Top 10 storylines for offseason
INDIANAPOLIS -- We just crowned our national champion, handed out the trophy and began the long, sad goodbye to Indianapolis and to the college basketball season. It will be six months until Midnight Madness brings basketball back into our lives. But don't just resign yourself to your roto baseball team and the World Cup. There will be plenty of intrigue in the college hoops offseason. Below are some of the top storylines to watch as we prepare ourselves for the brutal basketball desert that looms ahead:
1. NCAA tournament expansion. This one's easy. The most important, life-altering* thing to happen to the game of college basketball could very well come this offseason, when the NCAA decides whether it wants to pursue an expansion of the tournament to 96 teams. The organization has a July 31 deadline to opt out of its current contract with CBS and begin negotiations with that network and others -- ESPN will play a major role in these negotiations -- in the hopes of securing a major financial windfall for the organization and its partners.The real source of suspense is not whether the NCAA tournament will one day expand to 96 teams. That seems settled -- if the NCAA hasn't made up its hive mind on this, it's awfully close. The intrigue here is two-pronged: (1) will the NCAA expand now or in 2014, when its CBS contract expires? and (2) when it does expand, what will that expansion look like? Will it balance the noble goal of including more mid-majors? Or will it merely make the rich richer? We'll find out soon.
(*OK, so "life-altering" is a little dramatic. But I maintain that expanding the tournament would do more harm than good to the NCAA's long-term business interests, and it would needlessly change the perfect postseason competition for the sake of more money. This can't end well.)
2. Should they stay or should they go? (They should probably go.) Every offseason leads right into the NBA draft, and every year there are plenty of players who leave the amateur world of college basketball and head to the professional ranks. This year will be different, though. Because of a potential NBA labor dispute and the threat of an impending lockout in 2011, lots of current college basketball underclassmen have a more drastic decision to face. In addition to the traditional risk of injury, future pros will now have to decide if they want to risk the possibility of there not even being an NBA draft in 2011. Expect lots of these guys to cash in as early as possible, and expect this year's draft to be full of players testing the waters and going all-in a year or two before they should.
3. Who's No. 1? We've barely finished this year's tournament, and it's already time to discuss preseason expectations for next season. Expect Michigan State to get plenty of preseason poll love; the Spartans will return this fall with a squad almost entirely intact from this year's team (sans Raymar Morgan), which won a Big Ten regular-season title and made a run to the Final Four without its best player. Kalin Lucas will be back. So will Draymond Green. Durrell Summers has NBA talent but isn't projected anywhere near the NBA's first round, so it seems likely he'll return. Delvon Roe and Chris Allen will finally be healthy after both struggled with injuries throughout the postseason. What's more, coach Tom Izzo will welcome a top-five class to East Lansing this fall, a class that will bolster an already loaded upperclassman squad.
Another contender for that No. 1 spot? The team that beat Michigan State in the Final Four: Butler. Willie Veasley is the Bulldogs' only key player graduating. If Gordon Hayward -- who has played himself into a projected first-round slot in the upcoming NBA draft -- decides to turn that down and return for another season (this is a huge "if," considering the risks mentioned above) then Butler is your likely No. 1. If Hayward leaves, the Bulldogs are still a top-10 team with enough talent to dominate the Horizon League and make a deep tournament run for the second straight year.The team that beat Butler has a similar situation. Duke has a very good recruiting class coming in, prolific scorer Seth Curry will be eligible after transferring from Liberty (where he averaged 20 ppg as a freshman), and if the Blue Devils keep Kyle Singler around for his senior year -- another big "if," considering the way the NCAA tournament just ended -- the Blue Devils have to be No. 1, don't they? 4. Does North Carolina bounce back? It's no secret the Tar Heels had a brutal year after waving goodbye to Tyler Hansbrough & Co. (and winning the program's fifth NCAA title) in 2009. But Roy Williams will welcome back a host of talented young players, as well as one of the country's best recruiting classes and the No. 1 overall player in the incoming class, Iowa high schooler Harrison Barnes. North Carolina fans were already disgusted by this season's downward trajectory. Watching hated rival Duke win the 2010 title can't make that any better. Can UNC speed up the recovery process? 5. Will the carousel start spinning? Just a few hours before he won his fourth national championship, reports out of New Jersey indicated that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had been offered between $12 and $15 million per year to jump to the NBA and coach the Nets. Krzyzewski immediately refuted the reports, saying he hadn't been contacted by anyone from the Nets, and understandably declined to discuss the prospect of leaving Duke in his postgame comments. But the plausibility of the whole thing brings one point to mind: What if someone at a big-time program does leave? Both Rick Pitino and John Calipari have been mentioned in connection with NBA jobs in the past 12 months, and both are apparently still interested in the idea of returning to the NBA. Another college coach at a big-time program could just as easily be tempted by all that New Jersey money. If so, what has thus far been a relatively staid coaching carousel could explode. 6. Speaking of Kentucky The Cats are set to have one of the largest and most talent-laden offseason turnovers of any team in recent history. Kentucky could conceivably send five players to the NBA draft this year. That would open up scholarships for recruits like Brandon Knight and Josh Selby, both of whom are ranked in the top five nationally, and could set coach John Calipari up with another uber-talented but largely inexperienced team.
7. Who takes the Oregon job? With DePaul seemingly out of the way, the last remaining high-profile job opening still available is in Eugene, Ore., where Nike CEO Phil Knight has oodles of cash and top-level practice facilities just waiting for the right coach to come along. It's a bit of a surprise that Oregon didn't find its guy before the Final Four, and it's a possible sign that the Ducks were waiting for Butler prodigy Brad Stevens to finish his NCAA tournament run. Stevens didn't rule anything out in his postgame press conference Monday night, but even with all that money and those facilities, it would be somewhat shocking to see him leave a team that should be just as competitive next season. His stock isn't going anywhere, and you'd think Stevens could have his pick of any opening in the country as they become available in the next few years. In any case, keep an eye on the Oregon offers. It won't be a Tom Izzo, but with the right coach in place, a program with Knight's level of financial support behind it could remake the Pac-10 for years to come.8. Will the NCAA punish Tim Floyd? UTEP took a major risk in hiring former USC coach Tim Floyd. The Miners are now tied to a guy who could still receive a show-cause penalty for his alleged $1,000 handshake with O.J. Mayo handler Rodney Guillory during Floyd's stint in L.A. Floyd and the Miners seem pretty confident that if any penalties do arise, they won't affect Floyd in his latest job. A side story to follow is what the NCAA chooses to do with USC in general. If it finds reason enough to do so, the infractions committee could give NCAA the dreaded "lack of institutional control" label, banning it from the postseason, snatching away scholarships and giving Kevin O'Neill & Co. a long, hard road back to college basketball success.
9. Recruits choose their futures. Most of the top recruits in the Class of 2010 are signed, sealed and delivered. But there are a handful of top players that have yet to pick a college, several of whom seem likely to end up at Kentucky. Four of the top 13 recruits in the ESPNU 100 (and eight of the top 30) are still available. Get to know their names: point guard Brandon Knight (ESPNU's No. 3 overall player), point guard Josh Selby (No. 7), forward C.J. Leslie (No. 8), forward Terrence Jones (No. 13). Of those four, only Jones seems more likely than not to spurn Kentucky and head somewhere else to play college basketball, meaning that turnaround mentioned for the Wildcats above could be very sudden and very entertaining. Rounding out the top 25 are No. 21 Cory Joseph, who appears to be leaning toward either Minnesota or Connecticut, No. 25 Doron Lamb, whose top schools include West Virginia and Kansas, and small forward Terrence Ross, the No. 26 player in the country, who is likewise considering Kentucky. Keep an eye out here; several, but not all, of these players will be in UK uniforms this fall. The ones that aren't could be impacting your favorite team before you know it.10. Tough calls off the court. As the new recruits fill in rosters decimated by the draft and the loss of seniors, there are some players with incredibly difficult decisions to make. Two of them -- Gordon Hayward and Kyle Singler -- played in the national championship game. Hayward's a sophomore; Singler a junior. Both would be drafted in the low end of the first round this season. Both likely helped their draft stocks with their deep NCAA tournament runs; Hayward has morphed into a bona fide star, and Singler played the best basketball of his Duke career in the Final Four. But both could come back and have their teams be as high as No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason polls. Even with the looming lockout, that could be tempting, especially for Hayward, who looked devastated by Monday night's loss and could set his sights on avenging it in 2010. We'll see.
Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.
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