March of the year 2014 is approximately 10 months away, so naturally now is as good a time as any to predict the No. 1 seeds in the 2014 NCAA tournament. After all, it’s going to be a long basketball-less summer and it’s never too early to do a little foreshadowing.
With that in mind, read on to see a super early prediction for the top four seeds in the next Big Dance. After a tournament that saw Gonzaga from a non-power conference grab a top seed and flame out early, expect the bluebloods to seize the spots on the top of next year’s bracket.
It will be a mix of veteran-laden squads and freshmen-dominated rosters that will garner the Selection Sunday headlines.
The list of departing players from Arizona, Duke, Ohio State and Florida is a who’s-who of college basketball stars from a season ago.
Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, Deshaun Thomas, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton, Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill have all left the college game, but their respective teams that they left behind will still be well-equipped to compete at the highest level in 2013-14.
Arizona is bringing in a loaded recruiting class that will be led Nick Johnson. Duke fans can’t wait to get a look at Jabari Parker along with an older version of Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. Florida will enjoy one of the strongest front-lines in the entire country, and Ohio State still has Aaron Craft on defense and the emergent LaQuinton Ross on offense.
That being said, expect these teams to fall on the No. 2 or 3 seed lines by season’s end. As talented as each is, there is simply too much departing talent to grant No. 1 seeds at this point in the offseason.
In the span of one recruiting period, John Calipari’s Kentucky program went from NIT losers (to Robert Morris, of all schools) to the likely No. 1 team in the country when the season tips off this fall.
The Wildcats will be seen as national title contenders and possible favorites because of their freshmen, but it won’t hurt that some of last year’s players will be back to provide leadership and a bit more experience. Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer are all returning to Lexington.
But it is the diaper dandies that has Big Blue Nation excited. Brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison will score from the perimeter and set up teammates, Julius Randle will dominate on the blocks and James Young is a slasher that may end up scoring more than any of his teammates. That’s not even giving a shout out to all the 5-star players heading Kentucky’s way.
Andrew Wiggins, who is arguably the best high-school player since some guy named LeBron James laced it up in Ohio, is still deciding where he will play next year. Kentucky is certainly a finalist for his services, which would frankly be unfathomable considering what is already in tow.
The Wildcats only issue may be the fact that there is only one basketball to go around.
The moment Adreian Payne decided to join teammate Gary Harris in coming back to East Lansing was the moment Michigan State became arguably the biggest challenger to Kentucky in the 2013-14 season.
The Spartans were a Sweet 16 squad last year and were talented enough to beat any team in the country on their best day. Derrick Nix is the only player from that group that won’t return with an extra year of experience in October.
Harris and Keith Appling form one of the more talented backcourts in the country, and Michigan State will always be physical and dominant down low. Throw in the athleticism of Branden Dawson on the wing, and Tom Izzo doesn’t really have any obvious holes on his roster.
The Big Ten will still be deep next season, but it likely won’t be the treacherous gruel it was in 2012-13. Ohio State and Michigan will certainly provide potent challenges to the Spartans, but expect the green and white to win the league. A No. 1 seed is often the prize for the Big Ten champ.
Russ Smith’s decision to come back was a huge boost for the defending national champions. Peyton Siva will be difficult enough to replace, so having Smith’s experience and developing leadership in the backcourt will help the Cardinals in their efforts to defend their crown.
Rick Pitino brought in two point guards to help replace Siva (freshman Terry Rozier and junior-college transfer Chris Jones) in terms of production, but it will be the lack of Siva’s toughness and timely baskets that will be the most difficult to overcome.
Big man Gorgui Dieng is also leaving Louisville to test the NBA draft waters, but the Cardinals still have Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan down low. Throw in the Final Four MVP Luke Hancock, and Pitino has plenty of firepower to give in-state Kentucky a run for its money in March.
The question following a national title is which one sets in first between complacency and a championship mindset that allows teams to overcome lost production. With Pitino at the helm, it is a safe bet that the Cardinals won’t be feeling complacent anytime soon.
Oklahoma State may be the closest thing to a surprise on this list, but when you look at the talent the Cowboys have returning to Stillwater next season, it isn’t much of a stretch.
Marcus Smart, arguably the best player in college basketball (or at least the best one that won’t be a freshman next year), shocked everyone by returning to school in lieu of NBA riches. Smart was joined by teammate Le’Bryan Nash in announcing his return, which gives Oklahoma State the status as Big 12 favorites for 2013-14.
Throw in the return of guard Markel Brown and the sharpshooting of Phil Forte, and the Cowboys could finally knock Kansas off the Big 12 perch that the Jayhawks (who lost all five starters) have occupied for nine seasons.
But the ball starts and stops with Smart for Oklahoma State. He will likely lead the Cowboys in points, assists, steals and even rebounds next year and could be in the running for numerous player of the year awards.
Look for Smart and company to run rampant through the Big 12 and earn a No. 1 seed.