10 Reasons We Can't Wait for the 2014-15 NCAA Basketball Season to Begin
Although the start of the 2014-15 NCAA basketball season is still a couple of months away, hoops fans have good cause to be excited to see the year tip off. When preseason hype turns into on-court reality, there are going to be some entertaining answers to the biggest questions of the summer.
One of those mysteries is whether Kansas can sustain its amazing run of Big 12 dominance. After 10 straight conference titles, Perry Ellis and his mates are in for major competition this year, and even Bill Self’s usual influx of high-powered freshmen may not be enough to keep his team on top.
Read on to find out who poses the most dangerous threat to the Jayhawks’ reign, and to catch up on nine more great opportunities that we, as fans of college basketball, will enjoy once the games begin in the fall.
We Get to Watch a Wooden Award Race That’s Actually Competitive
Last season, two-time All-American Doug McDermott entered with such a head start on the Wooden Award that it would’ve been a shock to see anybody else win it.
Even Jabari Parker’s amazing freshman year was only enough to provide token opposition to Creighton’s scoring machine.
This year, though, there’s no shortage of candidates on equal footing, from young (Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, Parker’s spiritual successor) to old (Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky).
There’s also plenty of room for a less predictable candidate to overtake everyone, as Ohio State's Evan Turner did a few years ago.
We’re Finally Done with Lame-Duck Conference Affiliations
For the first time in recent memory, realignment is a thing of the past rather than the future.
With the Big Ten, AAC and others welcoming new arrivals, fans can finally start wrapping their heads around long-term conference lineups instead of waiting for the smoke to clear.
That’s just as well, considering how much head-scratching some of the new league rosters will require.
Dez Wells and Maryland joining the B1G’s Midwest powers is strange enough, but the notion of Tulsa and UConn as league rivals (a reality in the expanded AAC) stretches cartographic credulity to the breaking point.
We Get to See What Chris Walker Can Really Do
Eighty-seven minutes of playing time was enough to wet fans’ appetites for highlight magnet Chris Walker, but that’s all it could do.
With a full season as Florida’s starting power forward, the electrifying sophomore-to-be has a serious shot at grabbing SEC Player of the Year honors.
Walker, who missed most of his freshman campaign thanks to eligibility squabbles, stands 6’10” and appears to be able to leap nearly that high when he gets a good runway.
He’s a game-changing shot-blocker and dunker who will anchor a young but dangerous Gators squad that stands as Kentucky’s biggest obstacle to an undefeated SEC campaign.
We Get to See Two Big-Time Assistant Coaches Make Their Debuts in the Top Job
Steve Wojciechowski spent more than a decade learning the craft of coaching under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Orlando Antigua earned a reputation as the ultimate recruiting weapon while serving as an assistant to John Calipari.
Both men have landed their first head-coaching positions, though they’ll debut in two very different situations.
Wojo takes over for the hugely successful Buzz Williams at Marquette, where the new arrival is trying to help the Golden Eagles rebound from an off year and resume their usual place as leading contenders in the Big East.
Antigua, on the other hand, takes over a South Florida program with hardly any tradition. He should have little trouble winning over fans who had long since gotten sick of Stan Heath’s 40-35 snoozefests.
We’ll Get Our First Look at How Scary the New ACC Will Be
With apologies to the now-absent Maryland, the ACC has gained more from realignment than any other hoops conference.
Now that Louisville has arrived to complete the league’s roster, it’s time for the action on the floor to retake center stage from the action on the map.
The Cardinals, who won the last title in the old Big East and the first in the AAC, will be expected to finish no better than fourth in their loaded new conference.
North Carolina, Duke and Virginia all have good reason to be thinking Final Four this season, and that’s not even considering the talent pools at Syracuse, N.C. State or Notre Dame.
We’ll Learn How Wisconsin Handles Being Goliath Instead of David
In 13 years under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has won 20 games 11 times and cracked the AP Top 25 in 12 seasons. For all that success, though, the Badgers have usually been in the position of scrappy underdogs, not the team with a target on its back.
That will change after last March’s Final Four run, because Wisconsin—with four starters returning, including point guard Traevon Jackson—is set to be the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten.
Ryan’s best-ever collection of offensive firepower, combined with his usual stifling defense, makes Wisconsin a bona fide national title contender—rarefied air for a program that’s held the top spot in the polls for just one week in its history (in February of 2007).
We’ll Find out If Isaac Hamilton Was Worth All the Hype
Isaac Hamilton has filled many roles in the last 18 months, none of them as a college basketball player.
Cast as the savior of UTEP’s benighted program, he became either a traitor or a devoted relative (depending on who you ask) when he spurned the Miners at the last minute to join mighty UCLA.
Whether driven by basketball considerations or by a laudable desire to be closer to an ailing grandmother, the decision forced the explosive 6’5” guard to sit out last season in its entirety.
Now a redshirt freshman, Hamilton joins a potential-heavy Bruins lineup in desperate need of a perimeter scorer with his talent.
We’ll Get Another Chance to See Kansas Face a Real Challenge in the Big 12
There are national governments that don’t last as long as Kansas has spent on top of the Big 12. The Jayhawks have won or shared the regular-season title in their league every season since 2004-05, Bill Self’s second year with the program.
Iowa State, which toppled KU in the conference tourney last March, will give the callow Jayhawks another major test this year, and the Georges Niang-led Cyclones won’t be alone.
Veteran Texas, which returns all five starters from a 24-11 team, brings in uber-freshman Myles Turner to counter Kansas newcomers Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr.
We’ll See What Wichita State Can Do for an Encore
Tasked with proving its 2013 Final Four appearance wasn’t a fluke, Wichita State responded by posting Division I’s first undefeated regular season in more than a decade.
The Shockers aren’t likely to match that feat next year, but they’ve got a great chance to continue on the road to becoming Gonzaga 2.0.
Gregg Marshall’s backcourt returns pretty much intact, with Fred VanVleet already among the nation’s top point guards and marksman Ron Baker ready to take over as the primary scorer.
Cleanthony Early’s absence is a blow to the front line—which suffered other losses as well—but rising senior Darius Carter will make opponents pay if they overlook him down low.
We Get to See Whether Duke Can Beat Kentucky at Its Own Game
Led by 6’10” behemoth Jahlil Okafor, Mike Krzyzewski’s recruiting class at Duke is the best he’s landed in many years.
Although upperclassmen such as Rasheed Sulaimon will play valuable roles, it’s the freshmen—Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen—who will carry the Blue Devils on what could easily be a national title run.
That’s usually the paradigm for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, who have some impressive frosh of their own (see Lyles, Trey).
However, in a bit of a reversal, Coach Cal’s squad actually has far more veteran talent than Coach K’s, with the Harrison twins highlighting five key returnees from the national runners-up.