Questions, questions: the top storylines to follow for next season
Next year's title favorite will depend on which players go in the NBA draft
Coaching changes have already started, with John Calipari headed to Kentucky
A handful of teams could return to winning form, including Florida and Georgetown
Tip-off for the 2009-10 college basketball season is more than seven months away. Few sports have as quiet an off-season as college hoops, but there will still be several storylines worth following between now and the start of practice in October..
1. Going, going, gone?
As always, the most dominant story of the offseason will be which players stay in college and which enter -- and don't back out of -- the NBA draft. The rash of NBA declarations has already begun, with several top players (most notably National Player of the Year Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair), having already announced they plan to turn pro. Decisions for others will take much longer, likely right up until the April 26 deadline. But players have until a week before the June 25 draft to withdraw their names and return to school. When North Carolina's Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green did that a year ago, it radically altered the pecking order for the 2008-09 season by establishing the Tar Heels as overwhelming national title favorites, a lofty billing they lived up to by winning the championship.
There is no clear front-runner for next year's title, but if Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich return to Kansas, and Jeff Teague (Teague declared for the draft but didn't hire an agent) and Al-Farouq Aminu go back to Wake Forest (which has already lost sophomore James Johnson) those two teams will be among the favorites next year.
Other difference-makers this year, who have yet to declare, are Davidson's Stephen Curry, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn and Duke's Gerald Henderson. Arizona State All-America James Harden and Kentucky scoring machine Jodie Meeks lead the group of players to have declared without signing an agent.
2. Coaches openings
This year's coaching carousel has already begun, with several high-profile openings at name-brand schools like Kentucky and Arizona snagging just-as-high-profile coaches. Some other desirable jobs, such as at Georgia, Alabama and Memphis have also been filled.
The latest school to need a coach is Xavier, which has thrived for years as a stepping-stone for the likes of Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta and, most recently, Sean Miller, who just left for Arizona. The Musketeers have been to three Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights in the past six years, and have a talented core returning.
One job worth keeping an eye on is one that no one could have imagined would be coming open anytime soon: UConn. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun raised some eyebrows in his post-game press conference at the Final Four by opening up about his frustrations with the scrutiny he has received lately and the off-court distractions that surround any high-profile program, leading to speculation that he might give retirement serious thought. "I love the kids, love the game. I don't plan to go anyplace. But I'm going to give a lot of reflection, maybe more reflection than normal, because of that," he said. The smart money says Calhoun will be back in Storrs for his 24th season, but it's clear the strain of this most recent campaign took its toll on him.
3. Calipari Era begins at Kentucky
John Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky for one week but already his impact is being felt. DeMarcus Cousins, a 6-foot-10 post player who is considered a top-five recruit, had committed to play for Calipari at Memphis, but will follow him to Lexington instead.
Calipari won't be able to coach any of his new players until October, but he can -- and almost assuredly will -- spend the summer trying to convince other prep stars to join him at Kentucky. He will also have to reach out to college basketball's most passionate fan base and help restore order to a program that seemed unusually dysfunctional as the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament this year for the first time since 1991.
4. Sign of the times
Three of the top 10 high school players in the Class of 2009 remain unsigned. Guards Lance Stephenson, Xavier Henry and John Wall have yet to choose a school, and all three are talented enough to significantly impact any team they go to. All three are weighing multiple options, but all have at least one school on their list: Kansas. Should the Jayhawks get any or all of them, plus keep either or both of Aldrich or Collins, they will likely be title favorites for next year.
5. Under-the-radar teams to watch
Here are four teams likely to begin the season outside the top 10, but, depending on which players return to school, they could be Sweet 16-level good come tournament time. Those teams are:
Florida: The Gators followed back-to-back championship seasons with back-to-back seasons of not even making it to the Big Dance. Nick Calathes declared for the draft without hiring an agent, leaving the door open for a possible return. His presence would give Florida seven of its top eight players back from a 25-win team. The Gators also get McDonald's All-American point guard Kenny Boynton and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin, a former Mickey D's All-America.
USC: The Trojans are likely to lose freshman wing DeMar DeRozan and junior power forward Taj Gibson, but if they return, USC would be good enough to win a second-straight Pac-10 title behind point guard Daniel Hackett. Add a top-tier recruiting class that includes post player Renardo Sidney plus North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson, who will be eligible next season, and Southern Cal is without a doubt the favorite in its conference.
Georgetown: DaJuan Summers has already announced he's going pro, but if Big East Rookie of the Year Greg Monroe is back on campus, the Hoyas should be back in the NCAA Tournament. The starting backcourt of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will be a year improved and more experienced at running coach John Thompson III's Princeton-style offense.
Michigan: DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris led Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 this season. They're the only two players who averaged more than seven points per game, so the Wolverines' chances of making it two straight tourneys in a row will hinge on their return. Expect a veteran team more familiar with coach John Beilein's playing style to take another step forward.
Texas A&M: The Aggies reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament this year and lost only one key contributor: leading scorer Josh Carter. Texas A&M is balanced on offense and tough on defense. Plus, it's reeling in four players from Rivals.com's Top 150.
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