Top 14 Storylines Entering the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

There's so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014-15 college basketball season. The anticipation has been building all summer long, and the 2014-15 season is finally here!

There's so much to expect from the upcoming season. Will Kentucky live up to their lofty expectations? Will we see another run like Dayton made last season? With so many questions waiting to be answered, we have compiled our list of the top 14 headlines in the NCAA for the upcoming season, as the season starts in 2014. Clever, we know.

1. How good will the Kentucky Wildcats be?

The Kentucky Wildcats have been the talk of the preseason for the past two seasons, and for good reason. However, until the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Wildcats looked like nothing more than a slightly-above average team. This season, however, with a record 9 McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster (yes, that says NINE!), the Wildcats stand head and shoulders above the rest of the country in terms of talent. They are going to go with two sets of five players, who could all be starters anywhere else in the country. With their platoon approach of having two lineups of five guys that they are going to rotate, how far can Kentucky go? They are a trendy pick to win the NCAA Tournament, and SMU head coach Larry Brown recently said that “John [Calipari] should be able to go 45 – 0 with that talent.” While they won’t play 45 games, it’s not a bad assumption. However, it'll be tough for the Huskies, and they will not go undefeated, but they’ll be darn near close.

2. Can the Connecticut Huskies repeat as champions?

Theoretically, the Huskies can repeat as champions. Realistically, however, they have a tough, uphill climb ahead of them. Losing Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels won’t be easy to replace, but Kevin Ollie should have the Huskies in top form and ready to compete each game. Senior guard Ryan Boatright will need to elevate his game, as the Huskies are now his team. Amida Brimah will also have to step up, as he appears in line for a career year. The x-factor this season will be the play of Rodney Purvis. The transfer from NC State is eligible to play this season for the Huskies, and will essentially need to play like Napier did last year if the Huskies want to have any shot at repeating. Connecticut fans will have to wait until Game 2 of the regular season to see Purvis, as he has been suspended for the opener against Bryant for playing in a league game over the summer. When Purvis takes to the court in Puerto Rico for the Huskies, we’ll finally see what this team can do.

3. The Wooden Award race is wide open.

Last season, Doug McDermott ran away with the Wooden Award, and it wasn’t even close. He was easily the best player all season, and it’s a shame that Creighton didn’t make it farther in the NCAA Tournament. This season, there is no clear front-runner for the award, which will only add to the excitement during the season.

Players like Frank Kaminsky and Montrezl Harrell caught a few people off guard when they decided to return to college and pass on the NBA Draft for another year. Kaminsky has made it clear that he prefers the NCAA to the NBA, and Harrell’s return instantly made Louisville a top contender in the country. These two have to be considered two of the front-runners for the award, but there are a slew of other players who could play their way into discussions.

Kaminsky’s conference mates in Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Terran Petteway (Nebraska), and Caris LeVert (Michigan) could have strong seasons and propel themselves into discussions for the award. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is poised for a strong season with Arizona, and should be seriously considered for the award. Then, you have the incoming freshmen. Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Stanley Johnson, and Myles Turner all have exceptional talents and can realistically win the award. The list of candidates will change significantly over the course of the season, so it’s tough to pin point the top five or so players before the season starts.

4. The incoming freshmen are ready to leave their mark, even if it's only for a brief time.

This year’s talented group of freshmen are chomping at the bit, ready to leave their mark on the NCAA. Although some of them may only be here for a season, like last year’s crop of talent, this year’s freshman class are some of the more talented players we’ve seen in recent years, and they all didn’t go to the top schools in the country.

So much has been made of Cliff Alexander, who has been compared to a grown man trapped in a young man’s body, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Myles Turner, and all of Kentucky’s incoming freshmen that it would be redundant to talk about them anymore. We’d just be repeating everything that everyone has already heard. But don’t forget, there are talented freshmen all over the country that will have an impact. Isaiah Whitehead chose to take his talents to Seton Hall, instantly making them a tough team to face in the Big East. Rashad Vaughn took his talents to UNLV, as they look to rebound after a bit of an off year last season. North Carolina’s trio of Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry have the Tar Heel faithful dreaming big about the 2014-15 season. This year’s freshmen class will give all of us fans exciting basketball this season, and it may be the only one.

5. Will we see another run like the one Dayton made last season?

Every year, there are usually one or two upsets in games that people didn’t expect to see. It’s becoming more and more common to see a 12-seed upend a 5-seed in the opening round, that it’s tough to consider that an “upset” anymore.

While Dayton’s run was magical from last season, it’s tough to see any team recreate that magic they had this season. The only team we can see making a run like that this season is Dayton themselves. They have experienced the atmosphere before, and know what it takes to make that type of run. With a talented roster returning, it’s a realistic option, but a slim realistic. It'll be extremely difficult for any lower-ranked team making a deep run in the tournament, which means past the Sweet 16, this season. There’s too much talent on the top teams in the country that will make it extremely tough for smaller programs to make noise in the big dance. Fans everywhere are hoping for another Cinderella run, but this year won't be the year.

6. Strong mid-major conferences get a makeover.

In the NCAA Tournament last season, the Mercer Bears (Atlantic Sun champ) upset the Duke Blue Devils in the 2nd round, and Wofford (Southern champ) played relatively well in a 17-point loss to Michigan. This season, the Atlantic Sun and the Southern Conference both undergo makeovers, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the conferences as a whole, but helps out the top teams in the conference.

In the Atlantic Sun, the defending champion Mercer Bears and the East Tennessee State Buccaneers are making the move to the Southern Conference, which will leave the Atlantic Sun with 8 teams, and Florida Gulf Coast as the clear favourite. The Eagles return three of their top four scorers from last year’s NIT team, and should make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

In the Southern Conference, perennial powerhouse Davidson is off to the Atlantic 10, while Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI move in. Wofford won the conference title a season ago, and are the favourite in the conference entering this season. The likes of Chattanooga, Mercer, and VMI will all make things tough for Wofford, but losing Davidson to the Atlantic 10 is a true blessing for Wofford. The Wildcats terrorized Southern Conference for years, but now Wofford is the top dog. Both Wofford and Florida Gulf Coast should benefit from the new looks in their conference, and make it back to the NCAA Tournament

7. In the Big Ten, it's Wisconsin, and then it's everyone else.

The Big Ten has the reputation of being one of the best and toughest conferences year after year, and this year will be no different. Wisconsin is the clear favourite to win the Big Ten, with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker back to lead Bo Ryan’s Badgers. Kaminsky, the 7’ big man with three point range, passed on the NBA Draft to return to Wisconsin for a senior season, and made it clear that he prefers the NCAA style of game over that of the NBA.

Over the past couple of seasons, the Big Ten has been a tight race at the top. This year, it appears that Wisconsin is on a level of their own, and everyone else is fighting for second. Michigan State is without Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, who graduated after last season, and Gary Harris who opted for the NBA Draft after two seasons in East Lansing. They return Branden Dawson and a duo of underrated guards in Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, and the Spartans should be Wisconsin’s top test in the conference. Throw Nebraska and all-Big Ten star Terran Petteway into the mix as a team in contention for the 2nd spot in the conference. Caris LeVert is back to lead Michigan, who is without the services of Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, and they will also be a tough team. However, the Big Ten title in 2014-15 is Wisconsin’s to lose, and they shouldn't let it slip away.

8. Welcome back, Bruce Pearl!

Auburn has their high-profile coach of the future, in former Tennessee Volunteer head coach Bruce Pearl. The Tigers couldn't have made a better hire for the head coaching position, as Pearl brings years of experience to a Tigers program that hasn't had a winning record since the 2008-09 season, where they also made their last post-season tournament appearance in the NIT.

Pearl's effect on the Tigers is already a positive one, as he has had a hand in attracting former Niagara guard Antoine Mason and former Marshall guard Kareem Canty to Auburn. Mason will be eligible to play this season for the Tigers, while Canty will be eligible in 2015-16. Having Pearl behind the bench will make the Tigers a contender in the SEC, although it will take a few years for them to be a serious contender on a consistent basis.

Here is more on Bruce Pearl and the Tigers.

9. High profile coaches have found new homes in the NCAA.

There have been a flew of coaching changes in and around the NCAA this season, most of which will change the fortunes of the programs for the better. Some ling-time assistant coaches are getting their chance as head coaches, and a successful Division II head coach has made the move to Division I. All of these coaches will have a ton of eyes on them, as we all try to gauge their success levels throughout 2014-15. Here are just a few of the many coaching changes that we've seen in the offseason.

Danny Manning made the move to Wake Forest after leading Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14. Steve Wojciechowski is getting his shot at being a head coach, as he takes over the position at Marquette. Buzz Williams left the Marquette program to take on the head coaching position at Virginia Tech. South Florida has a new head coach in Orlando Antigua. There are many more high profile coaching changes, but we won't list them all to save you the time.

10. The Mountain West Conference will be one of the best races to look all season.

The Mountain West has been dominated by the likes of San Diego State, New Mexico State, and UNLV over the past couple of seasons, and all three teams should find themselves near the top of the conference once again in 2014-15. Although San Diego State is the preseason favourite to win the conference title, there are five teams that have a great shot at winning the conference.

We all know how good San Diego State, New Mexico, and UNLV are, so let's skip right to the two dark horse picks in the conference. The Boise State Broncos and the Wyoming Cowboys both have a realistic chance at winning the Mountain West conference this season. Boise State has an easier road than the Cowboys do, because of the talent that the Broncos return throughout their roster. With the trio of Anthony Drmic, Igor Hadziomerovic, and Derrick Marks returning for the Broncos, Boise State has the talent and experience in place to compete with the likes of Winston Sheppard and San Diego State, Rashad Vaughn and UNLV, and Cullen Neal and New Mexico.

In order for Wyoming to contend in the conference, they need big man Larry Nance, Jr to stay healthy. Last season, he averaged 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, before missing the last 7 games due to injury. In the 7 games he missed, Wyoming went 1 – 6. He is critical to the team’s overall successes, so expect big things from the Cowboys if Nance stays healthy.

11. The Big West Conference is home to big time talent.

The Big West conference will quietly be one of the better conferences that nobody will pay much attention to until the conference tournament final, when the conference winner is crowned and moves into the NCAA Tournament. However, the top teams in the conference deserve your attention throughout the entire course of the season.

We’ll start with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, who are home to one of the best forwards in the country. Alan Williams quietly averaged a double-double a season ago, averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds per contest, while winning the Big West Player of the Year award. He’s back for a senior campaign, and will single-handedly make the Gauchos a top contender in the conference.

Then you have UC Irvine, which is where Mamadou Ndiaye calls home. The 7’6’’, 300-pound center averaged 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game as a freshman last season. As he gains more experience in the NCAA, he’ll become more of a dominant force. He’s in for a career year this season with the Anteaters. Be sure to tune into the Big West this season to see these two big men play, plus the entire conference. As we saw last season with Cal Poly, any team is capable of winning the conference tournament.

12. How will the ACC play out this season?

Last season, Virginia caught us a bit off guard by steamrolling the rest of the ACC, en route to the regular season and tournament championships. The Cavaliers finished the regular season with a 16 - 2 record in conference play, which was 2 games better than second place Syracuse. The 2014-15 season may not be as easy for the Cavaliers, as they are without Joe Harris. The conference is up for grabs, and it looks like it could come down to an old time rivalry.

North Carolina looks to be the favourite in the conference, as they have a strong combination of talent and experience at their disposal. As previously mentioned, their trio of Pinson, Jackson and Jones give them a talented freshman class, which will complement their returning players quite nicely. Marcus Paige is a Preseason All-American, and will be the leader of this team. Throw in J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Brice Johnson, and the Tar Heels look to be the favourite.

Duke will be a thorn in everyone's side this season. With Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones headlining the Blue Devils' freshman class, they have talented players all over their roster. Having a good North Carolina team and a good Duke team is great for college basketball, and will make the ACC race even more exciting. Throw newcomer Louisville into the mix, who are led by Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, and the Cardinals could just as easily win the conference title.

This will arguably be the most exciting conference race to look in the entire country.

13. Will Georgia State live up to expectations this season, after coming so close in 2013-14?

Last season, the Georgia State Panthers were the top team in the Sun Belt by a long shot. They ended the regular season with an impressive 17 - 1 record in conference play, and became the talk of the town. The Panthers were a trendy pick to pull off an upset or two in the tournament. However, they hit a bit of a speed bump in the conference tournament final. Against Elfrid Payton and Louisiana-Lafayette, the Panthers were upset by the Ragin' Cajuns, 82 - 81 in overtime, and had to settle for a trip to the NIT.

Fast forward to the 2014-15 season, and expectations are higher than ever for the Panthers. They have arguably the most talented roster for any mid-major program, headlined by R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, and Kevin Ware. Head coach Ron Hunter has to like what he has in terms of talent and players this season, but will have to keep his players focused on the game at hand and not on the expectation surrounding the team. If the Panthers can stay focused on the task at hand, the Panthers have the opportunity to run the table in conference play, much like Stephen F. Austin did last year in the Southland.

Be sure to keep an eye on the Panthers this season, as they will open a bunch of eyes this season.

14. How well will former "mid-majors" VCU and Wichita State fare this season?

Just a few years ago, Virginia Commonwealth and Wichita State were mid-major programs in mid-major conferences. They each made their own runs deep into the NCAA Tournament, propelling themselves into the national spotlight. Now, they are power teams in mid-major conferences who are projected to win their respective conferences.

Wichita State is the class of the Missouri Valley conference, especially after going undefeated last season. They ran the table in the Missouri Valley last season, going 18 - 0 in conference play. This season may not be so easy, as teams like Northern Iowa and Evansville all return key contributors from last year's teams. The Shockers return All-American point guard Fred VanVleet, and his back court mate in Ron Baker. The two of them should keep Wichita State atop the conference, and one of the nation's best teams throughout the season.

VCU is the class of the Atlantic 10, and should win the conference title this season. With Treveon Graham, Briante Weber, and Mo Alie-Cox leading the way for the Rams, Shake Smart arguably has his best roster ever during his tenure at VCU. The Rams look poised to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, as do the Shockers.

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So there you have it, 14 of the top storylines heading into the 2014-15 basketball season. When basketball gets underway on the 14th at 11am with Texas Southern and Eastern Washington, the season officially begins. These storylines will all play out as the season progresses, and  basketball fans can't wait to see how the season as a whole unfolds.

Of course, fans everywhere want the season to go by slowly, because having to wait another 6 months for the 2015-16 season would be torture. Here's to a new basketball season, and happy basketball looking!

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