Posted by Matt Norlander
It may still feel like the Final Four just ended, but for most schools, the offseason is now more than two months old. With that in mind, all of us at the blog are going to take this week to give you what we’re calling “Conference Catch-Ups.” The motive is to recap the biggest storylines in college basketball’s offseason so far, plus keep your appetite whetted in what is the longest offseason in major American sports. In case you missed any of what's happened in the mid-major conferences, here it is.
The Big Stories
Headline No. 1: Shaka stays. Virginia Commonwealth didn't lose Shaka Smart (right) to anyone. It's a topic we've played out plenty on the blog, but merits mention at the top of this list. He got the program to its first Final Four, became coveted, but didn't bolt. "I'm not a grass-is-always-greener type of guy" Smart told me earlier this spring. Smart also remained busy, visiting the White House, singing at Wrigley Field, etc.
Headline No. 2: George Mason loses Larranaga to Miami. Though there's been the usual hefty amount of coaching turnover (peep the entire list of changes right here, if you'd like), no move was more surprising than Jim Larranaga leaving George Mason to coach at Miami, a move many saw as a step down, even if The U is in the ACC. Most surprising about the move was the fact GMU is a top-25 caliber team next season with a lot of veterans coming back; the team won an NCAA tournament game in 2011, remember.
Headline No. 3: Paul Hewitt plucked by Patriots. Basically, Mason gets an ACC guy to replace the guy who went to the ACC. Hewitt recruited NBA talent on the regular in Atlanta, but his Georgia Tech teams always underachieved and never kept its NBA guys beyond two years. The hire makes a lot of sense for both the coach and the school. Hewitt's thrilled with his set-up now, as he's the beneficiary of a huge G-Tech buyout, plus has the Mason money -- and half the pressure.
Headline No. 4: Kruger gets Sooner job. UNLV lost a man that put the program on the right track. Lon Kruger took the Oklahoma job, meaning Dave Rice, a former player, is now the grand poo-bah of the program. The hire was considered smart, reasonable and logical. The bar for the Rebs is now set: NCAAs every year and a top-three finish in the Mountain West conference.
Headline No. 5: Greg Marshall gets a raise, stays at Wichita State. If this slipped past your radar, I couldn't blame you. But Marshall was a target for a few of the big-time jobs this spring. He spurned them all, and his return to the Shockers means WSU will be a favorite to win the Missouri Valley next season. Marshall is inevitably going to get bought out and go to a BCS school, but I think it's at least another two years before that happens.
Headline No. 6: The son takes over for the father. Bryce Drew, the man who gave us one of the greatest March Madness moments of all time, will take over for father Homer at Valpo next year. Expect a few loving profile pieces by November. And if Bryce can get Valpo to the tournament? We'll relive 1998 all over again.
The Great Unknown
How does BYU go on? No Jimmer means an entirely different team, of course. Different culture? We'll see. I think the Fredette Effect will last long after No. 32's number gets retired (that's happening, right?), but I can't help but wonder how this team will adjust to a different culture altogether. It won't be the traveling rock show, and maybe that will be a good thing. Dave Rose has helped establish this winning mentality -- which really began when Fredette got to BYU -- and it should go on. Remember, BYU has played its last game in the Mountain West. Now it heads to the West Coast Conference to tussle atop the mountain with Gonzaga.
NBA Draft report
Mid-major conferences don't see the exodus that BCS leagues do, but each year there's a bit of a talent drain. This year's crop of early entrants includes, most notably, San Diego State sophomore Kawhi Leonard, who will probably be a lottery pick. Butler's Shelvin Mack is also leaving, something I pontificate on here. Troy Gillenwater (New Mexico State) is gone, as is Keishawn Mayes, who played at Campbell and is in no way getting drafted. Saint Louis' Willie Reed is another early entrant with a slim chance of getting his name called. Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Antoine Watson (Florida International) round up the rest of the guys you've never heard of who are somewhat foolishly leaving school early.
So who came back? This list is usually longer with non-BCS players than vice versa, naturally. If you want the full list, click here and scroll down. Orlando Johnson returning to UC-Santa Barbara is big for the Gauchos. Greg Mangano returning to Yale won't make the Bulldogs an Ivy favorite, but it coud keep the league's race interesting. And Brandon Wood going back to Valpo is insurance Bryce Drew needs in his first year.
TransferenceThe list is so long, I'm going to simply direct you to the compilation Jeff Goodman put together. Incredible how he gets all these names, really. Glad he's coming to join the team in a week.
Team commentary in 20 words or Less
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have put together another ridiculously impressive non-con schedule.
Memphis: It's clear Josh Pastner (right) sees Mark Few's habits and wants to duplicate them re: out-of-conference slate.
VCU: Here's the tough thing for Smart and C.: How does it ever get better?
San Diego State: Please don't be a one-year thing. The Show was too good to die out.
BYU: Life without Jimmer is going to be depressing, plain and simple.
UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels will be just fine under Dave Rice. Won't be as explosive next year, though.
George Mason: Paul Hewitt, what can you lure to the CAA? And how good will this league become? Eager to find out.
New Mexico: Good core returning. I smell 25 wins. Yes, seriously.
Fairfield: Sydney Johnson left Princeton for the Stags, a program that's knocking on the door of mid-major relevance.
Belmont: Rick Byrd had a top-20 KenPom team that only loses two seniors. Next year should be fun.
Utah State: It was another 30-win season for the Aggies. Will be class of the (now weaker) WAC again.