Over the course of a single college basketball season, storylines emerge, run their course, and fade off. Players emerge, teams fail and succeed, and other issues polarize the nation. This season, college basketball fans were treated to a plethora of memorable moments and players. With so many possible choices, it’s hard to pick only three. Fortunately, with the privilege of hindsight, we can take a look at the three biggest storylines from this season.
3. Marcus Smart‘s Plummeting Stock
Last season, Marcus Smart was a player who was universally heralded by anyone watching the sport. He was an emerging star and his draft stock was sky high. Instead of doing what most in his position would have and declare for the draft, Smart decided to return to Stillwater. The move shocked most everyone, but people were generally happy, since it would mean they would be treated to watching Smart play for another season.
Unfortunately for him, it did not work out the way he had hoped. While Oklahoma State may have started out the season ranked number eight in the AP Poll, they began to slump in mid-January. After losing a close one in Lawrence to the fifteen-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, the Cowboys began a downward spiral that would involve them losing eight of their next nine games.
In the middle of that losing streak, one of the most memorable moments of the season occurred. Locked in a tight battle with a not-so-great Texas Tech squad in Lubbock on February 8th, Smart made a terrible decision. Late in the game, he fell into the stands and after some words were said, he shoved a fan. He was ejected and suspended for three games (each of those resulted in a loss).
Despite a late-season surge and posting better statistics than last season, Smart’s draft stock has definitely taken a hit. Smart should definitely be a lottery pick, but he was no doubt hurt by his on-court performance this season.
2. Dominance of the Seniors
One of the biggest preseason storylines was the incredible draft classes put together by Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, and Kansas. Freshmen like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle were supposed to take the sport by storm and win a title. While they may have each had impressive seasons, they all made early exits in the NCAA tournament, besides Randle and Gordon.
It was actually the seniors who stepped up and gave us performances for the ages. We were treated to Shabazz Napier giving a Kembaesque performance in the NCAA tournament, beating teams like the Niang-less Iowa State squad and a national title favorite, Michigan State. We were treated to another season of Russ Smith taking insane shots and making insane dunks for Louisville, proving that his decision to stay was certainly not
Perhaps the best senior moment was the swan song of Doug McDermott. In his final season, McDermott piled on more points and cemented his record as a college basketball legend. He worked his way up to fifth on the all-time scoring list, became the AP and Naismith Player of the Year, and has shown that there are some perks of staying for four years.
1. Um, Wichita State. Duh
Was there any doubt? The team that was 35-0 at one point and was the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV did so in 1991 was definitely the most compelling storyline from this season. The Wichita State Shockers were put on the national radar last season after their marvelous Final Four run, but nobody anticipated that they would have a season like this one was.
The Shockers were constantly scrutinized every step of the way during their impressive run, as many questioned their strength of schedule. Regardless of who they were playing, the fact that they never came out and were outperformed–not once–was incredible. They deserved all the praise and accolades they received (Gregg Marshall was the AP Coach of the Year).
Even though the Shockers may have been eliminated in the round of 32 by the eventual runner-up, Kentucky, they made history and will forever be known as one of the most dominant teams in history. This team is certainly one to keep your eyes on next season, as Cleanthony Early is the only player leaving. Who knows; they may just finish what they started in the Final Four two seasons ago.