|I'd give him a hug too! He's like a miniature version of his dad!|
The early entry deadline has come and gone and the landscape of college basketball is starting to take shape. So, why not prematurely rank teams? After all, what could possibly be better than wasting hours on writing something that will be completely irrelevant on May 8 (deadline to withdraw from draft) and is nothing but pure dumb speculation anyways? It's not like I'm not used to being wrong all the time! Sorry, I'm babbling...let's just get to the rankings. (Note: I expanded the rankings from Top 10 to Top 15. I'm planning on expanding to Top 25 after the May 8 deadline passes. Also, if your a Florida fan, please don't go crazy. I somehow screwed up and they should be in the Top 15. I'll correct it on May 8...I promise.)
1. North Carolina
Last Year: 29-8 (14-2, 1st); Lost in Elite Eight
Key Returnees: C Tyler Zeller (15.7ppg, 7.2rpg); F Harrison Barnes (15.7ppg, 5.8rpg); F John Henson (11.7ppg, 10.1rpg, 3.2bpg); G Dexter Strickland (7.5ppg); G Kendall Marshall (6.2ppg, 6.2apg)
Key Losses: None
Recruiting: #4 Class (PF James McAdoo #8 Overall; SF P.J. Hairston #13 Overall; C Desmond Hubert #140 Overall)
Outlook: Harrison Barnes’ unlikely return means every key player returns for the defending ACC champions. Once Kendall Marshall stepped in for the departed (and crappy) Larry Drew, UNC once again looked like a championship team. Another year of experience for sophomores Marshall and Barnes and a few extra cheeseburgers for John Henson could spell big trouble for the rest of the NCAA. Frontcourt depth was a serious issue last year, so the addition of McAdoo is huge. If you watched the McDonald's AA game or the Jordan Brand Classic, you know just how good this guy is. I’ll be honest; this team could be scary good. Crap!
Big Question: A lot of “experts” are trying to argue the Tar Heels might have too much talent. Sure…sounds like a serious issue to me (note the sarcasm). It will be interesting to see how the playing time is split up, but ‘Ole Roy has had these types of teams before and he’ll figure it out. The bigger issue for UNC is perimeter shooting. Marshall and Barnes have pretty solid strokes, but neither is consistent from long range. They need someone to step up as a solid three point threat or they run the risk of being too one dimensional…which would be just fantastic for me! Also, another serious question is whether John Henson will ever break 200 pounds. My guess is no.
2. Ohio State
Last Year: 34-3 (16-2, 1st); Lost in Sweet Sixteen
Key Returnees: C Jared Sullinger (17.2ppg, 10.2rpg); G William Buford (14.4ppg); F DeShaun Thomas (7.5ppg); G Aaron Craft (6.9ppg, 4.8apg, 2.0spg)
Key Losses: G Jon Diebler (12.6ppg, 3.1 3pg, 50.2 3pt%); G/F David Lighty (12.1ppg)
Recruiting: #10 Class (SF LaQuinton Ross #43 Overall; SF Sam Thompson #50 Overall; PG Shannon Scott #53 Overall; C Amir Williams #77 Overall)
Outlook: Jared Sullinger is back for his sophomore season and that immediately puts OSU back in the national picture. They have a lot of leadership and perimeter scoring to replace with the losses of Diebler and Lighty (did he play 12 years or was it just me?), but the development of Thomas, Craft, and Sibert along with the incoming freshman should help fill that void. In particular, I'm a big fan of LaQuinton Ross. He's another big wing player who can really shoot.
Big Question: Who steps up as the third scoring option? Like I said, Diebler and Lighty are big losses. While you can't replicate what either did, you have to have someone to take some of the offensive burden off Sully and Buford. Enter DeShaun Thomas. This guy was a huge recruit out of Ft. Wayne and I think he's going to have a huge year. He struggled at times with his shot selection last year (a huge understatement; he never met a shot he didn't like) but he's extremely skilled and a year of experience, along with a bigger role, will do him wonders.
Last Year: 27-8 (12-6, 3rd); Lost in NCAA 2nd Round
Key Returnees: F Kris Joseph (14.3ppg, 5.2rpg); G Scoop Jardine (12.5ppg, 5.9apg); G Brandon Triche (11.1ppg); G Dion Waiters (6.6ppg); C Fab Melo (2.3ppg)
Key Losses: C Rick Jackson (13.1ppg, 10.3rpg, 2.5bpg)
Recruiting: #6 class (C Rakeem Christmas #27 Overall; PG Michael Carter-Williams #29 Overall)
Outlook: Are you starting to see the theme with my top three? Syracuse, along with the previous two teams, came out of the early entry period smelling like…uh, oranges. Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine took huge strides last year in asserting themselves as stars. If they can improve their outside shot and cut down on turnovers, this team will be extremely dangerous. The guy to watch is Dion Waiters. He started out last year as an extremely raw and unprepared freshman, but he definitely was showing big flashes by the end of conference play. I think this guy is going to have a huge year. (Note: there are rumblings that Waiters and the coaching staff are at odds and a transfer is possible…keep an eye on this)
Big Question: Can Fab Melo step up to the Rick Jackson role? They don't really need Melo to be as much of an offensive threat as Jackson, but he has to fill a large part of the defense and rebounding void left behind. He was a huge recruit last year and he definitely has the talent, but he must do a better job of staying out of foul trouble (and not sucking). Incoming freshman Rakeem Christmas is the top rated center in his class and is another great option to help man the low post. If BOTH Christmas and Melo are good...
Last Year: 29-9 (10-6, 3rd); Lost in Final Four
Key Returnees: G Doron Lamb (12.3ppg, 48.6 3pt%); F Darius Miller (10.9ppg)
Key Losses: G Brandon Knight (17.3ppg, 4.2apg); F Terrence Jones (15.7ppg, 8.8rpg, 1.9bpg); G DeAndre Liggins (8.6ppg); C Josh Harrellson (7.6ppg, 8.7rpg, 1.5bpg)
Recruiting: #1 Class (PF Anthony Davis #2 Overall; SF Michael Gilchrist #3 Overall; PG Marquis Teague #5 Overall; F Kyle Wiltjer #22 Overall)
Outlook: Well, here we go again. Kentucky went through this same scenario last year when five underclassmen turned pro and it turned out alright, so all hope is not lost. Honestly, this year’s situation is not nearly as rough. The returns of Lamb and Miller guarantee UK of at least two proven threats and the incoming crop of recruits is easily more loaded than even last year’s group. Davis and Gilchrist in particular have thoroughly dominated throughout the HS all-star circuit and should be instant impact stars. As usual, the May 8 early entry withdrawal deadline will loom large for UK fans. Both Jones and Liggins could potentially return and getting one or both back would definitely drive this ranking upwards.
Big Question: Given our impending dependence on freshman, it would be easy to question how the lack of experience will play out. Honestly, I’m not worried. We’ve been down this path before and I’ve watched enough Davis/Gilchrist games to have full confidence in our guys. The real question for UK is how they replace Josh Harrellson? Look, Josh was never the most talented or athletic guy, but he provided toughness and a physical presence that will not be easily replaced. While Davis provides a much more dynamic and athletic presence, he lacks the strength to bang with guys like Jared Sullinger. Jones could definitely provide some of that, but it’s highly questionable whether he returns.
Last Year: 23-11 (9-7, 4th); Lost in NCAA 1st Round
Key Returnees: G John Jenkins (19.5ppg, 3.1 3pg); F Jeffery Taylor (14.7ppg, 5.5rpg); C Festus Ezeli (13.0ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.6bpg); G Brad Tinsley (10.6ppg, 4.6apg); F Lance Goulbourne (6.9ppg, 7.3rpg)
Key Losses: None
Recruiting: #25 class (SG Dai-Jon Parker #63 Overall; PG Kedren Johnson #80 Overall)
Outlook: With everyone returning, it looks like we might actually have a major conference version of Butler this year! Seriously, all five starters will be upper classmen! Even their sixth man is a senior! WOW! I might have them ranked a bit higher than others, but I really think this team has the experience, balance, and depth to be a serious national contender. Also, John Jenkins can really, really shoot!
Big Question: Can they win a freaking first round game already! Two years in a row guys! You're making the SEC look bad!
Last Year: 30-8 (14-4, 1st); Lost in Elite Eight
Key Returnees: G Lamont Jones (9.7ppg); G Kyle Fogg (8.1ppg); F Solomon Hill (8.0ppg, 4.7rpg); G/F Kevin Parrom (7.6ppg)
Key Losses: F Derrick Williams (19.5ppg, 8.3rpg); F Jamelle Horne (6.1ppg)
Recruiting: #9 Class (PG Josiah Turner #11 Overall; SG Nick Johnson #18 Overall; C Angelo Chol #73 Overall; PF Sidiki Johnson #84 Overall)
Outlook: Losing Derrick Williams is obviously a huge blow, but I still like this team overall. They return the majority of their key players, including a dynamite backcourt, and they also bring in a fantastic recruiting class. Williams obviously carried the majority of the load last year, but guys like Jones, Fogg, and Parrom are more than capable of taking on more responsibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took them a bit to find their identity, but there’s just too much talent for them to fail. I haven’t seen most of their key recruits, but I have seen a bit of Josiah Turner and he’s an instant impact stud. It’ll be interesting to see how Sean Miller works him in since they have a crowded backcourt, but there’s just no way you can keep a guy as good as Turner on the bench.
Big Question: Does Sean Miller know he's allowed to recruit big guys? Seriously, now that Williams is gone, where is the rebounding going to come from? Solomon Hill is a nice player, but he isn't a real low post threat. The incoming bigs aren’t supposed to be instant impact guys either so either Hill or crazy haired Kryl Natyazhko (or however you spell his freaking name) is going to have to step up or it could be a long year.
Last Year: 32-5 (13-3, 2nd); Lost in Sweet Sixteen
Key Returnees: G Seth Curry (9.0ppg, 1.4spg, 43.5 3pt%); G Andre Dawkins (8.1ppg, 42.7 3pt%); C Mason Plumlee (7.2ppg, 8.4rpg, 1.7bpg)
Key Losses: G Nolan Smith (20.6ppg, 4.5rpg, 5.1apg); G Kyrie Irving (17.5ppg, 4.3apg, 46.2 3pt%); F Kyle Singler (16.9ppg, 6.8rpg)
Recruiting: #3 class (SG Austin Rivers #1 SG/#1 Overall; SF Michael Gbinije #35 Overall; PG Quinn Cook #38 Overall; SF Alex Murphy #45 Overall; C Marshall Plumlee #79 Overall)
Outlook: After playing at Duke for the last nine years, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler have finally exhausted their eligibility. As expected, Kyrie Irving will join them in the upcoming draft, thus depriving Duke of their three best players. The backcourt should still be a strength with the emergence of both Curry and Dawkins and the addition of top recruits Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook. Once again, the Blue Devils will have plenty of fire power from long range and I have a sneaking suspicion Seth Curry is going to have a major breakout season. Singler’s loss is more troublesome when you consider Duke already had issues with scoring in the low post. The Plumlee’s definitely have the talent and they must start contributing on both ends of the floor for Duke to be a true contender. (Note: Alex Murphy is re-classifying to enroll in 2011, but it appears he is planning to redshirt)
Big Question: What is Duke’s identity? Singler and Smith have been around forever and this was unquestionably their team. With them gone and no Irving to pick up the slack, who steps forward as “the man?” Austin Rivers has looked very good in the all-star circuit, but I honestly have my doubts with him. Curry and Dawkins seem like the logical candidates considering their experience. Of the two, Curry has the more well rounded game and has shown an ability to create shots for himself. Honestly, I could have ranked Duke higher based on pure talent. Like Arizona, they have to figure out their roles and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few slip-ups early on. As much as I hate to admit it, Coach K is one of the best and I have no doubt they’ll be right in it at the end of the year. (I think I just threw up in my mouth…)
Last Year: 25-10 (12-6, 3rd); Lost in NCAA 1st Round
Key Returnees: G Kyle Kuric (10.8ppg, 2.1 3pg); G Peyton Siva (9.9ppg, 5.2apg); Chris Smith (9.4ppg, 4.6rpg); F Rakeem Buckles (6.8ppg, 6.1rpg)
Key Losses: G Preston Knowles (14.6ppg, 2.9 3pg); C Terrence Jennings (9.6ppg, 5.2rpg, 1.9bpg)
Recruiting: #7 Class (PF Chane Behanan #21 Overall; SF Wayne Blackshear #36 Overall; C Zach Price #67 Overall; SF Ryan Taylor #132 Overall; C Tony Woods Transfer)
Outlook: You have no idea how much I hate putting Louisville on this list. I'm a Kentucky fan; I haaaaaaaaate Louisville. I also hate that nobody can pronounce Louisville right! It angers me! Regardless, I have to put aside my bias and hate and admit this team is going to be good. They proved a lot of people wrong last year and they return nearly everyone. I may be in the minority here, but I really don't think Preston Knowles is a huge loss. He took a lot of ill advised shots last year and this might be a case of addition by subtraction. Peyton Siva shook off a rough freshman year to assert himself as one of the top PG's in the Big East. Expect a big year out of him and expect this highly touted freshman class to contribute big time.
Big Question: Why in the world is Terrence Jennings trying to go pro?! He averaged less than ten points per game! He mostly sucked! I just don’t get t. Oh well, he’s not a huge loss for Louisville if the Tony Woods sticks with Louisville. Woods, formerly of Wake Forest, was a top 25 recruit a few years ago and provides an incredible amount of size and athleticism to an already deep front line. Yikes.
Bonus Point: Top recruit Chane Behanan might soon become a BDT favorite. He’s a 6’6” power forward (not a good start) who’s described as chunky (an even worse start) and has all the ability in the world to become fat (there we go!). You can’t even understand how excited I am for his career!
Last Year: 25-10 (10-6, 4th); Lost in NCAA 1st Round
Key Returnees: G Will Barton (12.3ppg, 4.9rpg); G Joe Jackson (9.9ppg, 3.1apg); F Tarik Black (9.1ppg, 5.0rpg, 1.6bpg); F Wesley Witherspoon (9.0ppg, 4.3rpg); G Antonio Barton (8.2ppg)
Key Losses: F Will Coleman (7.0ppg, 4.5rpg)
Recruiting: Unranked class (SF Adonis Thomas #17 Overall)
Outlook: If you thought there would be no life after Calipari then you don’t know Josh Pastner. Pastner had a large hand in Cal’s recruiting surge and he’s continuing his stellar work with Memphis. The Tigers struggled through predictable growing pains last year, but they’re well prepared to re-assert their C-USA dominance this season as they return nearly everyone. Will Barton and Joe Jackson form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country and a full season of experience under their belt should solve the consistency problems that plagued them last year. Wesley Witherspoon struggled through injury and discipline problems last year, but he should bounce back in a big way. Incoming recruit Adonis Thomas is ready to dominate right away and he gives Memphis yet another physical, inside/outside threat.
Big Question: Can Pastner make the pieces fit? Talent wise, this is a top five team without question. Barton, Jackson, Black, Witherspoon, and Thomas are all likely future NBA players. The problem is, there’s only one ball out on the court and they can’t all shoot it at the same time. It’s like having five Jimmer’s on the floor together! Except they can all run fast and jump…and drink pop…and tea…and coffee…
Last Year: 32-9 (9-9, 9th); NCAA Champion
Key Returnees: G Jeremy Lamb (11.1ppg); C Alex Oriakhi (9.6ppg, 8.7rpg, 1.6bpg); G Shabazz Napier (7.8ppg); F Roscoe Smith (6.3ppg, 5.2rpg)
Key Losses: G Kemba Walker (23.5ppg, 5.4rpg, 4.5apg)
Recruiting: Unranked Class (PG Ryan Boatright #42 Overall)
Outlook: In my previous rankings, I said UConn would not be a top ten team without Kemba. Well, here they are at #10. I guess you should probably never believe me again. Seriously though, considering some of the defections at Texas, Kansas, Pitt, etc., UConn still looks like they’re still in decent shape. Kemba Walker will be impossible to replace, but they have plenty of guys capable of carrying part of the load left behind. We were all introduced to Jeremy Lamb in the tournament, and he has to be “the man” next year. Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier were both major contributors last year who should show significant improvement. The sleeper among this group is Roscoe Smith. Smith was a big time recruit last year, but struggled a bit to find his role in the offense. With more shots available, and a likely bigger focus on interior scoring, Roscoe should find it easier to unleash his significant physical gifts and talents on opposing defenses.
Big Question: Do I even need to ask? Kemba Walker was UConn basketball! He did everything for that team and they have to find ways to get it done without him. Is Lamb capable of taking his game a step further and carrying the offensive load? Is Oriakhi capable of being more than a rebounder/shot blocker? Is Shabazz Napier capable of taking on primary ball handling responsibilities? It’s going to be a tall task to adjust to life without Kemba, but they have more than enough talent to do it. Maybe the better question is when last year’s championship gets vacated...
Last Year: 25-9 (13-5, 3rd); Lost in Sweet Sixteen
Key Returnees: G Jordan Taylor (18.1ppg, 4.1rpg, 4.7apg); G Josh Gasser (5.9ppg, 3.9rpg); F Mike Bruesewitz (4.6ppg, 3.1rpg)
Key Losses: F Jon Leuer (18.3ppg, 7.2rpg); F Keaton Nankovil (9.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.2bpg)
Recruiting: Unranked class (PF Jarrod Uthoff #149 Overall)
Outlook: Wisconsin is always good no matter who they have on their team so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, they’re even better when returning one of the best guards in the country. Jordan Taylor is the best player in the Big Ten (not named Sullinger) and the frontcourt has plenty of young talent to make up for the loss of Jon Leuer.
Last Year: 26-9 (11-7, 6th); Lost in NCAA 1st Round
Key Returnees: F Yancy Gates (11.9ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.3bpg); G Dion Dixon (11.6ppg, 1.4 3pg); G Sean Kilpatrick (9.7ppg, 1.3 3pg); G Cashmere Wright (8.9ppg, 3.9apg, 1.3spg)
Key Losses: F Rashad Bishop (8.4ppg, 3.5rpg); C Ibrahima Thomas (5.7ppg, 5.3rpg)
Recruiting: Unranked class (SG Jeremiah Davis #39 SG/#123 Overall; SF Shaquille Thomas #81 Overall)
Outlook: Mick Cronin has been slowly rebuilding this program and his work finally payed off last year as Cincinnati broke through and performed well in Big East play. They bring back their best three backcourt pieces as well as their overall best player, Yancy Gates. Gates has the ability to do even more than he did last year, and if he does, Cincinnati can challenge in the Big East.
Last Year: 18-13 (7-9, 7th); No postseason
Key Returnees: F Perry Jones (13.9ppg, 7.2rpg); F Quincy Acy (12.4ppg, 7.6rpg1.5bpg); F Anthony Jones (8.5ppg, 5.3rpg); A.J. Walton (7.9ppg, 4.7apg, 2.3spg); C J’mison Morgan (3.0ppg, 1.1bpg)
Key Losses: G LaceDarius Dunn (19.5ppg, 3.2 3pg)
Recruiting: #13 Class (PF Quincy Miller #7 Overall; SG Deuce Bello #54 Overall; PG Gary Franklin Transfer)
Outlook: Surprised to see Baylor here? Well don’t be; they return as much talent as anyone not named North Carolina or Ohio State. Perry Jones’ return shocked the entire basketball world as he was a likely top three pick. Once his five game suspension is over, Baylor will boast one of the best frontcourts in the nation with Jones, Acy, and the incoming Quincy Miller. Perhaps you’ll never hear this phrase again, but Miller has been FAVORABLY compared to Antoine Walker…before Walker got fat and started jacking up ten dumb threes a game. I thought you’d find the comparison humorous. Anyways, the only major loss for Baylor is LaceDarius Dunn, who led the team in scoring. My guess is Baylor is thinking “good riddance” considering the nausea inducing shot selection he had. No joke, he shot a three pointer from his knees last year. And it wasn’t at the end of a half. Maybe he’s actually the Antoine Walker clone…
Last Year: 25-12 (12-4, 2nd); Lost in NIT Championship
Key Returnees: F JaMychal Green (15.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 2.1bpg); F Tony Mitchell (15.2ppg, 7.1rpg, 1.6spg); G Trevor Releford (11.0ppg, 3.4apg, 1.6spg)
Key Losses: G Charvez Davis (8.5ppg, 1.9 3pg); G Senario Hillman (6.4ppg); F Chris Hines (5.5ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.5bpg)
Recruiting: #17 class (SG Levi Randolph #30 Overall; SG Rodney Cooper #49 Overall; C Nick Jacobs #90 Overall)
Outlook: Alabama came out of nowhere to win the SEC West last year and they look poised to build on that success. Of course, I probably could have gathered a team from my Wednesday night open gym and won the SEC West last year, but that’s beside the point. JaMychal Green is one of the best post players you’ve likely never heard of, but that should change this year. Starring alongside Green is Tony Mitchell. Mitchell is an athletic freak in every sense of the word and, as a Kentucky fan, I fear him even more than I fear Green. If you haven’t ever seen him play, do yourself a favor and catch a couple Alabama games this year because he’s a show all by himself. Incoming recruit Levi Randolph will help provide some much needed perimeter scoring, but three point shooting will still be a major problem for this team. Charvez Davis was their only real threat from deep so Alabama is going to have find ways to beat zone defenses in order to be a true contender.
Last Year: 25-10 (11-3, 1st); Lost in NCAA 2nd Round
Key Returnees: C Robert Sacre (12.5ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.9bpg); F Elias Harris (12.4ppg, 6.0rpg); C Sam Dower (7.6ppg); G Marquise Carter (6.3ppg); G Demetri Goodson (5.2ppg); G David Stockton (4.2ppg)
Key Losses: G Steven Gray (13.9ppg, 4.0apg, 1.7spg, 2.1 3pg)
Recruiting: Unranked class (SG Gary Bell #75 Overall)
Outlook: You can’t even possibly understand how much I love David Stockton. It’s mostly illogical since I wasn’t even a giant fan of his dad, but I can’t help myself. He’s so small and he seems so overmatched, but he’s actually quite effective. Bias aside, his development is going to be key to Gonzaga’s success. The returns of Sacre and Harris give Gonzaga an awesome frontcourt and Marquise Carter should be able to pick up the scoring left behind by Steven Gray, but somebody has to be able to create for them. Last year, no one was capable of taking those reins and it ended up being a major Achilles heel. Gonzaga has a chance to go far if Stockton can look more like his dad and less like me. Also, I will definitely be purchasing a jersey…I hope my wife doesn’t read this because she’d yell at me for wasting more money.