10 Things We Can't Wait to See in the 2014-15 College Basketball Season
That was one heck of a college basketball season we just finished living through. And now we have to wait how long until the next one?
Sadly, it will be about seven months before the 2014-15 season is upon us, an interminably long offseason that can only be briefly filled with news of coaching changes, transfer announcements and players deciding to go pro early.
While the memories of the season past are still fresh, they soon will fade. That just leaves more room to think ahead to all the things we'll be anxious to see come November.
Here's our list of 10 things we can't wait to see during the 2014-15 college basketball campaign.
Father vs. Son
Schedules for the 2014-15 season are a long way from being finalized, but we do know a good number of the matchups and participants in early tournaments and neutral-site events.
That includes a family affair that's been years in the making.
Minnesota's Richard Pitino will face off against father Rick Pitino and Louisville in the third edition of the Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 14 at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico, according to ESPN.com's Andy Katz.
It will be the second meeting between the relatives, with dad beating son in December 2012. But that was when Richard Pitino coached Florida International, and now he'll be coming off leading Minnesota to the 2014 NIT championship.
Old Faces in New Places
With about 350 schools playing at the Division I level, it's inevitable each year that a numbers of teams will change coaches. As of April 10, that number sits at 35, according to CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello.
Most of these openings have already been filled. While the hiring of Jay Ladner to replace Jim Yarbrough at Southeastern Louisiana doesn't really count as big news outside Hammond, La., and the Southland Conference, there have been some notable names to ride the coaching carousel.
The ones making the biggest headlines were guys returning to the game after some time away.
Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is back after a three-year absence, taking over Auburn. Pearl was fired by the Volunteers in March 2011 in the wake of his run-in with the NCAA regarding a recruiting investigation, and as part of his show-cause penalty cannot recruit or evaluate players until August, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman.
Former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was hired at Houston, getting another chance to coach at the college level after spending time as an NBA assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets. Sampson also had a show-cause penalty, for five years, for excessive text messages and phone calls to recruits, according to Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.
Other significant moves include former Oregon coach Ernie Kent taking the Washington State job, Buzz Williams leaving Marquette for Virginia Tech, Danny Manning going from Tulsa to Wake Forest and North Dakota State's Saul Phillips moving to Ohio after Jim Christian left that job for Boston College.
Throw in remaining vacancies at California and Marshall, plus other potential gigs to open up, and we'll get a chance to see a lot of old faces in new places next season.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has recruited this past year with the anticipation that standouts Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker would leave early for the NBA. That hasn't happened yet, but even if it does the Blue Devils will be stacked in 2014-15.
Key contributors expected to return include guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Amile Jefferson, who will be joined by the nation's top recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
The gem of the group is 6'11" center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player in the class, while 5-star point guard Tyus Jones, 5-star small forward Justise Winslow and 4-star shooting guard Grayson Allen should keep Duke near the top of the rankings again.
If either Hood or Parker—or both—come back? Watch out, world.
Kentucky's Next Young Guns
John Calipari's recruiting approach has translated into one national title and two championship game appearances (as well as a first-round NIT exit) in the past three seasons, and there's no sign the veteran coach plans on changing things anytime soon.
The Wildcats' 2014 class isn't as heralded, or as large, as past groups, but the four players Calipari has signed for this fall were still good enough to get the No. 2 national ranking.
It will be fun to watch how the likes of 6'9" power forward Trey Lyles and 7'1" center Karl Towns Jr. fit in with whichever front-line players Kentucky still has after NBA draft declarations, while any backcourt losses will be boosted by 6'6" shooting guard Devin Booker and 5'8" point guard Tyler Ulis.
Other Freshman Phenoms
It might seem like Duke and Kentucky got all the good ones, but the incoming freshman talent will be spread all over Division I for the 2014-15 season.
Kansas brings in a pair of 5-star players in 6'9" power forward Cliff Alexander and 6'7" shooting guard Kelly Oubre, while North Carolina's haul includes 5-star prospects in 6'8" small forward Justin Jackson, 6'6" small forward Theo Pinson and 6'0" point guard Joel Berry.
Arizona once again landed the top West Coast product in 6'7" small forward Stanley Johnson, but maybe the biggest get was made by SMU. The fast-rising Mustangs signed No. 2 overall prospect Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6'5" point guard from Dallas.
There's still one more big-name prospect out there, as 5-star center Myles Turner is still weighing offers from Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas, among others.
Louisville in the ACC
The realignment craziness brought forth by football and TV money has slowed down a bit, with only a handful of moves set to go into effect for the 2014-15 season.
While most won't matter to the average fan—can you believe that Oral Roberts is going back to the Summit League after only a few years in the Southland?—there is one move that we're anxiously awaiting: Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Though the American Athletic Conference was surprisingly better than anyone could have hoped this past season, producing both the NCAA champ in Connecticut and the NIT runner-up in SMU, it still didn't garner much national prestige. That hurt Louisville come NCAA tourney seeding time.
But now the Cardinals are moving into the ACC, effectively taking the place left open by Maryland's strange decision to join the Big Ten. And that means getting a chance to see Rick Pitino and company resume old rivalries with Pittsburgh and Syracuse while also establishing new ones with Duke and North Carolina.
After making the Final Four in 2013, Wichita State was out to prove that run wasn't a fluke. The Shockers did their best to argue that point by going undefeated through the regular season and Missouri Valley tournament, only to fall to Kentucky in the round of 32.
What does WSU have up its sleeve for 2014-15?
The Shockers lose Cleanthony Early, which is a big hole to fill. But while that means needing to replace their leading scorer and rebounder, there's still a solid group remaining in juniors Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet and senior Tekele Cotton.
Wichita will need its newcomers to take root quickly in the frontcourt, but the foundation this program has established under Gregg Marshall almost guarantees another solid season.
Ollie's Second Act
OK, Kevin Ollie, what are you going to do for an encore?
The former interim coach at Connecticut made the most of his first-ever postseason appearance, leading the Huskies to their fourth national title and second in four years. This despite finishing third in its conference during the regular season and dropping its finale by 33 points.
UConn's NCAA tournament run was fun to watch, but the catalyst of that upswell (guard Shabazz Napier) won't be around to carry the team. Instead, the 2014-15 Huskies will belong to breakout star DeAndre Daniels—if he doesn't leave early—senior guard Ryan Boatright and former North Carolina State guard Rodney Purvis.
The track record for defending champs has been mixed of late. Louisville reached the Sweet 16 this season after winning the 2012-13 title, but 2011-12 champ Kentucky didn't make the NCAA tourney.
This is more a wish than an expectation, and a fleeting one at that. There hasn't been any talk of significant changes to the new replay rules that went into place for college basketball this past season, which is a shame.
While officials had the ability to go to a monitor to check things like time and possession in late-game situations, the process by which they did seemed far too antiquated for today's high-tech world. The refs would huddle around a small courtside screen and watch numerous replay angles, but during the NCAA tournament especially these reviews would seem to take forever.
And a lot of times they didn't seem to get the call right, despite the chance to slow things down and avoid mistakes.
Professional sports are moving toward centralized "control centers" for their replays, so why can't college basketball? If not, then at least find a way to speed things up.
Is It March Yet?
It's never too late to start thinking about the 2015 NCAA tournament. The experts aren't. In addition to the requisite way-too-early top 25 polls, there's even some projected brackets for next March already.
So much can (and will) happen between now and mid-March that such rankings and projections are pointless other than to spark debate. But at least they give us something to look forward to during the long college hoops offseason.
Here's another carrot to keep you satisfied: the First Four is only a little more than 11 months away, set for March 17 and 18 in Dayton.
Second- and third-round sites for 2015 are Jacksonville, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., on March 19 and 21, while on March 20 and 22 action will be in Charlotte, Columbus (Ohio), Omaha and Seattle.
Cleveland will host the Midwest and Los Angeles will host the West regionals on March 26 and 28, while the East will be in Syracuse and the South in Houston on March 27 and 29. That will all feed in to the 2015 Final Four on April 4 and 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Start booking your hotels and flights. Or, if you're going to watch it at home like the rest of us, save yourself some time and keep truTV on your favorite channels list.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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