Preseason Crystal Ball for 2011-12 College Basketball Season
SI.com's 2011-12 Crystal Ball
SI.com's Seth Davis, Luke Winn and Andy Glockner serve up their predictions for the 2011-12 season.
Final Four (Plus One Darkhorse)
Davis North Carolina: This team reminds me a lot of the 2008-09 edition, led by Tyler Hansbrough and several other players who turned down the chance to be NBA first-round draft picks. Those players returned to Chapel Hill wiser, stronger and more determined. I see the same thing happening this season. The best part for the Tar Heels may be that sophomore Kendall Marshall can start at the point from day one instead of having to play behind an older, but lesser talent like Larry Drew
Winn North Carolina: The last time the Tar Heels were voted preseason No. 1, in 2008-09, they were well separated from the rest of the field. That's not the case in '11-12 with Kentucky and Ohio State looming, but UNC has the strongest interior defense of the contenders, and no peer when it comes to experienced, NBA-level talent.
Glockner Ohio State: After two razor-thin Sweet 16 exits as a higher seed, this is the season it all comes together for the Buckeyes. They have the nation's premier post player in Jared Sullinger, still surrounded by plenty of other weapons, and one of the nation's best coaches. The Big Ten is down a bit, so a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs looks very possible, which always helps the national title cause.
Davis Alabama: Anthony Grant is in his third year, and he has the Tide poised to make a breakthrough. He also has one of the top power forwards in the country in 6-foot-8 senior JaMychal Green.
Winn Purdue: It was understandable that the Boilers didn't crack the AP's preseason top 25 after losing JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. But look for them to bounce back in a big way, finishing as high as second or third in the Big Ten. Their defensive principles are strong, and point guard Lewis Jackson, shooting guard Ryne Smith and rehabilitated forward Robbie Hummel should form a highly efficient scoring trio.
Glockner New Mexico: The Lobos reloaded last year while BYU and San Diego State took center stage. Now the Cougars are in the WCC and the Aztecs are the team that's a year away, opening the door for a very big season in Albuquerque. If the replacement for departed point guard Dairese Gary steps up, look out. UNM returns its other four starters along with X-factor sophomore Tony Snell.
Davis Memphis: The Tigers' expectations are commensurate with their talent -- but not their maturity. This is still going to be a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores. That's why they're still a year away from winning big.
Winn Florida: The Gators have an amazing wealth of backcourt talent, but they relied on forward Chandler Parsons as their primary playmaker last season, and ran their offense through Vernon Macklin in the post. I worry that their reconfiguration won't go as smoothly as preseason rankings suggest.
Glockner Missouri: Expected to compete for the Big 12 title, the Tigers lost head coach Mike Anderson and then defensive stalwart Laurence Bowers and now even revised expectations may be too high. Missouri is a very small, defensively-challenged squad in a league where a lot of teams can score. Toss in the first-year coach transition (and Haith's so-so track record at Miami) and there are legit questions in Columbia.
Best Mid-Major Team
Davis Belmont: Not only the best, but also the most fun to watch. The Bruins rolled through the Atlantic Sun last season and gave Wisconsin a good fight in the NCAA's first round. They return nine of their top 11 players.
Winn Belmont: The Bruins are a turnover-forcing machine, and they were poised to be a Cinderella last season -- until they were put in a nightmare first-round pairing with Wisconsin, the best ball-control team in the country. Coach Rick Byrd only lost two players from a rotation that goes 11 or 12 deep, and returns an elite long-range shooter in junior Ian Clark.
Glockner Belmont: Drawing Wisconsin in the NCAAs last season was a terrible break and made people think the Bruins' 30-win campaign was overrated. It wasn't. They gave Tennessee (twice) and Vandy all they could handle on the road and return basically everyone from the club that destroyed the A-Sun. You can get a real gauge on them immediately this season: they open at Duke and then at Memphis.
National Player of the Year
Harrison Barnes :: Gerry Broome/AP
Davis Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: A lot of people snickered at those of us who tabbed Barnes to be a first team All-America before his freshman season began. It took him all year, but he eventually proved us right. He'll prove me right again.
Winn Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: He was the midseason POY last year, until Jimmermania happened and Kemba put UConn on his back, so it's logical that a slimmer Sullinger will claim the crown as a sophomore. North Carolina's Harrison Barnes may be more graceful, but Sullinger's production (120.4 ORating, 27.0% of possessions) is second to none.
Glockner Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: History says future lottery-pick bigs who return for an extra year thrive, and Sullinger is starting from an incredibly high baseline after a great freshman campaign. He's also in better shape, all of which is very bad news for the Big Ten.
Cody Zeller :: AJ Mast/Icon SMI
Davis Cody Zeller, Indiana: UConn's Andre Drummond is a better player, but Zeller will have a greater impact on his program beyond this season. He was the must-have, in-state recruit Tom Crean desperately needed. The Hoosiers are still a long way from being an elite team, but Zeller will help them take a major step forward.
Winn Austin Rivers, Duke: The Blue Devils haven't had a two-guard with this much scoring potential since J.J. Redick, and Rivers is far more talented than Redick was as a freshman, with the ability to attack off the bounce and knock down long threes. Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins should form the best scoring backcourt in the country.
Glockner Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: In our SEC primer, I went with Florida's Brad Beal on the premise that he would start and not split his impact as much as UK's newbies. That said, it appears MKG has nailed down a spot for the Cats and he should be a tremendous complement to Terrence Jones. Kentucky will need his scoring and he will provide it in bunches on the right night.
Breakout Star (Non-Freshman)
John Jenkins :: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
Davis John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: College hoopniks know all about the smooth-stroking Commodore, but if Vanderbilt rises in the rankings as I expect, then Jenkins will merit All-America consideration.
Winn Bernard James, Florida State: Chris Singleton was the Seminole most famous for defense last season, but James had an even bigger impact, and needs to be recognized as an elite defensive force. The 26-year-old, 6-10 senior's shot-blocking and challenging abilities were a big reason FSU led the nation in defensive efficiency.
Glockner Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: As a freshman, Kilpatrick showed he could be a very efficient scorer while carrying a heavy possession load in his 20 minutes a game. Cincy expects to be good this season, and they could be very good if Kilpatrick takes the kind of sophomore leap his numbers (and skill) suggest is possible.
Davis Mark Lyons, Xavier: Everyone knows how good Tu Holloway is, but his backcourtmate has sterling credentials of his own. Last season Lyons averaged 13 points and six assists and was a third team all-league selection. With defenses increasingly keyed in on stopping Holloway, Lyons will have even more opportunity to come into his own this season.
Winn Doug McDermott, Creighton: The under-recruited son of Bluejays coach Greg had a better freshman year (109.5 Orating, 26.2% of possessions; OR/DR% splits of 9.4/20.3) than most of the nation's four- and five-star forwards, and was one of the bright spots for the U.S. Under-19 team this summer. If McDermott adds a bigger foul-drawing element to his offensive game (his ratio of FTA/FGA was just .301), he'll be the best player in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Glockner Doug McDermott, Creighton: The 6-7 coach's son unexpectedly exploded onto the Valley scene last year, making first-team all-MVC as a freshman. An excellent scorer with very legit three-point range and a high-quality rebounder to boot, expect McDermott to bring his game to a higher level for the Valley favorites this year.
Coach On The Hottest Seat
Bruce Weber :: Stephen Mally/Icon SMI
Davis Bruce Weber, Illinois: Barring a total disaster this season, I don't think Weber's job is in jeopardy, but he does need to give impatient Illinois fans a team they can be proud of. The Illini have not been back to the Sweet 16 since Weber took them to the NCAA championship game (with players recruited by Bill Self) seven years ago.
Winn Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest: He should be given some leeway after enduring a nightmare first season of suspensions, defections and bad chemistry. But now that he has the problems rooted out of the program, Bzdelik will need to placate the fan base by showing some progress - and that means finishing better than in the bottom two spots in the ACC. If the Deacons' struggles don't subside, they may re-evaluate their coaching situation.
Glockner Bruce Weber, Illinois: The Illini made the national title game in 2005 in Weber's second season, but they have won a total of *two* NCAA tournament games in the six seasons since. That's not good enough for a program with Illinois' pedigree and local recruiting pool. This looks like another OK-but-not-great season in Champaign. At what point is that one so-so year too many?
A Bold Prediction
Jared Sullinger :: Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
Davis Several potential lottery picks will again turn down the NBA next spring and return to school. People who interpreted the decisions of players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones as being influenced by the impending lockout were wrong. The fact is, there is a growing awareness among young prodigies and their advisors that staying in school an extra year can yield a longer -- and more lucrative -- pro career. It's a great trend for college basketball.
Winn The Atlantic 10 will produce two Sweet 16 teams (Xavier and Temple), equaling the total of the Pac-12 (zero), Big 12 (Kansas) and Mountain West (UNLV) combined. It won't be a huge year for hoops West of the Mississippi. (Sound the East Coast Bias alarm now!)
Glockner We'll go one step farther than last season's top-15 cutoff: A team from outside the preseason top 25 will make the Final Four. That provides options like Florida State, Texas, Michigan State, New Mexico, Washington, Mississippi State and, of course, Butler! (That's not happening again. Seriously. Maybe next year.)
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