2013-2014 Season Preview, Plus A Small Treasure Trove of Cool Tidbits

Change is good.

Michael Jordan talked about it in his Hanes ads, while Sheryl Crow sang about it.

From the games we will watch on TV across the cable landscape, to many schools switching conferences–I hope this guide helps you out as I will try to take a very small page out of Joe Lunardi’s book and predict the 68 schools (32 of them have conference tournaments due to the dissolving of one conference) that will receive invites to the 2014 NCAA Tournament.  Please read on and enjoy.

Where To Find the Key Games on TV and the Web

CBS returns for the 33rd consecutive year, but their once self-proclaimed “Road to the Final Four” banter is slowly going away to cable.  Former UNLV star Greg Anthony takes over for Clark Kellogg on the broadcasts, so hopefully it will be a seamless transition compared to when Billy Packer finally retired after the 2008 Final Four.

NBC Sports Network will cover the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) for the second straight year.  Most of their coverage will take place before and after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

ESPN will have over 1,500 games–both men and women.  Starting with the sixth annual “24 Hour Tip-Off Marathon” and continuing with the renamed “Bracket Builder Week” on the last days of February replacing the formerly great “BrackBusters” series when a mid-major played against other mid-majors across the country and Championship Week–between four cable channels (ESPNEWS will even cover almost two dozen games in the new American Athletic Conference) and several Web/mobile platforms thanks to WatchESPN, there will be plenty of hoops action except for most Fridays when the NBA is featured along with Christmas Eve and December 26.  Big Monday will have the ACC leading off instead of the Big East.

Speaking of the Big East, the newest cable entry to the party is Fox Sports 1.  Former veteran CBS announcers Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery will be the lead team, along with former ESPN announcers Stephen Bardo and Jim Sparnakel joining longtime Fox NFL play-by-play men Thom Brennaman and Dick Stockton adding their expertise throughout the season.

But perhaps the biggest change will come on Super Saturday.

For the first time since 1981, CBS will not be covering the Final Four.

Rather, that honor will fall to Ted Turner’s darling in TBS.

It will be interesting to see whether Jim Nantz will be doing Conan promos, or will they play it safe and go with the lead NBA on TNT announcing crew of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, and Reggie Miller?

“One Shining Moment” to go the way of the Macarena or breakdancing?

In a revised deal this past spring, TBS and CBS will share the final 15 games.  Since 2011, CBS has done the early Sweet 16 games (Regional semifinal round), while TBS did the later starts both on Thursday and Friday while CBS did the Elite Eight (Regional final games) and beyond.

Beginning in 2014 and continuing until 2024, CBS and TBS will split the Elite Eight games.  CBS will still cover the National Championship game until 2016, when TBS will air all three Final Four games in even years, but CBS will retain their old pact in the odd years only.

Conference Realignments A Plenty

* Special notes will be indicated with an asterisk as some schools will be moving again prior to the 2014-2015 season.

American Athletic Conference

Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, * Louisville–to move to ACC, Memphis, *Rutgers–to move to Big Ten, SMU, South Florida, Temple.

Coming into AAC for 2014-2015 season:  East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa.

Give some time for this league to pan out, but there should be some quality matchups for years to come.

Atlantic 10 Conference

In: George Mason.  Out: Butler, Charlotte, Temple, Xavier.

Nice pick-up with the 2006 Final Four Cinderella darlings, but last season was the real cream of the crop as far as mid-major conferences were concerned.

Atlantic Coast Conference

In:  Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse

To move:  Maryland, to join Big Ten

15 teams in this Super Conference.  It just might top the 2010-2011 Big East conference in terms of overall bids, since this league is so stacked.  That year, 11 of the 68 bids set the new record.

Big East Conference

In: Butler, Creighton, Xavier.

Out: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse.

All private schools, plus the “Catholic 7” will make this basketball only league an interesting one to watch.  Without Brad Stevens patrolling the bench for Butler, hopefully not much dropoff will come from them.  And you have the potential 2014 Player of the Year candidate in Doug McDermott, senior guard from Creighton playing again for his father.  Xavier is like what Duke was in the late 1980’s, trying to find a way to piece things together and get past the Sweet 16/Elite Eight hurdles.

But unless other media members say otherwise, it is still Georgetown and Marquette’s league to lose.

Mountain West

In: Utah State, San Jose State.

11 teams, should be a fun conference to watch, Utah State being a great addition athletically while San Jose State features a huge Spartan on their court surface–so that might be a fun watch visually speaking.

Conference USA

In: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio.

Out: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU.

What used to be Memphis and nobody else is now a hodge-podge of having so many different ingredients but you are not certain on how the final recipe will look, let alone taste.  UNC Charlotte, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, and Old Dominion might be worth a look–but Louisiana Tech might be a few years away.

Colonial Athletic Association

In: College of Charleston.

Out: George Mason, Georgia State, Old Dominion.

Losing VCU in 2012 and now George Mason, it looks like a one-bid draw.  College of Charleston again could be another double-digit sleeper team come the Big Dance.

Missouri Valley Conference

In:  Loyola (Chicago, Illinois)

Out:  Creighton

A big market team finally joins the many true mid-majors, albeit 50 years have passed since the Ramblers won their first and only NCAA Championship.

Wichita State and Indiana State remain the top two in this league, but do not be surprised if the Committee sends out at least three bids come Selection Sunday.

Western Athletic Conference

In: Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American, UMKC, Utah Valley.

Out: Denver, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State, Utah State.

A former football power no more, the Kangaroos look like they made the best move.  But let’s see how Chicago State fares with the longer travel schedule.

West Coast Conference

In:  Pacific.

New coach for the Tigers occurs at the same time when the school joins a pair of true powerhouses in Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.  Also, look out for BYU, always one of the schools that enjoys “flying under the radar” (unless some players that sometimes take liberty in violating parts of the Honor Code, like star player Brandon Davies did which severely affected their 2012 NCAA Tournament run–a projected #1 overall seed in the West, they slipped dramatically in a three week span).

The rest of the changes are mostly of the one-bid variety:

America East Conference

In: UMass-Lowell.

Out: Boston University.

Recent NCAA bid entrant Boston U. really hurts, but UMass-Lowell is beginning a new transition to Division I after spending many years in Division II.

Albany, Stony Brook, and Vermont are still capable of grabbing the bid come March.

Big West Conference

Out:  Pacific.  Big loss here, no question.  Nobody was added to replace them.

Horizon League

In:  Oakland (Michigan)

Out:  Loyola (Chicago, Ill.)

Nice fit, but you still have Valparaiso, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Illinois-Chicago (UIC) still in the fold.  If you want to see great action that mirrors the Big Boys in the Big Ten, this is the league to watch–bar none.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

In: Monmouth, Quinnipiac

Out: Loyola (Md.)

Two good fits for the MAAC, with the two new entries looking to make some major statements before March rolls around.

Northeast Conference

Out: Monmouth, Quinnipiac.  Nobody was added to replace them.

What was a decent 12 team league is down to 10, but the quality of play should still be similar.

Patriot League

In: Boston University, Loyola (Md.).

Out: Nobody.

Nice upgrade with Boston U., quality of play should finally be right up there with other mid-majors after spending most of this century mostly trying to find their true identity.

Southern Conference

In: Nobody.

Out: College of Charleston

Just like the CAA last year, the slow downgrade in terms of quality teams will suffer.  Davidson will move to the Atlantic 10 come 2014-2015.

Southland

In: Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, New Orleans.

Out: Nobody.

14 schools spread out all over the place, and even New Orleans is back in after spending the equivalent of watching a cheesy romance novel in Division III.

Summit League

In: Denver.

Out: Oakland, UMKC.

Eight schools, but with Denver trying to find their way–can South Dakota State make it three years in a row reaching the Big Dance?

Sun Belt

In: Georgia State, Texas-Arlington, Texas State.

Out: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas.

Georgia State is a nice pickup, but losing both Middle Tennessee State and North Texas could sting in the next five years as far as quality of play is concerned.

Gone, But Briefly Not Forgotten

Great West, joining the ranks of the formerly great Big Eight in the 1980’s as conferences that no longer exist.  The only Division I school without a conference belongs to the Highlanders of NJIT-the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

My Prediction of the 68 Schools That Will Receive Bids to the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Rather than seed and bracket the teams, this will be a simple list by conference.  Each school that will receive multiple bids that has a * on it will be the conference tournament champion and thereby clinch one of the 32 Automatic Qualifier bids.

And yes, it will feature a Chicago based school that will see its’ streak finally end in terms of post-season droughts.  Only the once beloved Cubs are the lonesome ones still left to reach a World Series.

AAC (4):  Cincinnati, UConn, *Louisville, and Memphis.

America East (1):  Vermont

ACC (10):  Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina State, * North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia.

Atlantic Sun (1):  Florida Gulf Coast.

Atlantic 10 (2):  George Mason and * VCU

Big East (6):  Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, and Xavier.

Big Sky (1):  Weber State.

Big South (1):  Winthrop.

Big Ten (7):  Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, * Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

Big 12 (5):  Baylor, * Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia.

Big West (1):  UC Irvine.

CAA: (1):  College of Charleston.

Conference USA (1):  UNC Charlotte.

Horizon League (1):  Valparaiso.

Ivy League (1):  Harvard, the only league without a postseason tournament.

MAAC (1): Monmouth.

MAC (1):  Western Michigan.

MEAC (1):  Hampton.

Missouri Valley (2):  Indiana State and * Wichita State.

Mountain West (1):  UNLV.

NEC (1):  Fairleigh-Dickinson.

Ohio Valley (1):  Austin Peay, but look out for Belmont as well.

Pac 12 (4):  * Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington.

Patriot League (1):  Boston University.

SEC (3):  Florida, * Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Southern (1):  Davidson.

Southland (1):  Northwestern State.

Summit League (1):  South Dakota State.

SWAC (1):  Southern.

Sun Belt (2):  South Alabama and * Western Kentucky.

West Coast (3): BYU, * Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s (Calif.).

Last Four In:  Northwestern, Tennessee, Indiana State, and South Alabama.

First Four Out:  Alabama, Dayton, Clemson, and Montana.

Revised Bracketing Procedures

On August 1, headed up by Wake Forest Athletic Director and Chairman of the Men’s Division I Basketball Committe Ron Wellman, these are the revised procedures when it comes down to bracketing the teams and where the seeds will finally fall:

Teams from the same conference no longer have to wait until at least the Regional Final round (Elite Eight) to play each other in March.  It will instead be based on the frequency with how those schools met during the regular season and postseason conference tournament.

This means that teams from the same conference that played only once during the regular season can now face each other as early as the third round of the championship (round of 32, the first full weekend).  Subsequently, teams from that same league which met twice during the year will not potentially play each other until the (Sweet 16 round) regional semifinals.

Teams from the same league that played each other three times during the season cannot play until the Elite Eight, the regional championship game–that part of the bracketing procedures which has mostly been held intact since 1985.

The previous rules did not allow more than two teams from a league to be in the same region unless nine or more schools were selected from one conference.   It only occurred twice in the history of the Big Dance (Big East had 11 teams in 2011 and nine in 2012). Under the new procedures, each of the top four teams selected from a conference will be placed in separate regions, only if they are seeded on the first four lines on the brackets. This replaces the past practice which separated the top three teams from a league regardless of the teams’ placement within the bracket.

One more note concerning the bracket changes:

The committee also altered an additional consideration for rematches of non-conference regular-season games.  Those matchups will not occur during the First Four in Dayton and in the second round, if that possibility exists.  To give itself even more flexibility, the committee may relax any principle in the event that two or more teams from the same league are among the last four at-large teams selected to the field (your 11 and 12 seeds, basically) and thus will participate in the First Four games.

Bottom line–geography will play a huge deciding factor on where teams will travel, especially during the second and third rounds (the formerly named First and Second Rounds).

In a conference call, there was one historical instance the new brackets could have affected the general means of preserving the true seed process:

During the period from 2011 to 2013, it happened with BYU. They dropped from what would have been naturally a 12 line based on the overall seed line, they dropped to 14 (since the Mormons do not allow playing any athletic events on Sundays, so they had to be placed on the Thursday-Saturday pod).  The other instance was a little further back, when the Marquette Golden Eagles went from a 8 to a 6 seed.

And Now, For A Little Bit of Fun

I thought a really nice way to close this Season Preview is to feature my All-Time Team of Fun Names in College Basketball History, plus a brief explanation on why I picked it.  The only criteria in choosing this list was that the player had to play in at least one NCAA Tournament game.

Have fun!

Power Forward:  Acie Earl, Iowa (1991-92).

I thought this name was a really cool sounding name.  Plus, when CBS displayed his name any time he shot a free throw, it blended things so well.

Small Forward:  Luol Deng, Duke (2003-04).

Coming from London by way of the Sudan, Deng sure made an impact during his one year with the Blue Devils.  Translation, one of the Top 50 players in the NBA today trying to earn yet another All-Star selection for the Chicago Bulls in what will be a contract year for him entering next summer’s free-agency period.

Center:  Akeem (Hakeem) Olajuwon, Houston (1982-83).

Honorable Mention:  Lew Alcindor, UCLA (1967-69) and Alaa Abdelnaby, Duke (1986-90).

The one word I could think of some of the great centers in NCAA history is consistency.  They were neither brash nor cocky–but they played the game exactly how it was supposed to be played.  And in the future case of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, he made many statements very clear during America’s true time of uncertainty in the late 1960’s when his UCLA Bruins stormed past many huge snowstorms en route to blitzing the competition like Loyola and others at the old Chicago Stadium.

Point Guard:  Odestress “Skip” McCoy, Iowa State (1991 and 1992), plus New Mexico State (1993 and 1994).

One of the coolest sounding names of all time, and here’s a bit of trivia for you–I went to the same high school with him.  Great guy off the court as well.

Shooting Guard, Jimmer Fredette, BYU (2007-2011).

The best pure college shooter since Larry Bird.  Period.

Also, every time I mention this name to WABC7 Eyewitness News New York weekend weather person Amy Freeze, she never can get enough of his raw talent and how much fun he was to watch on the court while suiting up for her alma mater in the BYU Cougars.

My take on him during Fredette’s college days was simple, but direct–watching him play was worth the price of admission.

Doug McDermott of Creighton might join that group, just like Stephan Curry of Davidson and Gordon Hayward of Butler did for the last several years in bringing their schools on a magical ride hoping it would never end.

Final Thoughts for the Time Being

Well, I hope I did not bore you as the leaves are finally coming off the trees and it is time to Hoop It Up.

My plan is to blog at least once or twice a week, inbetween my other blog adventures profiling the calmest versions of jazz this side of the Equator.  Starting after the New Year’s Day holiday and more frequently come the conference tournaments, my goal is to update the Bubble Watch and see which schools have still a fighting chance to snatch one of the final 36 at-large berths come Selection Sunday.  And yes, hopefully you will be able to fully appreciate why the RPI is such a key component in deciphering the good teams from the below average teams and of course, the purely mediocre schools that may not see the true ray of light come conference play in January.

And leading into the often curious but nervous time in March–a few hours after the draw, I will dissect the key matchups in the second round and present my full bracket no later than that Monday night (St. Patrick’s Day).

There is lots to come, the virtual plate is full.

I hope that you have enough space in your DVR’s, because there are going to be hundreds–if not thousands of great basketball contests to watch.

Let the games and the real fun begin:

Part One, the non-conference season and over 20 in-season tournaments all taking place before Christmas Day.

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