Who Will Be The Next NCAA Basketball Champion in 2014?

   on April 15 2013 10:12 PM

The NCAA tournament ended with a lot of heart-warming storylines and Cinderella stories, as well as heartache and shock. The Wichita State Shockers literally shocked the basketball world, making it to the Final Four before bowing out to eventual champion Louisville. The Cardinals had some inspiration along the way when they lost a key member of their team, Kevin Ware, to a grotesque season-ending knee injury. Andy Enfield put Florida Gulf Coast on the map, which later led to USC luring Enfield away for a larger paycheck and a much more competitive conference. As the 2013 season has winded down, it's never too early to start predicting who will be cutting down the nets in 2014.

The Kentucky Wildcats did not make the 2013 dance, but they should almost surely be back next season with an influx of McDonald's All-American talent. Six incoming freshman are coming in, and at least three will be vying for a starter's position. Center Nerlens Noel has opted to forgo his next three years as a Wildcat to pursue a career in the NBA. Highly-touted center Daraki Johnson will almost surely be the starting center for John Calipari. Power forward Julius Randle and small forward James Young will make an impact for a team looking to mirror the 2012 championship team with an infusion of impact freshman.

National Champion Louisville will definitely miss quite a few key components from this past season's squad, including Gorgei Dieng, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Dieng and Smith will both move onto the NBA while Siva has graduated. Sharpshooter Luke Hancock (and Final Four's Most Outstanding Player) will be back as well as five other crucial bench players who should soften the blow of losing some key defenders and scorers. The inspirational catalyst to Louisville's run, Kevin Ware will start in place for Russ Smith, while incoming JUCO transfer Chris Jones should fill Siva's shoes. Overall the Cardinals should be competitive once again, and having a Hall of Fame coach roaming the sidelines never hurts.

Ohio State's Thad Matta is still searching for his first national championship, and most figured that this past season was one of his best chances to get his first ring. DeShaun Thomas declared for the NBA draft, but most of the Buckeyes frontcourt should be back for 2014. Long time point guard Aaron Craft will be back as an All-American hopeful as well as the esteemed leader. Most OSU fans will hope that LaQuinton Ross will stay for another year to team up with Craft for another title run. Shot-blocker Amir Williams should clog up the post and give the Buckeyes one of the best defenses in the Big Ten.

Coach K still hasn't lost his recruiting touch in the least bit, picking up the prize of the entire 2012 class in Jabari Parker. Parker has garnered praise as the "next big thing" after LeBron James, and should have a lot of eyes watching in his Blue Devils debut. If Rasheed Sulaimon sticks around and Marshall Plumlee develops like his older brothers did, Duke could be well on its way to another Final Four. Coach K is looking for his fifth national championship and this could be the team that can get him there.

The Florida Gators won't be the potent offensive team that tore through the SEC this past year but some key players will be back. Dominant power forward Patric Young will once again be wrecking havoc in the paint, point guard Scottie Wilbekin will return and Will Yeguete. Murphy, Rosario and Boynton are all gone, but expectations will once again be high in Gainesville. The Gators have lost three straight in the Elite Eight, so they will look to once again get back and get Billy Donovan back to the Final Four.

Roy Williams is four years removed from his last national title in Chapel Hill, and most UNC apologists are starting to get edgy about ol' Roy's recuiting and coaching. They've had disappointing endings the past few years since 2009, and they haven't really even been a major threat in their conference or in the national picture. If McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and Hairston all stay another year and Marcus Paige improves, they certainly can make a statement next season in the ACC and in the tournament. If Williams can groom incoming freshman Isaiah Hicks and keep his core group of talent together, they have a realistic shot at a Final Four in 2014.

Some other team's also on the radar for an outside shot at a national championship include Colorado, VCU, Arizona, Georgetown. Syracuse, Indiana and Michigan all just about saw their best shot at a national title come and go, as many impact players will leave for greener pastures. If Beilein can keep his core group of Michigan players together, expect another deep run but it is highly unlikely any of them will stay.