SI.com's Seth Davis, Luke Winn and Andy Glockner offer their midseason predictions for the 2011-12 season.
Final Four (Plus One Darkhorse)
Davis Ohio State: The most important positions on the court are point guard and center. In Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes have arguably the best player in the country at each spot.
Winn Kentucky: Of the four biggest title contenders (UK, Ohio State, Syracuse and North Carolina) the Wildcats still have the most room to grow. Once Marquis Teague acclimates to playing point guard and Terrence Jones gets on track, UK should emerge as the country's best team.
Glockner Ohio State: Has a National Player of the Year candidate in Jared Sullinger, good point guard play and varied complementary scorers. The Buckeyes also sport one of the largest turnover percentage differentials in the nation. One growing concern: OSU has not been able to stop the best teams on its schedule. Four of five games against top-50 foes have ended with the Buckeyes allowing at least 1.04 points per possession.
Second-Half Surprise Team
Davis Vanderbilt: Festus Ezeli is still not 100 percent recovered from his knee injury, but he's getting there. The Commodores showed in their road blowout of Marquette than few teams are better when they're firing on all cylinders.
Winn Kansas: In the latest AP poll, the Jayhawks are the third-ranked team in the Big 12, behind Baylor and Missouri, but I suspect KU will win the league by two games and earn (at least) a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs.
Glockner UNLV: In the preseason, I had New Mexico here, giving the Lobos a 3-seed in the preseason bracket as a nod to the way their nonconference schedule laid out and the potential strength of the Mountain West. New Mexico may still be that team, but right now UNLV has usurped that position. The opportunity remains for a very high seed for the champ of the No. 4 ranked conference in RPI, so if either team takes it down, they could end up making a strong run in March.
Second-Half Flop Team
Davis Missouri: I love what the Tigers have done so far, but we saw in their drubbing at Kansas State just how reliant they are on hitting three pointers.
Winn Missouri: The Tigers' frontcourt depth issues (they only have two available forwards, Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore) should catch up to them, and their stratospheric shooting percentage is going to see some regression. They'll be more of a No. 4 or 5 seed in the NCAAs than a No. 2.
Glockner Illinois: Unless the Illini get Brandon Paul seismic eruptions more often, questions about the team's offense remain. They also have a very difficult schedule, with home-and-homes with Wisconsin and Michigan along with games with Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana remaining.
Davis Creighton The Bluejays are much more than just Doug McDermott. In fact, in their most impressive win of the season -- on the road at Wichita State -- McDermott only had 12 points.
Winn Long Beach State: Assuming the 49ers-0">49ers make the NCAAs out of the Big West, they'll have played the toughest nonconference schedule of any team in the dance. After road-tripping to Pitt, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina, the Beach won't be daunted by facing a No. 4 or 5 seed on a neutral court ? and their point guard, Casper Ware, is likely to be the best backcourt player on the floor.
Glockner Murray State: Hard to pick against the unbeaten Racers, who proved their chops against solid So. Miss, Dayton and Memphis teams and very well could be undefeated entering the NCAAs. They totally control the perimeter, knocking down threes and preventing other teams from making many from that range. Keeping the wins coming is paramount, though, because if they end up in an 8-9 game, they lack the size to handle a No. 1-seed in the Round of 32.
Davis Thomas Robinson, Kansas: Kansas's junior big man has put up monster numbers and has not had a single bad game all season.Winn Robinson: Facing constant double-teams, Robinson has put up double-doubles in 11 of KU's 16 games, and may be the best all-around rebounder in the country. Glockner Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: I stick with my preseason pick here, as well. You saw in his absences, both through injury at Kansas and in foul trouble at Indiana, just how crucial he is to the Buckeyes.
National Freshman of the Year
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist :: Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE
Davis Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: I still think UConn's Andre Drummond will end up winning this award, but MKG has shown incredible skill, intensity and maturity in the early going.Winn Anthony Davis, Kentucky: He's the longest, most athletic force in the country -- regardless of class -- and should be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft, too. Glockner Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: Hard to pick against the guy who's second on the team in scoring and rebounding for one of the national title favorites. He's not the flashiest player, but his do-everything presence and effort is a huge bonding agent for the Cats.
Can't Miss Matchup
Pierre Jackson, Baylor :: Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
Davis Duke at North Carolina, Feb. 8: There's a very good chance both teams will be undefeated in the ACC heading into this game.Winn Baylor at Kansas, Jan. 16: This is Baylor's first test against a top-10 peer, and it features a showdown between two likely lottery picks in Robinson and Perry Jones. If the Bears win here, the country can start taking them seriously as a national title contender.Glockner Baylor at Kansas, Jan. 16:Allen Fieldhouse is where upstart Big 12 title dreams go to die. Baylor enters the ring with the best slate of road wins in the nation and unbeaten with No. 1-seed aspirations. If you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ, preferably in their place. This is the Bears' big chance.
Most Brutal Second-Half Schedule
Jeremy Lamb :: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
Davis UConn: Much was made of the fact that Jim Calhoun's opening three-game suspension came against the bottom of the Big East, but the Huskies will pay the price on the back end. During one eight-game stretch they will play five games against ranked teams, including two against Syracuse and road dates at Georgetown and Louisville.Winn Indiana: Indiana has to travel to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue by Feb. 4. After that road stretch -- which could easily end 1-3 or 0-4 -- the Hoosiers may fall out of the top 20. Glockner Texas: Really, this could be many midlevel Big Ten or Big 12 teams, given the quality at the top and the lack of a sizable soft bottom (like the Big East has). The Longhorns, in need of some quality wins for an at-large resume, still have home-and-homes left with Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri.
Unknown Player Poised for a Breakout
Terrell Stoglin :: Patrick Semansky/AP
Davis Terrell Stoglin, Maryland: With the Terrapins having just added point guard Pe'Shon Howard and 7-foot-1 freshman center Alex Len to the mix, Stoglin, who is ranked sixth nationally in scoring with 21.4 points per game, is ready to lead his team into the NCAA tournament. Winn Rob Jones, St. Mary's: Jones isn't getting enough attention for a monster senior season in which he's averaging 15.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. If the Gaels topple Gonzaga and BYU for the West Coast Conference title -- which could very well happen -- Jones will earn a much bigger profile. Glockner Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: He's emerged in his junior year as the star of a not-quite-as-balanced Racers team, shooting 51 percent from three-point range while averaging team-leading points (18.7) and assists (4.1) averages. You may remember him from this shot from his freshman year, but he and the Racers are primed to make some more conventional ones memorable in March.
Coach On The Hottest Seat
Darrin Horn:: Mark Cornelison/ZUMAPRESS.com
Davis Jim Baron, Rhode Island: Most coaches don't survive after their team starts out 3-13.Winn Darrin Horn, South Carolina. Could be a bad year for Western Kentucky-related coaches. The guy who replaced Horn at WKU, Ken McDonald, was axed earlier this month, and Horn could get fired after four seasons with the Gamecocks and just one NIT bid to show for it.
Glockner Travis Ford, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are falling apart after entering the season with some solid expectations. Losing J.P. Olukemi to injury hurt, but doesn't mask the series of departures and recruiting whiffs Ford's had in the last couple seasons. This level of performance isn't going to fly in Stillwater.
A Bold Prediction
Doug McDermott :: Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Davis Miami will finish third in the ACC. The Hurricanes nearly won at Virginia last week, and they are still working two starters, DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson, back into the mix following a suspension and injury, respectively.Winn Creighton's Doug McDermott will surge past Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger to become the first player since UNLV's Larry Johnson in 1991 to win the Wooden/Naismith awards from a mid-major conference. Glockner We'll have a team from outside the preseason Top 25 in the Final Four. Right now, that gives us a pool including Michigan State, Indiana, West Virginia, UNLV, Kansas State, Temple, Mississippi State and many others. I like my chances.
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