The Five Stories We Will Remember From the 2013-14 SeasonPosted by Bennet Hayes on April 10th, 2014
It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.
5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.
4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.
3. The Year Of The Freshman…Kind Of. The Champions Classic appeared to be the opening act for a group of freshmen poised to take over college basketball (albeit for only a season, of course), but the scintillating performances from Wiggins, Parker and Randle on that mid-November night may have raised the bar a touch high for first-year players across the nation. None of those big name freshmen (feel free to add Aaron Gordon’s name to the trio above) wound up as true disappointments – all but Randle led their teams to top-four seeds in the Big Dance, and each found their name on various All-American lists – but their dominance was never as pronounced as it was that cold night in Chicago.
2. McBuckets. Doug McDermott is too humble to tell you this himself, but the under-recruited coach’s son from Central Iowa used 2013-14 to put the finishing touches on what is undeniably one of the greatest careers in college basketball history. March success may have eluded Creighton yet again, but in leading the country in both scoring (26.9 PPG) and “no he didn’t!” moments, McDermott guided the Creighton program to heights never before seen in Omaha. He finishes his career fifth on college basketball’s all-time scoring list, and leaves father/coach Greg with a gaping hole in next year’s Bluejay lineup. Here’s a guess that dad won’t be the only one that misses his son next season; college basketball just lost a remarkable, once-in-a-generation leading man.
1. The Team That History Will Never Forget. Perfection was no more and Wichita State’s season had come to the sudden, final end that the NCAA Tournament doles out to 67 teams each March, but Gregg Marshall still saw the bigger picture. One loss didn’t change anything for a team that set an NCAA record by winning its first 35 games of the season. It rewrote no piece of history, altered nothing about the Shockers’ odds-defying chase of perfection that had thrown the sports world into a frenzy for a few winter months. In fact, the last-second defeat — in what was surely the game of both NCAA Tournament and season, no less — had actually somehow converted more WSU skeptics into believers than any of the 35 wins that preceded it. Marshall’s team had been defeated for the first and last time together, but in a locker room full of raw emotion and distress, Marshall still managed to strip this Shockers season down to the barest of truths: “You guys had one of the most remarkable college basketball seasons, ever,” he told his team. “Ever.”