Predicting Which Disappointing NCAA Basketball Teams Will Bounce Back in 2013-14
There’s always next year is a phrase that has become all too familiar to long-suffering and ever-optimistic Chicago Cubs fans.
Well, next year is here for a handful of college basketball teams that struggled through disappointment last season. The following teams have already started campaigns that will serve as successful bounce-back efforts.
Expect to see all five of these squads making much more noise come March.
Villanova did make the NCAA tournament last season after finishing the schedule 20-13, but it ducked out in its first game against North Carolina (in perhaps the most disappointing battle between No. 8 and 9 seeds of all-time).
If the Wildcats continue to play like they did in the Bahamas during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, they will be given a much more favorable seed on Selection Sunday. Villanova is off to an impressive 7-0 start, but the team's three-day run in the Bahamas officially put the nation on notice.
The Wildcats handled USC in their first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and then shocked Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in the second round. It took overtime for Villanova to knock off a ranked Iowa squad in the championship game, which was a notable victory in its own right—besides the fact that Villanova didn't experience the hangover effect a day after upsetting the Jayhawks.
The scoring combination of James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston has been formidable thus far. The Wildcats are serious contenders to win the new-look Big East.
Depending on your opinion of the National Invitation Tournament, the argument can be made that Baylor's NIT Championship should not be seen as a disappointment. More to the point, with that much talent the Bears should have been in the NCAA tournament.
They will be this time around.
The foursome of Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip, Kenny Chery and Isaiah Austin is one of the best in the Big 12, and Baylor has been winning the nonconference games it's supposed to. A hard-fought defeat at the hands of Syracuse is nothing to be ashamed of, and neither would a loss to Kentucky in the team's upcoming contest on Dec. 6.
Outside of Kansas, Oklahoma State and perhaps Iowa State, nobody in the Big 12 should intimidate Baylor. Even a fourth place finish is more than enough for Baylor to make the NCAA tournament after missing out last season.
On the surface, last season wasn’t exactly a disappointment for Connecticut considering the circumstances it dealt with. However, not playing in the tournament is disappointing for a top-notch program like UConn, regardless of the fact that it was due to NCAA sanctions and not substandard play.
This season the Huskies will bounce back and rejoin the national picture by becoming a mainstay near the top of the rankings.
Shabazz Napier is one of the best point guards in the country, and he hit one of the biggest shots of the young season against Florida Monday. He buried a mid-range jumper as the buzzer sounded and gave the Huskies arguably their fourth marquee win of the year already.
Connecticut has beaten Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and now the Florida Gators, but the team still has games with Stanford and Washington before American Athletic Conference play heats up. It's safe to say the Huskies will be battle-tested by the time Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis come to town.
Before you ask, yes totaling double-digit losses and dropping its first NCAA tournament game to No. 11 seed Minnesota by 20 points qualifies as a disappointing season last year by UCLA standards.
Fortunately for Bruins fans, the 2013-14 campaign should be much better.
UCLA has been something of an offensive juggernaut in the early going, ranking in the top 10 nationally for points per game, assists per game and field-goal percentage. Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, Norman Powell and Kyle Anderson have played much more fluidly without Shabazz Muhammad forcing the issue, and the points should continue to come.
The Bruins haven’t really played anyone of note yet (unless you count Northwestern), but challenges against Missouri and Duke should give college basketball fans a good idea of where the Bruins stand before Pac-12 play begins. Look for the Bruins to challenge Arizona and Oregon for a Pac-12 title this year.
It almost seems like cheating to be able to include Kentucky on this list, but nobody had a more disappointing season last year than John Calipari’s squad—especially given the high expectations in Lexington, Ky.
And nobody will have a more dramatic bounce-back season than the Wildcats either.
There is so much talent on the Kentucky roster that it's almost not fair to the rest of the lackluster SEC. Julius Randle could be the best player in America and he will vie for National Player of the Year honors, not to mention the right to be the No. 1 draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Harrison brothers bring a smooth approach to the backcourt that results in points and assists, and James Young is a formidable scoring option as well.
That’s not even mentioning the inside potential of Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
The Wildcats have looked somewhat vulnerable in the early going against Michigan State and even Cleveland State, but that is to be expected with so much youth. They are still serious national title contenders.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.