With the World Series just beginning, college and professional football very much in full swing, the NHL just getting started and the NBA tipping off, there’s one upcoming sports season that nobody’s remembering……COLLEGE! FREAKING! HOOPS!
Oh wait. Nobody (save for sports nerds like me, raging gambling addicts and Dick Vitale) gets hyped for regular season college basketball. A variety of reasons are to blame for this, whether it’s the idiotic one-and-done rule that causes guys like John Calipari at Kentucky and others to basically catch as many 5-star kids and keep them out of jail/expulsion for a semester before they jump to Da League or the overall slower-is-better, coach-heavy concepts that have overrun college hoops which sometimes lead to abominations like this or this or a whole season’s worth of this.
(Just a second, I need to get some water to wash down the bile that came up when I read that last link.)
I’m back. And with me comes a refresher course, at no charge, of the 2013-14 college basketball landscape. The season begins on November 8 (holy crap, that’s in two weeks!), so I’ll break down all the major conferences and a few mid-majors, recap the changes that have occurred due to REALIGNING ALL THE CONFERENCES!, and give you my picks on Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and conference champions for the regular season. The plan is to have each conference be previewed each day for the next few days and we’ll see how it goes.
We’ll start off with the conference nobody understands (mostly because we have no idea who’s in it), the grand old American Athletic Conference.
Recap: Well the whole damn thing needs recapped, because it’s brand spanking new. The unholy offspring of what was the behemoth known as the Big East has holdovers Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida, a pair of teams in purgatory in future B1G team Rutgers and defending champion and ACC brethren Louisville, and a bunch of random C-USA squads in Memphis, Houston, SMU, and UCF. Oh yeah and Temple. See, now you know.
Thoughts: Though we know who’s in the league and presumably who the favorite will be (Louisville), we don’t know what it’s really going to look like and be perceived as the season progresses. Memphis is a solid postseason pick under Josh “Babyface” Pastner as is Cincinnati and Temple and perhaps Houston. UConn, with sparkplug PG Shabazz Napier, could make some noise on a national level as they’re finally able to get back to the Big Dance. But will anyone care? The powerhouses in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the monstrous ACC will undoubtedly overshadow this oddly named conference and keep it under the radar most of the year.
Champion: It has to be Louisville. Returning national champs with much of that squad intact in guard Russ Smith (Sr.), forwards Luke Hancock (Sr.), Wayne Black Shear (Jr.) and Montrezl (not a clue on how to pronounce that) Harrell (So.). Not to mention the “Bro, if you never played basketball again, nobody’d be mad” all-time award winner, Kevin Ware. The fact that that kid wants to play basketball after viewing his own shin bone is incredible enough to me and with a living legend and future subject of my own made-up biopic starring Al Pacino in Rick Pitino, the Cardinals will reign supreme over the major conference that sure doesn’t feel like one.
POY: Shabazz Napier, Senior G, UConn. In a lame-duck year that saw him lose Alex Oriahki and Roscoe “I’ll be Internet-infamous for this forever” Smith, Napier had a great season, averaging 17.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting .441/.398/.819 (FG/3PT/FT), all improvements from the year before (except for assists per). I fully expect him to bump it up another level and earn conference and perhaps national honors in 2013-14.
NOY: Austin Nichols, 6-8, 200 PF, Memphis. Somehow a tall, lanky white kid from Appalachia decided not to go to Duke. Who woulda thunk it? No. 15 in the ESPN100 rankings, Nichols is kinda skinny but is sneaky athletic from the highlights of him I’ve seen. He can drive the lane, defend shots and is athletic enough to run the floor without holding up an up-tempo style. Not saying he’s going to be the taller version of JimmerMania, but the kid can ball and can get some buckets and that’s what Pastner will need to help out guys like Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford on the scoring end.