College basketball is in a transition period. Granted, you can say that about anything at any time — even rocks. But the apparatus that has held up college basketball as we know it is slowly turning to dust. The courts and the FBI are taking shots at it, the NBA is talking about eliminating the one-and-done rule and the game itself is evolving, as ever.
Coaches at some of the sport’s premier institutions are approaching retirement age or openly talking about retirement.
Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Bill Self Will Retire
Self, 55, is the youngest of that bunch, but he has said on more than one occasion he only wants to coach into his late 50s. He’s not there yet, but by 2028 an entirely new generation of coaches will be in charge at the country’s premier basketball programs.
Veteran Teams Will Dominate
Team-building strategies go hot and cold based on who has won the national championship most recently, but that is going to change in a big way over the next few years, when the NBA dumps the age limit and the very best high school players will be free to enter the draft once again.
That won’t put an end to one-and-done players — you could always wind up with another Carmelo Anthony — but it will make building a team around them a non-viable strategy.
Rather, Jay Wright’s model at Villanova (which used to be the model everywhere) will come back into fashion. This trend has already begun, and it’s only going to gain strength.
There were no one-and-done players in the Final Four this year. Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago were all built around quality veteran guard play and three-point shooting. The offense run by all four of these teams, Villanova in particular, is just not something that can be refined to that level in six months.
This is the long way of doing things, but in some respects it might be easier than swinging from one swingman to the next and re-configuring your team around that every year.
Post Play Will Make Its Triumphant Return
Three-point shooting is the mode du jour in basketball at all levels, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that means that over the next 10 years the game’s brightest minds and best players will be devising new ways to overcome it.
This will in all likelihood take the form of a team of giants — five guys all at least 6-foot-5 who can guard the perimeter like Scottie Pippen, and on offense just dump it in to a series of giant big men who will coolly abuse the “stretch 4” who’s trying to guard them on the block.
I know what you’re thinking. Dude, we already had that era of basketball, and it’s over and it’s never coming back. You sound right, but you aren’t.
The three-point line is going to be extended again. As it is, good college basketball players are routinely making shots from three or four feet behind the line, and the game has gotten a little out of balance as a result.
It’ll Go From Two Halves to Four Quarters (For Some Reason)
For whatever reason, there are some folks out there who are very bothered by college basketball being different from other levels of basketball in that it is divided into halves instead of quarters.
To me, this difference is trivial. I see no negative consequence from halves instead of quarters, and doing something just because everyone else does it is not a very good reason for doing anything.
Alas, the standardizers will overcome.
Players Will Be Endorsing Products
Occasionally logic will sneak into things, and that’s what I’m counting on here. Time is running out on the current conception of amateurism. The courts are all over the NCAA about this. It is clear that something will soon change, but the history of everything tells us it’s not all going to happen with one giant thud of a gavel.
Eventually, I expect college basketball players will receive a regular salary, but in the meantime an obvious compromise is to simply allow them to use their names and likenesses to make whatever money they can out on the open market. For the most part, it would be a bunch of local TV sports for car dealerships and barber shops, plus autographs and merchandise.
One of the NCAA’s arguments against paying players is that it’s just so complicated, and there are so many details to work out, and Title IX considerations and so on and so forth. Well, this doesn’t involve any of that. The schools don’t even need to be involved in this, except maybe to have some policies about the types of products their players can endorse.
Sporting goods store? Perfectly OK.
Gentlemen’s Club? Probably not.
The NCAA has to do this as a matter of self-preservation, if not because a court eventually demands it. College basketball is still a pretty good deal for most players, but some are starting to go to the G-league instead, and it’s tough to blame them.
Some School Will Hire Someone Who Isn’t A Basketball Coach To Be The Head Coach
We’ve already seen whiffs of this, when broadcaster Doug Gottlieb’s name started getting floated around for jobs at Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Now, Gottlieb is sort of a basketball coach, in that in 2009 he coached the United States in the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem. That team did win the gold medal, and maybe Gottlieb would make an excellent coach, it’s just that he is not, and has not recently been, a coach.
What people see in Gottlieb is a young, energetic guy who played the game at a high level and has a lot of name recognition (and the fact that he publicly courted these schools). The assumption is all that stuff will get you players, and you can worry about the rest later.
Rick Barnes Will Beat Texas to a Final Four
Speaking of programs that are due, when does the thing start to happen for Shaka Smart at Texas?
That 2011 Final Four run at VCU is the thing that got him hired, but Smart hasn’t been past the first weekend of the tournament since. If anything is going to happen for him at UT, it’s got to start happening this coming year.
For Rick Barnes at the other UT (some would say the real UT), things are a bit further along. The Volunteers went 23-7 and won the SEC this year. Texas went 19-15 and 8-10 in Big 12 play.
Texas parted ways with Barnes in 2015 after 17 seasons, 402 wins, 16 NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference championships, two Elite Eights and one Final Four.
Since then, Barnes is 57-44 with one conference title and one NCAA Tournament win. Texas is 50-50 with two tournament appearances.
The Tournament Will Be Expanded
The goofy play-in games were the first sign of what’s to come. They were simply conditioning us all for the day when the NCAA Tournament is like a high school postseason, with districts and sub-state and the whole shoobang, except modified to college basketball verbiage.
The play-in games are an awkward appendage on an otherwise perfect format, but they rarely seem to have much effect on the final outcome of the tournament, so nobody really complains much and the networks now have a greater volume of hot NCAA Tournament content to offer their advertisers.
They’re going to keep expanding this, because there’s money in it, and nobody important is going to complain.
The Spurs Will Hire a College Coach to Replace Gregg Popovich
Ten years from now, Gregg Popovich will be 79 years old and, for the purposes of this prediction, retired. Seeking to maintain the emphasis on the franchise as a program, the Spurs will make a gigantic offer to one of the top college basketball coaches, who will inherit a young roster and a deep farm system.
You want names. Well, for a long time you’d have said Bill Self, because he and Spurs GM R.C. Buford are best buds, but I’ve already predicted Self will retire, so I can’t put him here. Jay Wright would be the obvious choice today, but something tells me Wright is going to see how far he can take this Villanova thing over the next 10-15 years.
Besides, you know it’s going to be the last guy you’d ever think.
It’s going to be Bruce Weber.
A Battered Blueblood Will Rise from the Ashes
What, it’s just over for Indiana now? That whole thing is gone, never to return?
UCLA? It’s just another Pac-12 program now?
That’s what you’re telling me?
Well, I won’t accept it.
It would be one thing if these two programs were out in the middle of nowhere, where there aren’t many teenagers at all, much less teens good enough to play major-conference basketball. Then you could understand how a few down years could snowball, and before you know it a decade has slipped by and the kids you’re recruiting have no memory of your program as anything of note.
(I’m sorry to report this exact scenario has happened to Nebraska football).
But that is not the case with UCLA or Indiana. UCLA is in Los Angeles, and Indiana is the flagship institution in a state known primarily for basketball, and in a city that is an hour from Indianapolis and four from Chicago.
You see both of these programs come back in fits and starts. UCLA went to three straight Final Fours late in the last decade, and had a fun year with Lonzo Ball, but hasn’t been to the Elite Eight in 10 years.
Indiana was the preseason No. 1 in 2012, but hasn’t been to the Elite Eight in 16 years and has missed the tournament altogether five times this decade.
Eventually, one of these program is going to hire the right guy at the right time.
My Suggestion: A Pre-Season 64-Team Tournament
The best part of college basketball is the tournament. The worst part of college basketball is the non-conference season. So let’s just make the nonconference season the tournament.
Select the teams using whatever criteria the nerds insist on, I don’t care. Just give me something like the best 64 teams in a single-elimination tournament. They’re playing two games a week anyway, sometimes more than that. So that’s not a concern. The only thing that would be lost are some guarantee games against patsies, and I don’t know that many fans care about those.
This would begin the basketball season with lots of buzz and discussion (as opposed to empty hype) and it couldn’t help but improve the selection process for the tournament at the end of the year.