On Wednesday, Eamonn Brennan identified some of the offseason’s biggest storylines to follow. As we start the countdown to Midnight Madness, a few of his colleagues examine some other offseason questions:
John Gasaway: How many major conferences are there anyway? We've been used to answering that question with “six” for a few years now, but there's nothing set in stone about that number. Certainly the league that we'll be calling the Big East next season -- with "the Catholic 7," plus Butler, Creighton, and Xavier -- will be worthy of the "major" label. But what about the remaining teams from the current Big East, or what next season will be called the American Athletic Conference? Here's the 2013-14 AAC basketball membership as we know it today: Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple, South Florida, Rutgers, Houston, SMU and UCF. Then, after 2013-14, Louisville and Rutgers will depart for the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, and the AAC will add Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane. Is that a major conference? To paraphrase a U.S. Supreme Court justice on a somewhat different topic, I can't define a major conference, but I know one when I see one. We'll have to see these new configurations in action before we know what, if anything, has been done to the number of major conferences.
Andy Katz: What will happen with officiating? There is now a legitimate crisis in the profession with the "forced" resignation of Ed Rush in the Pac-12 and the decision not to renew the contract of Gerald Boudreaux in the SEC. The Final Four crews were made up of veterans and there were as many complaints about officiating as I can remember at that event. The rules committee will look at trying to create more fluidity of movement and work on the elbow rule. Replay may come into play for the final minute of the half and of the game for any major game/score-related decisions (out of bounds, scoring, fouls). Yet the officiating -- which is an incredibly difficult job with extreme pressure -- has to improve. Officials were pounded by bad PR this season and need to get ahead of this -- not with words, but action. Coaches need to behave, too. Coaches get away with far too much on the sideline, essentially ignoring the coaches' box and "working" officials to an extreme. Stop the chirping and just coach your team. This is an issue that must be addressed in the offseason with one set of rules that everyone can abide by, whether the games are in November or April.
Jason King: The Big Ten was far and away the nation's best conference in 2012-13. But where will the league rank next season? A weak NBA draft could cause as many as four of Michigan's top players to leave school early. Ohio State star Deshaun Thomas already has declared for the draft, as has Indiana's Victor Oladipo. Hoosiers center Cody Zeller is expected to follow suit. NCAA tournament teams Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota all lose key seniors. Don't get me wrong: I’m not predicting that the conference will be down in the same fashion that the SEC was last season or that the Big 12 likely will be in 2013-14. I just don't think it will have the dominant feel that it did this past season, when seven teams earned bids, four made the Sweet 16, two were in the Elite Eight and one advanced to the NCAA title game. The Big Ten hasn't had an NCAA champion since 2000. This past season was supposed to be the time to end that drought, and it didn't happen. I don't like the Big Ten's chances nearly as much next spring.
Myron Medcalf: My biggest offseason question is this: Will Mark Emmert finally get it? That combative news conference at the Final Four showcased the communication challenges that persist within the NCAA. The ruler of college sports -- in theory at least -- spends millions of dollars in its effort to convince the general public that it is all about the kids. Few buy it, however, because its repeated gaffes suggest otherwise. The botched Miami investigation only magnified the doubts about the NCAA’s capability to govern college athletics. But it’s not going anywhere. And reform is certainly necessary for college basketball on and off the court. We have to have a serious conversation about the loose structure that surrounds officiating crews. We need to discuss block-charge calls and instant replay, too. But the NCAA has to realize that now is not the time to get defensive. This offseason, Emmert has to do a better job of conveying messages that move beyond the sophisticated jargon that just jumbles the conversations we need to have. He can start by dropping his shield and recognizing that his organization has a serious public perception problem. Does he understand that?
Dana O’Neil: Will new blood bring new juice to Los Angeles? The argument against USC and UCLA is always the same -- there’s too much else going on in L.A. for the Trojans and the Bruins to own the spotlight. I’ve never bought it. The missing link for the two has been the 1-2 punch of sustained success and interest. Now is their chance for a reboot, with Andy Enfield and Steve Alford moving to town. The previously anonymous Enfield has the pretty wife and the “It” boy flavor while Alford has the name cache. Their first order of business, of course, will be selling their programs and pedigrees to recruits. Equally important, though, is selling themselves to the fan bases. USC has been a train wreck of a program for too long; UCLA has been a soap opera of a program for too long. It’s up to Enfield and Alford to reconnect with fans and alums to help get what ought to be two powerbrokers on the West Coast back into the race.
Robbi Pickeral: Will the ACC return to the Final Four? This marked the third straight season the league was shut out of college basketball’s final weekend -- the longest stretch since 1958-61. And the league will be looking for a few charter members, as well as possibly a new addition or two, to help push it back. Duke, despite losing three senior starters in Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, will be a conference favorite thanks to the additions of Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and mega-recruit Jabari Parker. And if North Carolina starters James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston all return, as expected, the Tar Heels should be in the top 10 as well, especially if new guys Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks can add some oomph to the interior. Virginia could make things interesting in the conference. Boston College keeps growing up. And don’t forget about Syracuse, one of three new teams (along with Pittsburgh and Notre Dame) scheduled to join the ACC fray. The Orange, who lost in the national semifinals on Saturday, could make some early waves in their new league, especially if starters Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair forgo the NBA.