This month, college recruits will start visiting campuses as they begin the arduous process of winnowing their lists. They will ostensibly go where they'd like to play basketball. Following that thinking, the top 10 would be fairly easy and obvious: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and so forth.
But let’s pretend for a minute that hoops wasn't a factor -- that the only thing guiding a teenager’s thought process was which cool campus he would like to see. What would the list look like then?
Here’s a stab at the top 10 campuses to visit just for the sake of visiting -- with basketball grades added in case a recruit would like to construe it as a "work" trip.
10. University of Notre Dame. South Bend is surprisingly disappointing as a college town, but the campus more than makes up for it. It’s gorgeous. And if architecture doesn't move you as a sports fan -- and presumably most college recruits are sports fans -- taking in a game under the watchful gaze of Touchdown Jesus is a bucket list item.
Basketball grade: A. The Irish last season erased their March doldrums, advancing to the Elite Eight and coming this close to knocking off Kentucky.
9. Davidson College. Seven miles down the street from the center of campus is the Lake Campus -- as in school on a lake, complete with a beach and various water activities for students to enjoy.
Basketball grade: B+. Bob McKillop and the Wildcats were good enough for Steph Curry -- and that was before Davidson jumped into (and then won) the Atlantic 10.
8. University of Georgia. Pretty campus, great college town, feverish football fans, tradition, a cool stadium, an even cooler dog mascot. Georgia is what you see when you close your eyes and imagine life at college.
Basketball grade: B. Georgia hoops will never be Georgia football, but the Bulldogs have been making steady headway under Mark Fox, earning an NCAA tournament bid and their second 20-win season in a row last year.
7. University of Wisconsin. Brats, beer and Badgers. What’s not to love? OK, maybe the frigid temperatures in winter, but when you've got State Street, filled with bars and restaurants, lakes at every turn (which are even good for ice fishing) and a fan base as passionate and loyal as any out there, it warms the heart, if not necessarily the extremities. Madison is arguably one of the best college towns in the country.
Basketball grade: A. This could change depending on who succeeds Bo Ryan, but the infrastructure to maintain success is firmly in place. The Badgers aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
6. University of North Florida. There’s a lazy river through one of the dorm complexes. I think we’re done here.
Basketball grade: B-. The Ospreys won their first Atlantic Sun tournament title, earning a subsequent NCAA tournament bid and then did a very smart thing -- administrators locked up Matt Driscoll with a conference extension. The A-Sun, home to Florida Gulf Coast and to Mercer when it upset Duke, is becoming something of a March upstart. No reason UNF can’t be one of the mischief-makers.
5. LSU. Most college visits come during football season so impressionable high school seniors can fall under the spell of a campus come alive during a fall Saturday. Multiply that experience by 100, and you get Death Valley for an SEC night game. Oh, and the tailgate menus tend to be Cajun-inspired. Get a chance to visit during a home football game, and take it.
Basketball grade: B*. The asterisk is to denote the holding pattern for the Tigers right now. With Ben Simmons on campus, expectations are high for Johnny Jones’ squad, but it’s still TBD if they will be realized and if the program can sustain its success.
4. Ohio University. The school’s spring celebrations, known as Fests, are so popular they have their own Twitter handle (@FestsOfAthens). There’s Mill Fest and Palmer Street Fest and High Fest and #Fest (that’s number, not hashtag). There’s also a Halloween block party that dates back into the mid-1970s that includes live bands -- plus Court Street, which includes 20-plus bars. The folks of Athens, Ohio, have this fun thing down.
Basketball grade: C+. The Bobcats are a lot like their campus -- sort of an under-the-radar gem. They haven't been to the NCAA tournament since their 2012 Sweet 16 run (and near upset of top-seeded North Carolina), but with one good coach begetting the next (Saul Phillips is the latest), they have the potential to gear up for another Cinderella season at any time.
3. Tulane University. If you think a weekend in New Orleans doesn’t sound like a big deal, you clearly haven’t been to New Orleans. Tulane sits a short streetcar ride away from the French Quarter and smack in the middle of the Garden District (home to the Mannings -- as in Archie, Peyton and Eli). It’s beautiful. The food is ridiculous. It’s New Orleans.
Basketball grade: C-. The Green Wave hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1995, but Tulane does have a four-star recruit this year: power forward Melvin Frazier.
2. University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson was no dummy. This Founding Father designed the campus, complete with its signature rotunda, and since then it’s been consistently ranked among the most -- if not the most -- beautiful college campuses in the country. Only drawback: Men must buy a closet full of blue blazers and khaki pants upon enrollment.
Basketball grade: A. Two-time ACC regular-season champions. Tony Bennett is the head coach. Need more?
1. Pepperdine University. The school’s physical address says it all -- 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California. The campus actually sits in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Los Angeles is an hour away. Tunnel-visioned students who can ignore all of that and actually go to class ought to be awarded with an automatic PhD upon graduation.
Basketball grade: C-. Marty Wilson took the Waves to the CBI this year, their first postseason trip since a 2002 NCAA tournament berth, so maybe things are on the upswing.