certainly gave Kentucky-haters a fun little token to finish off such a dismal season in Lexington.
However, John Calipari has his squad as the prohibitive favorite to win the national title this year. The Wildcats sit atop the preseason Top 25 polls and have so much talent that finding enough shots for everyone may be the biggest concern. Talking in coach-speak, that is a good problem to have.
Calipari brought in one of the best and deepest recruiting classes in the history of the sport this offseason and will reap the rewards once the basketball season actually begins.
It has been a relatively quiet end to the offseason for Rutgers. Considering how terribly it started, that is incredibly welcoming news for the program.
The offseason kicked off when head coach Mike Rice was very publicly fired after footage aired that showed him using derogatory slurs, throwing basketballs and even shoving and grabbing players during practices. It was all very uncomfortable to watch, and the school had little choice but to let him go.
However, the fact that it took public criticism and pressure after the tape aired for the athletic program to finally relieve Rice of his duties instead of merely suspending him is disappointing to say the least. Athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned as well.
Reports then suggested that replacement coach Eddie Jordan never earned the undergraduate degree at Rutgers that the school’s website claimed he did. Needless to say, it was not a great offseason for the Scarlet Knights.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.