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SI.com's 2012-13 Preseason Crystal Ball Predictions

SI.com's 2012-13 Crystal Ball
SI.com's Seth Davis, Luke Winn, Pete Thamel and Andy Glockner serve up their predictions for the 2012-13 season.
Final Four (Plus One Darkhorse)
Seth Davis
Final FourFinal FourFinal FourFinal FourDarkhorse
Luke Winn
Final FourFinal FourFinal FourFinal FourDarkhorse
Pete Thamel
Final FourFinal FourFinal FourFinal FourDarkhorse
Andy Glockner
Final FourFinal FourFinal FourFinal FourDarkhorse
National Champion
Davis
Indiana: When I visited Bloomington last month, I was skeptical that the Hoosiers were worthy of their preseason hype. Watching them practice made me a believer. Cody Zeller represents a true rarity in college hoops -- a bona fide, fundamentaly sound, 7-foot post scorer -- and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is the missing piece. The Hoosiers are the only team in the country without a discernible weakness. With a little bit of luck, they'll be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
Winn
Indiana: The Hoosiers now have enough quality depth -- particularly after the additions of freshmen Yogi Ferrell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and rehabilitated senior Maurice Creek -- to make the leap from Sweet 16 team to national champ. (Getting the nation's best offensive center back for another season doesn't hurt, either.)
Thamel
Louisville: Expect Rick Pitino's team to start slow, as he loves to break guys down before building them back up. But there's too much talent, experience and quality depth here. Louisville will peak in March and burn through the NCAA tournament, keeping he trophy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Glockner
Kansas: The Jayhawks need to replace two crucial pieces from last year's national finalists in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, but they return solid, experienced talent and now add quality depth they didn't have last season. If Jeff Withey blocks shots at the same rate, KU should have an elite defense once again and the offense should develop over the course of the season. Expectations for redshirt freshman Ben McLemore are really high. If he and others can help provide enough consistent offense, the Jayhawks could be the most complete team in the country come March.
Surprise Team
Davis
Georgetown: Otto Porter is one of the top three NBA prospects in the Big East, and the Hoyas have lots of perimeter experience to make John Thompson's Princeton offense work.
Winn
Tennessee: The Vols should be ranked by December, thanks to the formidable frontcourt duo of senior Jeronne Maymon and sophomore Jarnell Stokes, who graduated high school early to join the team in January, and is poised for a breakout season. Coach Cuonzo Martin knows how to make a second-year leap, too; after going 11-20 in the first year his previous job at Missouri State, he followed it up with a 24-12 campaign.
Thamel
Pittsburgh: It's embarrassing that Pittsburgh isn't ranked. The loss of Travon Woodall to injury last season derailed the Panthers. But with 6-foot-11 Kiwi freshman Steven Adams throwing elbows in the paint and talented point guard James Robinson on campus, Pitt will revert to the ruthlessly bruising team we remembered. Jamie Dixon didn't forget how to coach.
Glockner
VCU: The Rams' chances in their debut season in the Atlantic 10 are being understated by some, and they should be an extremely dangerous team come March. They return everyone but Bradford Burgess from last season's Round of 32 squad and added two big-time freshmen to the mix. The overall grind of the A-10 will get them a few nights in January and February, but you do not want to see this team in your NCAA regional. In a year with no truly dominant team expected, the chances of someone popping up in Atlanta are decent, and the Rams are as good a pick as any to make another run.
Flop Team
Davis
Florida: I have no idea how long Scott Wilbekin is going to be suspended for, but it sounds like he won't be back any time soon. And even if he does return, the fact that he is being indefinitely suspended the day before the season opener is a bad sign. After four years of the unintentionally exciting Erving Walker, the Gators are in dire need for a steady, pass-first point guard to get their scorers involved. Wilbekin was their biggest hope, but now he is their biggest question mark.
Winn
UCLA: So much potential in Westwood, but too much uncertainty. Can Larry Drew II really run a team successfully? Will Shabazz Muhammad ever get eligible? Can Josh Smith avoid getting winded for long enough to make a significant impact? A lot of things have to break right for the Bruins to crack the top 10.
Glockner
UCLA: On paper, especially if Shabazz Muhammad is ruled eligible, the Bruins have a lot of talent. That said, I don't really see how it goes together to form a cohesive team at both ends. Josh Smith's conditioning issues haven't resolved and even if he's productive, there's very little protection at the rim after the dismissal of leading shot-blocker Anthony Stover. With tall-but-not-quick Kyle Anderson and question mark Larry Drew II as part of the perimeter mix, there's also concern about being able to stop dribble penetration. Maybe it all comes together, but potentially with two players with one eye on the 2013 draft, too, the Bruins appear to have significant implosion potential.
Thamel
Kentucky: Simply put, Kentucky is ranked way too high. Sure, the Wildcats have a bevy of talented newcomers. But star freshman center Nerlens Noel is light years from Anthony Davis, especially on offense. Transfer point guard Ryan Harrow was a questionable decision maker at NC State. The high-grade talent just isn't there. Expect the Wildcats to be a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. As for next year? Well, that's a different story.
Best Mid-Major Team
Davis
UNLV: I was very tempted to go with Creighton, but I think the Runnin' Rebels have been the most undervalued team in the preseason rankings. They have a legitimate All-American candidate in Mike Moser, two game-changing transfers in Khem Birch and Bryce DeJean-Jones, and an elite freshman in Anthony Bennett.
Winn
VCU: Rams' backcourt depth (they have six quality guards!) is unmatched, and it should allow them to play pressure D at an elite level. Look for sophomore Treveon Graham to have a breakout season as a high-usage scorer.
Thamel
Drexel: The easy answer here is Creighton. The Bluejays don't count, as they're already preseason Top 20. Look out for Drexel, the favorite in the watered-down CAA. The best player you've never heard of? Drexel sophomore guard Damion Lee, who will be a breakout star nationally this year and evolve into an NBA prospect.
Glockner
Drexel: The Dragons very well could/should have made the tournament last season and bring back almost everyone from that 29-7 team. Known for their staunch defense, this team can score better than you think. With Old Dominion ineligible (pending C-USA move) and VCU now in the A-10, the Dragons are the favorite in the Colonial and have some opportunities in nonconference play to put together a solid-if-not-spectacular at-large resume, if needed.
National Player of the Year
Doug McDermott: Charlie Neibergall/AP
Davis
Cody Zeller, Indiana: Doug McDermott will put up greater scoring numbers, but Zeller is the superior defender and more complete player. He also plays on the nation's best team.

Winn
Doug McDermott, Creighton: I acknowledge that Indiana's Cody Zeller is the favorite, but if McDermott leads the nation in scoring by a wide margin, on a top-20 team, and Indiana doesn't stick at No. 1, the vote could tilt in Doug's direction.

Thamel
Doug McDermott, Creighton: There are certainly players who will go higher in the NBA draft -- Cody Zeller, Shabazz Muhammad and Trey Burke. But no player in the country is more valuable to his team than Doug McDermott, who should carry a veteran Creighton squad to a gaudy, record, high seed and deep run in the NCAAs.

Glockner
Doug McDermott, Creighton: It's hard to pick against Cody Zeller, but McDermott has significant Jimmer potential as a smaller-league candidate. If he's anywhere near his insane numbers from last season (22.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 60.1% FG, 48.6% 3s), he should get very serious consideration.
Impact Freshman
Nerlens Noel: James Crisp/AP
Davis
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: I'm not saying he's the best freshman in America, but I'm also not saying he's not. Adams is a wonderfully gifted 7-footer who brings both the humility and versatility of the international game. If he's as good as many people (including myself) think, Pitt could be very dangerous, and Adams could be a top-five NBA draft pick next June.

Winn
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Kentucky will have its share of relevant rookies, but Smart is a do-everything guard who could very well convert the Cowboys from a 15-18 team last season to an at-large NCAA tournament bid recipient. They desperately needed a leader in the backcourt, and Smart is up to the challenge.

Thamel
Georges Niang, Iowa State: Early buzz from Iowa State practice is that freshman forward Georges Niang is already the Cyclones' best player. A natural scorer with a deft touch, polished mid-range game and solid range, expect the 6-7 Niang to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year and score bushels of points during his career in Ames. Niang's only issue is his sloppy body, as he's done a poor job ridding himself of baby fat. Consider this: Niang was the MVP of his prep school team, which featured Nerlens Noel as its star center.

Glockner
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: On a Wildcats team that won't be as potent offensively as last season, Noel's shotblocking and rebounding will provide a defensive anchor that, similar to Anthony Davis' effect last season, will allow the Cats to get out on the break and score easy transition baskets.
Breakout Star (Non-Freshman)
Michael Carter-Willaims: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Davis
Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Thomas missed the second half of his freshman season because of an ankle injury, but he is healthy now and primed for a monster season. Thomas is a physical specimen, a great athlete, and has wide offensive versatility. He will be the best player on a very good team.

Winn
Michael Dixon Jr., Missouri: In spite of the fact that he's suspended indefinitely for the start of the season, Dixon seems primed to take over the Tigers' lead scoring role from departed gunner Marcus Denmon -- and Dixon is a more complete guard, too. Playing alongside elite pass-first point guard Phil Pressey will ensure he gets great shooting looks.

Thamel
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: Syracuse has reloaded, and no player is more crucial to the Orange's hopes than sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams. A talented guard with NBA Lottery talent, Carter-Williams will be the Orange's primary ball handler. At 6-5, he'll be a menace atop the Syracuse zone. But his highlights will come from the explosive athleticism that defined his game in high school and he showed in flashes last year His poise, shooting and maturity will determine how far Syracuse goes this season.

Glockner
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: He already broke out to a significant extent last season, averaging almost 16 ppg on a team with Jared Sullinger and William Buford siphoning off a lot of shots. Now one of the most explosive offensive players in the nation is the primary scoring option in Columbus and has a top-shelf point guard in Aaron Craft to help facilitate. There are going to be a couple of epic scoring explosions this season, and Thomas averaging over 20 ppg seems a very strong possibility.

Best Under-The-Radar Player
Tony Mitchell:Danny Johnston/AP
Davis
Andre Roberson, Colorado: I've been pumping Roberson so much that people are starting to think that we're related or I owe him money. He is a 6-7 freak athlete who led the Pac 12 in rebounding and blocks last year while leading the Buffaloes to the third round of the NCAA tournament. I also believe Roberson will demonstrate much better long-range ability this season than he has in the past.

Winn
Tony Mitchell, North Texas: He couldn't start playing (or even practicing) with the Mean Green until mid-December of his freshman year, but he jumped right in and averaged a double-double the rest of the way. Mitchell could lead the nation in rebounding this season before being taken in the NBA draft lottery.

Thamel
Luke Hancock, Louisville: There's been early buzz from Louisville practices that Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, has emerged as perhaps Louisville's best player. A 6-6 junior wing, Hancock has impressed Rick Pitino with his savvy and maturity, so much that he'll be playing major minutes for the loaded Cardinals.

Glockner
Preston Medlin, Utah State: Now a redshirt junior, he became the latest "that guy" in Stew Morrill's offense, scoring efficiently (121.7 ORtg, per KenPom.com) and in bunches (17.0 ppg) from both inside and outside the arc. With the Aggies now having matured from a really young group last season, they are the likely WAC favorite and there's a chance Medlin will shoot a scare into some bigger program come March.

Player Who Won't Live Up To The Hype
Kyle Wiltjer: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Davis
Michael Snaer, Florida State: Snaer deserves to be hyped as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, but his offensive abilities are too limited to warrant inclusion on any first team All-America lists. Plus, Leonard Hamilton does not usually run a star-oriented system.

Winn
Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky: He has a more polished offensive game than any forward not named Doug McDermott, and it seemed logical (at least to me, back in April) that Wiltjer would become Kentucky's next leading scorer once everyone else left for the NBA Draft. But I suspect that UK's best defense-and-rebounding lineup is with freshmen Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein together in the post, and because Wiltjer doesn't offer much on D, his role could be restricted. He's still a nice player, just not on the verge of stardom.

Thamel
Isaiah Austin, Baylor: Baylor has had a string of recent players who've come with high recruiting hype and sputtered in Waco. Perry Jones never found consistent success there, leading to a precipitous slide in the NBA draft. Isaiah Austin, a 7-foot center, has some of the same traits of Jones. Both are big men who prefer to float on the perimeter. Austin is a top-5 recruit. Will he toughen up or suffer the same slide?

Glockner
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: I don't like this category, because hype is largely a product of media expectation. That said, I'm not convinced, based on last season's sample, that McAdoo is ready to consistently be the type of dominant, leading frontcourt player North Carolina needs him to be.
Biggest, Baddest Conference
Peyton Siva: Timothy D. Easley/AP
Davis
Big Ten: Not only does the league have a murderer's row at the top, but putative middle-tier teams like Illinois, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota will have their share of wins over the top four.

Winn
Big Ten: Four teams with Final Four potential (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State), and three more that should make the NCAAs (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa). The SEC might have a better top three, but no conference is deeper with quality programs than the Big Ten.

Thamel
Big East: Last call for the big, bad Big East, or at least this iteration of the Big East. With Pitt and Syracuse checking out next year and Notre Dame joining them soon, this year will make one heck of a farewell tour. Don't be surprised if the league gets eight teams into the tournament again, as programs like USF and Cincinnati give the league quality depth. The Big East will be fine, it just won't be the same.

Glockner
Big Ten: Whether or not the top of the conference ends up being a bit overhyped, the competitive depth in the league is unmatched. There are very, very few easy spots in the league, and the pace and closeness of a lot of games make it a complete grinder. The Big East may end up being more potent at the top, but there's too much dead wood in the lower half.

Coach On The Hottest Seat
Ben Howland: Porter Binks/SI
Davis
Herb Sendek, Arizona State: Sendek made a nice splash in Tempe when he first got there (thank you, James Harden) but it's been bone dry in the desert since then. This is year seven, and the Sun Devils could be headed to a last-place finish in the Pac 12. That's not how you get Capone.

Winn
Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest: He's one of the better coaching minds in the game, but his win-loss records (8-24 in the first season, 13-18 in the second) haven't reflected it. Wake projected to be near the bottom of the ACC for a third straight season; it has too much hoops tradition to let another cellar-year slide.

Thamel
Herb Sendek, Arizona State: Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has a new athletic director and an overhauled staff. Many expected him to get the boot in Tempe last season, but don't put Sendek on the unemployment line just yet. First of all, he can coach. Second, point guard Jahii Carson will set a blistering pace and maybe help Sendek avoid the fate so many are predicting.

Glockner
Ben Howland, UCLA: Off a couple difficult seasons, with plenty of off-court drama, if this Anderson/Muhammad experiment doesn't pan out for the Bruins, it may be time for a new head man in Westwood. Howland certainly hasn't forgotten how to coach, but the job is about more than that.

A Bold Prediction
Treveon Graham: Rick Bowmer/AP
Davis
I'm going to answer this question the same way every year from now on: At least one mid-major will make the Final Four.

Winn
Bucknell will be this year's Lehigh, emerging from the Patriot League to pull off the highest-seed upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament (either a 15-over-2 or 14-over-3). Bisons center Mike Muscala is the best college big man you haven't seen on TV.

Thamel
The Atlantic 10 finally sheds any semblance of its mid-major label by landing five teams in the NCAA tournament, more than the top-heavy ACC. The additions of Butler and VCU have been a coup for the league.

Glockner
I didn't quite map it out this way in the preseason bracket projection, but the Atlantic 10 could end up with more NCAA bids than either the Pac-12 or ACC.

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