The 2014-15 campaign, believe it or not, will begin in a few months. Don't worry, college basketball fans. It's coming.
Today, we'll take a look at next year's top offensive teams -- and a few programs that could use some help -- entering the upcoming season.
Teams to Watch
Duke -- Yes, Jabari Parker is gone. The No. 2 pick in last month's NBA draft, the new star for the Milwaukee Bucks, averaged a ridiculous 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, while making 36 percent of his 3-pointers for Duke in 2013-14. With Parker in charge, the Blue Devils averaged 79.1 points per game (26th nationally) and finished second in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. But they could be even better next year. And that plan starts inside.
Jahlil Okafor, the 6-10,265-pound center who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class per RecruitingNation, will be a force in the post for Mike Krzyzewski. As teams collapse on him, he'll have plenty of options. Rasheed Sulaimon moves back to a full-time role on the perimeter. Freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen will contribute immediately. Veterans Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are back, too.
Duke will have the benefit of being led by the top point guard in the incoming class: Tyus Jones. Jones was born to be a Duke point guard. His efficiency and poise could transform Duke into America's best offensive unit next season.
Wisconsin -- Remember when Wisconsin couldn't score? That wasn't true, but it was the perception. Under Bo Ryan, the Badgers had been pegged as a grind-it-out squad that couldn't run with the top offensive teams in the country. But last year's Final Four run dismissed that idea.
Wisconsin faced Oregon, Baylor, Arizona and Kentucky in the Big Dance. All four opponents were top-20 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings last year. The Badgers were the better offensive team against three of those teams -- vs. Oregon (1.31 points per possession), vs. Baylor (1.11 PPP) and vs. Arizona (1.05 PPP) -- and the Wildcats beat the Badgers (No. 4 in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2013-14) on Aaron Harrison's big 3-pointer in the final seconds.
The key players from that run and a team that scored 75 points or more in eight of its 12 Big Ten wins are back. Frank Kaminsky will be a preseason All-American and national player of the year candidate. He's the toughest one-on-one matchup in the country. Sam Dekker is an NBA prospect and one of the best small forward's in America. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are ready for bigger roles next year. Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson are the leaders in the backcourt. Ryan has the offensive firepower to tussle with America's best again.
Kentucky -- Many predicted the Kentucky national title game run before the 2013-14 season began, questioned that prediction throughout the bulk of the year and lauded it as the Wildcats improved each night in the final weeks of the season. It all came together for John Calipari's squad at the right time. Those young NBA prospects who couldn't get past Arkansas and South Carolina weeks before the tourney began ended the year as the national runner-up and likely No. 1 team in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the second consecutive season. Once the Big Dance began, Kentucky's fiery offense helped the Wildcats storm through the toughest gauntlet in the field. Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin all fell.
They scored 78 points against the Shockers. They bounced back from a 13-point deficit against their rival Cardinals. They hit big shots late against Michigan and Wisconsin.
And now, they're back with NCAA tourney stars Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison. Willie Cauley-Stein will be healthy. Alex Poythress will be a junior. Plus, they'll boast the nation's most powerful frontcourt (Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl Towns). The Wildcats will also add Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, a pair of guards who will enhance Kentucky's backcourt.
These Wildcats will have more inside-outside balance and depth than last year's team. They'll spread the floor. And defenses will be perplexed by their collection of offensive weapons. It'll be a more fluid offense led by a confident Andrew Harrison, who runs this squad now as both a point guard and a leader.
Teams that Might Struggle
Creighton -- It's not necessarily fair to list Creighton here. Every team has to rebuild at some point.
But the Bluejays will enter their next phase after losing Wooden Award winner Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. McDermott's magical three-year run positioned the Bluejays in the top-eight slots of Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
The team's departures accounted for 51.3 points per game last year. Austin Chatman, 8.1 PPG, is the top returning scorer and a significant player in this transition. Devin Brooks and freshman Ronnie Harrell Jr. will be asked to help too. And Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow is a solid addition.
But it's not reasonable to expect anything resembling what we've witnessed from the Omaha-based program the last three years. This young team will grow. It will struggle early, however, as it adjusts to new roles and life without Dougie McBuckets.
UCLA -- Steve Alford had a multitude of offensive options last season. Jordan Adams (17.4 PPG) could slash and score or hit jump shots. Kyle Anderson, a 6-foot-9 point forward, was the matchup nightmare. And Zach LaVine, Travis Wear and David Wear provided the balance that helped the Bruins reach the Sweet 16 last year.
But they're all gone. Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, Norman Powell, former UTEP signee Isaac Hamilton and a top-10 recruiting class led by Kevon Looney don't have the same punch (on paper, at least) as last year's crew.
Adams announced that he'd decided to return to UCLA before reversing that decision and entering the NBA draft, where he was selected in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Adams' return would have answered a lot of questions about this UCLA offense. His departure creates questions. Alford might have a group that builds chemistry quickly and becomes a top offense in the Pac-12. That's no guarantee, though. They were 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season.
They'll need freshmen to shine early and returnees to make major strides to regain that slot in 2014-15.