In 2015, college basketball gave us a full slate of memories: great games, thrilling finishes, surprising heroes, unforgettable tragedies, detrimental scandals and bright prospects.
As the year closes, we’d like to reflect on the top storylines of year.
Louisville sex scandal: Katina Powell rocked Rick Pitino’s program when she released “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” a book that unveiled allegations that former Louisville assistant Andre McGee paid her and her associates cash in exchange for sexual encounters with players, recruits and the parents of recruits. The NCAA, Louisville law enforcement personnel and school officials have launched simultaneous investigations that could ruin Pitino and the program.
The deaths of “Tark” and Dean Smith: Both Jerry Tarkanian and Dean Smith died in 2015. The footprints of the legendary coaches will remain forever, though. Tarkanian’s towel-chewing antics were the image that many remember from his days as the leader of the UNLV dynasty in the early 1990s. And Smith guided the collegiate careers of iconic players such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Phil Ford and Antawn Jamison. Two major losses for college basketball.
NCAA hits Larry Brown and Jim Boeheim with nine-game suspensions: The NCAA punished both Syracuse and SMU with crippling penalties. Both Larry Brown and Jim Boeheim were suspended for nine games in 2015-16 after their programs were hit with penalties for lack of institutional control and a variety of violations. The undefeated Mustangs are banned from this season’s postseason. Boeheim’s squad vacated 101 wins.
Bo Ryan retires: Before the season, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan announced that 2015-16 would be his final season. But earlier this month, Ryan abruptly retired after a win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He said he wanted to give interim coach Greg Gard a chance to convince athletic director Barry Alvarez that he’s the man for the job. Ryan’s legacy includes Final Four appearances in consecutive seasons and a perfect mark on Selection Sunday: He never missed the NCAA tournament in 14 seasons.
Tyus Jones leads Duke to a national title: Wisconsin had a 48-39 lead in the second half of a national championship matchup against Duke, but Duke’s talented freshmen anchored a comeback that ended with the Blue Devils atop the postgame stage in Indianapolis. Tyus Jones, the most outstanding player, hit clutch shots down the stretch to help Mike Krzyzewski secure his fifth national championship.
Kentucky nearly perfect: The most popular on-court storyline of 2015 was Kentucky’s pursuit of a perfect season in the 2014-15 campaign. Throughout the preseason, many thought the idea of a perfect squad in modern times was crazy. The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to finish a season with an unblemished record. By January, however, Kentucky looked like a squad that could duplicate that feat. When the Wildcats entered the Final Four in Indianapolis without a loss, a perfect run seemed like a formality until Wisconsin stopped Kentucky and ended one of the most impressive, fascinating seasons in college basketball history.
Ben Simmons arrives: The Australian phenom entered the 2015-16 season as one of the most hyped freshmen in recent college basketball history. And thus far, he has justified the preseason buzz by averaging 19.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 2.2 steals. But he has failed to enjoy the spotlight that surrounded past projected No. 1 picks because he’s the star of a 7-5 LSU squad that doesn’t look like an NIT team right now.
Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg go pro: Both Florida and Iowa State were forced to find new coaches after Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg took their talents to the NBA. Right now, Hoiberg’s Chicago Bulls are 17-12 and Donovan’s Oklahoma City Thunder are 22-10.
Shaka Smart to Texas: Everyone knew that Smart would eventually leave VCU for a job at a school in a Power 5 conference. He was just waiting for the right fit. And Texas offered the opportunity and community he desired. He has already assembled a top-20 incoming recruiting class after locking up Texas prep star Andrew Jones, per RecruitingNation.
Cheick Diallo sidelined, cleared by NCAA: The former prep star’s NCAA situation was murky. And, for Kansas, frustrating. Before the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Hawaii, the Jayhawks brass released a letter and other information about the university's attempts to get answers about Diallo’s situation -- a six-figure effort. Days later, the NCAA cleared Diallo.