One Thing to Love About Every Top 25 College Basketball Team
For each and every team in college basketball's top 25, there is something to love.
College basketball games can be won in many different ways, and each way is unique. Some teams win by a combination of stars, others win through teamwork and yet other win by defense.
There's a reason that every team in the top 25 made it there, and that reason is why you should love each team.
The Gophers return almost everyone
After a trip to last year's NIT title game, Minnesota looks to make noise among the elite teams in the country.
Trevor Mbakwe was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA and is returning for one more season.
Mbakwe ended up missing the majority of the season last year, yet his team did well without him. After returning all five starters on the team that made it to the NIT finals and Mbakwe, the Gophers are in a good position to surprise a lot of people next season.
The young backcourt
Gonzaga loses seven-footer Robert Sacre, but the team returns every other major player.
What makes this team special is their young backcourt that should help the Bulldogs take the WCC crown once again.
Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. were both freshmen last season, but after a year to develop and improve, these two should blossom into true stars next season.
The two combined for 23.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game last year as freshmen, and as long as they can avoid a sophomore slump, we should see these numbers shoot up during the 2012-13 season.
There are a lot of things to love about Gonzaga (Elias Harris returns, four of five starters are back, a deep team), but none more so than the development of this young, talented backcourt.
The Bluejays have arguably best offense in the country
Yes, Doug McDermott is the centerpiece of Creighton's gameplan, but the entire team helped to create one of the best offenses last season.
The Bluejays were No. 1 in field goal percentage (50.9 percent), No. 2 in assists (17.9) and No. 7 in points (80.0) per game in 2011-12.
Creighton returns everybody except for point guard Antoine Young. However, Young was not irreplaceable, as he was only second on the team in assists, and their new players will emerge in his absence.
Throw in the early favorite for National Player of the Year honors, and you can see that the team may have the best offense in the country.
22. Notre Dame
Scott Martin is back for a sixth year
After an injury cost him most of the 2012-13 season, the NCAA granted another year of eligibility to Notre Dame's Scott Martin.
Martin is a great player who, with his return, helps Notre Dame return most of its core.
While Tim Abromaitis was not granted a sixth year of eligibility, the fact that Martin is back will allow Notre Dame to be considered among college basketball's best teams.
Martin should average double-digit points and at least six rebounds per game next season if he does not suffer any setbacks, which is the type of solid performance that the Fighting Irish need from their 6'8" wing.
The Bearcats' backcourt
Cincinnati loses two starters from last year: Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon.
While Gates was the team's best big man and Dixon was a senior leader, the Bearcats will be able to rely on their backcourt to win them games next season.
With leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick and point guard Cashmere Wright coming back, the team can let these two carry the team. Kilpatrick should be scoring close to 20 points per game next season, while Wright could be kicking in almost 15 of his own, along with five assists.
However, these two are not alone in the backcourt, as the team also returns Jaquon Parker, Jeremiah Davis III and Ge'Lawn Guyn.
With both depth and skill, the backcourt will be key to Cincinnati's success next season.
The Badgers always play suffocating defense
Even after losing point guard and go-to-scorer Jordan Taylor, defense will keep Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers among the nation's elite.
Wisconsin is always among the best defensive teams in the country thank to Bo Ryan's strategy. Points are at a premium in games that feature the Bagders, which is why the team is constantly in the top 25.
The Badgers are bringing in freshman Sam Dekker and returning a few key players to help make up for the loss of Taylor, but the offense wouldn't be enough without stifling defense.
Luckily Wisconsin can stymie almost any offense in the country with its defense.
They have so many options
While Marquette did lose two stars in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, the team has so many different options to step up and take their places that this team won't miss a beat.
College basketball is very different than the NBA. While in the pros you might need a combination of three stars to join forces in Miami to win a championship (sorry, I had to), in college you can rely on depth and different players coming through on different nights.
The team has Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Todd Mayo, who could all step up and become stars. The team also has Chris Otule returning from an injury and JUCO transfer and former Oklahoma Sooner T.J. Taylor joining the team.
With seven legitimate options to step up, the team can rely on any of these guys, or a combination of a few of them, to lead the team to victory on any given night.
18. Michigan State
Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the game. He can take any team and make them elite, and the talent on his current team will help him do so again this year.
With incoming freshman Gary Harris being among the best in the country, and the returns of Keith Appling and Branden Dawson don't hurt either.
These three will form a solid trio, and the reinstated Derrick Nix inside will give the team a big man to rely on.
With Izzo coaching this talented team, you can expect them to make another deep run in March.
Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is taking a risk and implementing the 2-3 zone for this season. He's only been running it for about 40 years or so now, and it hasn't been broken yet.
What makes his zone defense so impenetrable is the athleticism that comes along with it. Boeheim recruits great athletes with long arms who can keep opponents out of the paint, such as Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, recruit Jerami Grant and more.
The anchor of the defense is usually a big center who can block shots well. Enter DaJuan Coleman, Boeheim's prized recruit in the Class of 2012, who is a top five shot-blocker in the class.
This team is going to rely on the zone to keep them competitive against the best teams in the country, not to mention the athleticism to get out in transition.
16. San Diego State
If you haven't heard about Jamaal Franklin before, you will soon. After averaging 17.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore last year, he has the potential to explode onto the scene next season.
While the Aztecs return their top four scorers and most of last year's team and have arguably the best backcourt in the country, Franklin is the reason to love this team.
He is clearly going to be an All-American this year and could be in the conversation for National Player of the Year.
He was constantly improving last season, recording double-digit points in every game after December 19 of last year. During that time he averaged just under 20 points per game, and if he can put up similar numbers throughout the 2012-13 season, he will be the reason to love San Diego State.
15. North Carolina
They won't miss a beat
After losing four of the team's five starters to the NBA, you'd expect North Carolina to struggle this season, but the Tar Heels could fight to win the ACC once again this year.
How? A combination of recruiting and coaching.
Last year the team had two future stars riding the bench in P.J. Hairston and James Michael-McAdoo. Both have a ton of potential at the next level but didn't play much because the team was so loaded. This year they will become huge parts of the team's game plan.
Next comes the four Top 100 recruits that the team has coming in this year. Point guard Marcus Paige is the best of the bunch, and he will be taking over for Kendall Marshall as the team's floor general. After him the team brings in PF Brice Johnson, C Joel James and SF J.P. Tokoto.
Throw in improving players like Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Desmond Hubert, not to mention shooting guard Dexter Strickland, who probably would have entered the NBA draft last season if he hadn't been injured.
This team is stacked once again, and they won't struggle at all next season after losing four studs to the pros.
14. Ohio State
DeShaun Thomas is back
After losing two stars in Jared Sullinger and William Buford, Ohio State is going to look to DeShaun Thomas to be the go-to-scorer next season.
Sullinger and Buford were both great players, but now the Buckeyes need to hope that Thomas can become a great player as well.
Thomas will be a junior next year, after averaging 15.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season. However, he really came on during the NCAA tournament, scoring double-digit points in every game the Buckeyes won for an average of 21.8 points per game.
Ohio State will need similar numbers throughout the entire season if they are to be elite, and now that he is going to be carrying such a heavy load, that should be easy for Thomas.
Duke only brings in two recruits, but those recruits are Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, both of whom were McDonald's All-Americans. They both add slashing options, which is just what Duke needed.
With Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee all standing at 6'11", the team has height.
With Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton, the team has great guards.
With redhshirt freshman Alex Murphy, Josh Hairston, Suliamon and Jefferson, the team has forwards.
With Mike Krzyzewski controlling this team, you can expect this depth to turn into success next season.
Baylor almost always has a loaded frontcourt, and even with Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller all going to the NBA draft, recruits Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers will keep the frontline elite.
However, what's new to this team is a good backcourt as well.
Pierre Jackson emerged as arguably the most important player on the team last year, averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 assists per game, and he will be back next season. Along with him come sharpshooter Brady Heslip and point guard A.J. Walton.
Balance is a relatively new concept for the Bears, but because this team is elite on both ends, you can expect Baylor to be among the nation's top teams.
You can never underestimate Kansas. With Bill Self as coach, this team can't be taken lightly, not even without Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
Robinson was a Player of the Year candidate, and Taylor was a great point guard and an even better leader. However, the loss of these two will be replaced.
Naadir Tharpe will become the floor general for the team, and Elijah Johnson will emerge as the go-to guy. Jeff Withey will be a beast inside, and Travis Releford will remain a shut-down defender and an offensive weapon.
With Bill Self coaching these kids, you can expect Kansas to make up for its huge losses. Self can get the most out of these kids, and they will fight to be in the top 10 because of it.
Florida might lose Brad Beal to the NBA and point guard Erving Walker, but the team still has an excellent backcourt.
Leading scorer Kenny Boynton returns, as does Mike Rosario. These two will be a great combination in the backcourt, but they are far from alone.
Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather also return to the team, and the Gators will welcome in four new guards from Class of 2012.
Braxton Ogbueze is a Top 100 recruit who will be seeing serious time at point guard next year. Along with Ogbueze, they also bring in shooting guards Michael Frazier, DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham.
With this depth and talent in the backcourt, you can expect that Florida will continue to impress in the SEC thanks to their three-guard approach.
The reemergence of basketball in Las Vegas
With this year's UNLV team, we will finally see a great basketball team in the entertainment capital of the world.
Mike Moser is a true star, and he returns to the Rebels after averaging 14.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game as a sophomore.
I ranked Anthony Bennett the No. 6 recruit in the Class of 2012 because he is a stud. He is a big-bodied power forward who can dominate inside, but he can also step out and shoot threes. He is a McDonald's All-American who is going to dominate in college and help basketball come back to Vegas.
Khem Birch is a center from the Class of 2011, but after playing very few games in Pittsburgh, he quickly transferred to UNLV. He was a stud in the class and will help dominate inside.
These three, along with Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Marshall, will help the reemergence of basketball in Las Vegas.
Missouri emerged onto the national scene last year in the Big 12, and ended up winning the conference tournament. The school then went to the SEC, where the Tigers will be playing next season.
The reason that Missouri will be able to remain a top 10 team next season is because of transfers. While Frank Haith did a poor job of recruiting players in the Class of 2012, he has landed four transfers.
The best of the four was also the biggest player to transfer this year: Alex Oriakhi.
Oriakhi is a true center who averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. While he struggled last season alongside Andre Drummond, he will emerge as a tough opponent next season, and I see him averaging a double-double in his senior season.
Earnest Ross, Keion Bell, and Jabari Brown are also transferring to Missouri and will help the Tiger remain among the nation's elite.
Their starting five
Michigan has one of the best starting fives in the country. Just from starters alone, this team is championship-caliber.
After losing five players in Stu Douglas, Zach Novak and the three players who transferred, this team could have been depleted. However, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke both returned to college instead of going to the NBA, which will help this team stay elite.
Add in freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson Jr., and this team already has a great core to build around. McGary is a huge center who will dominate the post in college, while Robinson Jr. is a freak of an athlete.
No matter who the fifth starter is (possibly C Jordan Morgan), this team is going to compete with them, and this dominant starting five will help lead the Wolverines to national success.
6. North Carolina State
While I seriously considered making the thing to love about North Carolina State "raw talent," in the end Mark Gottfried won out.
Gottfried is the head coach of the Wolfpack, and he has led his team to unbelievable success in his first year as a head coach and on the recruiting trail.
After leading his team to an NCAA tournament victory over San Diego State last season, his team is poised to make a run that could go as deep as the Final Four.
Gottfried returns C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown, who helped the Wolfpack be so successful last season. He has also found a way to bring in three McDonald's All-Americans in Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren from the Class of 2012.
Gottfried has done a lot for the program so far, and we can't wait to see what else he will do.
Coach Sean Miller has one of the best recruiting classes in the nation this year, and with hot transfer Mark Lyons also joining the Wildcats, Arizona brings in more talent than any other program in the country.
The recruiting class brings in a new frontcourt in C Kaleb Tarczewski, F Grant Jerrett and F Brandon Ashley, all of whom were considered top 10 recruits in the class at some point in time.
He also brings in explosive combo-guard Gabe York, who has freakish athleticism and incredible range. As a player he can throw down highlight reel dunks and light up the scoreboard, but he is also a great leader.
Throw Lyons into the mix, and we could see a starting five of all-new players who could carry this team to the Final Four, or beyond.
Their freshman trio
UCLA wasn't in the Top 25 last year. The Bruins didn't even make the NCAA tournament.
However, it looks like Ben Howland performs well under pressure because the coach went out and landed the best recruiting class in the nation, including a freshman trio that will bring this team back to prominence, all the while knowing that he was on the hot seat.
PG Kyle Anderson, SF Shabazz Muhammad and PF Tony Parker give the Bruins a trio that compares favorably with that of the Miami Heat's Big Three. These kids are incredibly good players who already have great chemistry.
The 6'9" point guard with incredible skills. The slashing wing that cannot be stopped within 15 feet of the basket. The big-bodied power forward who has no problem dominating inside.
This trio of talented players may be the best in the country, and they could lead UCLA to an NCAA title and save Ben Howland's job, just like Miami's Big Three won an NBA championship and saved Erik Spoelstra's job.
Let me say this first: Personally, I don't like John Calipari. His one-and-done recruitment style is opposed to my natural love of upperclassmen leading a team. But I cannot deny that without him, Kentucky would be screwed next season.
After losing six players to the NBA draft, most teams would be in trouble for the next season. However, because of his recruiting ability and coaching.
Next year's team is replenished by the underrated power forward of his Class of 2011 recruiting class, three top 40 players in the Class of 2012 according to ESPN, and a transfer point guard who he will coach into a star.
Kyle Wiltjer is the only returning member of the Wildcats, where Nerlens Noel, Willlie Cauley, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are the new recruits. Ryan Harrow is the transfer, and he may be the key to the team making it to either the Sweet 16 or the Final Four.
Without Calipari, this team would have very little talent, but because of him, they should dominate the SEC once again.
Louisville's team is filled with leaders, both with players and coaching.
Rick Pitino is among the best coaches in the country. He knows how to handle his guys, and this allows him to be one of the best leaders in the country as well. His guys are always prepared, and even when they're not, he can straighten them out in an instant.
Point guard Peyton Siva is the best floor general in the country, and he is like a mini-Pitino on the court, shouting at his teammates to stick to the game plan and make the smart play.
After Pitino and Siva, the team still has Russ and Chris Smith, who can become leaders when necessary, although the entire team has become leaders thanks to Pitinio's coaching.
This team cannot be baffled for long, which makes them a tough team to beat.
There is no team deeper than the Indiana Hoosiers. None. Not after returning all five starters and bringing in five new players from one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
Cody Zeller headlines the team as the star, but he is far from alone.
Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Ron Patterson and Peter Jurkin are all also on the team and help make the Hoosiers the preseason No. 1.
This team is talented, deep and has a great coach in Tom Crean. With all of these factors coming together, this team certainly has what it takes to win it all.
The the only question left to ponder is: Will they?