Louisville Cardinals NCAA Basketball Celebration

Stars returning to school means the ’13-’14 season is shaping up to be unreal


College basketball fans have become accustomed to the month of April consistently disappointing them.

Over the course of the month, we’ve learned, player after player will announce their intentions to forgo the rest of their collegiate eligibility and enter their name into the NBA Draft. All those hopes and dreams you had about your favorite team building a contender get crushed with one star’s decision to rush off to the NBA.

This April, however, has been quite the opposite.

Instead of watching a mad dash of draft prospects head for the NBA to try and take advantage of a weak draft and a potentially guaranteed contract that comes with being a first round pick, some of the nation’s biggest stars have headed back to school.

And their return has laid the groundwork for what should end up being a thrilling season of hoops.

On Thursday afternoon, the most decorated returnee made his decision, as two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott announced that he would be coming back to Creighton for his senior season. This sets up all kind of intrigue for Bluejay fans, as they will have arguably the greatest player in school history back to lead the program into a new era. McDermott, who will be chasing down 3,000 career points, is the favorite for the new Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year award, and will have a chance to showcase his skills against the likes of Georgetown, Marquette and Butler and in cities like NYC, DC and Philly. That’s a bit of a difference from the road trips to and from Springfield, MO, and Evansville, IN.

McDermott’s decision came a day after Russ Smith and CJ Fair announced that they will be spending their senior seasons at Louisville and Syracuse, respectively.

(CLICK HERE to follow along with who is turning pro and who is returning to school.)

Smith’s return makes Louisville a legitimate contender to win back-to-back national titles, as he not only was the KenPom National Player of the Year — which should give you a sense of his value to that Louisville team — but also the most entertaining player in the country, both on and off the court. It also sets up just an ideal situation in the Commonwealth. Kentucky and Louisville could end up being the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, two bitter, intrastate rivals that have accounted for the last two national championships. Oh, and should I mention that Kentucky brought back Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress to join their loaded recruiting class?

Anyone got an extra ticket for their annual matchup?

The irony? Kentucky isn’t a lock to win the SEC, not when Florida brings in a loaded recruiting class and returns Patric Young, giving them arguably the best front line in the country.

While Smith brings the Russdiculousness, Fair may be his polar opposite. Often overlooked, Fair’s return was the single most important part of this offseason for Syracuse. A perfect fit athletically for the Orange’s 2-3 zone, Fair was also their leading scorer and rebounder a season ago, as well as a forward that was able to score on the perimeter. Syracuse will have a ton of length and athleticism once again, but Fair is the only front court player that can help spread the floor.

His return will make the Orange, in all likelihood, a top ten team and a contender in the ACC.

Yup, Syracuse is going to be in the ACC next season. Almost forgot that, didn’t you? That means that the Orange will be battling with Duke, who will be a top five team next season, and North Carolina, who will also be a top ten-ish team, for ACC bragging rights. The reason that UNC is going to be so good next season? Not only did they get James Michael McAdoo back for his junior campaign, leading scorer PJ Hairston made the decision to return to school as well.

That three-way battle for ACC supremacy is going to be quite entertaining even if you don’t like ACC hoops.

Duke-UNC and Louisville-UK won’t be the only rivalries that will continue to flourish in 2013-2014. Michigan may have lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, but with the announcement that both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will be back for their sophomore seasons, the Wolverines will have enough talent to compete for the Big Ten title. The favorite in the league? Michigan State, especially after Gary Harris announced that he’ll be back for his sophomore campaign. And if Adreian Payne returns as well? We may just need to clear some space in the top three for the Spartans.

But easily the biggest surprise when it comes to players returning to school was Marcus Smart. A projected top three pick, Smart announced earlier this month that he simply wasn’t ready to give up being a kid and become a professional. “I know how much money I’m giving up,” he said, which is great news for Oklahoma State fans, as they suddenly jump into the top spot in the preseason Big 12 standings.

Above Kansas.

Who has won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season title.

And that may end up being the most run league race to follow along with this season. Can Oklahoma State, a team coached by Travis Ford, end up being the one that ends the Jayhawk streak?

If that’s not enough, Joe Jackson, Jordan McRae, Sean Kilpatrick and Jahii Carson will all be back next season as well.

And you thought last season was fun.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.