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.