The 2014-15 NCAA basketball season is right around the corner. Here we look at last year's Final Four participants, their national title odds for the coming season and how close they might get to returning to the national semifinals.
Kentucky (+225 on NCAA basketball odds)
The Kentucky Wildcats are the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and were preseason No. 1 last year as well. However, John Calipari's very young squad was a disappointment in the 2013-14 regular season. The Wildcats finished a distant second to Florida in the SEC and at 24-10 overall. UK started to put it together late in the year, as one could tell when it lost just 61-60 to the No. 1 Gators in the SEC title game. Kentucky was a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament but beat No. 9 Kansas State, No. 1 Wichita State, No. 4 Louisville, No. 2 Michigan and No. 2 Wisconsin to reach the national title game. There the Cats lost 60-54 to UConn. Calipari welcomes not just another stellar freshman class, led by Karl-Anthony Towns, but several players surprisingly decided to not enter the NBA draft. Guys like the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. Thus Calipari will have an unthinkable nine McDonald's All-Americans on his roster and may just roll out two five-man whole units. It's by far the most talented team in the nation. It should roll through a pretty easy SEC and land a No. 1 seed for the Big Dance.
Wisconsin (+900 on NCAA basketball odds)
The Badgers almost always overachieve from their pure talent level and that was never more true than last season. Wisconsin didn't win either the Big Ten regular-season or tournament titles but gave Coach Bo Ryan his first Final Four trip. Second-seeded Wisconsin really wasn't threatened much in its first three NCAA Tournament games but then upset No. 1 Arizona in the West final, 64-63 in overtime. It was UW's first Final Four since 2000. In the national semifinals, Wisconsin lost one of the best games you will ever see, 74-73 to Kentucky. The Cats' Andrew Harrison hit a winning 3-pointer from NBA range with 5.7 seconds left. Wisconsin's desperation jumper at the buzzer rimmed out. The good news for Wisconsin it its two best players, center Frank Kaminsky and forward Sam Dekker, both decided to return to school. Kaminsky will be on every preseason All-American list. The major loss was guard Ben Brust.
Free NCAAB picks: Wisconsin doesn't win Big Ten but reaches the Elite Eight. The Badgers are so well-coached but still not quite as talented as college basketball's elite.
Florida (+1700 on NCAA basketball odds)
The Florida Gators were the story of the 2013-14 regular season, at least among the Power 5 conferences. Behind four senior starters, Florida lost only two regular-season games: non-conference to Wisconsin and Connecticut by a combined seven points. Florida was 18-0 in the SEC regular season and took a 26-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament after edging Kentucky for the SEC Tournament title. Florida was the betting favorite at sportsbooks in the Big Dance and looked the part in winning its first four games by double digits. However, the Gators ran into UConn again in the Final Four and were stunned by the No. 7 Huskies 63-53. Billy Donovan welcomes back just one starter: Michael Frazier II, and he is one of the nation's top-point shooters. Chris Walker and Kasey Hill both will have much bigger roles after arriving in Gainesville as McDonald's All-Americans last year. Donovan also brings in three transfers from power programs. Perhaps more important, Donovan himself stayed after being rumored for a few NBA openings.
Free NCAAB picks: Second in the SEC to Kentucky and the Sweet 16 for your NCAAB picks.
Connecticut (+6500 on NCAA basketball odds)
The Connecticut Huskies were mostly an afterthought entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament as they were a No. 7 seed after falling to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference Tournament title game. And some might forget that UConn nearly lost its Big Dance opener, beating No. 10 Saint Joseph's 89-81 in overtime. That was the only game that UConn would be a favorite at sportsbooks, but it then beat No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State and No. 1 Florida to reach the national title game. UConn wasn't supposed to beat a more-talented Kentucky team but did 60-54. It was the Huskies' fourth national title since 1999 but first under Coach Kevin Ollie. He will have his work cut out for him with some significant losses, mainly Final Four MOP and star Shabazz Napier as well as big man DeAndre Daniels. This team now belongs to Ryan Boatright, raw but talented center Amida Brimah and N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, who had to sit out last year.
Free NCAAB picks: Win the watered-down AAC and reach the Round of 32.