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

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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.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: