After a STELLAR National Championship game between Butler and UCONN, which by the way was amazingly predicted within 2 points by the Drunk-English mother of an ESPN producer, I immediately (like the loser I am) started to think about what teams will be vying for the crown in the 2011-2012 season. The following list will take into account probable NBA departures:
1.) Louisville: Surprised? Don’t be. Louisville is one of the youngest teams in America and was able to get to 25 wins and to a Big East Tournament Final this past season. The Cardinals are numero uno because of their returning speed, experience, and top rated freshman class (SG Wayne Blackshear, PF Chane Behanan, C Zach Price).
2.) North Carolina: This prediction is based on the premise that both John Henson and Tyler Zeller come back next season (Harrison Barnes is all but gone IMO). The emergence of PG Kendall Marshall really propelled this team to a late season run when cry baby Larry Drew left the team. Next season I expect a more consistent out of conference performance by the Tar Heels and fully expect them to earn a #1 seed come next March.
3.) Kentucky: We all know the story by now: early departures followed by an awesome incoming class of freshman. No one takes advantage of the “one and done” system better than John Calipari. I fully expect Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones to make the leap to the NBA, but the incoming class of PG Marquise Teague and SF Michael Gilchrist should help ease that pain and once again have Kentucky competing for a National Championship.
4.) Dook: I’m not a Carolina fan but my hate for Duke is starting to come back thanks to the Fab Five Documentary and UM’s two-point loss to them in the tournament. Anyways, this team is going to have a trio of Plumlees (yes there will be 3 of them now thanks to incoming freshman Marshall Plumlee) and a trio of guards that can shoot the lights out in Curry, Dawkins, and No. 1 overall recruit Austin Rivers. In other words, although Duke will be losing Singler, Smith, and Irving (yes he’s going), they will reload and be right back in number 1 seed territory next March.
5.) Syracuse: Besides having the player with the best name in college basketball, Fab Melo, this team returns a lot of experience to an already good team. They lose a primary scorer in Rick Jackson, but should be able to grow as a team and put their suffocating 2-3 zone into full effect come next season. Ummm… It snows a lot in Syracuse (that’s all I got).
6.) Ohio State: This ranking is based upon the assumption that Jared Sullinger and William Buford are both coming back next year. I have my doubts about Buford’s plans but if he does return, this team will be right back in the mix. I do think the loss of Diebler, Lighty, and Lauderdale will hurt them way more than people realize. However, the talent they return combined with the solid incoming class should put the Buckeyes back on top in the Big Ten. (NOTE: Thad, did you see how many players UCONN played in the NC Game??? You may want to consider lengthening your bench next season).
7.) UCONN: The defending champs have to be in the top ten, right? UCONN should be pretty good next year despite losing Kemba, thanks to the emergence of Jeremy Lamb. With Lamb taking over Walker’s role and the everlasting size that UCONN seems to have every year, don’t count them out just yet.
8.) Memphis: Memphis brings back almost everyone from a team who came minutes away from beating a tough Arizona team in the first round of the tournament. The Conference USA schedule will assist them to a 25 plus win season and they will find themselves in contention for a 2-3 seed if they can pick up some big out of conference victories.
9.) Texas: I had to put a Big 12 team in the top ten because lets face it, that’s how the rankings work. You may be surprised by Kansas not being the first Big 12 team mentioned, but I think this is a do or die year for Rick Barnes to prove he can coach up some talent. So, with SF Jordan Hamilton and C Tristan Thompson promising they will be back, UT should be the most talented team in the Big 12. Is Kevin Durant supposed to be a senior this year???
10.) Michigan: This is the only team in America that returns their entire roster for next year (please don’t leave Darius). The Wolverines surprised everyone this past year and was seconds away from upsetting Dook in the NCAA Tourney. With the emergence of Darius Morris as one of the nation’s top point guards and the versatility of Tim Hardaway Jr., this team will be very dangerous come next season. Michigan also adds two good recruits in Ohio Mr. Basketball Trey Burke (Sullinger’s High School PG) and burly Detroit area SG Carlton Brundridge. Overall, this is the best team Michigan has had on PAPER in the last 15 years.
11.) Arizona: The first PAC-12 team that appears on the list is at #11. Arizona is sure to lose sophomore stud, Derrick Williams, but the Wildcats should have a good group coming back to make a run at the PAC-12 title. If the young guards can step up their production, they should be able to hold off UCLA for that top spot out west. (If Williams does return, WATCH OUT).
12.) Wisconsin: Jordan Talor is coming back and so is Big Red Bruesewitz. Bo Ryan always fields a tough, competitive and above all else boring team. But say what you will they have been a mainstay at the top of the Big Ten for the past 10 years. The absence of John Leuer and Keaton Nankivil will hurt but not enough to keep them out of my awesome Top 15.
13.) Kansas: Bill Self is lucky that Memphis chocked away the National Championship in 2008. Kansas has lost in the first or second round of the tournament in 4 of the last 5 seasons as a high seed. I expect the Morris twins to leave for the NBA and with that, a gaping hole down low will loom in Lawrence, KS. However, the Jayhawks boast a litter of great guards led by Tyshawn Taylor and that should be enough to put them back in the Big 12 Title game come tourney time.
14.) Marquette: The Golden Eagles were a tough out in this year’s tournament and should be much of the same next season. Buzz Williams has a majority of his team returning and should be able to mix some young talent in as the season goes on to bolster their chances of finishing in the top half of the Big East.
15.) Vanderbilt: If John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor return to school this team will be a force to reckon with in the SEC. They return all of their production from last year and with another year of experience under their belt; they should make a deep run in March. This is sort of an under the radar team, but don’t count them out next year.
Next 10: Butler, Florida, Pittsburgh, Temple, George Mason, West Virginia, Wichita State, UCLA, Belmont, & Illinois.
Off the Radar Dark Horse: Alabama
Already Overrated by Me: Syracuse
VCU-ish: Wichita State or Belmont
Maui Invitational Tournament Field: Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan, Tennessee and UCLA. Yes, I am way too excited about this already.