Top NCAA returners with high expectations
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
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Is it March yet? Hardly. With the NCAA tournament far in the rear-view mirror and Midnight Madness several months away, USA TODAY Sports examines several story lines for the 2013-14 college basketball season.
Although the upcoming season, like previous ones, will included strong focus on a highly-anticipated one-and-done freshmen class (headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker), one the biggest ingredients to a national title formula for any team comes with the returning talent. Georgetown, for example, has long known its 2013-14 team would be without imminent NBA lottery pick Otto Porter. But this week the Hoyas lost forward Greg Whittington — expected to be a key player next season — indefinitely with a torn ACL, a development that clouds the team’s prospects.
This week, we take a look at the top returning players and their value to their team’s chances of going far next season. Though Kentucky’s returners — Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — may be overshadowed by freshmen on their roster, they almost single-handedly make their respective teams contenders for 2013-14.
1. Russ Smith, Louisville: The last time a team repeated as national champions, Joakim Noah was gator chomping in Florida. Smith’s return puts the Cardinals in perfect position to win back-to-back national titles when meshed with other key returners Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear. Smith was a catalyst for Rick Pitino’s squad last season, and his scoring average — 22.3 points per game — in the NCAA tournament was indicative of his offensive explosiveness and ability as a go-to scorer down the stretch. But his intangibles would have been missed the most had he left for the NBA. Smith’s a ball hawk on defense and was crucial in forcing turnovers in Louisville’s vaunted defense. Now, with point guard Peyton Siva gone, Smith will take on more of a leadership and decision-making role, which could lend itself to more of a distributing style as well.
2. Doug McDermott, Creighton: A returning two-time first-team All-American on paper means a lot to a team’s success, but McDermott’s important to the Bluejays goes beyond the stat sheet. … [For more on Starting Five: Top returners with weighty expectations, click here.]