BY SCOTT GLEESON — USA TODAY SPORTS
The 2012-13 season and the madness that came with the postseason has officially concluded, which means it’s time to put that image of Louisville cutting down the nets into the rear-view mirror and turn our focus to the more pertinent future.
Among the top story lines in the offseason, as always, will be which players test the NBA waters and the impact of a pool of talented freshmen on the college landscape.
That’s not to mention conference realignment. Predicting everything we can, USA TODAY Sports’ college basketball staff previews what the top 25 will look like in 2013-14.
No. 1 Kentucky (This season: 21-12, lost in first round of NIT): Not even injuries can prevent John Calipari’s latest recruiting class from leading Kentucky back to the NCAA tournament after Nerlens Noel’s season-ending ACL tear derailed and eventually cost the Wildcats a shot at the NCAAs this season. Returnees Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer will be meshed with one of the best freshmen classes ever. The Sensational Six — Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and James Young — give Calipari undoubtedly the country’s best talent. The team’s chemistry will be the crucial ingredient to a winning recipe. UK loses Julius Mays to graduation, Archie Goodwin to the NBA and likely Noel to the NBA.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A+ Calipari’s latest haul, which features four of the top seven – and six of the top 20 – recruits in the ESPN 100, is being heralded as the greatest class since Michigan’s ‘Fab Five.’ Big Blue Nation might explode if undecided No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins joins the fray.
No. 2 Duke (This season: 30-6, lost in Elite Eight): The Blue Devils lose a bevy of talent including leading scorers in seniors Seth Curry (17.5 ppg), Mason Plumlee (17.1 ppg) and Ryan Kelly (12.9 ppg) but much like Kentucky, a highly-touted recruiting class should put Duke right back into the mix. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon (11.6 ppg) is expected to return and Mike Krzyzewski welcomes heralded recruit Jabari Parker as well as transfer Rodney Hood.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A. Parker, who led Simeon (Chicago) to four state titles, headlines the ACC’s top class, which also includes DeSoto (Texas) shooting guard Matt Jones and Ottawa (Kan.) small forward Semi Ojeleye.
No. 3 North Carolina (This season: 25-11, lost in NCAA tourney third round): The Tar Heels turned it on late in the season to finish third in the ACC. If NBA prospects James Michael McAdoo (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Reggie Bullock (13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and P.J. Hairston (14.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) return, UNC’s roster will feature the best returning talent in the country. Aside from losing senior guard Dexter Strickland (7.8 ppg), the Tar Heels wouldn’t have many voids to fill should the top players stay. Isaiah Hicks, a top-20 recruit, should be an impact freshman.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A- Roy Williams welcomes a pair of in-state studs in Hicks (Oxford) and center Kennedy Meeks (Charlotte), as well as Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) point guard Nate Britt.
No. 4 Michigan State (This season: 27-9, lost in NCAA tourney Sweet 16): Much like Carolina, the Spartans could be a favorite to win the national title next year should its go-to players choose to return. Adreian Payne (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Gary Harris (12.9 ppg) and Keith Appling (13.4) all have NBA potential, but only senior Derrick Nix (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is gone. If Payne and Nix both leave, Tom Izzo’s frontcourt will be bare.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: C+ After losing Parker to Duke and watching in-state star James Young choose Kentucky, the Spartans are devoid of freshman star power.
No. 5 Florida (29-8, lost in Elite Eight): The Gators lose their top three scorers — Erik Murphy (12.2 ppg), Kenny Boynton (12 ppg), and Mike Rosario (12.5 ppg) to graduation. But big man Patric Young (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) announcing his return is a big bonus. Other integral returnees include Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. Billy Donovan welcomes two top-10 freshmen, forward Chris Walker and guard Kasey Hill, to Gainesville with hopes to fill the void of his three standout seniors and perhaps spearhead a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A. While the Gators lost the battle for Parker and Randle, Hill and Walker are McDonald’s All Americans who should contribute right away.
No. 6 Arizona (This season: 27-8, lost in the Sweet 16): Sean Miller will have to replace his top two scorers — Mark Lyons (15.5 ppg) and Solomon Hill (13.4 ppg) but a top-notch freshmen class, led by top-five recruit Aaron Gordon, should position the Wildcats to dominate the Pac-12. Guard Nick Johnson (11.5 ppg) returns after a strong sophomore campaign.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A+ Gordon and Chester (Pa.) small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the gems in what is far and away the Pac-12′s best class.
No. 7 Marquette (26-9, lost in Elite Eight): The reigning Big East regular-season co-champions lose guard Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett but should return leading scorers Vander Blue and Davante Gardner — not to mention the fiery coach Buzz Williams. With a younger group of players set to take on larger roles and the Eagles’ NCAA tourney prowess, Marquette’s defensive strengths should bode well in the new Big East.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A. Southwind (Memphis, Tenn.) shooting guard JaJuan Johnson headlines a top-notch recruiting class that features four players in the ESPN 100.
No. 8 Syracuse (30-10, lost in the Final Four): The Orange may lose Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA draft but perhaps the do-everything point guard will be motivated to come back after a dreadful showing in the Final Four. Syracuse seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland exhausted their eligibility, which means the Orange will be hard-pressed to contend in the ACC without Carter-Williams. Jim Boeheim has surprised before, though, and freshmen Tyler Ennis and Ron Patterson should make an immediate impact in the backcourt.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A. In addition to Ennis and Patterson, Syracuse will welcome in Roselle Catholic (Union, N.J.) power forward Tyler Roberson, a top-30 recruit.
No. 9 Memphis (31-5, lost in NCAA tourney third round): Speaking of immediate-impact recruits, Memphis will get a huge boost from incoming prospects like Austin Nichols, Kuran Iverson and Nick King — each ranked among the top 40 seniors in the country by Rivals.com. A move to the AAC would provide a sterner test than Conference USA, but the Tigers have the talent to make waves from the start.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A+ Josh Pastner’s latest class might be the (distant) second-best in the country.
No. 10 Louisville (This season: 34-5, national champions): Minus the departure of senior Peyton Siva, the Cardinals have a chance to return close to an entirely intact roster. If leading scorer Russ Smith, who averaged more than 24 points a game in the NCAA tournament, decides to leave for the NBA, then the chances of replicating 2012-13 are highly unlikely. Gorgui Dieng (10.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) is also on-the-fence with his future plans.
USA TODAY High School Sports’ Freshmen Class Grade: A. The Cardinals reload with point guard Terry Rozier and shooting guard Anton Gill, who formed one of the nation’s best backcourts at Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Va.)
No. 11 Wichita State (This season: 30-9, lost in the Final Four): The Shockers cannot be taken out of the nationally-ranked equation if Gregg Marshall is coaching. After losing its top five scorers last season, WSU staged a colossal upset over No. 1 Gonzaga and nearly stunned top overall seed Louisville during a storybook NCAA tournament run. Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead’s losses will be huge, but leading scorer Cleanthony Early (13.9 ppg) and standout freshman Ron Baker return.
No. 12 Kansas (31-6, lost in the Sweet 16): The Jayhawks were less than five seconds away from advancing to the Elite Eight before Michigan’s Trey Burke forced overtime with a 28-foot dagger. That ended Kansas’ season and now seniors Jeff Withey (13.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg. 3.9 bpg), Travis Releford (11.9 ppg) and Elijah Johnson (9.9 ppg) are gone. Freshman sensation Ben McLemore’s is likely to declare for the draft so Bill Self will be forced to turn to underclassman Perry Ellis and another loaded freshman class in 2013-14.
No. 13 Ohio State (29-8, lost in the Elite Eight): The Buckeyes had to be somewhat disappointed that forward Deshaun Thomas opted to forego his final season in favor of the NBA draft, but OSU has the sort of veteran leadership (Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr.) and ready-to-jump talent (LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson) needed to remain in the top four in the Big Ten.
No. 14. Colorado (21-12, lost to Illinois in the NCAA tourney second round): Coach Tad Boyle’s group loses a starter in guard Sabatino Chen, but the Buffaloes should return each of this season’s five leading scorers. With Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker only sophomores, Colorado certainly has the potential to push Arizona for the Pac-12 championship.
No. 15 Oregon (28-9, lost in the Sweet 16): Oregon has quickly grown into one of the Pac-12′s best programs under Dana Altman, reaching the Sweet 16 in its third season under the former Creighton coach with the potential for more in 2013-14. Unlike this past year, when they were predicted to finish in the second half of the Pac-12, the Ducks will be a trendy top 25 pick heading into next season.
No. 16. Iowa (25-13, lost in NIT final): The Hawkeyes were extremely close to netting an NCAA tournament bid in 2012-13, eventually falling to the NIT due to several narrow losses to Big Ten powers Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Returning starters Mike Gesell, Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White led Iowa to the NIT championship game. That experience will give Iowa the confidence it needs to turn those close losses into wins come next season.
No. 17 Villanova (20-14, lost in the NCAA tourney second round): The Wildcats’ up-and-down play (beat Syracuse, Louisville and Georgetown, lose to Seton Hall, Providence and Columbia) can be tied directly to the team’s overall youth and lack of experience. Those two negatives should no longer be an issue this coming season, when players like JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard are a year wiser.
No. 18 Virginia Commonwealth: For starters, coach Shaka Smart inked a long-term extension that should keep him at VCU for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, VCU will return the overwhelming majority of this season’s production. (Guard Troy Daniels is expected to be the only major contributor gone from this year’s team.) The Rams are no longer coming in under the radar, and deservedly so.
No. 19 Virginia (23-12, lost in the NIT): The Cavaliers shouldn’t have any issues making the field of 68 next season after just missing the field this year. Virginia loses Jontel Evans but brings a majority of its roster back, led by Joe Harris (16. 3 ppg). Plus, Malcolm Brogdon and South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill become eligible.
No. 20 Georgetown (25-7, lost in the NCAA tourney second round): Last month’s early tournament flameout belied an otherwise sterling 2012-13 season. To repeat – the good parts, not the tournament loss – Georgetown will need to find a way to replace Otto Porter Jr., who is widely expected to enter the NBA draft. That’s no easy task. Georgetown will still have enough talent to win 20-plus games during the regular season.
No. 21 Gonzaga (30-9, lost in the NCAA tourney third round): Even if Kelly Olynyk opts for the draft, Gonzaga will be the top team in the West Coast Conference. If Olynyk returns, however, the Bulldogs will be led by one of the favorites for national player of the year. Any team built around Olynyk has the chance to make noise in the NCAA tournament.
No. 22. New Mexico (29-6, lost in the NCAA tourney second round): The coaching change – Steve Alford left for UCLA – is a long-term concern, but promoting assistant Craig Neal into Alford’s spot will ensure that New Mexico doesn’t miss a beat in 2013-14. Despite the departure of lead catalyst Tony Snell his will be an upperclassmen-heavy team with enough experience (and drive) to move beyond this season’s early tournament exit.
No. 23 Indiana (29-7, lost in the Sweet 16): The Hoosiers will more than likely lose potential lottery picks Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA, leaving Tom Crean with role players to mix in with a stellar freshmen class made up of Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams, Luke Fischer, Stanford Robinson, Devin Davis and Collin Hartman.
No. 24 Michigan (31-7, national runner-up): We’ll know in the next few days if this is too high or too low for the Wolverines. What if Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III opt for another season in Ann Arbor? Then we’re looking at the preseason No. 1. It’s safer to expect at least three of the underclassmen to opt for the draft, leaving Michigan in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after this year’s trip to the championship game.
No. 25 Baylor (23-14, lost in NIT): The Bears wouldn’t be the first team to leapfrog from NIT champs to a major NCAA tournament player. Helping matters is Baylor’s 2013 recruiting class, which ranks firmly within the top 20 nationally. With guard Pierre Jackson gone, Baylor will need Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin to pick up even more of the scoring slack.
Others receiving strong consideration: Ole Miss, Maryland, Miami, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Xavier, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Creighton, Denver, Butler, Temple, Florida State, Iowa State, FGCU, Illinois, UNLV.
Contributing: Nicole Auerbach, Scott Allen, Eric Prisbell, Paul Myerberg, Patrick Stevens, Eddie Timanus.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball