2013-2014 Men’s College Basketball Preview

For the past dozen or so years, my college basketball addiction has translated into email conversations with my inner hoops circle, which gave way to full on previews starting with the 2005-2006 season. Since this website is about college rankings, and my preview is also about a particular version of college rankings, I thought this would be a good place to make it public.

2013-2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Preview

The USA Today and AP preseason polls are both now out. We agree on some things, disagree on others. But one thing is obvious. We have the exact same teams in the top 12 (and their #13 is my #14). Different order, exact same teams. This means one of two things. 1) I don’t think as outside-the-box as I’d like to believe I do, or 2) There are 12 teams that – at least on paper – are clearly better than the rest of the country.

I think #2 is definitely true, and I’m going to avoid thinking about #1.

And I’d add (because I think it’s true, but also to change the subject), that the first and second tiers have a notable gap before the third tier. Only three teams comprise the third tier, making it the most exclusive. Congrats UNC, Marquette, and Memphis!

My #13 – Marquette – comes in at #17 in both polls. I was hoping that the polls would have Marquette lower, or not include them at all, so that I’d have a legitimate sleeper team. And while the four-slot disparity really is quite minor, again, I think there’s a notable difference between slot 14 and 15 in my ranking (and 13 and 14 in the two polls). Those top 14, broken down in order below, are the teams that have legitimate Final Four aspirations. And as such, I’m stubbornly still call Marquette on of my sleeper teams.

As I went through the nation, I found 33 teams this year thought I deemed worth of a preseason ranking, and with that, here’s my Top 33.

  1. 1. Kentucky
  2. 2. Kansas
  3. 3. Duke
  4. 4. Arizona
  5. 5. Michigan St.
  6. 6. Louisville
  7. 7. Florida
  8. 8. Oklahoma St.
  9. 9. Ohio St.
  10. 10. Michigan
  11. 11. Syracuse
  12. 12. North Carolina
  13. 13. Marquette
  14. 14. Memphis
  15. 15. Wisconsin
  16. 16. UConn
  17. 17. Villanova
  18. 18. VCU
  19. 19. Baylor
  20. 20. Virginia
  21. 21. Washington
  22. 22. Indiana
  23. 23. UCLA
  24. 24. Colorado
  25. 25. Gonzaga
  26. 26. Iowa
  27. 27. Tennessee
  28. 28. Notre Dame
  29. 29. LSU
  30. 30. Wichita St
  31. 31. Georgetown
  32. 32. Stanford
  33. 33. Iowa St.

 

First Tier

#1

Kentucky

PG – Andrew Harrison
SG – Aaron Harrison
SF – James Young
PF – Julius Randle
C – Willie Cauley-Stein

Bench: Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood, Dominique Hawkins

I hate to do it. It’s so bandwagon. It’s such a choice of NBA style over college spirit. It’s so not creative. But I have to do it. I think Kentucky will be the best team in college basketball in the 2013-2014 season. They won’t be at first, and I expect Michigan St. to end the 40-0 conversation that’s floating around immediately on November 12, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they win their last 20 or so games. I really battled this, and actually anticipated picking them third, but after I mapped out the rosters for each of the top teams, I simply have to pick them first.

The starting point is Julius Randle. He’s simply a beast. Calipari calls him his “alpha beast” and from what I’ve seen of him, I couldn’t think of a better label. He’s both rugged and polished, a fierce competitor with an intense motor but also a high level of skill for his size. And he has a lot of size. He’s a prototypical NBA power forward, and I can’t imagine him not being a monster in college. He’s definitely less skilled than many of the other top freshmen in this oh-so-hyped class, and I’m less excited about him, but the logical side of me expects him to have the biggest impact, and probably to be drafted #1 overall next year. (Yes, I’ll put together a super premature mock draft along the way. Actually It will be a reward for anyone who makes it to the end. Or you could just scroll to the end.)

The key with discussing Kentucky though is that they have boatloads of talented bigs. I don’t love Willie Cauley-Stein, but his size and athleticism make him a probable lottery pick next year, and this is a 7-0 250 athlete next to Randle. College teams simply can’t match that. Alex Poythress is a very athletic, strong 6-8 sophomore with decent skill – a probably first round pick; right now he’s not starting. Also off the bench are Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee – both top 25 recruits, both McDonald’s All Americans. Johnson was the #1 center most of the year (until Joel Embiid caught up – I’ll get to him in a minute). Lee averaged 9.1 blocks per game last year. Stop and read that last sentence again. I don’t care if you’re Kevin Garnett playing against middle schoolers – that’s a lot of blocks. Lee’s probably #6 on the depth chart up front.

The backcourt is all newbies, and the Harrison twins get most of the attention, partly because they’re twins, and partly because they’re pretty talented. When I first saw them, I was blown away – poor-man’s Villanova Randy Foye in the best way possible – and TWO of them! But the more I watched them, the more questioning I’ve grown. I don’t know if I trust the jumpshot. I don’t think the handle is quite as tight as I used to. And I don’t like the attitude (too-cool-for-school) that I’ve seen. But having said that, they’re still easily among the most talented guards in the country, and I can’t see the alpha beast letting them be too-cool-for-school.

The funny thing about this team is that my favorite player – at least from the high school games I’ve seen – is James Young. And James Young, who despite his unanimous status as a top-10 recruit seems to be lost among Randle and the Harrisons, is the reason I bumped Kentucky over Kansas. Cat just has a smooth, fluid, pretty, polished game. 6-7 southpaw with a beautiful j, nice handles, and the aesthetic mobility to get where he wants to go efficiently and with style. He’ll start at either the 2 or the 3, with one of Alex Poythress or Aaron Harrison coming off the bench (there really are 6 starters for this team). And his outside shooting and overall size and skill (and from what I’ve seen, maturity) will be the deciding factor in making Kentucky great.

#2

Kansas

PG – Naadir Tharpe
SG – Wayne Selden
SF – Andrew Wiggins
PF – Perry Ellis
C – Tarik Black

Bench: Connor Frankamp, Brannen Greene, Frank Mason, Joel Embiid, Jamari Traylor, Andrew White III, Justin Wesley

I was definitely leaning toward picking Kansas #1 for a long time. Not because of Andrew Wiggins and his pogo-stickiness. (For the record, his pogo-stickiness is awesome.) It was because of Wayne Selden. Of all the high school all stars I saw the past year, he’s the one that really struck me as a can’t-miss wing player. Don’t get me wrong, I think Wiggins and Parker have more potential than him, but Selden has better balance and lateral mobility (not explosiveness, that’s all Wiggins) with a tighter handle and a very pretty j. Plus he’s a pure shooting guard who’s 6-5/6-6 220. Strong kid with a complete game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s Kansas’ leading scorer (just ahead of Wiggins).

Wiggins is a human pogo-stick. I’ve never – I repeat, never – never never never seen effortless vertical lift like his. He’s not like James White who could quite literally fly, or Vince Carter who to my mind had the fluidity, power, and raw explosiveness to be the best dunker ever. But Wiggins’ pure vertical bounce is greater than theirs, or, again, anyone’s. Ever. His handle looks okay, shot looks pretty decent, spin-move is so explosive it’s ridiculous. But I’m not 100% sold. I don’t think a pretty decent shot and okay handle is enough when you’re as skinny as he is. I think he’ll be good, really really good. But I don’t think he’ll be great until he tightens up his handle and j or adds twenty pounds of muscle. I expect all of those things to happen, but probably not for another year or two. And then he’ll be an NBA superstar. He strikes me as a humble kid, though, and he’ll mop up points in transition (he actually reminds me of a rich man’s Corey Brewer) and play great defense. I predict that people will be expecting more from him and then will underrate all the things he does exceptionally well.

Joel Embiid is the third super stud freshman. A legit 7 footer, he burst on the recruiting scene late and skyrocketed (ahead of Dakari Johnson) to claim the top center spot – almost unanimously – in the high school ranks. I’m not excited about him – super long lanky guy without too much skill, but he’ll be a defensive nightmare and generate boards and put back points. The word though is that he’s only played basketball for the past three years and is (too) often compared to Hakeem Olajuwon; Embiid was a scoring forward as a soccer player. It’s pretty obvious that he’s exceptionally coordinated for his size, but I doubt Kansas will get to experience much of him before he leaves. If he does come somewhere close to the Dream, it won’t be anytime soon. Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe are great counterparts to the three super freshman. Tharpe is a junior who looked good in serious run last year when Bill Self was pissed at the Prophet Elijah (Williams). Perry Ellis was a 30ish recruit who looked good (to me at least) in his limited work as a freshman last year, and I think he’ll be a stud sooner than later. Tarik Black will probably start at center (Embiid off the bench); he is a man. 6-9 260 and did 8 and 5 for Memphis last year before graduating early and getting an extra year of eligibility, which he chose to take at Kansas where he’s a graduate student. Perfect complement to all these young guys.

The bench is great. Frankamp and Greene are both shooters who were top 40-50 recruits. Mason was a bit lower, but I LIKE his game. Quick, nice handles, nice shot – he might challenge Tharpe for the point. The other dudes (Wesley, White, Traylor) all saw run last year and would all be strong contributors for most teams. Self will probably work them all in.

Super talent, super depth, but I think James Young is a close offset for Wayne Selden, and Julius Randle simply doesn’t have anyone who can match him. I think a good team defense can slow Wiggins more (Wiggins right now, pre-muscle, handles, and j) than it can Randle, and honestly, I’ll take the Harrisons over the other guards Kansas has on hand. It’s a tough call, and it wouldn’t surprise me either way, but I have to pick Kentucky over Kansas.

#3

Duke

PG – Quinn Cook
SG – Rasheed Sulaimon
SG – Rodney Hood
SF – Jabari Parker
PF – Amile Jefferson

Bench: Andre Dawkins, Marshall Plumlee, Tyler Thornton, Alex Murphy, Matt Jones, Josh Hairston, Semi Ojeleye

A few days ago in a procrastination excursion through ESPN.com, I saw an article about Coach K running his 2013-2014 team through Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. This was big because, somehow, I’d forgotten about Hood. Rodney Hood was my favorite unsung freshman two years ago – a stud top 10-15 recruit who picked hometown Mississippi St and thereby fell off the national radar. He’s Rod Grizzard with his head on straight (I think). 6-8 left-handed shooting guard with athleticism, handles, and a shot. Pretty game. Parker is obvious – he’d been essentially the unanimous top recruit in this class forever, until Wiggins reclassified. I see him as somewhere between Carmelo Anthony and young Joe Johnson. Great athleticism (but not at a Wiggins level), great skill level, pretty jump shot, good strength, great size. This means that Duke will revolve their team around two 6-8 players who are athletic and can do anything – that is, literally play the 1-5. This will not be a stereotypical Duke team – these are for real NBA talents.

Amile Jefferson is a great addition there because he’s not that far behind. He’s a sophomore who was a top 15 recruit last year (I’m still mad because he picked Duke over Villanova) and was a combo forward, meaning that he also is a pretty skilled guy for being 6-8 and long. Sulaimon and Cook both had great years last year, and I expect both to be even better this year. So this is essentially a three guard and two small forward lineup – Villanova 2005-2006 but tall!!

The bench has a lot of talent, but Coach K doesn’t always get the most out of his non-super freshman talent. Dawkins is back after redshirting – good size and shot but otherwise limited. The last Plumlee is supposed to be good, but I don’t believe it. He would’ve gotten some kind of run before if so. Thornton is experienced backcourt support (I’m not otherwise high on him other than his solid experience – in my mind he’s the same person as Travis Trice…see Michigan State [of course, it should be noted that I still don’t separate Scott Dreisbach and Tom Brady well in my mind]). Jones is a big time shooter – top 30-40 freshman. This is for sure my favorite Duke team since Kyrie was there. They actually look like they’ll play zero true bigs! I love it. But, that will be a problem with teams like Kansas and Kentucky who have HUGE, talented bigs. Hence, #3. I will say this – if Duke is shooting jump shots well (along with aggressively attaching off the dribble to set up those shots), they beat everybody.

#4

Arizona

PG – TJ McConnell
SG – Nick Johnson
SF – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF – Aaron Gordon
PF – Brandon Ashley

Bench: Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Jordin Mayes, Elliot Pitts

Arizona is like Kentucky in that they have six true starters. Add Kaleb to that first five. I imagine he’ll start, but it’s hard to say whom he’ll start over. Coach (Where’s) Sean Miller (?!) might put Ashley on the bench, aiming for him to come in and do beastly work with the second unit. We’ll see. I’d start the above five.

McConnell is a Duquesne transfer who is perfectly solid – exactly what this team needs (did 11, 5, and 4 last year). Nick Johnson is the most athletic and skilled small guy who still manages to look goofy while playing that I can think of. Or maybe it’s that he’s the most goofy-looking player I can think of who’s extremely athletic and skilled. He’s fast, bouncy, can handle, shoot, but again – looks funny. Like a hyper talented, 6-3 Aaron Jennings (Northwestern center in early 2000s). Yeah, I said it. He’s good though – junior who did 13ppg last year and was a top 20-25 recruit a couple years back.

I LOVE Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon. Super motor guys who are long, athletic, highly skilled and seem to have great hoop IQs. Gordon was one of the unanimous super six freshman, and Hollis-Jefferson was top 15-20. RHJ is a lefty who’s long and aggressive, and Gordon is like a cross between Derrick Williams and Blake Griffin – closer to DW because he’s more similar in size and has more skill than Blake. He’s also an alpha beast.

Ashley is one of my favorite bigs from last year’s less-touted recruiting class. A top 10 recruit, 6-8 PF who’s smooth. For some weird reason, he reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon (The Dream gets two shout outs this year!). Way shorter and more of a combo forward game, but the spinning smoothness takes me back. Maybe Antawn Jamison is a better comparison. I like him, but he might be one of those too nice guys who I respect more than their more effective teammates, simply because they are better human beings. I digress.

Kaleb Tarnotgonnaworkhereanymore is a 7-0, 250 top 10 recruit from last year, but I never was that into him. Seems a bit under athletic, under skilled, and under aggressive for that hype. He’ll be useful when/if they run into the hugeness at Kentucky though, and is a tough matchup for everyone in the country. The other three bench guys are nothing special, at least that I’ve seen. Arizona has a very solid, very strong starting 6, but I seriously worry about everyone after that.

#5

Michigan St

PG – Keith Appling
SG – Gary Harris
SF – Brendan Dawson
PF – Matt Costello
C – Adreian Payne

Bench: Alex Gauna, Russell Byrd, Alvin Ellis III, Travis Trice, Kenny Kaminski, Gavin Schilling, Denzel Valentine

If you like experience and talent, Michigan St. is probably the place to go. That’s what Lindy’s did in their preview. And much respect to this team – Gary Harris is one of my favorite players in the nation and I expect him to be a monster this year – but I have a hard time seeing them overcoming the elite level talent on the four teams above.

Having said that, let’s not act like this is just an over-performing tough Izzo squad. Like I mentioned, it’s very possible that Gary Harris is the best 2 in the country, and could be a lottery pick next year. Dawson, Appling, and Payne were all top 20-25 recruits and have a lot of experience winning a lot of games. All three are smart, skilled, athletic guys and will all get a look in the league (Dawson and Payne have the potential to play themselves into the lottery as well). Payne is a cat who finally emerged on people’s radar last year. He’s always been a beast – 6-10, 230 with serious bounce, a good jump shot, solid ball skills for his size, and a nasty streak. Somehow he slipped under the grid just enough to stay in school, and if he takes the next step, MSU will be in serious title contention.

The power forward position is a bit weak, but Izzo’s great at developing tough, smart, screening, rebounding cats to do the dirty work. That role will be split between Costello, Kaminski, Gauna, and Schilling.

My worries for this team are scoring outside of Harris and depth, especially with a slight injury history for Brendan Dawson and Harris. I dislike the bench. It’s classic Izzo guys, and yes, Izzo will get the most out of them, but I think they’ll get smothered by a talented team, which means MSU really needs to stay healthy – if they lose any of Harris, Appling, Dawson, or Payne, they drop noticeably.

Second Tier

#6

Louisville

PG – Chris Jones
SG – Russ Smith
SF – Wayne Blackshear
PF – Chane Behanan — UPDATE suspended (I’d plug in Luke Hancock and play small)
PF – Montrezl Harrell

Bench: Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware, Stephen Van Treese, Mangok Mathiang, Anton Gill, Terry Rozier, Akoy Agau

Defending national champs! They’ll be good again. I love Siva, and Dieng was an impact player, but they’ll be fine without them. That’s a bit of a qualified statement, because I haven’t seen anything other than highlights of the cats who could step in for Siva, but the highlights (and the hype) are strong. When I first wrote this, I had Louisville seventh in the country. And as I looked at the teams above them, I literally moved them one notch higher step by step until they came to rest in my final four. Until the Chane situation.

Chris Jones is considered the #1 JUCO recruit in the country and he’s expected to step in for Siva at the point. From what I saw, he’s a 5-10, 175 pound gunner. Unlike pass-first Siva, Jones looks like a scorer first and foremost. Rozier and Gill will also be in the backcourt conversation, and both are big-time recruits. Rozier is an athletic, skilled handler and shooter at 6-1 and Gill is 6-4 with a lefty three-point stroke. Rozier’s highlights were varied and impressive; Gill’s were almost all bombs from three. Kevin Ware will be everyone’s favorite player this year after coming back from his exploded leg in the tourney last year. He’ll be in this mix too. Oh, and Russdiculous is still around.

The frontcourt is great. Behanan is a beast who’s just undersized enough to still be in college. Harrell looked absolutely ridiculous for the World U19 Championships. As in, unfair-to-all opponents beastly. Hancock is the reason my Michigan squad last year fell short in the title bout, and he’ll be a key piece again. The three bigs I didn’t mention are all highly regarded – Van Treese is a veteran role player, and Mathiang and Agau are both top 100 freshmen with a lot of size and upside.

Blackshear is probably the key. He was a monster recruit known for polished all-around scoring, but injuries have held him back. If he can live up to that, Louisville could challenge for the top three.

UPDATE: I had Louisville #4 and solidly in the first tier of schools, but Chane Behanan just got suspended indefinitely. A lot of time that just means a slap on the wrist, miss a week, and come back. But here’s what Pitino said about it:

“I believe in going to the mat for our guys and going to the wall, and most guys, you give them chances and eventually they get it,” Pitino said. “But I’ve had a few, not many, but a few, who just never get it. I’d say 90 percent do, but some don’t. I’m not sure that Chane will get it.” Dang.

UPDATE #2: Apparently they gave Chane 30 days to see if he screwed up again and he didn’t, so he’s back practicing. But Pitino doesn’t sound like he expects it to last. We’ll see. I’m keeping Louisville #6.

#7

Florida

PG – Kasey Hill
SG – Scottie Wilbekin
SF – Casey Prather
PF – Chris Walker
PF – Patric Young

Bench: Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Will Yuguete, Damontre Harris, Eli Carter

As a rule, schools where Urban Meyer has coached football are great at basketball. But this elite ranking is contingent on Chris Walker’s eligibility. Walker is great, a 6-10 freak of nature; he’s been a fixture in the top 10 of this super high school class forever and looked every bit of it in the HS all star games I saw. Serious impact maker. But as of this writing he’s ineligible academically. Supposedly he’s working hard at this, but we’ll have to wait and see. I hope he qualifies. He’ll make the Gators really fun to watch. And he’s a wonderful complement to Patric Young, who – I’ve said this over and over – has the most distractingly developed biceps in the world. Dude is as physically intimidating as they come, and somehow is a senior – no one saw him staying in college more than two years.

Get excited for Kasey Hill. He was in the conversation with Andrew Harrison for best HS point guard over the past several years. He’s really good – poor man’s Kyrie Irving maybe. Not as advanced a shooter or handler as Irving at the same age, but let’s be real, who is? I like Hill a lot – saw him a half dozen times in HS and expect him to be serious hooper from day 1. For all the hype he’s gotten, he’s somehow been under-discussed in the college hoop preseason convos.

Florida has crazy experience beyond those three. Wilbekin has been there (and getting in and out of trouble forever). Scottie is actually notable to me because the way he plays is the epitome of a clean-cut, never-get-in-trouble type, and he is always getting in some shady business in the offseason. But he’s got his head on straight on the court and will be a nice balance for any newcomer issues from Hill. Frazier is a top 50 sophomore who is lights out from 3; if I were Donovan, I’d start him over Wilbekin. Prather and Yuguete are athletic energy guys who have given serious (positive) contributions the past couple years, and a slough of talented transfers are eligible this year. Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Carter (Rutgers), and Harris (South Carolina) were all major contributors with a lot of talent at their previous schools. That’s great talent and experience and depth. This is a loaded squad, and it’s hard to even say who will start. I probably would have picked them #1 last year — not this year! But it’d be no surprise if they win it all.

#8

Oklahoma St

PG – Marcus Smart
SG – Markel Brown
SF – LeBryan Nash
PF – Michael Cobbins
PF – Kamari Murphy

Bench: Phil Forte, Stevie Clark, Brian Williams, Gary Gaskins

Having the preseason National Player of the Year on your squad is a good start. And I’m a huge fan of Smart. He (along with Rodney Purvis, who will reemerge at UConn next year after transferring from NC St – and yes, he will be a beast) was my favorite freshman before the season started last year.

Here’s my quote on Smart from last year’s preview: “Marcus Smart was a consensus top 5 recruit who’s like 6-4, 220 with NICE PG game. He’s strong, can handle, shoot, is really unselfish, great defender, fierce competitor. He’s a beast, and I’m gonna say he might be my favorite player in college basketball this year.”

And yes, he did/was all that. Averaged 15, 6, 4, 3 (steals) and was a projected top 5 draft pick and said “no.” Character too? It’s not fair. He’ll make a big jump in my “favorite players of all time” rank this year (yes, I have one, and I’ll start sending it out every few years J ).

LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown will both get NBA looks after this year. They’re both very skilled and very athletic. Nash definitely underachieves (he’d have been in the NBA long ago otherwise) and Brown overachieves. Smart and Brown together is probably the best backcourt in college basketball. Forte is a super little dude who runs around bombing threes – does it really well. He and Smart were HS besties and room together at OSU.

The other guys are serviceable, and that’s all they need to be, as Nash, Brown, and Smart will average 50ppg between them this year. And Forte will give at least 10ppg. Watch for freshman Stevie Clark. 5-10 cat from Oklahoma who averaged 37ppg and 13apg as a senior last year. He’s ranked around 60-70, but for a sub six-footer from Oklahoma, that could be a serious underestimation of his game. Whoa. I just started giggling watching his highlight video to the point that my wife asked me what was up. I’m about to be a big fan of this kid. How many crossover step-back thirty footers can you fit in one highlight film? And in how many times does his man fall down? How did he average that many assists if he pulls from that deep with that close of a defender? How will he get his shot off with that release at that height in the Big 12? I’m sure he’ll try. Pure entertainment. This might be my favorite team.

#9

Ohio St

PG – Aaron Craft
SG – Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
SF – Sam Thompson
SF – LaQuinton Ross
C – Amir Williams

Bench: Shannon Scott, Marc Loving, Kameron Williams

As the lower ranked OSU, do you no longer get to be called OSU?

I’ve been excited for this year’s Buckeye squad for three years: ever since Thad Matta signed the recruiting class of Thompson, Scott, Ross, and Williams. In the one-and-done age, there are two types of elite recruiting classes. 1) The type that Calipari pulls for Kentucky almost every year. 2) A class that includes three to five recruits who fall in the 30-60 range. Matta got the latter – 4 guys with the talent to be elite players by the time they are juniors and seniors, but who are missing something and unlikely to leave after their first or second year. Those four are juniors and ready to perform.

I like this team a lot. It starts with Craft, who’s still there. The man sitting next to me on a flight last week saw me reading about him and asked, “Hasn’t he been in college for like, ten years?” The answer, of course, is yes. Anyway, he’s a great leader, but they need to figure out how to score without DeShaun Thomas. Smith, Thompson (super bouncy!), and Ross all have the potential, but none has really demonstrated it consistently. If all three take a big leap to this year, Ohio St. could crack the first tier. But even if those three don’t improve much, OSU will be a solid Elite Eight type team.

And for the record, Shannon Scott was one of the three big-time ATL recruits three years ago who briefly considered going to NU. (And didn’t, of course, along with Julian Royal and Dai-Jon Parker.)

#10

Michigan

PG – Derrick Walton, Jr.
SG – Nik Stauskas
SG – Zak Irvin
SF – Glenn Robinson III
C – Mitch McGary

Bench: Spike Albrecht, Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, Caris Levert

Michigan was my team last year, and yes, we will definitely call (not legally name, though) our daughter (yes, daughter) Trey in honor of the National Player of the Year’s emphatic introduction of the NCAA tournament to my wife. They’ll definitely drop off a touch this year, but not much. The major shift is simply the talent above them.

Nik Stauskas is great. Great size for a 2 and one of the best shooters in the nation. He actually makes YouTube home videos of him shooting tons of threes and hardly ever missing. The first time I watched, I was hating, thinking – “That’s a soft rim, some of those wouldn’t fall on a real hoop.” And then I realized that he hit >90% on his hoop and would’ve hit >80% on any hoop. That’s pretty good from deep.

Small Dog could be a stud this year, but I’m worried about the passivity he displayed last year. Even deferring to elders, I’d like to have seen him be a lot more aggressive. With a slightly tighter handle, he’s got the full package to be a stud in college and probably the NBA too. But he’s gotta be aggressive to make it happen. And that transformation will be the ultimate arbiter of Michigan’s season.

McGary is the perfect big. Huge, athletic, fantastic motor, surprising touch and ball skills, and most importantly – doesn’t need the ball. He’s the perfect big. Put him with four 2006 Randy Foyes and you get the best team in basketball history. Yeah, I said it.

Walton and Irvin are the big newcomers to watch. Both are top 20-30 recruits and both come with serious hype. From what I’ve seen I like the lower-ranked Walton more than Irvin, but it’s mostly because Irvin is a gunner whose shot looks a little goofy. But both are skilled with good size and athleticism. They’re pretty serviceable replacements for Timmy Hardaway 2.0 and Trey. And that’s saying a lot.

#11

Syracuse

PG – Tyler Ennis
SG – Trevor Cooney
SF – CJ Fair
PF – Rakeem Christmas
C – DaJuan Coleman

Bench: Jerami Grant, Michael Gbinje, Baye Moussa Keita, Tyler Roberson, Ron Patterson

It’s the first year of Syracuse (and Pitt) in the ACC. Sad in a lot of ways, but in the end, they’ll still play good basketball against a lot of good teams, and I’ll have a good time watching them. Eddie and I have been talking about recruiting a bit recently, and mapped out the two theories of successful college recruiting that I outlined in the Ohio State overview. Jim Boeheim is as good as any coach at this latter form of recruiting – pulling in great talent that isn’t quite great enough to leave early.

So even though they lost three serious contributors (including lottery pick MCW, who was a top 15 recruit and did leave early), the Orange should be a great team again this year. From what I’ve seen of Tyler Ennis, he’ll be better than MCW at the point. Not a better NBA prospect (which also is possible, although MCW has had a heck of an intro to the League), but a better college player. From the couple times I saw him in high school, Ennis is a straight up stud. Playmaker who can shoot. Not an elite athlete, but good enough. He’s got that Chris Paul balance and pacing – always in control and knows exactly what he’s doing. Really impressive kid. He’s talented enough that – with as dependent on him as the Orange will be – I expect him to be in serious consideration for national freshman of the year (which is saying a LOT this year). The shooting guard spot next to him is open. Cooney is really the only true 2 the Orange has (other than Ron Patterson, but I don’t expect him to contribute for a couple years), but Gbinje (a top 30 recruit who transferred in from Duke) who is maybe more of a 3 could slide right in. In fact, if he can shoot (an “if” I don’t know the answer to), I’d put him there. He’s long and athletic and would be a nice extra piece in the 2-3.

The frontcourt is elite. CJ Fair will be the go-to scorer for this squad, and I like his slashing lefty game. He was voted preseason ACC player of the year. Rakeem Christmas (the second “Christmas” we’ve had in major college hoops recently – the other holidays need to represent) is one of the best shot blockers in the NCAA, and actually is a bit of a surprise to still be in college as a junior (he was a top 10 recruit a couple years ago). DaJaun Coleman was also a huge (15ish) recruit, but his hugeness (as in girth) will probably keep him in college a bit longer as well. That’s three large, serious talents. And Jerami Grant, Baye Moussa Keita, and Tyler Roberson are all serious backups (Roberson is a top 30 freshman, 6-8, long and athletic — basically the same thing as Jerami Grant last year).

I’m worried about the Cuse backcourt. Beyond Ennis, the whole backcourt is a question mark. And Ennis has never played college basketball. There’s a ton of talent here, and I’m REALLY excited to see this team play (and handle the non-Duke ACC :D ), but they’ll need Grant/Gbinje/Roberson to emerge as a perimeter scoring threat alongside Ennis to make them elite.

Third Tier

#12

North Carolina

PG – Marcus Paige
SG – Leslie McDonald
SG – PJ Hairston
PF – James Michael McAdoo
C – Kennedy Meeks

Bench: Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Joel James, Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto

Kind of quietly, North Carolina should be pretty good this year. I’d have liked them more if Reggie Bullock had stayed in school and PJ Hairston spent his offseason outside the realm of idiocy, but still, this is a pretty good squad.

Hairston is key. I’ve always thought (since I first saw him in high school) that he’s a potential star. Prototypical NBA 2, with size, strength, athleticism, deep range, and good handles. But he’s occasionally an idiot, and demonstrated that this summer – twice pulled over while driving a car rented by someone else (the same person both times, who happened to be a convicted felon), once for a speeding ticket, and once he was charged for driving without a license, and instead of having a license, he had some weed. How’s that for sketchy?

Leslie McDonald was a big-time recruit and was Reggie Bullock before Reggie Bullock (they were both 30ish SG recruits known for their J). But he ran into injuries – hopefully he’s back and healthy and finally gets in a strong season. Paige was the top PG recruit in the country last year (for everyone who called Marcus Smart a 2 or 3) and his smooth, smart, southpaw game should be significantly elevated this year. I think he could surprise people.

I admit it. I was way too high on McAdoo last year based on a small sample size, but he still is one of the best bigs around, and I expect him to have developed from last year. He’s still a potential lottery pick. I like Kennedy Meeks (top 50 freshman). He’s round. Like real round. And skilled. And seems like a good dude. Isaiah Hicks is a top 20 freshman who might be a touch skinny, but is athletic and really aggressive. Nice, young, talented frontcourt in Chapel Hill.

And the guys I didn’t mention have talent. A good amount.

#13

Marquette

PG – Duane Wilson
SG – Deonte Burton
SF – Jamil Wilson
PF – Davante Gardner
C – Chris Otule

Bench: Todd Mayo, JaJuan Johnson, Jameel McKay, Derrick Wilson, Steve Taylor, Jake Thomas

This is my biggest sleeper team so far. Coupled with the fact that Marquette is always underrated and always good, and has produced very capable NBA players (Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler, Wesley Matthews, etc.), along with some YouTube support, I’m predicting big things for Marquette this year.

The YouTube reference is specifically for Duane Wilson and Deonte Burton. I have no idea if either will actually start, but both are freshmen who are in the 50-60 range for recruits, but in a comparison of all the highlight videos (which are admittedly deceptive, but in similar ways for all players), Deonte Burton will be one of the best freshmen in the NCAA next year. He’s 6-4/6-5, 225-230 (read: SWOLL), very bouncy, changes directions very well with nice handles and a beautiful southpaw J with range. Notable is that Todd Mayo (O.J.’s little brother) and JaJuan Johnson (6-5 top 70 freshman who brings a pretty big rep himself – but nowhere near as impressive videos as Burton) are the other two SGs on the roster. Both talented guys who have to find some run somewhere, but omg, check out Deonte.

Duane Wilson has crazy bounce too, but not the overall, hard-to-spot-weaknesses package that I saw in Burton. He’s a freshman too, and should take over the point (Jr Derrick Wilson is the other candidate) sooner than later. And of course I have to hype that Wilson and Burton are both from Wisconsin – stand up!

The frontcourt is actually Marquette’s strength. They return Jamil Wilson (10ppg, 5rpg), Chris Otule (6-11, 275), and Davante Gardner (6-8, 290; 12ppg, 5rpg) up front. This is a team of grown men, and they’ve got depth and talent. I predict they’ll take the newfangled Big East and surprise folks in the national picture.

#14

Memphis

PG – Joe Jackson
SG – Chris Crawford
SG – Geron Johnson
SF – Austin Nichols
PF – Shaq Goodwin

Bench: Kuran Iverson, Michael Dixon, Nick King, Markel Crawford, Dominic Wilson, David Pellom

This is the year that the inaugural AAC (American Athletic Conference) is a powerhouse. Memphis, Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati give the AAC four major programs for this year, before Louisville departs for the ACC. Future note: don’t sleep on SMU, and look for them in my honorable mention notes. Remember SMU and Emmanuel Mudiay.

But this is supposed to be about Memphis. I was thrilled when the Tigers gave Josh Pastner the head coaching job; he was a walk-on student coach with the 1997 Arizona championship team, and made serious rounds as an AAU coach and assistant coach before and after, respectively. He’s proven himself unquestionably as a recruiter, but they haven’t performed in the tournament quite to their talent level. Somehow, Joe Jackson is still here. He’s been up and down since starting at PG as a top 25 recruit four years ago. He’ll need to be a leader and the dynamic player he has the talent to be for Memphis to reach this level.

Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, and Michael Dixon (if eligible) are all talented wing counterparts for Jackson. All three are seniors and all three have averaged double figures (Dixon at Missouri, where he may or may not have been team cancer; my boy Shawn is convinced Dixon’s carcinogenic ways were the downfall of their elite team – a 2 seed that lost in the first round – two years ago). They can definitely score from the perimeter. Add Markel Crawford – a top 40 or so SG – and you’ve got a nice backcourt.

The frontcourt is super talented as well, but super young. Shaq Goodwin was a 30ish recruit last year, in addition to being one of the thousands of kids named after Shaquille O’Neal in the early 90s (yes, I feel really old). He’s a sophomore now and had a solid first year. I expect big improvement from him. Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson are both potential starters for this team as freshman, coming in as top 10 and 15 recruits, respectively. Kuran is Allen’s cousin, but nothing like him, starting with his 6-9 stature, but he still is a perimeter player. He played some PG in high school. Nichols is a power forward who looks solid all around with a good motor – compare to Jared Jeffries maybe. David Pellom could figure in here – he transferred in from George Washington and averaged 10 and 6 two years ago in the A-10. Woodson is worth mentioning because he weighs 320 pounds (and is a 80ish recruit); Nick King is another freshman who was in the 60-70 recruiting range – 6-7 forward. Lots of talent, but with erratic seniors and lots of freshmen. Should be fun!

There’s a big drop off after those 14, so I’ll break away into conference-by-conference teams to watch highlights.

AAC

  1. 1. Louisville
  2. 2. Memphis
  3. 3. UConn
  4. 4. Cincinnati

Let’s start with the AAC, the one-year iteration of the American Athletic Conference. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of this conference, so I’ll share a quick breakdown. This is the football-playing Big East colleges (that – much to my delight – got bounced by the Big East basketball-only schools) plus a smattering of old A-10 and Conference USA schools. It’s actually closer to the great old original variations of Conference USA than anything. Louisville, Memphis, UConn, and Cincinnati will make this a power conference this year, but they lose Louisville to the ACC (and less notably, Rutgers to the B1G) next year.

I’ve already hit Louisville and Memphis, so UConn is the next team that should be highlighted, and they’ll be good enough for me to bring down the lineup. They’ll find their way into my top 25 before I finish writing this.

UConn

PG – Shabazz Napier
PG – Ryan Boatwright
SG – Omar Calhoun
SF – DeAndre Daniels
PF – Tyler Olander (pending alcoholism)

Bench: Niels Giffey, Terrance Samuel, Phil Nolan

UConn has one of the best backcourts in the country, and if I had more confidence in their frontcourt, they could challenge to join Memphis, Marquette, and UNC in the exclusive third tier. Napier and Boatwright are first and fifth, respectively in returning scorers in the conference, and third and fifth, respectively, in returning assist-men in the AAC. Together, they averaged over 32ppg and 9 apg last year, which no one saw because UConn had their too-low-APR-induced one-year postseason ban. They’re like Ohio St. in football, except UConn lost games. But yes, Boatwright and Napier can hoop! I love this combo.

I didn’t see much of Calhoun last year, but he was a big time recruit and averaged double figures as a 6-5 guard alongside the star PG combo. I expect big things from him this year, making it a dynamic, three-man backcourt. DeAndre Daniels was a top 15 recruit two years ago – 6-8 long, athletic, and skilled, but has run into injuries. He’s the Branden Dawson of the east coast. I’ve got high hopes for him this year. So in sum, UConn has four studs. But I have serious worries about everyone else. Following the note above, Olander was suspended indefinitely for suspected drunk driving charges, although my writing here is probably admittedly slanderous since the charges were dropped and he was reinstated a couple weeks ago. He’s solid, but not amazing. Nonetheless, UConn needs him.

Looking ahead – Rodney Purvis, a big time freshman guard at NC St last year, transferred to UConn and will be eligible – and immediately one of my favorite players in the nation – next year. Good work Coach Ollie! (I feel old.)

Cincinnati: They’ll upset some people and be fun to watch on occasion. They’ve got three very notable guys. Sean Kilpatrick is a 6-4 senior who’s scored a lot of points for them the last few years. He’s a good bet to lead the conference in scoring. Shaquille Thomas (6-7, 180) and Jermaine Lawrence (6-9, 190) are the other two – both super-hyped preps. Thomas underachieved as a freshman last year, but it hasn’t diminished expectations for him this year. Lawrence is a top 20 freshman coming in. Both are mad long, athletic, skilled, and skinny. Oh, and they’re real skinny. Like, for real. Skinny. But yeah, both guys are intriguing and have NBA talent. We’ll see what they do with it.

Rutgers: Only listed because their best player is 5-9 and alliterative – Myles Mack. Great name.

SMU: SMU won’t be good this year, but for true college hoop fans this is one of the most interesting programs in the country to watch. They’ve never been particularly relevant in my lifetime, but when they brought in Larry Brown – yes, that Larry Brown – to coach, it put them on the map for recruits and it’s worked. Crandall Head – Luther’s little brother – transferred here from Illinois after being a top 100 recruit in high school. He’s eligible this year as a junior. The really intriguing guy this year is Keith Frazier, a 6-5 SG who I LIKE. He’s smooth, athletic, with nice handles and a pretty J. He’s a freshman who was a 30-40 type recruit. That is the type of recruit SMU HAS NEVER GOTTEN IN MY LIFETIME. But now I need to show the ridiculousness of the all caps I just used (which admittedly, are inherently ridiculous), because Larry Brown has a commitment from Emmanuel Mudiay, who probably is the #1 high school player in the current senior class and is almost assuredly a one and done, top five draft pick next year. Mudiay is a STUD. Think John Wall. No exaggeration or hyperbole in any way. Easily will contend for the top overall pick in two years and almost assuredly will be in the top five. That guy is going to SMU. Eff a super conference, I’m me.

Temple: Really, I just felt the need to share with the world that I miss John Chaney.

ACC

  1. 1. Duke
  2. 2. Syracuse (weird, right?)
  3. 3. North Carolina
  4. 4. Virginia
  5. 5. Notre Dame
  6. 6. NC St
  7. 7. Pitt

Well, in the fight over which conference is the best, I’d say there was great parity for a long time until the Big East just exploded (literally, in size) and was certainly the best conference for several years. Last year, following attrition and a spectacular Big Ten year, the Big Ten was probably the strongest league. But those debates will end in the near future, as the ACC will become the best conference.

Of course, such debates are silly considering that the teams that make up a conference float so much and offer little regional affiliation/pride that the conferences of 15 years ago did. This year might have some competition, but a strong-at-the-top (three teams in my top 13 plus Virginia is probably top 25) and ENORMOUS middle of the pack combine to make the ACC a tough challenge. The addition of Louisville next year (Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame arrive this year) will likely solidify the ACC as top hoops conference for the immediate future.

Let’s talk Virginia.

So having Tony Bennett (or anyone named Bennett) as your coach means you’ll be a tough competitive team. Having Tony Bennett as your coach with a legitimately talented team makes you very interesting. The Cavaliers return Joe Harris (the ACC’s leading returning scorer) and Akil Mitchel (the ACC’s leading returning rebounder). They also return Justin Anderson – a 6-6 southpaw who was a mega recruit last year and is undoubtedly the most talented player on the team. Add in Mike Tobey (6-11) and Anthony Gill (6-8) and you have talented bigs, both sophomores, who had very productive freshman years (Gill at South Carolina two years ago). I could have mapped out their lineup, but it’s on the edge, and I’m already on record-length pace. Good team. Best Virginia squad in some time.

Wake Forest: They won’t be good, but they have two talented sophomores – Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas – who could do some things.

Pittsburgh: They lost a lot of talent, but I always expect Jamie Dixon to put a good squad out. James Robinson is probably the main guy to watch, along with Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson. Nothing flashy here. Classic Pitt. In the ACC? Okay, I guess.

Notre Dame: This will be the most interesting Notre Dame has been (if you’re a backcourt guy like me, and not super into slogres like Harangody and Cooley) since Chris Thomas was there (and not that great). They return Jerian Grant, who’s cool to the point where I wonder how he possibly ended up in South Bend. Eric Atkins is the PG and he’s been there and starting for longer than Aaron Craft at Ohio St (well, the same length probably, which in both cases=forever). The big catch for Notre Dame is the addition of Demetrius Jackson, a McDonald’s All-American point. I saw him in that game, and he looked good. Very un-Notre Dame. This year’s Irish team is a good one to check.

NC State: Well, they were supposed to be wonderful last year and definitely disappointed (Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie, I’m specifically looking at you). But at least this year they had the stud freshmen coming back. And then Rodney Purvis transferred to UConn. But TJ Warren is still here, and I do expect him to be awesome this year. For real, All ACC awesome. To put it in perspective, TJ Warren and Anthony Bennett are almost the same person. Literally in high school they were indistinguishable to me. Both 6-8 men-children (plural of “man-child”?) with skill around and away from the basket. You could even argue that they had similarly successful freshman seasons, just Warren had a bunch of underachieving underclassmen ahead of him that Mark Gottfried wasn’t tough enough to remove. You get the picture. Warren is a beast, and I predict him to become a household name this year. The second guy to watch with the Wolfpack is Anthony Barber, a 20-25 freshman who’s a nasty athletic point guard. Nasty. I’m very very excited for his arrival. He’ll probably start with Tyler Lewis whose 5-11 list height would be like if I listed myself 6-3 (I’m 5-11 and three quarters). But he’s remarkably effective.  Ralston Turner has been at LSU the past few years and will likely jump right into a wing starting spot with NC St this year (next year they get Trevor Lacey, who was arguably Alabama’s best player last year). They’ve got another freshman, BeeJay Anya, who was always lingering around the top 50 in high school, although from what I saw, mostly because he was just bigger than most of his competition (6-9, 275). Definitely check out the Wolfpack for Warren and Barber, and they’ll probably win some surprising games this year.

Miami: Lost 90% of their scoring from last year, including Shane Larkin. In my family, we’d say “bei ju le.”

Maryland: I don’t expect them to be good, but they’ll be competitive. Nick Faust, Dez Wells, and Shaquille Cleare are all talented and interesting. They also have Roddy Peters, a 6-4 talented freshman (70-80 recruit).

Georgia Tech: The Wreck has a talented pair of sophomores. Provided no early departures, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter Jr. will help Georgia Tech win some big games next year…and maybe come close this year.

Boston College: Notable because they return everyone. Less notable because those five guys weren’t great last year. But one of them is Olivier Hanlan, who did 15ppg, 4rpg, 2apg as a freshman last year. Their PG in 2012-2013 was also a freshman (Joe Rahon – did 10, 3, 4). Worthy of keeping on the radar.

Big East

  1. 1. Marquette
  2. 2. Villanova
  3. 3. Creighton
  4. 4. Georgetown
  5. 5. St. John’s
  6. 6. Xavier
  7. 7. Butler (seriously, 7th? That’s how good this conference is)
  8. 8. Providence

I already hit Marquette, which is my pick to win the Big East (my new favorite conference for hoops loyalty). This will be a very competitive 10-team conference.

Butler loses three of their top guys, and their top top guy in Brad Stevens. I worry about them, but they still have a pretty talented team, led by Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham. Again, though, I’m worried about them.

All I need to say about Creighton is that Doug McDermott is still there (yes, he’s finally a senior). Here are his numbers from last year. 23.2ppg, 7.7 rpg, 54.8% FG, 49% 3pt, 87.5% FT. 23.2ppg on 14.4 FGA per game. Just stupid stats (and I should note that he shot over 60% from the field the year before to average 23 and 8 likewise).

Georgetown: The Hoyas have another of my favorite players in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Again, the hyphenated name shows that he comes from a progressive, feminist family, but he’s got that strong combo guard size and the balance, handles, and jumpshot to go with it that make him my ideal college player. I’m expecting him to blow up this year, and I’m excited to catch Georgetown games any chance I get. Add Markel Starks alongside him and you’ve got a great backcourt. This team actually returns everyone except Otto Porter (a big “except”). Who’s the biggest (literally) newcomer? Josh Smith – YES THAT JOSH SMITH. All 300 pounds of him and all of that would-be skill that amounted to nothing at UCLA. He should be eligible at Georgetown in December and is an oh-so intriguing – as well as entertaining – storyline for the revamped Big East’s first year.

Providence: I’m sad that Ricardo Ledo never made it (and instead took his talents to the second round of the NBA draft). But the other mega recruit from last year is a sophomore this year. Kris Dunn had a solid freshman season after fighting injuries for the early part of the year. It will be interesting to see how he develops. Providence also returns Bryce Cotton, the Big East’s leading returning scorer (20ppg, 4rpg, 3apg), giving them a great backcourt. Kadeem Batts is a nice big (6-9, 245) who did 15 and 8 last year. Providence could surprise some people. I think it’s the classic black and white unis, but I really am invested in Providence returning to the God Shammgod/Austin Croshere days. (and on that note, I just realized that God’s Gift plays in the same conference that God played in almost twenty years ago).

St. John’s: I gave away the God’s Gift reference one school too soon. Achiuwa is back after redshirting last year and I think he’ll be a strong inside force for the Red Storm. This team is a stellar idea team. The backcourt is absolutely loaded. Jamal Branch is my favorite cause he’s oh-so-smooth. He, D’Angelo Harrison, and freshman Rysheed Jordan were all top 30 recruits and are all 6-3 combo guard athletes. Add Phil Greene, who was less hyped, but has a similar build/skill set, and you’ve got a loaded backcourt. Sir’Dominic Pointer was a top 50 recruit, and he’s back on the wing. And inside they return God’s Gift, JaKarr Sampson (Big East Rookie of the Year after doing 15ppg and 6rpg last year), and Chris Obekpa, who led the nation in blocks as a freshman. So yes, the guy who led the NATION in blocks as a freshman is on the same team as (and plays the position next to) the guy who won the conference rookie of the year award. And there are at least 5-6 big time players around those two. Here’s the problem. They’ve never won. And Steve Lavin is their coach, who, if you’ll remember, amassed stupid (much more so than this) amounts of talent at UCLA in the late 90s and didn’t do much with it. So I’m skeptical. But this team is so talented and hasn’t been relevant for years, that they simply HAVE to be a national sleeper.  If Branch improves his jumper, if Harrison improves his, well, brain, if the sophomores make the big 1st to 2nd year leap, if God’s Gift lives up to his name…this could be a very good team.

Seton Hall: I’m mentioning them for two reasons: 1) Fuquan Edwins is a good player and will do great things this year. 2) Jaren Sina (yes, the guy who dropped his NU commitment after we fired Carmody) is expected to be a serious contributor. We’ll see what we missed. I’m not too worried.

Villanova – they’re good enough (and have my heart enough) for the lineup breakdown.

PG – Ryan Arcidiacono
SG – Darrun Hillliard
SG – James Bell
SF – JayVaughn Pinkston
C – Daniel Ochefu

Bench: Kris Jenkins, Tony Chennault, Dylan Ennis, Darryl Reynolds

Arcidiacono is nice. I see him in the NBA in the next couple years. A 6-3 guard who’s a good-not-great athlete with serious shooting range and a great feel for the game. He’ll be a star this year (sophomore) and every other year he stays at Nova. Hilliard and Bell are very experienced and solid. Neither is a star, but both can shoot and will average right around 10-12 ppg. Pinkston will be the other primary option alongside Arcidiacono. He’s a big (6-7, 240) but very skilled combo forward type who could also blow up this year. And Ochefu will take over for Mouphtaou Yarou in the middle. Ochefu was a top 40 recruit who had notable contributions as a freshman and I expect him to ably step into Yarou’s shoes this year. In sum, Nova won 20 games last year and earned a 9 seed in the dance — much better than I expected. And I expect them to be much, much better this year. Kris Jenkins is their top recruit this year, and he’s the type (6-6, 240 with skill) who is ALWAYS underrated severely. He looks like he’ll be a beast in college, probably as a SF (he can shoot, handle, moves well for size), maybe as soon as this year. Arcidiacono and Pinkston have star potential, and both of them really played their first serious ball last year. Big improvements for this year. I won’t make any crazy predictions, but I’ll put them in the top 25.

Xavier: X returns three starters, one of whom – Semaj Christon – is projected to be a lottery pick next year. I admittedly didn’t see much of him, but he’s a 6-3 PG who’s very athletic and did 15ppg and 5apg as a freshman last year. He alone makes X must see TV.

Big 12

Yes, the Big 12 has ten teams, the Big 10 has twelve (and fourteen soon enough), but part of me likes the continuity of names amidst the non-continuity of everything else.

  1. 1. Kansas
  2. 2. Oklahoma St.
  3. 3. Baylor
  4. 4. Iowa St.
  5. 5. Kansas St.

Baylor: Baylor is always one of the most interesting schools to tune in to. They always have NBA talent, and they are always inexplicably enigmatic. This is a very talented team. Talented enough to make my top 25 and get a breakdown.

PG – Kenny Chery
SG – Brady Heslip
SF – Ish Wainwright
PF – Cory Jefferson
C – Isaiah Austin

Bench: Rico Gathers, Allerik Freeman, Taurean Prince, Gary Franklin

Kenny Chery is a top Juco transfer, so he’s definitely a bit of an unknown. From Youtube, he’s real quick with a nice floater, but I wouldn’t trust myself to say much more. The rest of the squad (including the bench) is known. And good.

Heslip is the solid steady guy who can shoot and feels like he’s been there forever. Jefferson and Austin are the two guys projected to be first round NBA picks last year who came back. Wainwright is a 6-5, 245 truly skilled SF freshman who’s a top 40 guy and earning rave reviews all over the place. He seems like the type who will offset any Perry Jones syndrome that Isaiah Austin might have caught. He’s huge, skilled, and athletic. Another highly ranked, but probably severely underrated freshman. And one viewer attached the following comment to his highlight film: “He looks like one of those carved faces from Easter Island.” I don’t really know what that means, but I kind of like it.

Rico Gathers was a big time recruit who did 6 and 6 last year as a freshman and should be ready for big time contributions this year (he’s 6-8, 270). Freeman is another big time freshman who is a 6-3 combo guard who can handle and shoot. He’s a scoring machine and could jump into the starting lineup if Baylor needs more aggressive firepower. Prince is a talented soph who should be much better this year. This is a potentially very good team, but a lot depends on what happens at PG. How good is Kenny Chery? Gary Franklin is another option at the point. He was a top 100 recruit way back who went to Cal before transferring to Waco (no David Koresh references this year, I’m over it…or does this count?) who has never really lived up, but he’s a great insurance policy.

Iowa State: They’re always super interesting as well because they’re a transfer factory. Chris Allen and Korie Lucious (both Michigan St) are gone now, but DeAndrew Kane, a senior who averaged 15ppg and 4.4 rpg over his career at Marshall, is in town. But Fred Hoiberg is changing the culture a bit, and his best player is probably Georges Niang who should be ready to blow up after doing 12ppg and 5rpg as a freshman last year. And the future gets brighter. Two big-time freshmen will be in Ames this year – both in the backcourt. Check out Monte Morris and Matt Thomas, both consensus top 100 guys who look kind of nice.

Kansas St and Oklahoma are mostly notable because they’re coached by Illinois cast-offs Bruce Weber and Lon Kruger. K St has been good for a while, but they lost a lot and I don’t know how excited I am about who’s coming back. They’ve had a culture of winning though – if Weber can maintain that, they’ll be competitive.

Texas: Haha. What to say? They were very talented last year and went 16-18. This year they’re less talented, but still have big-time guys like Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley. Those guys and most of the rest of their best players are all sophomores. So was it a case of bad chemistry and youth that will go away this year as the three leading scorers all are gone and the core of the team are now sophomores? Or is it really just a case of Rick Barnes that isn’t going away? I still remember having a hard time going all the way with the Kevin Durant hype; how could such a transcendental talent not win in college? Oh yeah. Rick Barnes.

TCU: Two notables. 1) Karviar Shepherd – cool name, top 50 recruit for TCU. Big time. 6-10, 225 cat is TCU’s highest rated recruit ever. 2) Hudson Price is a freshman at TCU. His dad’s name is Mark. Yes, that Mark.

Texas Tech: Tubby Smith is their coach. First year in Lubbock – good luck Tubby!

West Virginia: They really struggled last year. Strange from a team that I expect (like Pitt) to be always good via grittiness. I expect them to rebound. They have a top 40 freshman in Devin Williams to get hopes up for the future.

Big 10

  1. 1. Michigan St.
  2. 2. Ohio St.
  3. 3. Michigan
  4. 4. Wisconsin
  5. 5. Indiana
  6. 6. Iowa
  7. 7. Purdue
  8. 8. Illinois
  9. 9. Minnesota
  10. 10. Northwestern
  11. 11. Penn State

The B1G is good. Really good. The Big Ten/ACC challenge should be great this year. I think the ACC has more good teams (having more teams as a whole helps), but the top is pretty even and the Big Ten is better at the bottom (for what that’s worth).

Illinois: For the first time in forever, we have an Illini squad not led by Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson – both big time recruits who, unfortunately, had disappointing careers overall. Last year was John Groce’s first year as coach, and this year there’s a new wave of talent taking over (including several hyped freshmen, Groce’s first class) making the Illini both a huge question mark and a very interesting team to catch. The notable returnees are Joseph Bertrand (6-6, bouncy 2), Tracy Abrams (11ppg 3apg as PG last year), and Nnanna Egwu (What’s more impressiveà 6-11, 250 or 4 N’s in his first name?). All are talented and will be major contributors this year. Add in top 35 and 60 recruits Kendrick Nunn (Robin to Jabari Parker’s Batman at Simeon the last few years) and Malcolm Hill, and transfers Rayvonte Rice, a 6-4, 230lb shooting guard who averaged 17ppg for Drake two years ago before transferring, and Ahmad Starks, a 5-9 PG who did 10.4ppg at Oregon St, and you have a talented and deep backcourt…with minimal experience playing together. Austin Colbert is a top 70 recruit who is lined up to back up Jon Ekey (Illinois State transfer) at the 4. The Illini will probably pull a few upsets, but I don’t see them straying outside the middle of the Big Ten pack. This is a good conference.

Indiana: Indiana is an extremely interesting watch this year for many years, but the two most prominent are Yogi (Kevin) Ferrell and Noah Vonleh. Ferrell ran the show last year but definitely deferred to Watkins, Oladipo, Zeller, and co. This year, he’ll probably be the man, and when little, athletic, skilled dudes are the man, it’s much fun to watch. Vonleh could share some of that “the man” label – he was a unanimous top 10 recruit (who somehow isn’t getting nearly the preseason hype he should) who turned down just about everywhere to play at Indiana. My initial glimpses of him remind me of Tristan Thompson. 6-9, very athletic, great motor, good (not great) skill for a big.

I remember two years ago when Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey were pretty much the same person. Then Sheehey stayed that same person the next year while Oladipo played himself into the #2 pick in the draft. Well, now Sheehey will be the primary scorer from the wing for the Hoosiers. I think he’ll do well, but his lack of progression from sophomore year to junior year was disappointing. Either Jeremy Hollowell or Hanner Mosquera-Perea should start with Vonleh up front. Both were top 60 recruits (Perea was top 25 but slipped) last year who didn’t get much time with the loaded Indiana squad last year, but will be major contributors this year. Perea is a raw physical athlete; Holloway reminds me of Christian Watford (less athletic, more skilled than Perea). Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams, and Evan Gordon are the three to watch on the wings with Sheehey. Robinson and Williams are both top 40 freshman. I like Robinson – 6-4 SG with a smooth southpaw J. Williams is bouncy - think Rodney Williams from Minnesota the last few years. He’s not that bouncy, but a serious athlete. Indiana is getting more and more interesting. Good work Tom Crean! And yes, Evan Gordon is Eric Gordon’s little brother. Evan did 10ppg at Arizona St two years ago before sitting out last year as a transfer.

There’s still a lot of talent in Indiana, but a lot of it is young. They’ll be fun to watch. This looks like my favorite Indiana team. Ever. (Knowing me that’s not saying that much, but I do like them.)

Iowa: Wow, the Big Ten is GOOD! Roy Devyn Marble (the son of Roy Marble, Iowa’s star from the glory years of Iowa hoops when I was a kid in the late 80s) is their go to, and he’s the #2 returning scorer in the conference. He’s a 6-6 wing with skill. I like him! They return Aaron White at the 4, who did 13ppg and 6rpg last year and Adam Woodbury who did 5 and 5 as a 7-1 top 50 freshman last year. It could be a big big year for the big big kid. Mike Gesell was the freshman starter at the point and he’ll be better. Their backup in the backcourt last year was Anthony Clemmons, also a sophomore now. Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe are both 6-7 muscly seniors who were serious contributors last year, and they add Jarrod Uthoff who is getting a lot of hype for Iowa (if you took John Shurna and made his game smooth and pretty, you’d get this kid). They lost the NIT title game last year and return all key contributors, many of whom were freshmen. They’ll be seriously dangerous.

Minnesota: Like Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Penn State, Minnesota has the misfortune of playing in the Big Ten this year (and the past few years). They’ve got a good team, but they’ll struggle in this conference. They’ve got the Hollins not-brothers in the backcourt, which is a great start. Andre will get NBA looks. Austin might too. Malik Smith transferred in after averaging 15ppg at Florida International two years back. That’s three double figure scorers in the backcourt. They’ll have two absolute monsters start up front most like, juniors Maurice Walker and Elliot Eliason (6-10 290 and 6-11 260, respectively). Plus, they’ve got little Rick Pitino at coach. Definitely an interesting team. I’m rooting for Richard and company.

Nebraska: Note I didn’t include them in the first sentence about Minnesota. It’s because they’re not good. But, they have an (potential, pending NCAA clearance) interesting freshman – Tai Webster – from New Zealand who some scouts think would have been a top 50 recruit had he been American. They’ll be bad regardless. The best news for Nebraska is that Rutgers will join them at the bottom of the Big Ten next year.

Northwestern: We had an AWESOME feel-good start to the season when James Montgomery got a scholarship. That might be the peak of our season. Chris Collins brings a new energy (and he’s had the good fortune of being in a picture with me and EEP at the homecoming game) so I’m optimistic about what the future holds. This year we just don’t have enough – especially in the frontcourt. Sobolewski, Cobb, Crawford, and Demps give us pretty good talent (especially for NU) in the backcourt. That’s a legit B1G backcourt. The frontcourt is more of a problem. I’m hoping that Kale (I HAVE THE CHILD!!!!), Sanjay Lumpkin, and Alex Olah will show marked improvement (and health for Sanjay) from last year. If they do and we stay healthy, I think we’ll make the NIT. We’ll finish 9th, 10th, or 11th in conference, but probably would be a bubble team in most other conferences (but still not make it).

Penn St: DJ Newbill averaged 16ppg, 5prg, and 4apg as a 6-4 sophomore. Those are Randy Foye numbers. Now he’s a junior. I’m just saying. And Tim Frazier who also did 16ppg, 5rpg, and 4apg but got hurt early last year is coming back. That’s a good backcourt. They’ll be surprisingly good, but still lose most of the time.

Purdue: Somehow went 8-10 in conference last year and return four starters and add a transfer who did 9.7ppg two years ago. Two of those starters – Ronnie Johnson and AJ Hammons – were major recruits who should be ready to star as sophomores. People are already putting AJ Hammons (7-0 260) as a future lottery pick. Terrone Johnson, Ronnie’s older brother was all conference last year and is their senior leader. I know I’m not supposed to like Purdue, but this team is going to be better than people think.

Wisconsin: Honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s on their team, because they’re always good. No coach in the country is more impressive to me than Bo Ryan. Having said that, Sam Dekker is the highest recruit ever to play at Wisconsin (at least since 1995 when I started following recruiting heavily) and he’ll be a sophomore this year after averaging nearly double figures as a freshman. He’s also projected as a 2015 lottery pick. Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, and Traevon Jackson form a super experienced backcourt (Sr, Jr, Jr), Frank Kaminsky looks like he’ll be ready to elevate his game too (he’s 6-11 and very important for them inside), and Bronson Koenig (6-3 guard with offers from Duke, UNC, and Virginia) and Nigel Hayes (6-7, turned down Ohio St) are both top 100 freshmen. Good team, just off the elite in the Big Ten, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish above some of those big three (Michigan, MSU, and OSU).

Conference USA

I’m only listing Conference USA because in its heyday it was truly a power conference (one of my favorites) on par with anyone, and people seem to forget that. Unfortunately, it’s not powerful at all anymore. But of note for true junkies – Tulsa and UAB have former Jayhawks (albeit of disparate talent levels) for head coaches – Danny Manning and Jerod Haase, respectively. Remember Haase? He was the shooting guard and third leading scorer on the loaded 97 squad featuring Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard, Raef Lafrentz, and Paul Pierce.

Pac-12

  1. 1. Arizona
  2. 2. Washington
  3. 3. UCLA
  4. 4. Colorado
  5. 5. Stanford

Arizona St.: Jahii Carson by himself makes ASU a must watch squad whenever they’re on TV (east-coasters, you’ll have to scour, and it will be worth it). He’s a hyper talented 5-10 PG who did 18.5ppg and 5apg as a freshman last year. He came in as a huge recruit and is a great athlete and a great player. All-America candidate and likely to bounce to the NBA after this year. Plus, Jermaine Marshall, who did 15ppg at Penn State two years ago is eligible to play alongside Jahii this year. That’s a high-scoring backcourt. Down low they’ve got Jordan Bachynski, who’s 7-2 and did 10 and 6 last year. Not a bad three-man start.

Cal: My hometown team for one last season! Two big time hoopers (Justin Cobb – 15ppg and 5 apg last year and Jabari Bird, top 20 recruit from the SG position) and two fun relatives (Roger Moute a Bidias and Kameron Rooks, brother of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and son of Sean Rooks, respectively). They actually return everyone but Allen Crabbe essentially. Their frontcourt isn’t ballyhooed by any means (and who uses the word “ballyhooed”?), but Richard Solomon and David Kravish are big and experienced.

Colorado: This will probably be the best Colorado team since Chauncey was in Boulder in 1997. That was also the last time (before last year) that the Buffaloes were ranked at any point during the season. They have a great backcourt – Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 28ppg, 7rpg, and 5apg last year. They also are the only backcourt in history with the names Askia and Spencer. (I haven’t checked that, but it has to be true.) People are projected Dinwiddie (who has a nice ‘stache,’ Movember or not) to be a mid first round draft pick next year as a 6-6 PG. Colorado had two top 100 recruits last year who both had promising freshman years and are ready, after starting for a full year, to make that big jump to sophomore year. Xavier Johnson is the bouncy 3 man and Josh Scott is their inside guy. Both are very talented. They did lose NBA draft pick Andre Roberson, but they return everyone else and the four returning starters went from being freshmen and sophomore to being sophomores and juniors – big jumps.

Oregon has some interesting-ness to them this year. Dominic Artis (who just got suspended for “selling team-issued gear” …this sounds like an argument for the players should get paid position) is a sophomore who I think will do seriously big things for the Ducks this year and as long as he stays on campus. He’ll be one of the best PGs in the Pac 12 and maybe in the nation. If UNLV transfer Mike Moser is healthy and Houston transfer Joseph Young is eligible – and both transfer their production from two years ago (combined 32ppg and 10rpg), Oregon will have a truly dynamic 1-2-3. And I didn’t even mention Damyean Dotson, who is a 6-5 SG sophomore who started and averaged 11ppg and 3.5rpg as a freshman. The problem is the frontcourt – Oregon lost four major frontcourt contributors who all averaged between 9 and 12ppg last year. Moser should help, as should Jordan Bell, a 6-8 freshman ranked in the top 70, and maybe Elgin Cook – Alvin Robertson’s son – who was a top juco player last year.

Oregon St. doesn’t look like they’ll be good, but gotta give shout-outs to Roberto Nelson, a 6-3 senior who is the second leading returning scorer in the conference, and Craig Robinson, who’s Michelle Obama’s brother.

Stanford could be in for one of their best years in a long while – excluding years where very tall identical twins played in Palo Alto. That statement is funny because Stanford actually does have a pair of identical twins this year in freshmen Marcus and Malcolm Allen, but they’re guards. I digress – Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell are probably All-Conference players, Josh Huestis and Aaron Bright averaged right around 10ppg each last year, and sophomore Rosco Allen is tall, skilled and came in last year with a lot of hype.

UCLA: For as much hate as UCLA (and Shabazz Muhammad) pulled in last year, they did win the regular season Pac-12 championship and 25 games overall. Now Shabazz is in Minnesota not playing and Larry Drew has the unfortunate experience of being on some of the most disliked UNC and UCLA teams of all time. But UCLA returns everyone else. In the frontcourt, the Wear twins are back, and while neither is a stud, both can contribute, and both are tall with some skill. I never was into the Kyle Anderson craze, but he did average 10ppg, 9rpg, 3.5apg, 2spg, and 1bpg. Not bad for a 6-9 freshman point guard/forward. I also was sour on Jordan Adams from what I saw in high school, which was essentially a less talented OJ Mayo – lots and lots of bad shots, clearly with the ability to make them, but disastrous for a team effort. I didn’t see many full UCLA games with him healthy, so maybe he got that out of his system in high school (but remember that he played for Oak Hill and had a very talented team…he definitely didn’t have to score, he was the 3rd or 4th option). I do like Norman Powell – he’s got shades of Russell Westbrook in him, and freshman Zach Levine has CRAZY bounce and not the prettiest form, but his rep is that he can shoot. The other two who will probably get serious run are Tony Parker, a top 25 recruit last year who should come into his own as a sophomore – he’ll be the muscle down low (sorry, David and Travis…you’re not the muscle), and Bryce Alford, new coach Steve’s son (Bryce’s older brother Kory will walk-on). I think UCLA could be pretty good, and I’m not hearing a lot of hype about them. We’ll see how it plays out!

I don’t expect USC to be particularly good, but they somehow went 9-9 in conference last season (after a disastrous 5-9 non-conference opening) and it will be interesting to see how Andy Enfield (Florida Gulf Coast) does bringing Dunk City west. He might need a couple years…and who knows – he’s the product of one hugely successful NCAA tournament run. He could be the next coaching star, or completely out of mind in just a few years.

Keep an eye on the development of Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Tayler at Utah. Both had strong freshman campaigns and could make big strides as sophomores. But don’t worry too much about keeping an eye on the Utes. I can’t see them doing much.

Washington is must-see TV because of its backcourt. CJ Wilcox is a probably NBA first round (late) draft pick. He’s a prototypical shooting guard with a beautiful J and good athleticism. Nigel Williams-Goss is a freshman who will be the team’s best player (although Wilcox will be the scoring leader). I saw a lot of Williams-Goss through his high school play with Findlay Prep, in HS all star games, and for Team USA under-19 last summer. This is about the headiest floor general I’ve seen in a long long time. He won’t blow anyone away with explosiveness, but he’s athletic enough and has the size to take Washington places, and himself to the NBA draft (probably not for a year or two, as he’s an academic guy…he almost picked Harvard – McDonald’s All Americans NEVER consider places like Harvard). They’ve got one of the many Shawn Kemp Jr’s out there starting in their frontcourt and Desmond Simmons has a lot of experience and some ability too. This is my surprise team, thanks mostly to the leadership of Williams-Goss.

SEC

  1. 1. Kentucky
  2. 2. Florida
  3. 3. Tennessee
  4. 4. LSU
  5. 5. Alabama

The SEC is an interesting conference because, despite the presence of two of the very strongest programs in the current college basketball landscape, the majority of the conference has severely underperformed the last few years. There’s a lot of optimism this year. We’ll see!

Alabama: They were really in position to be strong this year until star sophomore Trevor Lacey pulled a surprise move and transferred to NC State. Worse, former McDonad’s All American and super recruit Devonte Pollard got arrested for conspiracy to kidnap and dropped out of school. Dang. The good news is that all-around leader, combo-guard Trevor Releford is back, as are his backcourt tandem of Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph. All three can really play, and this year they have a lot of experience (one Sr and two Jrs). The frontcourt lost a lot, but Nick Jacobs was a solid 6th man for them last year and they have two top 100 recruits (6-10 Jimmie Taylor and 6-8 Shannon Hale) coming in. I predict a quality team firmly on the NCAA bubble.

Arkansas: Just like Alabama, Arkansas was primed for a big year this year, and then two players left who shouldn’t have left. Although it doesn’t make a difference for the Arkansas basketball team this year, at least their reasons were better. (Even a bad decision to go pro is better than a bad decision to kidnap someone, right? Too soon? Never appropriate? I’ll work on that.) As it stands, Arkansas minus BJ Young and Marshawn Powell will be a shell of what could have been, but they’re still worth keeping up with because top 15 freshman Bobby Portis is there, and the top Arkansas recruit since Joe Johnson or even Corliss Williamson. Moses Kingsley has a great name, and he was a top 60 recruit as well. Furthermore, watch the 30 for 30 on Nolan Richardson, and you’ll be a huge Mike Anderson (Nolan’s protégé) fan, and then you’ll have more reasons to tune in to the Razorbacks this year and beyond. I’ll be cheering for them for sure.

Auburn will be a mess this year – most likely – but keep an eye on KT Harrell, a former big-time recruit who transferred in from Virginia and is eligible this year. He’s a 6-4 athlete…my favorite.

LSU: It should be a good year for LSU. They lost only two rotation players and bring back four double figure scorers who will be joined by Jarell Martin (top 15), Jordan Mickey (top 60), and Tim Quarterman (top 75). The three freshmen will be big, especially Martin, who could be in the NBA quickly. But Quarterman intrigues me because he’s a 6-6 spidery combo guard – always fun. The starting backcourt is 5-10 and 5-11, respectively, but both Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are upperclassmen and have had some success. And let’s be real, a sub 6 ft backcourt is loads of fun (especially with spidery 6-6 backing them up). Johnny O’Bryant was Jarell Martin two years ago, a 6-9 beast of a McDonald’s All American, but he’s still around and should be first team All SEC this year. LSU has been off the radar the past few years, but they could sneak back into the national picture this year.

Ole Miss: Will Marshall Henderson stay on the court? He got in trouble quite a bit this summer and is suspended for the first three games of the season. When he is on the court, what will he do? No one knows the answer to that question, which is part of his “charm.” My prediction? He’ll play in most games, average 16ppg on 35% shooting. Ole Miss will seriously struggle with the loss of Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner, and Nick Williams, and finish well outside the NCAA tournament conversation.

Missouri: They lose a lot from last year, including the most unfortunate NBA departure of Phil Pressey, one of my favorites to watch last year. Maybe worse, coach Frank Haith is suspended for the first five games of the season for not creating an atmosphere of “compliance” with the NCAA while he was at Miami? What? Anyway, they do return Jabari Brown, who averaged 14ppg last year after transferring in from Oregon (where has was a top 20 recruit). He could put up serious numbers for them this year. He’s a talent and worth catching. Earnest Ross will be a solid player for them as well, and I’m excited to see 6-0 freshman Wesley Clark, a top 50 recruit coming in who should step into Phil Pressey’s shoes.

South Carolina probably won’t be too good, but they have a couple interesting pieces in top 50 recruit Sindarius Thornwell (great name) and former top 50 recruit Tyrone Johnson (Villanova transfer). And OMG, USC (the east coast version) has two of the most interesting progeny on the roster. First is Reggie Theus Jr, and second is Justin McKie, the son of BJ McKie, USC’s baller in the late 90s. I LOVED BJ McKie (he currently is #21 on my all-time favorite college basketball player list – #21 all time!) and when I read that Justin McKie was on the roster, I had to find out if that was his little brother. And then I learned that Justin is BJ’s son. And then I felt old.

Tennessee: Tennessee should be pretty good this year – not enough to challenge the top two spots in the SEC, but good enough to top the rest of the conference (it really is a race for 3rd). The Vols return their two best players in Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes, the latter of whom will probably be a first round draft pick after this year. Josh Richardson is their best defender and he’s back for his junior year. Jeronne Maymon was an all-conference pick two years ago before being hurt all last year. They also bring in top 40 recruit Robert Hubbs III and Memphis transfer (well, graduated and now a grad student at UT) Antonio Barton. Another freshman is AJ Davis – Antonio Davis’s son. Yep, that’s that feeling again. I think they’ll be back in the Dance this year and have the talent to win a couple games (not counting the faux “first” round). Good enough for third in the SEC.

Vanderbilt: The biggest shock in my life was when I picked up a college basketball preview four years ago and saw that the #17 recruit in the high school junior class had committed to Northwestern. That recruit was Dai-Jon Parker, who in fact never committed to Northwestern, but had them on his list until he picked Vanderbilt. He’s a junior now and hasn’t lived up to the hype, but he’s expected to this year. Vandy won’t be good.

Others

VCU: I’m ranking them in the top 25 pre-season but with my (inappropriate, I know) emphasis on high school recruiting, I invariably know less of them than I do of other teams. I have, however, watched them play enough the past few years to build an intense appreciation of Shaka Smart and their program. And VCU was good last year, and they return their two best players, three of their top four leading scorers from last year, and bring in some impressive newcomers. The big names here are Treveon Graham (15 and 6 last year from the wing) and Juvonte Reddic (15 and 8 from the post). One of their freshmen – Jordan Burgess – was a top 100 recruit (huge for VCU) last year and sat out as a partial qualifier. He’s eligible now. VCU will be better this year than they were last year. And that’s really good.

Dayton: I’m mentioning them for the fact that Jordan Sibert – a big time recruit who transferred out of Ohio St – is eligible for Dayton this year. He could do big things.

George Washington: My bias for recruiting and major conferences emerges again: Isaiah Armwood (Villanova) and Maurice Creek (Indiana) are former big time recruits becoming eligible this year.

BYU: BYU grabbed the two best players from the Lone Peak high school team that was a monster the last few years: Nick Emery and Eric Mika. Of course, only Mika will be in uniform this fall as Emery is about to start his two-year mission (UNC, UCLA, and Kansas all went after Emery). Mika’s a top 50 recruit as well (epic in BYU recruiting standards – #28 in ESPN rankings) and should be a serious force for BYU sooner than later (although his mission will start next year…three years from now these two will be great together). BYU also returns Tyler Haws, a 6-5 SG who averaged 21.7ppg and 4.6rpg. He’s only a junior, so expect gargantuan numbers this year and next. Kyle Collinsworth is a 6-6 guard who started in 2011 before his mission and is back now. They’ll challenge (unsuccessfully) Gonzaga in the WCC.

Gonzaga: Gonzaga will have one of the best backcourts in the country with Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Providence transfer Gerard Coleman all in Spokane. Unfortunately, the frontcourt is completely new as Elias Harris finally graduated and Kelly Olynyk came out of nowhere to be a lottery pick. Notable is that they have two 7-1, 300 pound bigs (one of whom, Przemek Karnowski, contributed a bit as a freshman last year) and little John (David) Stockton is now a senior. Sam Dower is the returning frontcourt contributor, and in my first true cheating of this preview (taking this season’s early games into account), he did 21 and 17 in their first game. Pangos and Bell especially are talented (and decently cool), making Gonzaga a strong team yet again. Better, both Pangos and Bell are juniors with hopefully no early NBA ambitions.

Wichita St: It speaks pretty strongly of the Missouri Valley Conference that they lost 6 conference games, finished 2nd in the MVC and then went to the Final Four. Very strongly. Their best player last year was probably Cleanthony Early and he’s back again (and a potential NBA player). They did lose a lot – three key rotation players – but some talent comes back. And most importantly WSU shows that the Shaq babies are still coming – evidenced by Shocker freshman Shaquille Morris (6-7, 282). No Final Four, but they’ll be very good and a likely tourney team.

UNLV: They were my pre-dance sleeper team last year due to their immense, under-the-radar talent. And then they lost in the first round, but Anthony Bennett’s surprising #1 overall selection kind of justifies my claim, right? Well, they lost a lot of that talent (Bennett, Katin Reinhardt transferred to USC, Mike Moser transferred to Oregon), but still are pretty loaded. Khem Birch was a massive recruit (top 15) out of high school and he’s had a couple quiet years (freshman year at Pitt), but I expect serious strides this year. He should be the man in Las Vegas. Savon Goodman was a top 100 recruit last year and should be a solid contributor this year, on his way to potentially All-Conference honors in another year or two. Their leading returning scorer from last year is 6-5 SG Bryce Dejean-Jones, a former USC transfer who will be the primary wing scoring option. The two REALLY interesting pieces though are Roscoe Smith (yep, 6-8 SF who was a top 30 recruit and started for the 2011 UConn national title team) and Jelan Kendrick, a 6-7 SG who’s supremely talented (former top 15 recruit) but hasn’t exactly entrenched himself anywhere (he’s been in and out of Memphis and Ole Miss before playing last year at Juco power Indian Hills). And on that note, when I did a YouTube search for his Indian Hills highlights, the first video is of a brawl. I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin. Super interesting team for sure.

New Mexico: The Mountain West will probably come down to New Mexico and UNLV. There are two primary players of note at New Mexico. The first is Kendall Williams, the 6-4 PG who was conference player of the year last year. Notable is that New Mexico had another guard last year who was not conference player of the year, but WAS a first round NBA draft pick (Tony Snell). The Lobos also bring back Alex Kirk, a 7-0 junior who did 12ppg and 8rpg last year. That will be a tough combination of skill and size at important positions for anyone in the country to match. Freshman Cullen Neal was a top 100 recruit who is the new coach’s (Bye Steve!) son.

San Diego St: Steve Fischer has a strong program in a nice location. Following in the path of Kawhi Leonard and Jamaal Franklin, he pulls essentially one top 100 recruit per year who usually blows up and then is a first round draft pick. Next in line are sophomore Winston Shepherd and freshman Dakari Allen.

Wyoming: They’re not supposed to be particularly good, but they’re notable because Larry Nance, Jr. is a third-year player for the Cowboys.

UC Irvine: Somehow they got a top 100 recruit, and he bears mention because he’s 7-5: Mamadou Ndiaye. (Didn’t Auburn have a player of the same name in the late 90s?)

Long Island: Senior Julian Boyd is pre-season conference player of the year in the Northeast Conference. Ju Ju stand up!

And for those who made it this far, a recap of the top 33 teams (the number of teams I deemed worth of a rank)

1. Kentucky
2. Kansas
3. Duke
4. Arizona
5. Michigan St.
6. Louisville
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma St.
9. Ohio St.
10. Michigan
11. Syracuse
12. North Carolina
13. Marquette
14. Memphis
15. Wisconsin
16. UConn
17. Villanova
18. VCU
19. Baylor
20. Virginia
21. Washington
22. Indiana
23. UCLA
24. Colorado
25. Gonzaga
26. Iowa
27. Tennessee
28. Notre Dame
29. LSU
30. Wichita St
31. Georgetown
32. Stanford
33. Iowa St.

And the first 32 picks of the 2014 NBA draft

  1. 1. Julius Randle
  2. 2. Andrew Wiggins
  3. 3. Jabari Parker
  4. 4. Aaron Gordon
  5. 5. Marcus Smart
  6. 6. Dante Exum (all college guys save him, but he was INCREDIBLE when I saw him)
  7. 7. Wayne Selden
  8. 8. James Young
  9. 9. Andrew Harrison
  10. 10. Gary Harris
  11. 11. Joel Embiid
  12. 12. TJ Warren
  13. 13. Kasey Hill
  14. 14. Mitch McGary
  15. 15. Rodney Hood
  16. 16. Willie Cauley-Stein
  17. 17. Isaiah Austin
  18. 18. Semaj Christon
  19. 19. Aaron Harrison
  20. 20. Adreian Payne
  21. 21. Glenn Robinson III
  22. 22. James Michael McAdoo
  23. 23. Cory Jefferson
  24. 24. Spencer Dinwiddie
  25. 25. Alex Poythress
  26. 26. PJ Hairston
  27. 27. Kyle Anderson
  28. 28. LeBryan Nash
  29. 29. Jahii Carson
  30. 30. Johnnie O’Bryant
  31. 31. Cleanthony Early
  32. 32. Markel Brown

(Disclaimer: I finished this the weekend after the first games, but before the Tuesday Duke-Kansas and Kentucky-Michigan St games happened, and I’ll say that both played out as I expected.)

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