John Clay: Much has happened in college basketball since the Final Four
Just a little more than two weeks have passed since North Carolina beat Gonzaga to win the 2017 NCAA championship, but much has happened in the fast-moving world of college basketball.
Five major storylines:
1. Missouri’s massive turnaround
The past three seasons, Mizzou was among college hoops’ worst programs. Kim Anderson got the pink slip after going just 27-68. And Missouri got former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin to leave the California Golden Bears and return home.
Next thing you know, Michael Porter Jr., ranked by ESPN as the nation’s top recruit, signed with Mizzou. Point guard C.J. Roberts stuck with his Missouri commitment. Blake Harris, like Porter a former Washington signee, signed with the Tigers. And Martin is hot on the trail of former Illinois signee Jeremiah Tilmon and top-10 prospect Kevin Knox.
Talk about a turnaround.
2. Indiana betting on Archie Miller
Not-so-fun fact if you are a Hoosiers basketball fan: Indiana hasn’t won an NCAA title since 1987. It hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2002. Never mind the Final Four, it hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2002.
After nine years of Tom Crean, Indiana changed direction. Former Dayton coach Archie Miller is the new boss in Bloomington. He’s the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller and friend of UK coach John Calipari. In fact, former Calipari aide Bruiser Flint is on Miller’s staff at IU.
The 38-year-old Miller believes in defense and won 24 or more games each of his last four years. He could be what Indiana needs to return to glory. Or at least get past the Sweet 16.
3. Major Tubby trouble in Memphis
Remember last year when Matthew Mitchell experienced a massive player exodus with Kentucky women’s basketball? Who could forget? Now ex-UK men’s coach Tubby Smith is facing a similar situation after his first season at Memphis.
Six players have left the Tigers since the end of the season. And we’re not talking end-of-the-bench types looking for more playing time. Dedric Lawson, who averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds last season, hit the exit button. So did his brother, K.J., who averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a year ago. Both are headed to Kansas. Markel Crawford, a 6-5 guard who averaged 12.8 points, is also out the door.
What happened? The snowball effect surely played a role. The Tigers lost six of their last seven games. They were embarrassed 103-62 at SMU in the regular-season finale. They were drubbed 84-54 by Central Florida in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Mitchell put the pieces back together for a nice rebound season in 2016-17. Smith might have a tougher time in 2017-18.
4. Look who’s coming back
Yes, nearly every underclassman has applied for the NBA draft. Or so it seems. Many have signed with agents or announced intentions to do so. Never mind players can still withdraw from draft consideration up to May 24.
We’re focused on three key underclassmen who have already decided to return to school. One is Arizona junior-to-be Allonzo Trier. Another is Michigan State sophomore-to-be Miles Bridges. The third is Texas A&M sophomore-to-be Robert Williams.
All will play major roles in making their schools major contenders. Arizona will be neck-and-neck with Louisville in the battle for preseason No. 1. Bridges will have Tom Izzo back in Final Four contention next season. Williams’ return makes Texas A&M a sudden SEC title contender.
5. Scandals past, present and future
North Carolina’s national title also brought the unintended consequence of renewed interest in the NCAA’s investigation into academic fraud allegations against the school. Maryland President Wallace Loh went as far as to say he “would think” that North Carolina would get the death penalty. UNC coach Roy Williams called Loh a “double idiot.” Not the kind of publicity you want after winning a title.
Then there’s Louisville. As previously mentioned, Rick Pitino’s roster looks stacked for 2017-18. Yet the school is still trading responses with the NCAA over its so-called “Stripper Scandal,” which dates to its 2013 national title.
It promises to be a noisy summer.