Everything You Need to Know About the 2013-14 College Basketball Season
Get your multiple televisions set up, prepare yourself for Dick Vitale and a lot of "diaper dandy" references and tell your spouse you love her (or him), college basketball is back.
The season starts tomorrow and if there was ever a year to start paying attention in November, this is it.
In case you've had your priorities mixed up and slept through the offseason, I forgive you. And I'm here to help with this guide of all the important stuff you need to know heading into the season.
Buy some earplugs and get ready for a lot of whistles.
The NCAA rules committee set out to make the game less physical this offseason. The main emphasis is defenders can no longer use their hands.
In other words: Hand-checking is not allowed. If a ball-handler comes at a defender and the defender sticks out his hand to impede progress, it's an automatic whistle.
The interpretation of the block/charge rule also changed. When an offensive player begins his upward motion, a defender must be set. No more sliding in at the last second and drawing a charge.
The changes were a response to record-low scoring numbers. What you could see, especially early on, is free-throw shooting contests. And it could be hard to watch.
The hope is that eventually these changes make the game more pleasing on the eyes by fixing the scoring epidemic. Coaches and players will adjust. I believe this is good for the game, but we shall see.
More Conference Realignment
Please read the following carefully and slowly. It's confusing.
What was the Big East is now the American Athletic Conference, but it's a shell of its former self and another league got the old name.
Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Rutgers and Louisville are still around, but next year Rutgers goes to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC.
Joining the AAC—not to be confused with the ACC—are former Conference USA schools Memphis, SMU, Central Florida and Houston, in addition to Temple (from the Atlantic 10).
The catholic schools from the old Big East left and are now the new Big East—well, actually just the "Big East", but it helps to use "new" and "old" for now. Those schools are Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and DePaul. Creighton (from the Missouri Valley), Xavier (from the Atlantic 10) and Butler (from the Atlantic 10) also joined the party.
It was not a requirement to actually reside in the East to play in the Big East.
The ACC added Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh from the old Big East. And as mentioned earlier, Louisville will be joining next year, replacing Maryland, which is leaving for the Big Ten.
Those are the major changes. We'd break down all the small schools moving around too, but your head is probably already hurting.
The Super 6
The nickname needs some work, but John Calipari signed a recruiting class that could surpass the Fab Five as the greatest ever. On paper it already has, but I'd like to hold out crowning them until they play some games.
Calipari has nine freshmen on the roster, but it's six guys who brought all the attention. They're all McDonald's All-Americans, and they are the reason the Wildcats are the preseason No. 1.
The star of the group is Julius Randle, a powerful lefty who is the favorite to go No. 2 in the NBA draft behind Andrew Wiggins. He's like Lamar Odom, only stronger and actually plays hard.
What was cool about the Fab Five is they all started for Michigan as freshmen. At this point, it's likely only three or four start for Kentucky, but at some point this year you could see all five in the starting lineup. Remember, it took some time before Steve Fisher decided to start all five of his freshmen during the 1991-92 season.
The Year of the Freshman
If this class was a movie, you'd be tired of seeing the trailer on TV by this point. I'm going to go ahead and say it; this is the most hyped freshman class ever in college basketball.
Here are the names you need to know...
- Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: His dad played in the NBA, his mom was an Olympic sprinter for Canada and he's considered the best prospect since LeBron James. He's also from Canada. And if you haven't watched his mixtape yet, you might want to do that.
- Jabari Parker, Duke: When he was a junior in high school, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and identified as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James. He's a small forward who will play the 4 for Duke, and he's as skilled as they come.
- Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Competition for Wiggins as the best dunker in the class. He's been compared to Blake Griffin, but he's a more skilled version of the Clippers' big man.
- Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, Kentucky: Many of us from a certain generation can easily rattle off Webber, Rose, Howard, Jackson and King. Not sure the UK six will be able to impact pop culture like the Fab Five, but you might as well start memorizing their names.
Sorry if I didn't name your favorite freshman. The list of talented guys in this class is too long for this space.
College basketball's free agency is helping the big boys now. Five teams in the Top 10 all have transfers who could make impacts this year.
At Duke, former Mississippi State wing Rodney Hood was a preseason All-ACC selection. Former Memphis big man Tarik Black graduated in three years and transferred to Kansas where he can play right away and will start. Arizona's starting point guard will be former Duquesne guard T.J. McConnell. Those three are the big impact guys.
Syracuse will bring former Duke guard Michael Gbinije off the bench. And finally, Florida's rotation will likely include former Rutgers guard Eli Carter, former Virginia Tech forward Dorian Finney-Smith and former South Carolina center Damontre Harris.
Other transfers to watch include former Missouri guard Michael Dixon at Memphis, former Tulsa guard Jordan Clarkson at Missouri, former NC State/Tulane big man Josh Davis now at San Diego State, former UNLV/UCLA forward Mike Moser at Oregon, former UCLA center Josh Smith at Georgetown and former Marshall guard DeAndre Kane at Iowa State.
A few stars were bad boys during the offseason and will be forced to miss some games.
The most famous of the bunch is North Carolina leading scorer P.J. Hairston. Hairston had a habit of driving cars rented by a convicted felon, speeding and parking wherever he pleased. You can read a nice up-to-date account of it here from USA Today's Eric Prisbell. The longevity of his suspension given by Roy Williams is undecided, or at least unknown.
Do not be surprised if the NCAA gets involved as well. The good news is Hairston inspired this pretty awesome music video.
Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson is also starting the season on the bench. Police found cocaine and marijuana in Henderson's car during a traffic stop in May, which was not the first time Henderson has been in trouble with the law because of drugs. (His transgressions are timelined here.)
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy suspended Henderson for the team's regular-season opener and first two SEC games.
And finally, there's Louisville big man Chane Behanan, who was pushing around Michigan on his way to a double-double the last time he was on the court. We're not sure what Behanan did to get in trouble, but he's currently suspended indefinitely.
Pitino said at a recent book signing that Behanan would be back on the team in "a short period of time" if he does the right things, via Cole Claybourn of the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky.
My bet is C.B. will be back for Kentucky.
All the Cool Kids Stayed in School
Not everyone went pro this year. In fact, three of college basketball's best decided to stay in school.
Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, who would have been one of the first players off the board in the NBA draft, is back for his sophomore season.
Doug McDermott of Creighton decided he'd try to become a three-time All-American. McDermott told Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com that Creighton's move to the Big East convinced him to stay in school.
Russ Smith, everyone's favorite chucker, was thought to be gone—his dad said after Louisville won the national championship that his son was going pro—but Smith didn't like where he was projected and is back to try to repeat.
Three wins for college basketball.
Let's start with the biggie: A born Hoosier is now a Bruin. Steve Alford, who was winning comfortably at New Mexico, left to take the pressure-cooker job at UCLA, where they fired Ben Howland five years after he made three straight Final Fours and the same year he won a Pac-12 title with a core of freshmen and transfers.
Sticking in Hollywood, the man of last March, Andy Enfield, left Dunk City to take the USC job. Former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley replaced Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast.
Rick Pitino's son, Richard Pitino, was hired to replace Tubby Smith at Minnesota. Baby Pitino just turned 31.
Smith took over a rebuilding project at Texas Tech.
Brad Stevens left Butler to coach the Celtics. In his place steps former Butler guard Brandon Miller, who is also a baby in the coaching profession at 34.
Taking over for Alford at New Mexico is his former assistant Craig Neal. The Lobos return four starters and are a Top 25 team, ranked higher in the preseason than Alford's Bruins.
Mitch McGary's Back
You remember Mitch McGary. He was the Michigan freshman who turned into a bruising, imposing, hustling, rim-rattling star last March after spending the regular season as a reserve.
This year, McGary is a preseason All-American, and he's also got a back issue that could be troublesome for the Wolverines. He's already going to miss the season opener, Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday.
McGary's back injury will be a story you could hear a lot about throughout the season. You've been warned.
Aaron Craft Is Still in School
Aaron Craft is that guy who never graduates. Sorry Big Ten point guards. Craft and his rosy cheeks have one year left in college.
Other "that guy hasn't graduated yet?!" seniors include Patric Young at Florida, Syracuse wing C.J. Fair and the Wear twins at UCLA.
Connecticut Gets to Play Again
Welcome back to the sandbox, Huskies.
UConn had to sit out the postseason last season because of low scores on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate.
But it's all good now for the Huskies, who have one of the top backcourts in the country with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
In case you weren't paying attention last year, the Huskies are now coached by former UConn guard Kevin Ollie. Ollie will have the program back in our consciousness in no time.
Get Started with the Champions Classic
There are a few decent games on opening night—Oregon vs. Georgetown and Baylor vs. Colorado are the best of the bunch—but the first awesome night of hoops is next Tuesday's Champions Classic. Four of the top five ranked teams will be playing in Chicago.
The night begins with Michigan State against top-ranked Kentucky and ends with Duke and Kansas. You will not find more talent on one floor in one night all season, and that includes the Final Four.
If that night doesn't hook you for the rest of the year, then go watch some HGTV.