The NBA Draft Combine takes place in Chicago this week, officially paving the way towards the next phase of the College Basketball offseason. A record number of players have entered the transfer portal and have found new homes. With so many important decisions to be made in the next coming weeks, it can be easy to forget about some of the biggest moves that were made so far this offseason and the impact it has made on each of the major conferences. Here is one storyline from each major conference in College Basketball, as we really start to learn what these teams will look like heading into next season.
Big East – Enter Rick Pitino and St. John’s Is Ready to Turn It Around
Of all of the coaching changes in College Basketball this offseason, there wasn’t one more appealing than Rick Pitino heading to St. John’s. After spending each of the last three seasons at Iona, which featured two NCAA Tournament appearances, Pitino is back in the Big East hoping to turn this Red Storm program around. St. John’s has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000, only making it to the big dance four times during that span. There are a ton of College Basketball fans out there that have zero idea what it’s like to have a College Basketball team relevant in New York City, and it is only a matter of time before that changes.
The previous regime under Mike Anderson had zero problem bringing in talent, with guys like Julian Champaignie, Posh Alexander, Joel Soriano and others. The issue was that it didn’t translate into wins on the court, considering St. John’s had zero reason not to be an NCAA Tournament team over the course of the last two seasons but couldn’t get it done. Now under Pitino’s watch, Soriano is the only significant contributor from last year’s team that will return and he has a whole new roster around him.
St. John’s added Pennsylvania Transfer Jordan Dingle, who will be the leading returning scorer in the country, averaging 23.4 points per game for the Quakers last season. In addition, Pitino brings Point Guard Daniss Jenkins Jr. with him from Iona, alongside Power 6 transfers in Nahiem Alleyne from UConn and Zuby Ejiofior from Kansas. The Big East is the conference that is the most on the rise heading into 2023-2024, considering the amount of star power on the coaching sidelines. Between Pitino, Sean Miller at Xavier, Ed Cooley now at Georgetown, Shake Smart at Marquette, not to mention Dan Hurley and the reigning National Champions, there isn’t a conference filled with better coaches in the country right now.
Big 12 – New Faces in New Places
Not only will this be both Texas and Oklahoma’s final season in the Big 12, but the conference will also welcome some new faces this season. That includes Houston, who has been among the best programs in the sport over the course of the last half decade, with a Final 4 appearance, an Elite 8 and two Sweet 16’s since 2019. In addition, the conference will add Cincinnati, UCF, and BYU to the equation, adding to what has been the premiere conference in College Basketball in that same time span as well.
One question that all of a sudden loom large for Houston is the fact that their Head Coach Kelvin Sampson, reportedly interviewed for the vacant Milwaukee Bucks job this week. While there haven’t been any rumblings about Sampson potentially leaving, it is fair to wonder if he could leave, considering the amount of high profile coaches that have left College Basketball lately, with the newest rule changes regarding NIL and the Transfer Portal. Houston is a team that could even enter next season as the favorite in the Big 12, with the expected return of Jamal Shead, and the addition of Baylor Transfer LJ Cryer.
With teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season like Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State, Baylor and others all losing significant pieces from last season as well. Bill Self and Kansas will always be a factor, especially after the addition of Hunter Dickinson, but it is very rare for a completely new team to enter a conference and be labeled as the favorite to win the league as soon as they get there. Considering we haven’t seen a major realignment shift in the past decade, it will be fascinating to see how the rest of the conference adjusts to adding programs from all over the country, including from the East Coast, West Coast and Midwest.
Pac-12 – Who Is Ready to Take Over The League?
While looking at the current state of Pac 12 Basketball, one thing that really stood out was the fact that the two programs that have really dominated the league over the course of the last two seasons, should see a lot more competition at the top. UCLA will be losing at least five of their top six scorers from last season, and it isn’t even a guarantee that Jaylen Clark will be back for another season either. In addition, Arizona is fresh off one of the worst losses in program history, and will be losing four of their top six scorers from last season as well. While the Wildcats should be fine after the addition of Jayden Bradley and the anticipated breakout of Kyland Boswell, there should finally be some other teams in the mix at the top.
Primarily, the spotlight will be on USC this season with the addition of Bronny James. Bronny will be one of the most intriguing storylines by himself entering next season, and after being under the radar since Evan Mobley left campus, there will be plenty of attention on Andy Enfield’s squad entering next season. USC has been one of the more underrated programs in College Basketball in recent memory, making it to each of the last two NCAA Tournaments when not many expected them to keep sustained success after making it to the Elite 8 in 2021. The Trojans will return star Guard Boogie Ellis, alongside #1 overall recruit in the class of 2023 Isiah Collier, to make up the most star-studded back court in the country.
In addition, Colorado should be ready to get back to their first NCAA Tournament since 2021, with the addition of McDonald’s All American and Top 5 Recruit Cody Williams and TCU Transfer Eddie Lampkin. Oregon is another team that should be in the mix under Dana Altman, with a top-notch recruiting class and a really good returning core from last season’s team. While the future of Pac-12 basketball might be unknown, this season should be one of the better ones the league has seen in recent memory, with a ton of competitive teams at the top of the league.
ACC – Saying Goodbye to Some Legends
As recently as the last few seasons, the ACC had a core group of coaches that have been around for such a long time that it felt like no one was ever going anywhere. From Mike Krzyzewski, to Roy Williams, to Jim Boeheim, to Tony Bennett, to Leonard Hamilton and others, the group of coaches in the ACC could never be beat and this was routinely the best conference that the sport had to offer. In recent years however, we’ve said goodbye to some of these legends including Coach K and Roy, and this offseason two more will be added to that list in Jim Boeheim and Mike Brey. Both of these coaches were at their respective schools for a combined 68 seasons and it will be very odd seeing someone else in their place when next season starts.
There is zero doubt that Syracuse Basketball needed some changes comparing the program’s recent results to some of the other teams of the Boeheim era. Syracuse was routinely among the best defenses in College Basketball from 2010-2016, but that hadn’t been the case recently, with so much emphasis on shooting the ball it almost feels like an entirely different game from when the 2-3 zone was in its heyday. In addition, Syracuse Basketball hasn’t earned a top 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2014 and after missing the big dance over the course of the last two seasons it was evident changes needed to be made. New Coach and longtime Assistant under Boeheim, Adrian “Red” Autry has taken over and has done a nice job adding lengthy players that should fit in nicely in the zone, like JJ Starling and Chance Westry.
While Notre Dame will be more of a traditional rebuild under new Head Coach Micah Shrewberry, who is fresh off leading Penn State to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001. There aren’t many coaches that were hired this cycle, that I feel better about long term in their new home than Shrewsberry, not only based on what he did at Penn State but also his recruiting ties to the state of Indiana, as a former assistant at Purdue.
While the ACC will still have other guys like Tony Bennett, Leonard Hamilton and Jim Larranaga that have been around forever, it nearly won’t be the same without some of these legendary coaches on the sidelines that have recently stepped away from the game.
Big Ten – What Is Going on at Michigan?
Juwan Howard was not in an easy position in 2019, when he arrived at Michigan following John Beilien’s surprising departure to the NBA. To his credit, the Howard era at Michigan couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, with the Wolverines reaching the Elite 8 and Sweet 16, along with a Big Ten Regular Season Title in 2021. The last 12 months however, couldn’t have gone much worse for Howard and that was evident this week. Michigan missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 this past season, and that was a surprise considering the personnel Juwan Howard had on his roster. With a very accomplished big man in Hunter Dickinson, alongside two likely first round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft in Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard, Michigan had the overall talent level that not many other teams in the country could match. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Michigan finished 18-16 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten, without enough quality wins to secure a tournament bid.
Fast Forward to the start of the offseason, and Dickinson announced he was entering the Transfer Portal. While the portal is a major part of today’s game and no one entering should really come as a huge shock, this was an obvious expectation. We have never seen a player of Dickinson’s caliber enter the portal, with former Second Team All American and First Team All Big Ten honors on his resume. Losing a player of that caliber is a devastating blow, however Michigan fans did at least have a little hope when North Carolina Transfer Caleb Love announced his commitment to the school last month.
Love is one of the most polarizing players in College Basketball for good reason, considering the number of both high’s and lows you experience when he’s a member of your team. The St. Louis native has the ability to lead a team to the Final 4 like he did with North Carolina in 2021. However, the bad of Caleb Love could outweigh the good like we saw with the heavy expectations that North Carolina had this past season. Either way, Michigan fans could at least sell themselves on Love working out and the high ceiling that went along with it. That was knocked out the window this week, when Love decommitted from the Wolverines after an apparent admissions issue. Now, the Wolverines have a roster that is nowhere close to NCAA Tournament worthy and Juwan Howard will enter his fifth season in Ann Arbour with a lot more questions than answers.
SEC – What Does Kentucky’s Roster Look Like Entering Next Season?
John Calipari and Kentucky are another program that will enter next season with a ton of expectations, considering Big Blue hasn’t been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2019. Calipari did recruit the #1 ranked High School Class in the country, which should give Wildcats fans hope, however they will also need some returning talent back in the worst way. Many NBA Draft pundits and high school basketball analysts do consider this to be one of the weaker high school classes of recent memory, and it has been apparent that age and experience are necessary factors if you want to win in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is waiting on three key decisions from Oscar Tshiebwe, Antonio Reeves and Chris Livingston for next season.
Tshiebwe finished top 3 in the SEC in scoring, with 16.5 points per game and led the SEC in rebounding for the second consecutive season. This is despite the fact, Oscar was a liability at times on the defensive end. When opposing teams were able to put the big man in ball screens and force him to guard on the perimeter, it usually would not end well for Kentucky. This is a possible problem that comes with your big man being your best player in the year 2023, as you can exploit Tshiebwe on the defensive side of the floor. Regardless of these concerns, adding Tshiebwe back into the fold would be a massive victory for John Calipari and this is one of the most important NBA Draft Decisions to track going forward.
Kentucky was ateam that really struggled with consistency at times during the 2023 season, however Antonio Reeves was one of the few guys Kentucky was able to count on for consistency, especially during SEC Conference play. Reeves opened up SEC play with five consecutive games scoring in double digits and it was clear just how important Reeves was to Kentucky, considering his worst performance of the season came in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State. Reeves scored 5 points on a dreadful 1-15 shooting from the field, and there were a number of shots where you felt like if he could just hit this one, then Kentucky would be ok. The Illinois State Transfer entered that game averaging 22 points per game in his previous six games.
With Livingston also showing some bright spots towards the back end of last season and having the pedigree of a former Top 15 recruit, getting any of these guys back would be a major victory for Kentucky, plus the Wildcats are still heavily interested in San Diego State Transfer Keshad Johnson. This will be a major season for Calipari and if he cannot get over the hump, the voices of concern for Kentucky fans will become even louder.
Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.