They owned many of college basketball’s most intriguing headlines in 2013, some for good reason and some for bad. So what are they up to, as 2014 beckons?
Then and now, with six compelling storylines from last spring.
Then: It was horror show that interrupted a regional championship game. Ware’s shattered right leg in the Louisville-Duke Midwest final set an NCAA tournament record for TV viewer grimaces, and reached a unique level of sensation -- nobody wanted to see it again, but everybody was talking about it. According to the Louisville sports information department, the lightly-known Cardinal became the No. 4 athlete in the world for Google searches.
Now: The recovery goes on. Ware fulfilled his vow to return to the Cardinals, but has had limited minutes in nine games, averaging 1.7 points. A kick to the leg two games ago has not helped the cause, but he is still hoping to regain something close to old form later in the season. Playing time is not easy to get on a team rich with backcourt talent.
Then: Two words made his resume can’t-miss reading by any athletic director looking for a new coach. Dunk City. In a glorious March fortnight, he went from the Florida Gulf Coast leader few would have recognized in a crowd of three to one of the hottest names on the market. All those TV close-ups of his former model wife didn’t hurt the aura, either. The FGCU story was 100 percent Cinderella, as the Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to play in the Sweet 16.
Now: Enfield is nearly 3,000 miles away on a map – and light years away in program stature – as he tries to light a fire under the USC program and make the Trojans relevant. So far, so good. USC, picked 11th in the preseason Pac-12 poll, is 8-4 and averaging nearly 12 points more a game than last season. Dunk City has gone Hollywood, with USC leading its opponents in slams 38-14.
Meanwhile, back at FGCU, the Eagles under new coach Joe Dooley have endured their struggles – starting 4-1 but losing six of their last eight.
Then: He was a one-man ink blot test. Did you see the passionate playmaker who stirred Mississippi’s drink, leading the Rebels to the SEC tournament title and the third round of the NCAA tournament? Or the occasional knucklehead whose actions made him the Bad Boy of March? Either way, he wasn’t boring.
Now: Off-court transgressions got him suspended earlier in the season, as well as for the first two SEC games to come. Lately, he has stayed away from unsavory headlines and averaged 18.7 for the season, only recently getting his starting spot back. His shooting has been as mercurial as his past behavior – barely 35 percent – but he lit up Oregon with 39 points and 10 3-pointers, and leads the nation with 4.4 3-pointers a game.
Then: John Calipari’s one-and-done magic vanished in Lexington. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, the Wildcats went from national champions to left out of the NCAA tournament. The same tournament that – twist the knife – Louisville won. The final indignity was losing to Robert Morris in their first NIT game. That was not what Wildcat Nation has in mind with the phrase one and done.
Now: Another year, another fresh wave of blue chippers, and this crop seems to be working out, though still finding its way. The top four scorers are freshmen and Julius Randle already has nine double-doubles. The No. 1 preseason ranking was a mirage, as the 9-3 Wildcats have let close games get away against Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina. But that shows lack of maturity, not lack of potential. All three Kentucky conquerors are ranked in this week’s top 19. “We have a lot of learning to do,” Calipari said. The next tutorial is a huge one; Saturday at home to Louisville.
Then: The No. 9 seed became the latest mid-major monster of March, beating the top two seeds in the West to get to the Final Four.
Now: The beat goes on. The 12-0 Shockers are off to the best start in school history, and only three of the winning margins have been single digits. They have also climbed into the top 10, beating the likes of Tennessee, Alabama, Saint Louis and BYU. It is the longest victory streak at Wichita State in 31 years.
Then: The 15-16 record was the least of the Scarlet Knights’ worries. Leaked films of practice made the Mike Rice regime look like home moves from the HMS Bounty. The scandal left the program a smoking crater and made it a flash point for national debate on over-the-line coaches, and alum Eddie Jordan was called in from the NBA to try to fix the mess.
Now: The scandals have subsided but life has been difficult on the court. Rutgers lost six games in a row against Division I opponents. The Scarlet Knights have won their last two games, and all they can hope is that 2014 turns out to be better than 2013. Which wouldn’t be hard.