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SI.com's 2013-14 college basketball midseason Crystal Ball

SI.com's 2013-14 Crystal Ball
SI.com's Seth Davis, Luke Winn, Kelli Anderson and Brian Hamilton offer their predictions for the 2013-14 season.
Final Four (Plus One Darkhorse)
Seth Davis
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
Luke Winn
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
Kelli Anderson
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
Brian Hamilton
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
National Champion
Davis
Michigan State: This is a risky choice -- not because the Spartans aren't talented, experienced and well-coached, but because they are never healthy. If it's not Gary Harris' ankle, it's Travis Trice's mysterious illness, or Adreian Payne's foot, or Matt Costello's mononucleosis, or Keith Appling's bruised hip. One thing we do know is that when the Spartans are at full strength, they are awfully tough to beat. I especially like the emergence of freshman forward Kenny Kaminsky as a long-range sniper off the bench. If there's no clear favorite (which there isn't), a guy could do worse than bet on Tom Izzo.
Winn
Michigan State: The Spartans offer the best combination of elite point-guard play, future NBA talent, NCAA tournament experience, a tourney-savvy coach, and the ability to win at different tempos. As long as Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are reasonably healthy in March, they're my pick just ahead of Arizona.
Anderson
Arizona: Here is the Wildcats' title profile: They are among the nation's best in both defense and rebounding, they share the ball, they boast an unselfish, tested backcourt in T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, and they have a tendency to wear opponents down in the second half. Moreover, this group is tight-knit and, according to McConnell, getting tighter by the week.
Hamilton
Syracuse: It's a little bit the infuriating zone, but mostly it's the Orange's capability to consistently complement that with offensive punch. Tyler Ennis already has preposterous control of the attack (91 assists, 22 turnovers entering Monday), C.J. Fair is the steady producer and Jerami Grant has that breakout-in-March-and-bolt-to-the-league feel about him.
Second-Half Surprise Team
Davis
Cal: The Bears have had a few injury issues -- senior forward Richard Solomon missed the losses to Syracuse and Dayton with an eye injury, and freshman guard Jabari Bird has not placed since Dec. 22 because of an ankle injury -- but the Bears are already showing signs of a second-half surge. They just won three straight conference road games at Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, and they have a solid leader at the point in 6-4 senior Justin Cobbs. Also, with the injuries that have decimated Colorado, and with UCLA, Washington and Arizona State all underperforming, there is a void in the Pac-12 for a new challenger to Arizona.
Winn
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost four times in the non-conference season (to VCU, Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Tennessee) and fell off the map, but in an ACC race that gets soft after Syracuse, look for them to finish in the top four. Virginia has the league's best defense and senior stars Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are starting to play well after an uncharacteristically sluggish first two months.
Anderson
Cal: The Bears disappeared from the radar at the Maui Invitational after center Richard Solomon hurt his eye and had to sit out losses to Syracuse and Dayton. But in opening league play with three straight road wins—for the first time since 1957, the Bears again look like the team they were pre-Maui: balanced, deep in the backcourt, and anchored by a double-figure rebounder, Solomon.
Hamilton
Virginia: Maybe not entirely a "surprise," as this was purportedly a top 25 team to begin with. But the Cavaliers gave Duke a run on the road on Monday and now play Pittsburgh, Syracuse and North Carolina just once during the ACC rotation -- getting the latter two at home. Largely off the radar thanks to four non-conference losses, it's not outrageous to think of a team ranked No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency as of Tuesday taking a run at the regular-season title.
Flop Team
Davis
Baylor: The Bears are an NCAA tournament team, but they have been overrated (and over-ranked) since the start of the season. Their biggest win was over Kentucky in Dallas. I'm not sure they would beat the much-improved Wildcats today. When Baylor had a chance to prove its mettle on the road against a good team, it got pushed around in a 15-point loss at Iowa State. And for the life of me, I will never understand why a player as talented and tall as 7-1 sophomore Isaiah Austin continues to play like he's a 6-2 shooting guard.
Winn
Missouri: The Tigers got off to a 13-2 start, including a win over UCLA, and were ranked No. 21 in last week's poll, but their efficiency profile (they rank 58th on kenpom.com) is more that of a bubble team that's a few steps below Kentucky, Florida and even Tennessee in the SEC race. I wouldn't be surprised if Mizzou is one of the last 4-5 teams out on Selection Sunday.
Anderson
Oregon: The Ducks have a high-flying offense but their defense will ground them. In three losses to open Pac-12 play, they gave up an average of nearly 93 points. Their defensive efficiency ranking of 150th by kenpom.com does not bode well for making big noise in March.
Hamilton
Michigan: So far so good for the Wolverines in Big Ten play, recovering from the loss of Mitch McGary and off to a 3-0 start in the nation's toughest league. But an imminent three-game stretch of at Wisconson, vs. Iowa and at Michigan State can undercut the momentum and back-to-back road games against Iowa and Ohio State in early February can create an oppressively steep climb back to relevance. Someone has to fall out in the Big Ten, and a team outside the top 60 defensively is vulnerable.
Best Mid-Major Team
Davis
Wichita State: No need to over think this. The Shockers have four perimeter players who can all dribble, pass, shoot and -- most importantly -- defend. I wish they had a little more by way of frontcourt scoring, but they do have big men who can rebound and block shots. I still insist that Wichita State will not enter the NCAA tournament undefeated (the Shockers were lucky to escape Missouri State in overtime last week), but they will go in with a gaudy record and therefore will earn a high seed, which will make it easier to advance through the bracket.
Winn
Wichita State: Fred VanVleet has been a revelation at point guard, running one of the country's best ball-control offenses alongside NBA-prospect two-guard Ron Baker. This version of the Shockers is better than the one that reached last season's Final Four.
Anderson
Wichita State: As long as Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early stay healthy, the Shockers will be a tough out. Even Missouri State, which had them down by 19 with 11:48 remaining on Saturday, couldn't squelch their win streak, which is now at 17. Van Vleet explained, "We just turned up our intensity, from zero to 100." What other team in the country has that gear?.
Hamilton
Wichita State: This really should be the Best Mid-Major Not Located In Kansas category, as an unbeaten Final Four contender is a fairly predictable answer. The Shockers are top 30 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency and demonstrated striking resolve rallying at Missouri State last weekend. One to watch? Saint Louis. The Billikens are No. 2 in defensive efficiency and have lost only to undefeated teams -- Wisconsin and, yes, Wichita State.
National Player of the Year
Doug McDermott: Eric Francis/Getty
Davis
Doug McDermott, Creighton: No contest. The Dougie faces double- and triple-teams from tap to buzzer, yet he remains the most unguardable player in college basketball. We know he is a gifted long-range shooter (42.6 percent from three-point range), but he does not get enough credit for his rebounding (7.3 per game) and his ability to score around the rim (52.2 percent on two-point field goals). Nor do I worry about McDermott not getting enough love because he plays at a quote-unquote midmajor. Creighton is in the Big East now, and The Dougie is no secret.

Winn
McDermott: He's the versatile force driving the nation's most efficient offense, and may very well lead Creighton to a Big East title in its inaugural season. McDermott has such a sizable lead that it would take a monstrous second half by Jabari Parker or Julius Randle to even make this a race.

Anderson
McDermott: If Creighton's master of efficiency, accuracy and consistency can maintain his 25 ppg pace -- and after he submitted a line of 35 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in a win over Xavier on Saturday despite a sore shoulder and the absence of starter Grant Gibbs, there's no reason to think he can't -- he should finally nab the award that's eluded him the last two years.

Hamiltonr
McDermott: Any concerns about an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder lingering were flushed with every bucket in a 35-point outing Sunday against Xavier. We'll see if bigger, longer, stronger bodies elsewhere in the Big East limit McDermott's numbers and widen the race. That may be what is necessary, unless a continued evolution and a couple big-game detonations from Arizona's Nick Johnson, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins perhaps muddle the situation.
Impact Freshman
Tyler Ennis: Rich Barnes/Getty
Davis
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Unlike many of his high-profile classmates, Ennis has the luxury of being the only freshman in his team's starting lineup. And yet, he has the most mature game of all the Orange players, which is why this team is still undefeated. Ennis' 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is uncanny, but his 39.5 percent clip from behind the three-point arc indicates that he could be even better the second half of the season if he starts hunting his shot a little more. That's a scary thought.

Winn
Ennis: See last week's Power Rankings for a statistical breakdown of Ennis' wizardry. He's one of the nation's best point guards, the co-MVP of the freshman class along with Duke's Parker, and his numbers are well ahead of the three talented floor generals who preceded him at Syracuse.

Anderson
Joel Embiid, Kansas: The 7-footer from Cameroon is the biggest reason the Jayhawks will make a deep run in March: Since scoring six points in a December loss to Florida, he has averaged 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. His biggest issue: foul trouble is limiting him to just 21.9 minutes.

Hamilton
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: It may be teammate Joel Embiid who dilates pupils, especially after a 16-point, nine-rebound, five-block outing on Monday against Iowa State. But the Cyclones are small. Wiggins seems to be inching ever so close to a complete breakout with no size mismatch to help, and if he soars into the Clutch Superstar exosphere by March, the Jayhawks become a championship favorite.
Matchup We Can't Miss
Wisconsin vs. Michigan State, 2012: Andy Lyons/Getty
Davis
Michigan State at Wisconsin, Feb. 9: This is the only regular-season meeting between these two teams. (The Badgers also play Ohio State just once, and also in Madison. Must be nice!) The atmosphere in the Kohl Center will be electric, and the referees will have a very challenging time trying to keep the action from becoming overly physical.

Winn
Florida at Kentucky, Feb. 15/Kentucky at Florida, March 8: Due to the mediocrity of the SEC, the Wildcats only have three major tests left in the regular season: vs. Tennessee on Jan. 18 and these two meetings with the Gators, which will likely decide the league title. Kentucky will likely need to sweep Florida to make a case for a No. 1 seed.

Anderson
Michigan State at Wisconsin Feb. 9: Even when both teams aren't in the top five, this game is freighted. Tom Izzo had an eight-year losing streak at Kohl Center before finally turning the tables on Bo Ryan the last two years by winning both visits by a total of five points. The Grateful Red (Wisconsin's student section) should be in fine form for what could be the most critical game in the Big Ten conference season.

Hamilton
Ohio State at Wisconsin, Feb. 1: Two straight weekends with potentially earth-shifting home games for the Badgers, with Michigan State paying a visit eight days later. Two challenging road games precede it -- at Indiana and at Minnesota -- but it's conceivable Bo Ryan's crew could be the last undefeated remaining when the Buckeyes show up for a showdown of (presumably) top 5 or top 10 teams.

Unkown Player Poised To Breakout
Semaj Christon: Joe Robbins/Getty
Davis
Semaj Christon, Xavier: For his first season-and-a-half as college point guard, Christon excelled at every phase of the game -- except long-range shooting. That could be getting ready to change. Through the first 15 games of the season, Christon made a total of seven three-point shots. In his last two outings, he went 5-for-6 from behind the arc and scored a total of 55 points. Was this an aberration, or a sign of things to come? If it's the latter, look out.

Winn
Keifer Sykes, Jr., Green Bay: The Phoenix are the favorites to win the Horizon League, and if they reach their first NCAA tournament since 1996, watch out for the 5-11 Sykes. He's the kind of electric scoring guard who can engineer an upset and become an overnight sensation.

Anderson
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: Pitt's leading scorer has been out of the spotlight because the Panthers have yet to validate their hot start with a signature win. (No. 2 Syracuse on Jan. 18 is a great opportunity.) But the fifth-year senior gets major credit for the Panther's surprising success: He has drastically improved every aspect of his game, including his passing (4.5 apg this vs. 2.8 apg last year) and scoring (17.9 ppg this year vs. 10 last year).

Hamilton
Christon: "Unknown" is somewhat relative, as Christon was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and his overall numbers are more or less the same. But three straight 20-point games to start in the Big East, including a 27-point outburst Sunday at Creighton, suggests the 6-foot-3 guard can at least nudge beside McDermott in Big East Player of the Year consideration if he continues high-level production. National acclaim could swell if the well-balanced Musketeers run at the league title and make an NCAA tournament ruckus.
What We'll Be Saying On Selection Sunday
Evan Wessel (L) and Fred VanVleet: David Welker/AP
Davis
"The committee got it right." Sure, there will be nits to pick with the committee's decisions, but the decision to expand to 68 teams, plus a better effort on the part of the NCAA to inform the public on the bracketing process, has led to increasingly muted criticism. In the end, the most important decisions the committee makes is whom to leave in or out, and even the most ardent fans have come to understand that if your team is on the bubble, it forfeits the right to complain if it doesn't make the field.

Winn
That Harvard earned the highest bid for an Ivy League team since Princeton was a No. 5 in 1998. None of the Ivy's representatives has been higher than a No. 11 seed since, but if the Crimson can get through league play with just one loss and finish 27-3, they should be safely in the 7-9 range.

Anderson
Wichita State, a 1-seed, is the new Gonzaga! That will be followed by the question: Who will be the new Wichita State waiting to knock off the new Gonzaga?

Hamilton
The teams most poised for the national title challenged themselves a fair amount during non-conference play. No major-conference powerhouse is going to schedule itself into oblivion. But the bet here is that Kansas, for example, looks much better in the Big 12 grind and beyond because the competition level looks familiar for a club with a top 5 strength-of-schedule rating. Ditto Arizona, Syracuse, Michigan State and Wisconsin, all of whom at least attempted to locate some decent competition early.

Coach On The Hottest Seat
Johnny Dawkins: Maddie Meyer/Getty
Davis
Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest: Bzdelik is unfailingly nice and a well-respected coach, but he is in his fourth season in Winston-Salem and there are no signs that things are about to turn around. I'm hoping he makes it, but I'm not optimistic.

Winn
Rick Barnes, Texas: That Dec. 18 win at North Carolina cooled Barnes' seat momentarily, but the Big 12 is so difficult this season that his Longhorns still project to be an NIT team. Two straight seasons of missing the NCAAs might make it difficult for him to keep his job under new athletic director Steve Patterson.

Anderson
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford: Stanford AD Bernard Muir has reportedly made it clear to the Cardinal's sixth-year coach that it's the NCAA tournament this year or bye-bye. The Cardinal didn't help Dawkins' case by losing two winnable games to open the conference season. On the other hand, the Card has two road wins against ranked teams and a top recruiting class waiting in the wings ...

Hamilton
Dawkins: He's 104-79 in five-plus years now but with zero NCAA tournament berths and a 1-2 start to Pac-12 play this season after stealing one at suddenly wobbly Oregon on Sunday. A Dec. 18 win at Connecticut doesn't look as terrific anymore, though surviving against the Ducks somewhat offsets losing at Oregon State. If Sunday is more exception than rule, however, one wonders if change will come to The Farm.

A Bold Prediction
Arizona: Al Bello/Getty
Davis
Fred Hoiberg will be coaching in the NBA next year. The NFL has been raiding college football for head coaches for the last several years. Last year, the NBA dipped into the collegiate waters to tap Brad Stevens. I believe this is the beginning of a mini-trend, and Hoiberg, a former NBA player who has engineered a remarkable turnaround at Iowa State, very much fits the profile.

Winn
Cincinnati wins at least a share of the AAC title in a year where Louisville, UConn and Memphis were viewed as the three contenders. The Bearcats are playing their best defense of Mick Cronin's eight-year tenure, and their senior core of Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles should prevent them from having the same February-March swoon that ruined their 2012-13.

Anderson
When the NCAAs roll around, the spotlight will pivot from one-and-done freshmen and impact transfers to throw-back stalwarts who have been with their teams three or four years, whether its Florida's Casey Prather, Michigan State's Keith Appling, Syracuse's C.J. Fair, or Arizona's Nick Johnson. This year, the "old guys" will win in the end.

Hamilton
Arizona completes the regular season undefeated. This is not to say the Wildcats are to be exalted above all other teams in recorded history. It says they're a balanced team with suffocating defense that's learning to close out games and can rely on that defense when it can't ... and, also, the rest of the Pac-12 is beginning to look like a dumpster fire. Colorado is losing Spencer Dinwiddie, Oregon can't defend anyone, Cal can't be this for real and the Wildcats already won at UCLA. I'm fairly certain I don't believe my own prediction. But that just enhances the boldness, my friends.

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