Gut Feeling About the Top Teams in College Basketball
In college basketball, much like in any sport, it’s so easy to beat a dead horse with countless hours of analysis. There’s certainly no shortage of so-called college basketball “experts” eager to provide insight through stats, scouting reports and sources.
But sometimes instead of over-analyzing, you just have to go with your gut. Many a sports fan can tell you that a gut feeling can be quite the unstoppable force.
In certain cases, you just know how things will turn out. When it comes to the top teams in college basketball, I’ve developed gut feelings about how I suspect this upcoming season will go down for each of them.
Depending on how accurate these feelings truly are, my gut will either be idolized like Mark Wahlberg’s was during his Calvin Klein days, or some doctor may diagnose me with a severe case of gastroenteritis.
I guess we’ll have to wait for the season to play out to see exactly which of these gut feelings are on the Marky Mark.
Gut Feeling: The Orange won’t overcome its departed talent
It probably won’t be all that hard for Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange to make another NCAA tournament. When you have over 800 lifetime victories and pull in impressive recruiting classes on a yearly basis, you’re going to make the big dance more times than not.
But in terms of getting back to the Elite 8, Syracuse’s orange will burst in 2013. Syracuse lost a lot of elite talent from its roster in the spring. Fab Melo (drafted to the Boston Celtics) was a defensive stalwart for the ‘Cuse up until his untimely suspension last year. When you’re a seven footer able to sit back in a 2-3 zone defense, you’re always going to be a stalwart.
Dion Waiters (now with the Cleveland Cavilers) provided an invaluable scoring punch off the bench last season.
And it’s never easy to replace the veteran leadership and productivity that the senior duo of Kris Joseph and Skip Jardine provided during Syracuse’s run to the regional finals last year. Losing all of that firepower in one offseason will prove too much even for a legendary coach like Boeheim to deal with.
Michigan State and Ohio State
Gut Feeling: The Spartans and Buckeyes will struggle to replace star players
This particular analyst’s gut feeling tells him that, at least for this year, traditional basketball powers Michigan State and Ohio State will take a backseat to teams like Michigan and Indiana at the top of the Big Ten standings.
The biggest reason for this power shift is the departure of two elite players in Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. Green basically did it all for Tom Izzo’s Spartans during his legendary career, stopping just short of manning the concession stands and wiping sweat off the court in East Lansing.
Meanwhile, Sullinger takes his 17.6 ppg and impressive low post abilities from Columbus to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, leaving a big hole—literally and figuratively—for coach Thad Matta to fill.
Eventually, both the Spartans and Buckeyes will get over the losses of their stars. Both programs and their respective coaches are too good not to.
But don’t be surprised if there’s some drop off in play during both teams’ transitions from the old guard to the new guard.
Gut Feeling: The Bruins are Final Four-bound
Say what you want about UCLA Bruins coach Ben Howland. You can criticize him for being socially awkward, a control freak or a coach who favors star players—character flaws that were introduced by Sports Illustrated’s scathing feature on UCLA basketball back in the spring.
However, you can’t argue that when Howland has a team chock full of legitimate NBA talent, he gets them to the Final Four. When elite Bruins like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison were playing for Howland, UCLA made the Final Four with regular ease—three straight years, to be exact.
Guess what? Howland has another team chock full of legitimate NBA talent on his hands again this year in Westwood.
With the superb freshman trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker leading the way, expectations are again high for the Bruins. If Howland can get this trio to lead the way offensively and defensively, then UCLA will get to back to the Final Four.
North Carolina State
Gut Feeling: CJ Leslie will be ACC Player of the Year
North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried must’ve breathed quite the sigh of relief when star forward CJ Leslie announced he would return to the team for his junior year in the spring. And in what will likely be his final season in a Wolfpack uniform, Leslie will win the prestigious ACC Player of the Year award.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to be a slam dunk for Leslie. There are a few other viable candidates who will also contend for the award, including North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo.
But star freshman guard Rodney Purvis’ offensive presence will likely alleviate some of the intense defensive attention that Leslie receives from opponents on a nightly basis. This will allow Leslie to improve on his 14.6 ppg mark from last season and become the first NC State player since Julius Hodge back in 2004 to win the ACC POY.
Gut Feeling: The Wolverines will finally make a deep NCAA tournament run under John Beilein
Slowly but surely, coach John Beilein has been building up the Michigan men’s basketball team back to national prominence. With the recruiting class he has hauled in for this upcoming season, many feel like it’s time for Michigan to take that next step and finally get past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament under Beilein.
With the talent that’s going to be on the floor in Ann Arbor, a deep March Madness run is a very real possibility in 2013. The Wolverines boast the nation’s seventh-best recruiting class in 2012, according to the scouting experts at rivals.com.
The class is led by former Wolverine legend Glenn Robinson’s son, Glenn Robinson III. He’s joined by center Mitch McGary, and guards Nick Stauskas and Spike Albrecht.
Put those freshmen with returning Wolverines stars like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and it’s easy to see why Michigan fans are gushing with optimism these days.
Gut Feeling: Even without Thomas Robinson, Kansas won’t drop off much
Stud Kansas forward Thomas Robinson has left the Jayhawks for the riches of the NBA. So what?
Expect Kansas to only reload this season. Will Bill Self get his team back to the national championship game again this year?
Maybe not, although I wouldn’t put it past him if déjà vu struck again. Last year, the Jayhawks entered the season outside of the top 10 and got within one win of claiming another national championship under Self.
The 2012-13 Jayhawks sans Robinson look as talented as ever. With emerging center Jeff Withey and star freshman forward Perry Ellis leading the way, the Jayhawks will once again be very competitive.
Maybe they won’t make the Final Four again. But with the pure talent on their roster (don’t forget about solid role players like Travis Releford) and Self’s coaching expertise at their expense, I wouldn’t put it past Kansas to win the Big 12 again and make another deep March run.
Gut Feeling: A repeat championship for Kentucky is inevitable
It’s tough to say what is scarier about Kentucky basketball these days. Is it the fact that they won the national championship last year with surprising ease? Or is it the fact that you get the feeling that John Calipari and the Wildcats are only getting started on their run of dominance?
Like it or not, Kentucky is poised to become college basketball’s first repeat champion since SEC rival Florida back in 2006 and 2007.
At this point in the coaching game, Calipari has it all figured out. He has his pick of the litter regarding elite high school players.
That’s because his track record of getting players drafted into the NBA is impeccable these days. And now that Calipari has successfully guided a team through an entire NCAA tournament unscathed, the sky’s the limit. And it doesn’t hurt that Calipari’s replacing one stud big man (Anthony Davis) with another (Nerlens Noel).
Add it all up, and it equals a likely second consecutive crown for Kentucky.
Gut Feeling: If Louisville can stay healthy, they'll own the Big East
Looking back on last season, it was definitely one of Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s finest efforts. When you consider the rash of injuries Louisville suffered through last year on its way to an improbable Final Four, it’s easy to see why Pitino is considered one of the best in the business.
And it’s also easy to see that if Louisville can somehow avoid the injury bug this upcoming season, they’ll be the class of the Big East. For starters, the Cardinals return senior point guard Peyton Siva and his nine points and five assists per game.
Junior center Gorgui Dieng has emerged as a reliable defensive presence down low, while junior guard Russ Smith proved several times last season that he’s ready to become the team’s biggest offensive weapon.
And if Mike Marra can stay healthy, then he gives Siva a deadly outside shooter to kick out to.
Obviously, it’s never easy to navigate through an incredibly rugged conference like the Big East. But the Cardinals have the chemistry, coaching and Final Four experience in their corner.
If they can somehow fare better in the injury department this season, Louisville will be a tough out once again in 2012-13.
Gut Feeling: Cody Zeller will be a top three NBA draft pick in 2013
Indiana fans, you better enjoy Cody Zeller now. That’s because Zeller’s second season in Bloomington is likely to be his last.
Although Zeller could easily follow in his older brother’s (Tyler of North Carolina) footsteps and spend four years at Indiana, I find that scenario highly unlikely. Especially when experts like cbssports.com College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman is currently projecting Zeller to be the top selection in next year’s NBA Draft.
It’s very tough to argue against Goodman’s ranking of Zeller. He’s the biggest driving force (other than coach Tom Crean) behind the revival of Indiana Hoosiers basketball. Zeller can finish around the rim powerfully, is a sound rebounder and defender and can step out to hit the midrange jumper with ease.
He’s also plays with a relentless fire. Or as the kids would say, plays with that swag.
The pressure will be on a loaded Hoosiers team to win and win big in what will be Zeller’s final collegiate season.
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