- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Somehow, college basketball practice will begin this week.
We can credit a new NCAA rule that allows teams to start practice two weeks earlier than past seasons.
It’s a great step. The earlier, the better. Throws off the traditional Midnight Madness schedule a bit, but we’ll adjust.
There are obviously a million storylines.
Here’s one of many: Every Final Four team from last season will feature a new point guard this year.
I don’t know. I think that’s interesting.
It’s even more intriguing when you consider the strength of the foursome. Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse all boast the talent to make another trip to the Final Four.
That potential, however, is tied to the performances of their new floor leaders.
Louisville: Peyton Siva to Chris Jones -- There’s a lot of buzz about Kentucky, but rival Louisville might be the best team in America. Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell are all back. But Siva will not be easy to replace. He was Pitino on the floor, a point guard who manned the position for four seasons. Chris Jones doesn’t have that Division I experience. But he might be more talented. Jones, the consensus No. 1 junior college player in the country last year, should step in and help the Cardinals by giving the program a versatile and skilled point guard. Plus, he’ll have Smith in the backcourt next to him. That should make life easier on him. But his voice on the court and in the locker room will both be significant. Those are the traits that will be the most difficult for Pitino to replace.
Michigan: Trey Burke to Derrick Walton Jr. -- There are shoes to fill. And then, there are craters. The latter is closer to the situation that Walton will enter in his freshman season. Walton, ranked 30th in the 2013 class, is following Trey Burke. He doesn’t have to be Trey Burke. He can’t be. Burke won the Wooden Award last year and authored one of the most impressive performances in NCAA tournament history when he led Michigan over Kansas in the final minutes of a come-from-behind win in the Sweet 16. But Walton will still face pressure as the probable point guard for a Michigan squad that shouldn’t fall far in 2013-14. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are both potential lottery picks. They’re backed by talented veterans and freshmen. Let’s see how Walton adjusts to this grand role in his first season at the collegiate level.
Syracuse: Michael Carter-Williams to Tyler Ennis -- Jim Boeheim has a few holes to fill. But the Orange also possess a solid crew anchored by C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant. The biggest question centers on the point guard spot. Carter-Williams was a big point guard who created matchup problems on both ends of the floor. He could slash to the rim with ease. And he was the perfect player for the 2-3 zone. Ennis, a Canadian star in this summer’s U19 world championships, is expected to start at point guard for the Orange. The early praise is high for the 6-doot-2 guard. And he definitely has the pieces around him to guide Boeheim’s program deep into the tourney.
Wichita State: Malcolm Armstead to Fred Van Vleet -- Armstead, who transferred from Oregon, was a veteran leader who was physical and aggressive for Gregg Marshall’s squad. He was a strong defender. And he had no problem penetrating and willing his way to the rim when necessary or desirable. But he was also a leader in the locker room. All of those components helped the Shockers on their way to the Final Four last year. This is a team that was just a few plays away from upsetting Louisville in Atlanta. And some of the best players from that team return. Van Vleet, a former top-100 recruit, is not a new face. He will accept more responsibility, however, during his sophomore season. He might not be the scorer that Armstead was. But the Shockers could be more fluid with him running the show.