Another college basketball season came to an end Monday night, and by the time One Shining Moment was finished, I was ready for 2017-18.
It’s going to be a long offseason, as it always is. But eventually, the days will shorten again. The leaves will change color. The temperature will drop. Eventually, basketball will return.
Here are 10 things I’m looking forward to:
1. Wichita State, wherever it ends up
By the end of the week, the Shockers may be incoming members of the American Athletic Conference. Or, as realignment rumors have been in the past, this could all be a gigantic tease and Wichita State might still be in the Missouri Valley. Regardless, the Shockers are going to be damn good. Barring unexpected bad news, they will return every major contributor from this year — a season in which they finished eighth overall in KenPom. Wichita State is remarkably balanced, featuring guys who can fill just about every role.
2. Our favorite point-getters returning, hopefully
Nothing is official yet, but it’s possible that each of the nation’s top three scorers will be back on campus next year. Marcus Keene heads that list, coming off a junior year in which he posted an even 30 points per game. Sophomore Mike Daum ranks after Keene. His 37-and-12 performance against Omaha in the Summit League title game sent South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament where the Jackrabbits gave Gonzaga a game. Then there’s Chris Clemons, who was relatively unknown in comparison until March. His 51-point game against UNC Asheville in the first round of the Big South Tournament earned him plenty of attention, and he scored 26 or more points in each of the Camels five remaining games after that.
3. Four new teams eligible for the tournament
Four teams will have finished their Division I transitions by next year and will be eligible for postseason play. We’re all eager to see UMass-Lowell, Incarnate Word, and Houston Baptist compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but the real fun will be in the desert, where Grand Canyon will finally have a shot at the sport’s biggest stage. The mothership has covered the Lopes before, so by now you know why they’re so damn fun (and if not, catch up). Over the last two years, Dan Majerle’s club is 49-16 with two wins over San Diego State and a win over Houston. Put them in March Madness and let’s get weird.
4. The West Coast Conference
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are constants, but the WCC needs BYU to be good in order to be considered a top-tier mid-major conference. Despite their win over the Bulldogs to close the regular season, the Cougars were frustratingly inconsistent in 2016-17. The good news is that they will return most of their contributors from this season. Eric Mika has declared for the NBA Draft, but has not hired an agent, so he can still come back if he feels he can improve his stock. Below those three, Santa Clara seems to be trending up as well. A fourth competitive team in the conference could go a long way toward the big three’s at-large chances.
5. Mitchell Robinson tearing apart Conference USA
Rick Stansbury could be the biggest game-changer in Conference USA since John Calipari. He took the job at Western Kentucky last year and immediately made a splash, signing two ESPN top-100 recruits, including McDonald’s All-American Mitchell Robinson. Robinson is a 6’11 center who is a rebounding machine that can score with ease. He proved that in the McDonald’s game last week, so imagine what he can do against the lower half of the mid-iest mid-major league.
Mitchell Robinson is going to average about 50 and 30 at Western Kentucky next season (maybe 18 and 12). Will be absolutely dominant.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2017
The Wolf Pack dodged a bullet this March when coach Eric Musselman reportedly said no to California. The allure of a Pac-12 job must have been tempting, but back in Reno, Musselman will have an NCAA Tournament-caliber team returning. Nevada will lose Marcus Marshall, but if Cameron Oliver withdraws from the NBA Draft, the Wolf Pack should be favorites in the Mountain West. Throw in Jordan Caroline and incoming power forward Shawntrez Davis, and Nevada could equal its success of 2016-17.
7. Seeing what Travis Ford can do in Year 2
Saint Louis was supposed to be a disaster this year, so fans shouldn’t be too discouraged by the 12-21 season. The Billikens even won three out of five to close the season, providing a glimmer of hoping heading into the summer. Next year is when it should get fun. About 70 percent of Saint Louis’s scoring will return, including a hopefully healthy Jermaine Bishop. Even better: Ford is bringing in four-star Jordan Goodwin (a top-100 recruit) and Hasahn French, whose stock rose dramatically on the AAU circuit last summer. Both chose Saint Louis over multiple Power 5 schools, showing Ford has been able to sell a program with potential that has hit a rough patch in recent years.
8. The Ivy League
The Ivy League is always fun, but next year it should be particularly interesting. Harvard and Yale were both led by freshmen and those two should be the ones battling for the conference title. Another summer of experience for perhaps the most talented class the conference has ever seen should do wonders and make for some high-level play in 2017-18. And that’s not to mention Princeton, who returns Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens from a team that ran the table in conference and won the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. The Ivy has been on the rise for a while now, and next year could be its best season yet.
9. Dunk City doing the thing with the dunks
If you thought Dunk City died when Andy Enfield left town, this March proved you wrong. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles soared through the Atlantic Sun Tournament and into the NCAA Tournament, where they entertained us all in a first-round loss to Florida State. Brandon Goodwin will return next year and could be one of the country’s breakout players. Goodwin made his mark as the assist man for FGCU’s thunderous dunks, but maybe he can get in on the action himself next season. He has some work to do.
10. Turnover in the Atlantic 10
We were all disappointed when Archie Miller left for Indiana and Will Wade left for LSU, but Anthony Grant and Mike Rhoades appear ready to lead their new teams. It’s a homecoming for both, as Grant played college ball at Dayton and Rhoades made his name as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU. Grant has already won almost 200 games as a head coach and taken his team to the NCAA Tournament three times. He was dealt a tough hand at Alabama, but did a good job keeping the program respectable in the era of Kentucky and Florida dominance in the SEC. As for Rhoades, he helped turn Randolph-Macon into a Division III powerhouse, then rebuilt the Rice basketball program into a 23-win team in 2016-17.