SI.com's Luke Winn, Seth Davis and Grant Wahl offer their predictions for the 2009-10 season.
Final Four Plus One Darkhorse
Winn Great defense (Bill Self's teams have been in the top 10 in defensive efficiency the past four seasons) and NBA talent (the Jayhawks' starters at the 1, 2, 3 and 5 spots could all be first-round picks) is a winning formula.
Davis They have the best in the country at the most important positions, point guard and center.
Wahl It's more likely that Kansas doesn't win than that it does. The Spartans have the best chance of any team in the rest of the field.
Sleeper Team (Outside AP Top 25)
Winn The Rebels have been overlooked because of injuries that decimated their '08-09 campaign, but at full-strength, their backcourt of Chris Warren, Terrico White and Eniel Polynice is scary-good.
Davis Siena. Four starters return from squad that knocked off Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.
Wahl Rider. The Broncs already took down Mississippi State in Starkville. Next on the docket: at Virginia (Nov. 19) and at Kentucky (Nov. 21).
Shakiest Top 25 Team
Winn There's plenty of talent on Rick Pitino's roster, but who'll guide the offense? The Cards looked clueless last season when Terrence Williams wasn't on the floor; he and fellow first-rounder Earl Clark created the bulk of the scoring opportunities.
Davis All those freshmen scare me, and not much coming off the bench.
Wahl The suspension of big-time freshman prospect Royce White for shoplifting got things off to an unsettled start in Minneapolis.
Best Mid-Major Team Not Named Butler
Winn Western Kentucky. After nearly making the Sweet 16 last season, the Hilltoppers boast an all-upperclassmen starting lineup, led by senior A.J. Slaughter, who's a major-conference-caliber combo guard.
Davis Chris Wright is an NBA player, though Flyers will again struggle to score.
Wahl Coach Fran McCaffery is starting to turn the Saints into something resembling Gonzaga, at least in their ability to reload.
Naismith/Wooden Award Winner
Notre Dame's Luke Harangody:: Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Winn Willie Warren, Oklahoma. With Blake Griffin gone, Warren will have free reign to chase the national scoring title -- and he's shown he's capable of double-digit assist games, too.Davis Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, In a season where there is no obvious POY, a great individual from a mediocre team can claim the prize.Wahl John Wall, Kentucky. I'm a believer: this point guard is something special.
Winn Kemba Walker, UConn. He was stuck on the bench behind A.J. Price last season, but will quickly emerge as one of the country's most electric point guards -- and a big reason why the Huskies will get back to the Final Four.Davis Delvon Roe, Michigan State. If he can ever get healthy, that is ... Wahl Ed Davis, North Carolina. Much more will be asked of the Tar Heels gifted post player now that Tyler Hansbrough has departed, and in Roy Williams' inside-outside offense Davis will get the chance to deliver.
Best Player No One Knows About
Kenneth Faried :: AP
Winn Kenneth Faried, Morehead State. There were only three players who finished in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year: Pitt's DeJuan Blair, Santa Clara's John Bryant, and Faried. He's quietly starting to get attention from NBA scouts as a Paul Millsap-type prospect.Davis Solomon Alabi, Florida State. The seven-footer is just scratching the surface of his potential. Wahl Can I say Paul George, Fresno State. A super-athletic 6-7 wing, George signed with Pepperdine but switched to Fresno after Vance Walberg resigned -- much to the delight of Bulldogs coach Steve Cleveland.
Impact Freshman Not Named John Wall
Xavier Henry :: AP
Winn Durand Scott, Miami. Scott -- and not North Carolina's John Henson or Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors -- might end up being the ACC's most important rookie, despite sitting at No. 33 in Rivals.com's class rankings. The New York combo guard has the scoring ability to ease the Hurricanes' loss of Jack McClinton.Davis Xavier Henry, Kansas. He just scored 27 points in his collegiate debut.Wahl Xavier Henry, Kansas. Talk about being in a great spot: the No. 3 option on the nation's top team means less pressure combined with huge exposure.
Most Entertaining Player
Greivis Vasquez :: AP
Winn Greivis Vasquez, Maryland. The Terps' Venezuelan star plays with more emotion than anyone else in college hoops, and you never know what kind of performance he'll deliver -- a tour de force, or a train wreck?Davis Who else? James Eayrs (aka "Big Lumber"), 6-7, 310-pound senior forward, Milwaukee. Body of a sumo wrestler, hands of a surgeon, feet of a ballet dancer.Wahl Greivis Vasquez, Maryland. I know I'm not the only one who loves watching the highs and lows of the General Greivis Experience.
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