Yes, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft is still many weeks away. There will be players who change their minds and go back to school, and there will be some surprises and questionable decisions.
Sure, the Tar Heels were only crowned champs less than a month to go.
Hell, the late signing period just began last week, and there are still dozens of unsigned recruits including some program-changers, like John Wall, Xavier Henry, and Lance Stephenson, still available, if only for a year.
The point is that a lot can still happen between now and the tip off of the 2009-2010 season. However, for us obsessed, 365-days-a-year college basketball fans, it is never too early to take a look ahead, especially if it is just a little peek.
In the age of the one-and-done, there is much more of an onus on the coach than ever before. A coach used to be able to recruit a player, let him sit the bench, learn the system, and then develop in time into a starter.
Now, with the best players attending college only because they have to, a coach’s ability is put to the test.
He now needs to identify more “diamonds in the rough:” the players who are talented enough to be premier players but not quite at the level that college is only a place to increase earning potential.
Those unpolished gems will be the ones that stick around, providing the necessary stability and becoming the true heart of the program.
That is why the usual powerhouses will find themselves sitting at the top again going into this season. Though most of them welcome the flash-in-the-pan players, the teams that you will find at the top of this list are the ones with experience and upperclassman know-how.
Sure, North Carolina boasts one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time with six top 100 recruits, but it is senior-to-be Deon Thompson that will anchor the Heels.
Villanova is bringing in a haul of blue chip signees, but it is still rising junior Scottie Reynolds that will make things happen in Philly.
Purdue might be the best example of all, with their three juniors-to-be that have played with each other before even setting foot on campus.
The young guns will undoubtedly help, as recent memories of studs like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love spring to mind, but the old axiom still holds true: experience wins championships, and this list conveys it.
This is the only team finds itself in the preseason Top 10 on a contingency: how many of his commits can John Calipari convince to follow him to the Bluegrass State?
First of all, Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks, the lone bright spots on an incredibly disappointing squad, have both declared for the draft and do not appear to be coming back, even though the preserved their eligibility by not signing with agents.
Beyond those two, there was not exactly a wealth of talent on the team, so it is imperative that Calipari gets some of the commits from his stellar recruiting class at Memphis to come to UK.
Alabama’s Demarcus Cousins, the nation’s top-rated pivot has already signed, but stud two guard Xavier Henry appears to be leaning towards Kansas, and at this point, John Wall has everyone and their brother after him, so it is not a given he will sign with Calipari.
Simply stated, the stars must align for the Wildcats to remain in this spot come October.
If all goes according to plan, and Patterson and Meeks decide to return, the team will trot out a starting lineup of Wall at the point, Henry at the two, Meeks at small forward, Patterson at power forward, and Cousins at the five spot.
That team, successful or not, would at least be incredibly fun to watch. However, if Meeks and Patterson stay in the draft, Henry goes to Kansas, and Wall settles on another place to complete his one-and-done, which are all entirely possible, Kentucky fans had better brace themselves for yet another long year.
As far as talent goes, this team may have the single most concentrated pool of potential in the country.
Most likely running with a three guard set, they’ll trot out sophomore Larry Drew, junior Will Graves, and freshmen Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald to play in the backcourt. Upfront they will have senior Deon Thompson, sophomore Ed Davis, and freshmen David and Travis Wear and John Henson.
There is so much talent, but the problem is that of the eight players who will get the most playing time outside of Thompson, five are freshman and two are sophomores who did not get much playing time last year.
Rarely does a team this young, regardless of how much talent it has, put it together and make a deep run in the tournament. So that’s why, even though you will see UNC ranked top three in most preseason polls, they fall a bit on my list.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to acknowledge that Bob Huggins is good at what he does. With every stop comes an increased win total and an influx of talent. John Belein already laid the foundation at West Virginia, so the win totals were already up there.
However, with Huggins’ arrival, in came players like Devin Ebanks and Darryl Bryant, top-flight recruits instead of less-heralded talents who fit a system.
Huggins worked his magic again this year, bringing in a consensus top 10 class with three top 100 recruits in the 6’9” PF Deniz Kilicli, 6’8" PF Dan Jennings, and 6’5" SF Dalton Pepper. All three are expected to contribute right away.
Don’t think that all this talk about recruits means that the talent is place is sorely lacking. Ebanks’ decision to return for his sophomore year brought elation to Mountaineer Nation, as he will certainly be one of the top players in the Big East, if not the country.
Also returning are leading scorer Da’Sean Butler (17 points and six boards per game) and the blazing fast Bryant. Losing Alex Ruoff will hurt for sure, but with this much firepower, the coaches and fans alike will be expecting big things.
After their unexpected, headline-grabbing dash to the Final Four last year, a grace period would be allowed in many programs, but not this one. Not when Tom Izzo is your head coach.
The Spartans boast the Big Ten’s best backcourt, with guards Kalin Lucas and Chris and Korie Lucious and wing Darrell Summers creating all kinds of matchup problems of the offensive end and providing some tenacious defense at the other.
Though the frontcourt is hurt by the graduation of Goran Suton and Marquise Gray, Delvin Roe and Raymar Morgan are elite talents who have the potential to dominate. Also adding depth to the frontcourt are two top 100 recruits in 6’9" Derrick Nix and 6’10" Garrick Sherman.
This team has all the right pieces in all the right places, and has a great combination of youth and experience. With Izzo steering the ship, the Spartans are the favorites to win the Big Ten and are primed to finish what they started last year.
The Blue Devils have been a disappointment the last few years with early tourney exits, bad conference losses, and a glut of overrated recruits.
The slow and steady downward trend has been alarming to their fans, but it looks like things are getting back to normal in Durham, as Coach K is getting the team back to its roots.
Gerald Henderson is all but gone, but that is the team’s only major loss. The only other player of significance leaving is Greg Paulus, and he had a declining role, anyways.
The team finally boasts some athleticism in its backcourt again, with Nolan Smith and Eliot Williams each ready to break out.
Jon Scheyer provides a steady shooting hand and, though he should come off the bench, will most likely start.
Kyle Singler, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, is back and should be even better.
After living and dying by the three point shot and playing small-ball for the last few years, the Devils are once again going big, restoring scoring, size, strength, and defense in the post.
A rotation of bigs with an improving Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee, Lance Thomas, and incoming stud freshmen, the 6’11” Mason Plumlee and 6’10" Ryan Kelly, both McDonald’s All-Americans, is the team’s best in years.
With more bulk down low and a quicker, more athletic backcourt, do not expect Duke to be headed home after the first weekend of the tournament again this year.
The theme in West Lafayette this year is continuity.
Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore, as everybody knows, have been playing side-by-side since their AAU days.
The team is losing only four seniors, and their production, 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds combined, is by no means difficult to replace.
Since their coach, Matt Painter replaced the legendary Gene Keady in 2004, the team’s win totals have increased each year with seven, nine, 22, 25, and 27 wins in each respective year.
So as you can see, things have been calm and steady the last few years. It may not provide the most excitement, but it produces victories.
Hummel is one of the premier players in the country. Severely hampered by a back injury throughout the entire season, he still managed to put up 12.5 points, 7 boards and 2 assists per game. At full strength, he is one of the most difficult players to guard with his good size and smooth stroke.
Alongside Hummel is another one of the Big Ten’s best players, Moore. The 6’3” guard is simply a pure scorer, a phenomenal penetrator who possesses the ability to create his own shot. Fellow classmate JaJuan Johnson, the final third of this talented troika, is developing into a dominant big man.
The 6’10” forward posted 13.4 points and 5.6 boards per game to go with 2.1 blocks and put on quite a show in the tournament against UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet, putting up 22 points and 4 blocks on the likely lottery pick.
As long as the ‘big three’ continues to step up, there is no reason to believe that this team cannot make a deep run in March.
Why is everybody counting this team out already?
Losing A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien certainly stings, but please do not believe the pundits when they say the loss of Hasheem Thabeet is catastrophic. Far from it.
(Like I’ve said a hundred times, he cannot camp underneath the basketball in the NBA, so everyone will see that he’s not the “game-changer” everyone tells you he is. Anyways, I digress).
They are returning a lineup with Kemba Walker at the point, Jerome Dyson at the two, Stanley Robinson at the wing spot, and stud recruit Alex Oriakhi manning the center position.
The only potential weak link is at power forward, and that does not even appear to be much of an issue. Gavin Edwards can play there, as can incoming freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who is more of a small forward at 6’6” but has good strength and can finish above the rim.
Don’t sleep on this squad, though. Myles Brand and his goon squad may be the toughest opponent UConn will have to face.
After a deep tourney run that was considered surprising by only casual basketball fans, the Wildcats appear locked and loaded to do the same this year.
No doubt losing seniors Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark hurts, but the team is returning and adding enough talent that the blow should be softened considerably.
The perennial strength of the team, the guard rotation, will be at the forefront again.
Seniors-to-be Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding and rising sophomores Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher will provide enough firepower to keep this high-octane offense running at full speed.
The post positions are where the major concerns lie, as Cunningham was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and Anderson chipped in nine points and six boards per game as well.
Jay Wright and his staff will certainly look to the 6’8" Antonio Pena to provide some muscle inside, but after averaging only 17 minutes and five points per game, there are major questions surrounding him.
Wright did sign a top-five recruiting class that features two premier power forwards in Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou, who are expected help immediately, but after seeing both of them play in person, I have massive doubts about what they can contribute, as they both looked incredibly overrated to me.
Though the lack of size will be a season-long battle for the Wildcats, everyone knows who makes the wheels turn, and for Villanova under Jay Wright, it’s always the little guys.
Two words: Avery Bradley.
I know this contradicts my point about experience, but this is the exception to the rule. I have had the immense privilege and joy of getting to see this blue chipper in person twice, and to say I walked away impressed is not fair to Mr. Bradley.
I have attended countless big-time high school and AAU tournaments, showcases, and all-star games over the past seven or eight years, and besides LeBron (who I saw play against Trevor Ariza’s Westchester High team at the Prime Time Shootout in N.J. ), he is the best high school player I have ever seen.
His offense is light years ahead of his peers, and he is a relentless ball hawk on D; a lockdown on-ball defender.
Throw him in the lineup with fellow five-star recruit Jordan Hamilton, Dexter Pittman, Damion James, and Gary Johnson among others, this team has, at least on paper, what it takes to get to Indianapolis.
Though the rest of the Top 10 may be fluid, there are no questions about who is sitting on top going into the 2009-'10 season.
A year removed from winning the National Championship and losing Brandon Rush, Sasha Kaun, and title game hero Mario Chalmers, the consensus was that the Jayhawks were in store for a rebuilding year.
However, with the masterful recruiting and coaching of Bill Self, the team did not miss a beat.
Sherron Collins stepped up to fill the leadership and scoring void, blossoming into a premier floor general while posting 19 points and five assists per game.
Center Cole Aldrich finally provided a return on the potential that he flashed during the tournament in his freshman year, averaging 15 and 11 per game.
Freshmen Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus and Markieff Morris and sophomore Brady Morningstar all chipped in, each stuffing the stat sheet.
This year, the prognosis could not be better. Aldrich and Collins both are both returning, and Self can surely count on the continued maturation and improvement of the young guys that played above their years.
Also, with blue chippers Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson (I’ve seen both play in person, and they will certainly not disappoint KU fans), the team should have no problem getting to Indianapolis.