Top 10 Tuesday: Under-the-radar storylines

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
11:00
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Brad Stevens left Butler for the Boston Celtics, P.J. Hairston’s future is in jeopardy at North Carolina and the ACC is bigger and better than ever thanks to the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

Those topics have been discussed ad nauseam the past four months. Plenty of other things, however, have occurred during the offseason that could have a huge impact on the 2013-14 campaign. Here are 10 storylines that aren’t receiving nearly enough attention as the season inches closer.

1. Key eligibility issues: Three of the nation’s top programs are waiting on the NCAA to rule on the eligibility status of players who could change the course of their respective seasons. The most high-profile case involves Florida forward Chris Walker, an incoming freshman whose academic standing is in question. Walker, the country’s No. 12 recruit according to ESPN.com, is not listed on the Gators’ roster. The Gainesville Sun reported Monday that Walker may have to wait until December to take the court, if it happens at all. At Memphis, the Tigers’ backcourt will be one of the best in the country if Michael Dixon is deemed eligible. Dixon was forced to leave Missouri’s program in November following allegations of sexual misconduct. Dixon, however, was never arrested or even questioned by police. He is arguably one of the top 10 players at his position and would likely provide the leadership the Tigers have been lacking. At Oregon, coach Dana Altman is crossing his fingers that Houston transfer Joseph Young will be able to play immediately. Young, a wing, averaged 18 points per game last season. He could form one of the nation’s top perimeter trios along with Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis.

[+] EnlargeRick Barnes
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsWill losing his top three scorers mean another frustrating season for Rick Barnes at Texas?
2. Rick Barnes’ future at Texas: The Longhorns went just 16-18 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 14-year tenure. Even worse, Texas has advanced to the second weekend of the tournament only once in the past seven years. With its top three scorers all departing the program (Myck Kabongo entered the NBA draft and Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis transferred), UT could struggle again this season. That could mean trouble for Barnes -- and, perhaps, a new opportunity for someone else. Should it come open, the Horns job would be one of the most coveted in the country. The pay is great, the recruits are plentiful and there aren’t many cities in the country better than Austin. There’s no reason Texas shouldn’t be battling Kansas every year for the Big 12 title. I could see Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Memphis’ Josh Pastner being in the mix if the Longhorns make a change.

3. Tarik Black transfers to Kansas: The addition of No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins has dominated the headlines in Lawrence, and rightfully so. But Black, a senior who played his first three seasons at Memphis, could play a crucial role for the Jayhawks, too. Black, who started off and on for three seasons with the Tigers, brings some much-needed experience and leadership to a KU squad that could count as many as eight freshmen and sophomores among its top 10 players. And at 6-foot-9, 262 pounds, Black gives the Jayhawks the rugged, physical presence in the paint they may have otherwise been lacking. Don’t be surprised if Black ends up starting for a squad vying for its 10th straight Big 12 title.

4. Steve Alford under the microscope at UCLA: For some reason the decision to replace Ben Howland with Alford didn’t go over all that well, both nationally and in Westwood. I’m not sure I understand why. All Alford did at New Mexico the past five seasons was average 26.2 victories and win four MWC titles. Yes, he has struggled in the NCAA tournament, but his day will come. I’ve never been a fan of judging a coach based on one game or one loss. Either way, there are plenty of people rooting for Alford to fail. He’ll receive an immense amount of scrutiny this season and it will be interesting to see how he responds. UCLA returns a good amount of talent with players such as Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, David Wear and Travis Wear. Anything less than a top-three finish in the Pac-12 will be a disappointment.

5. New leagues look strong: The new Big East may no longer have schools such as Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville. But its inaugural season should be entertaining. Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown and St. John’s should provide an exciting race for the conference title. The American Athletic Conference also will be worth watching, as Memphis, Connecticut and Louisville are all top-15-caliber teams. And don’t sleep on Cincinnati, Houston or SMU, which has added some nice pieces under second-year coach Larry Brown.

6. Butler loses Roosevelt Jones: A junior, Jones suffered torn ligaments in his wrist during the Bulldogs’ August trip to Australia and will miss the entire 2013-14 season. Losing Jones is a huge setback for a team that also will have to adjust to the departure of Stevens to the Boston Celtics. Jones, a versatile 6-4 wing, averaged 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season. The job of new coach Brandon Miller is suddenly a lot tougher as he prepares to guide Butler into the Big East.

[+] EnlargeLaQuinton Ross
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsLaQuinton Ross shined for Ohio State during last season's NCAA tournament.
7. Ohio State seeks new go-to guy: The Buckeyes would likely be dubbed as an NCAA title contender if leading scorer DeShaun Thomas hadn’t left school early for the NBA draft. Thomas averaged 19.8 points as a junior and would’ve been a first-team All-American candidate this year. Ohio State returns its other four starters from a squad that went 29-8 and lost in the Elite Eight. But it’s still unclear who this team’s key offensive player will be. It will be tough for point guard Aaron Craft to play much better on the defensive end than he did last season, but he can certainly become a more efficient shooter. Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott all averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season. Forward LaQuinton Ross is a tough matchup who contributed 15 points per game during the NCAA tournament. Perhaps OSU’s next offensive star will come from that group. This will be a good team no matter what. But a great one? We’ll see.

8. Will the Mountain West regress?: Five league schools -- Colorado State, San Diego State, Boise State, UNLV and New Mexico -- earned NCAA tournament berths last spring. But only two of those schools (SDSU and CSU) won their opening game. This season may be more of a struggle. New Mexico will be good again despite the loss of coach Steve Alford and small forward Tony Snell. And Boise State returns most of its key pieces. But Colorado State (Colton Iverson), San Diego State (Jamaal Franklin) and UNLV (Anthony Bennett) lost their top players -- and some other good ones, too -- and should take a step back.

9. St. John’s as a sleeper: I’m a little surprised more people aren’t talking about the Red Storm as a contender for the Big East title along with Marquette, Creighton and Georgetown. When it comes to pure talent, Steve Lavin’s squad should be the top team in the league. St. John’s returns three double-digit scorers in D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG), JaKarr Sampson (14.9) and Phil Greene (10.1). Forward God'sgift Achiuwa is back after redshirting last season. He averaged 9.4 points in 2011-12. Center Chris Obekpa also returns after averaging a national-best 3.9 blocks. And the Storm add two players -- point guard Rysheed Jordan and forward Orlando Sanchez -- who should have an immediate impact. Jordan was ranked as the third-best point guard in the Class of 2013. The 6-9 Sanchez, who will be eligible for only one season, is regarded as a future pro. If Lavin finds a way to meld all of this talent, St. John’s could be a Top-25 mainstay by midseason.

10. Josh Gasser is back at Wisconsin: The point guard missed all of the 2012-13 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The Badgers still won 23 games and made the NCAA tournament without him, but his return to the lineup could spark the squad to even greater success this year. Gasser, who has been cleared to play in an exhibition tour of Canada that begins this week, will likely become more of a combo guard thanks to the emergence of Traevon Jackson. He could even end up playing some at forward because of Wisconsin’s lack of depth in the paint. The 6-3 Gasser averaged 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds two seasons ago.

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