DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nobody will hang any nets to replace the ones Duke cut down Monday night for several months, giving the Blue Devils plenty of time to celebrate their fifth national championship.
That doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t thinking about the future.
More talented freshmen are ready to step into the spotlight, headlined by Ben Simmons, the nation’s top-ranked recruit headed to LSU. More coaches are ready to lead new programs, including Shaka Smart at Texas and Avery Johnson at Alabama. And all of them will be trying to snatch that crown off the head of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his talented bunch in Durham.
Here are some of the intriguing story lines heading into the next season:
CAN DUKE DEFEND: The Blue Devils are almost certain to lose Jahlil Okafor, one of the top two prospects in the upcoming NBA draft, along with likely first-round pick Justise Winslow. Tyus Jones, another freshman, could bolt after a dynamic title game performance.
Good thing for Coach K, two more five-star prospects are ready to step right in. Luke Kennard is a dead-eye shooting guard from Ohio, and Chase Jeter is a 6-foot-10 power forward with a polished game from the Bishop Gorman High School juggernaut in Las Vegas.
The last to win back-to-back titles? Florida in 2006-07. Before that? Duke in 1991-92.
CAN KENTUCKY CONTEND: After their pursuit of perfection came up two games short, coach John Calipari expects five and perhaps as many as seven Wildcats to skip to the NBA. Karl-Anthony Towns is a potential No. 1 pick, Willie-Cauley Stein and Trey Lyles are possible lottery picks, and the Harrison twins Andrew and Aaron are likely gone after their sophomore seasons.
The big question marks are point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker. If they return, and Calipari finds another piece to go with highly rated recruits Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labissiere, the Wildcats will be right in the thick of things.
“We would have loved to have been 40-0,” Calipari said after his team’s Final Four loss to Wisconsin. “Let’s see if we can take another stab at it.”
OTHER FAVORITES: Virginia returns almost everyone from a team that beat out the Blue Devils for the ACC regular-season title and could be the preseason No. 1. North Carolina is expected to return all five of its starters. Georges Niang and Iowa State should be favored to end Kansas’s streak of 11 consecutive Big 12 championships. Maryland, Villanova and Notre Dame could also be in the mix.
“I wouldn’t trade anyone in the world for Georges Niang,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said after his team was eliminated by UAB in the NCAA Tournament. “The kid is an absolute warrior and a winner.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Niang may headline the list, a dynamic point forward who can score from anywhere on the floor. Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga, Fred VanVleet of Wichita State, Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia and Yogi Ferrell of Indiana should give college hoops plenty of star power.
Then there are the freshmen: Simmons and Labissiere are names to watch. Jaylen Brown and Malik Newman, two top-five prospects, are still deciding where they will play. Diamond Stone is headed to Maryland, and Ray Smith and Allonzo Trier headline a heralded class at Arizona.
NEW FACES, NEW PLACES: Smart is bringing his “havoc” style to Texas, where making 16 trips to the NCAA Tournament and one Final Four appearance wasn’t enough to save Rick Barnes.
It was enough to get Barnes hired by Tennessee in about 30 seconds.
Arizona State is replacing Herb Sendek. Ben Howland is in at Mississippi State and Johnson in at Alabama, giving the SEC some fresh blood. Dave Leitao is back at DePaul, while St. John’s parted ways with Steve Lavin and brought in former star Chris Mullin.
“I looked at it as an obligation, first and foremost,” Mullin said of his decision to take over the Red Storm. “My desire to do it was there.”
AS FOR THE GAME: This is a rules change year for the NCAA, which means the game could look a bit different as the organization tries to spur scoring and speed up games.
Among the ideas on the table are reducing the 35-second shot clock to 30 seconds, moving the restricted area arc from 3 feet to 4 feet to free up the post, and better enforcement of rules in regard to defending players without the ball to help with freedom of movement.
“You could suggest the state of the game is not where we want it,” said Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. “We’re on the right track, but we have to continue to move forward.”
AP Sports Writers Michael Marot and Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.
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