Welcome to the sticky-thick, hot hot heat of college basketball's desert-like offseason. We're almost to the halfway point between the 2017 national title game and the start of the 2017-18 campaign, so let's take a second to rest and reflect. It's been a busier-than-usual offseason this year, and if you feel like you might have missed anything big, then this is the spot to check the boxes.
It has certainly was a bustling April, May and June. We've had unexpected, major coaching changes; two high-profile NCAA cases had significant movement; conference realignment reared its head again, in a noteworthy fashion; and two projected first-round draft picks bypassed going pro, meaning they'll be many a writer's pick for preseason All-American selection.
As we amp up for the July live recruiting period -- a three-week run that will induce a good share of headlines -- let's look at the newsmakers and talking points that have populated the past three months in college basketball.
Here are the 10 biggest stories of the 2017 offseason so far.
1. NCAA puts Louisville's 2013 national title in jeopardy
What happened? The NCAA's infractions case against Louisville went public, with punishments, in mid-June. The sanctions most notably included a vacating of victories from December 2010 and into the end of the 2013-14 season, and a five-game ACC suspension for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. For an extensive-yet-easy-to-read primer on the fallout, you'll want to read this.
What's to come? Louisville will appeal to the NCAA and has until next week to formally respond. Then the NCAA will have a 90-day window to respond to Louisville's appeal. My guess: Pitino's going to sit those five ACC games next season, and the 2013 banner is coming off the books and out of the KFC Yum! Center.
2. Ohio State fires Matta, hires Holtmann
What happened? Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who had a better win percentage as Big Ten coach than any other men's coach in league history with at least 10 seasons to his name, was shockingly fired in early June. Citing concerns with recruiting, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith made the choice in the highly unusual time slot of doing this after Memorial Day and before the July live recruiting period. (In March, Smith said Matta was safe.) Within less than a week, Butler's Chris Holtmann was courted to take the job after multiple high-profile coaches publicly removed their name from consideration.
What's to come? That's the interesting part. For Matta, he needs to try to get mostly/fully healthy if he wants to coach again. He turns 50 on July 11. For Holtmann, he'll be judged against Matta's best years, not his two worst. He left a solid situation (a top-50 job) at Butler for a top-15 job. He has major roster issues next season, and it would be a genuine surprise if Ohio State finishes above .500.
3. Shocking decisions to return by Allen, Bridges
What happened? On April 19, potential top-10 pick Miles Bridges went public with his decision to return to Michigan State. That was not expected -- by anyone. Six days later, the most polarizing player in college sports, Duke's Grayson Allen, surprised many by choosing to play his senior season in Durham. After all he went through in 2016-17, his choice to be a lightning rod (and likely a very, very good player) is an intriguing one.
What's to come? I cop to getting cold sweats even thinking about what it will be like to cover Allen next season. His every move on the floor will be dissected in real time. And Allen's going to be a veteran on a very young, inexperienced Duke team. So who knows how that will go? With Bridges, he could lead a Michigan State team that's going to be a consensus preseason top-five club. Great athlete, fabulous dunker, and a huge season awaits.
4. Silver hints at changes to NBA Draft
What happened? Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, publicly spoke multiple times about his dissatisfaction with the current NBA age minimum, and how the league and college basketball stand to be bettered by a change in protocol. Coaches I spoke with largely agree, albeit with different motivations.
What's to come? Great question. Because there's plenty of evidence to suggest the rule does not need to change; that the NBA and college basketball have been operating better than ever before with the age minimum in place. If a change comes, there's a chance it could be amended/collectively bargained for 2018, but I have a hunch the closest change -- if it happens -- won't come until 2019.
5. Butler hires Jordan
What happened? Chris Holtmann left BU for Ohio State, meaning Butler AD Barry Collier tapped someone from inside the Butler family (as always) to take the controls. LaVall Jordan is 38 years old, and I just flew out to Indianapolis last week and wrote a feature on him, and how he got to where he is.
What's to come? Butler's roster rates as a top-30 lineup in college basketball next season, but Jordan is taking over a program that made the 2017 Sweet 16 and was three-for-three in winning at least one NCAA Tournament game while Holtmann walked the sidelines. He is set up to succeed, but in a tough Big East, it's no guarantee. An interesting three years awaits for the Bulldogs.
6. Major shakeup in the Missouri Valley Conference
What happened? Four days after the season ended, Wichita State announced it was leaving a conference it had been a member of since 1945. The Shockers are now a member of the American Athletic Conference. In Wichita State's place, the Valley made the right call by picking the best realistic candidate: Valparaiso. The Crusaders are now members of the MVC.
What's to come? League expansion -- potentially. But the Missouri Valley has done well, relatively speaking, with a 10-team setup. I would advise against going to a 12-team model, but ultimately the league presidents will weigh the pros and cons of going to 12. My expectation is that we'll have a verdict on the MVC staying at 10 or going to 12 before the year is up. For Wichita State, the move is perfectly timed. The Shockers could be a top-10 team in college basketball next season, meaning WSU could be the best team in its league in its first year of AAC residence.
7. Most freshmen ever taken in first round of NBA Draft
What happened? Sixteen freshmen were taken with the first 30 picks of the 2017 NBA Draft. Starting with Markelle Fultz at No. 1 and wrapping up with Tony Bradley at No. 28, it was a draft popping with potential. Here's what I wrote from Brooklyn that night, which included a huge turn of events for the ACC.
What's to come? There's loads of talent, but let's give it five years before we fully, fairly evaluate this draft. It could be a legendary one, but then again, if a lot of these players wind up as JAGs or out-and-out busts, 2017 might wind up as a the draft of What Could Have Been. It also might be one of a kind if the NBA changes its draft rules. It could be viewed as the peak of the one-and-done era.
8. The lengthy Cam Johnson kerfuffle at Pitt
What happened? Pittsburgh's Cam Johnson wanted to transfer after graduating in three years, only to be hindered by his school. The PR onslaught against Pitt came over a month's time. Eventually, the school relented and allowed Johnson to play where he wanted: at North Carolina. Once again, a coach/program holds transfer restrictions on a player, only to succumb to public pressure (read: doing the right thing).
What's to come? Johnson is the rare case of a grad transfer with two years of eligibility left. He will be a boon for a UNC team in need of a lengthy shooter. Expect Johnson to average somewhere between 12 and 16 points next season, and if he's good and returns for 2018-19, he might be a top-15 player in college basketball by then.
9. UNC responds to NCAA in academic misconduct case
What happened? The NCAA's mammoth, complicated academic misconduct case against UNC (FYI: you will not read the term "academic fraud" on behalf of the NCAA in the case) got an update when North Carolina released its public response back in May. This was a formal response to a third Notice of Allegations. In short: UNC dug in its heels and puffed its chest out.
What's to come? People associated with UNC and the case will meet with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions this summer. From there, the NCAA will decide how to sanction UNC. There are five major violations on the table, including the dreaded "lack of institutional control," which is a Level 1 violation (the highest). UNC will almost certainly appeal, but we should have a scope of the COI's sanctions come the fall.
10. LaVar Ball's continued existence
What happened? Uh, what didn't happen? LaVar Ball, the father of Lonzo Ball, has become a weekly (and for most of June, it was daily) walking headline for both the NBA and college basketball. Although Lonzo Ball left UCLA and was taken by the Lakers with the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, he has two brothers set to attend UCLA and well everything falls under the Ball family umbrella. At this point, he's a polarizing figure and will be providing storylines -- hate him if you must, but he evokes response -- for years to come at the college level.
What's to come? Next up is LiAngelo Ball, who is a freshman at UCLA. Despite his father's previous claims, LiAngelo does not project as a one-and-done player. In fact, many scouts see him as someone who should be wearing a uniform in the West Coast Conference -- at best -- not at UCLA. But we'll see. If the middle Ball child can find some success, LaVar will be crowing and easy to find. And if he struggles, we'll point all the attention to Lonzo with the Lakers. Oh yeah, and a reality show is coming.