Which is more important to winning in college basketball: a couple of dominant talents or reliable, versatile depth?
Any college basketball coach would envy a squad with two or three McDonald's All-Americans, but there's also a lot of value in going 10-deep with players who play their roles and aren't preoccupied with trying to shine for NBA scouts.
Most of the 15 teams in this slideshow—the top 10 plus a handful of honorable mentions—have a couple of bona fide stars in place, but the supporting cast is the thing.
In the event of an injury, who's prepared to plug in a replacement and keep it moving?
If a touted freshman struggles, who has veterans capable of carrying the weight?
These teams do, and as a result, they should be expected to win this season.
These five are presented in alphabetical order, and you can debate their placement in the comments:
Three veterans departed, but Sean Miller still has a great sophomore class with some veteran presence in the backcourt. Big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski should both get full-time minutes this season. Point guard T.J. McConnell takes over after sitting out following his transfer from Duquesne, with senior Jordin Mayes in reserve.
Shooting guard Nick Johnson made honorable mention for the Pac-12 All-Defensive team last season, but he is capable being a full-fledged All-Pac 12 selection. Sophomore Gabe York and freshman Elliott Pitts will contend to back him up. Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a major defensive threat, will see large minutes at the 3.
And then there's freshman forward Aaron Gordon. Gordon had an eventful summer, winning MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American Game, and then doing the same at the FIBA U19 World Championships. He played on a USA team that included Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell, among others. That means he's good, right?
Granted, this is an optimistic listing, since the Hoosiers are counting on strong production from a host of freshmen. Wings Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson will be expected to compete for a starting spot immediately. If the two bigger players can't hit the ground quickly, coach Tom Crean may need to start a small backcourt for the second straight year, with 6'0" Yogi Ferrell and 6'1" Evan Gordon together.
Frontcourt production will need to come from freshmen Noah Vonleh (a McDonald's All-American) and Luke Fischer, as well as sophomores Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Last but not least, senior forward Will Sheehey will be a primary source of scoring and leadership.
If everyone plays up to their billing—a tall order indeed—Crean will be able to go at least nine deep with confidence.
The Tigers' frontcourt is young, but loaded with potential. McDonald's All-American Jarrell Martin is the jewel of a six-man recruiting class in which each player stands at least 6'6". Second-year coach Johnny Jones added two more ESPN 100 prospects, forward Jordan Mickey and point guard Tim Quarterman, along with JUCO center John Odo and Australian Darcy Malone, who stand 6'10" and 7'0" respectively.
As for returning talent, All-SEC forward Johnny O'Bryant provides muscle to go with the hustle of mighty-mite guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer. All three were double-digit scorers last season, as was wing Shavon Coleman. Sophomore Malik Morgan nearly left Baton Rouge in the offseason, but returns to add energy off the bench.
The Red Storm return a host of talented, yet mostly erratic performers. Double-digit scorers Phil Greene, JaKarr Sampson and D'Angelo Harrison all struggled to shoot decent percentages last season. Junior Sir'Dominic Pointer shot 51 percent and finished third on the team in rebounding.
Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch played decently at the point after becoming eligible in December, but he'll face a stiff challenge for his minutes from five-star Philly point guard Rysheed Jordan.
Most of the experienced players aren't big guys, but coach Steve Lavin gets some badly needed size on this season's roster. Sophomore Chris Obekpa struggles offensively, but his four blocks per game led the nation. Seniors God'sgift Achiuwa and Orlando Sanchez both stand about 6'8", and Achiuwa averaged 9.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 2011-12.
The Orange lost some veteran talent, but Jim Boeheim always manages to find plenty of bodies to keep the 2-3 zone fierce. The interior will be anchored by upperclassmen Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas, along with sophomore DaJuan Coleman and freshman Tyler Roberson.
Forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant should lead Syracuse in scoring, as Fair is the only double-figure man returning. Freshman Tyler Ennis will step in at the point, with junior Trevor Cooney, sophomore Michael Gbinije and rookie Ron Patterson dueling for minutes at the 2.
Marquette should be among the class programs in the new, slimmer Big East this season. If that's to happen, though, the Golden Eagles will need to replace some veteran production, especially in the backcourt.
The freshman perimeter trio of point guard Duane Wilson, shooting guard JaJuan Johnson and small forward Deonte Burton, all ESPN 100 prospects, will need to hit the ground running. Johnson and Wilson are both very versatile scorers, while Burton is an explosive slasher with a frame built to take contact.
The only other returning guards are juniors Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo and former walk-on Jake Thomas. Mayo shot an unsightly 35 percent from the floor last season, while Wilson has shot less than 30 percent from the floor for his career. Wilson has, however, shown the potential to be a steady ball-handler (3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio last season) and defensive pest (3.5 percent career steal rate).
Thomas was a three-point threat for South Dakota, shooting 38.9 percent in his two seasons there, but has seen only spot minutes for MU.
Up front, the primary options are seniors Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner (Gardner being the burly, screaming fellow above). Gardner was one of the nation's top 10 true shooters last season, according to StatSheet.com. He's hard to stop in the post, and, as a career 80 percent foul shooter, opponents can't take the chicken route and foul him, either.
Wilson is another efficient all-around player who should approach 12 points and seven rebounds per game this season. He scored in double figures 13 times in the Eagles' final 15 games last season, but like the rest of his team, he laid an egg (1-of-9) in the Elite Eight loss to Syracuse.
Backup center Chris Otule (6'11", 275) had a double-double in Marquette's first tournament win over Davidson and is a 58 percent career shooter from the floor. Junior college transfer Jameel McKay and sophomore Steve Taylor Jr. will also see time, with McKay seeking to emulate past Marquette JUCO success stories like Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.
Why are the Tar Heels this low?
In the frontcourt, North Carolina should be expected to hang with anyone in the country. Coach Roy Williams can go a legit three deep at both power forward and center.
Forward James Michael McAdoo always seems on the verge of breaking out and establishing himself as a full-fledged NBA lottery pick, but he hasn't quite managed the feat in his first two years. Last season, he was surrounded by a trio of big men with vast potential who couldn't manage to grasp their roles.
Junior Desmond Hubert and sophomores Joel James and Brice Johnson won't get the luxury of learning on the job this season, as McDonald's All-Americans Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks arrive on campus lugging expectations of their own. Meeks is already putting in the work to keep up with UNC's up-tempo offense, dropping 20 pounds in the offseason, per NBC Sports.
On the perimeter is where things get dicey. In the wake of potential first-round pick P.J. Hairston's suspension for reckless driving—and the other developments in his eventful offseason—the Heels may be forced to enter the season with only five scholarship wings and guards. If Hairston returns, he'll provide a focal point for the offense.
Point guard Marcus Paige learned as he went through his freshman season, and Williams will expect him to shoot much better than 35 percent this season. Four-star recruit Nate Britt will be there to challenge if Paige falters.
The team's lone senior, guard Leslie McDonald, is the only true shooting threat outside of Hairston. Small forward J.P. Tokoto has carted around comparisons to Tar Heel legend Vince Carter (h/t Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), but was largely ineffective as a freshman.
There is so much potential in UNC's 11 expected contributors, but most of the players have barely scratched the surface so far.
Where North Carolina has a host of four- and five-star recruits who should become good college players, new ACC rival Notre Dame has multiple three-star players who already have.
It all starts in the backcourt, where seniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins operate as interchangeable parts. The two finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on the Big East assist chart last season, both demonstrating tremendous creativity to set up their teammates. Atkins was the more efficient shooter and ball-handler.
Top-30 prospect Demetrius Jackson, a point guard from Mishawaka, Ind., comes aboard this season. Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey has the option of using a three-guard attack, matching the 6'5" Grant up with opposing small forwards. Two other freshmen, wings Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, will get a chance at minutes early on.
Up front, the Irish feature four established veterans. Shooting wings Pat Connaughton and Cameron Biedscheid must always be accounted for. After all, they finished first and third on the team in three-point attempts last season.
Inside, seniors Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight have to assume leading roles following the graduation of All-Big East center Jack Cooley. Sherman was the killer in ND's epic five-OT win over Louisville, scoring all 17 of his points in the extra sessions. He notched another 14 against the Cards in the regular-season finale, then 16 against Marquette in the Big East tournament.
The 6'10" Knight also had a good game in the Big East tourney, scoring 18 points and ripping nine rebounds in a win over Rutgers. He followed that with 14 against Iowa State in the NCAA tournament. Knight is more of a bruiser than Sherman, and if ACC whistles are tighter than Big East calls, Knight may struggle with foul trouble.
Another 6'10" performer, sophomore Zach Auguste is the wild card. He's been called "the most gifted big man the program has had in a decade" by the South Bend Tribune.
Fran McCaffery's team can go a legitimate two deep at every position this season. There aren't many teams in America who can say that.
Only one part-time starter is gone from last season's NIT runner-up, but a pair of talented newcomers may offer McCaffery a net gain.
In the post, there's size with forward Aaron White and centers Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni. White is coming off an All-Big Ten selection and is the conference's only returnee who averaged at least 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds last season. Woodbury and Olaseni balance each other well, Olaseni's athletic ability providing a change of pace from Woodbury's improving low-post game.
At small forward, a battle will rage between Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and Melsahn Basabe, who only seems like he once played for Dr. Tom Davis. Basabe is the more physical player, providing interior energy. The 6'8" Uthoff is taller and also has a much more reliable jump shot out to three-point range. Either player is capable of relieving White at the 4.
In the backcourt, sophomores Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons learned on the job at the point, combining for about 13 points and five assists per game. Shooting guard Devyn Marble is another all-conference selection and, at 15 PPG, is the No. 2 returning scorer in the Big Ten.
Veterans Zach McCabe and Josh Oglesby need to rebound from terrible shooting seasons, and if they don't, freshman Peter Jok can shoot enough for both. Iowa's Mr. Basketball shot 42 percent from deep in his senior season while also draining 92 percent from the foul line.
Since May 14th, the national coverage of the Kansas Jayhawks has sounded like the restaurant scene from "Being John Malkovich." A constant droning hum of "Wiggins, Wiggins, Wiggins," with an occasional "Andrew Wiggins" on the side.
While the presumptive No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft has otherworldly talent, the Jayhawks do have other pieces around him. The downside is that many have just as little college experience as Wiggins, and even the veterans are somewhat unproven.
We'll start with the players who actually started games for the Jayhawks last season. Sophomore power forward Perry Ellis started four and classmate Jamari Traylor started one. That's five out of 185 possible starts, and the two will have to come prepared for much more this season.
Ellis played well in the postseason, averaging 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game between the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Now, can he do it for a full five months?
Traylor, likewise, had two of his best games in the Big 12 tournament, but averaged less than 10 minutes per game on the season. Redshirt freshman Landen Lucas (6'10", 240) should also get himself back in the rotation.
They'll be joined on the interior by hyped freshman Joel Embiid and Memphis graduate transfer Tarik Black. Black is a career 60 percent shooter from the floor, but has historically underachieved on the glass, averaging less than five per game. Cameroon native Embiid will grow with experience, but should threaten for regular double-doubles by next season, if not this February.
The backcourt should be led by junior Naadir Tharpe, who dished seven assists, but also missed seven shots in KU's tournament loss to Michigan. He'll need to shoot much better than 35 percent from the floor. Freshmen Connor Frankamp and Frank Mason will be waiting if he can't. Frankamp can shoot from anywhere and Mason loves to attack the rack.
Two more freshmen, Brannen Greene and McDonald's All-American Wayne Selden, are athletic enough to change a game at both ends, but Greene needs to improve his defensive focus and Selden could use work on his jumper.
Kentucky's talent level is expected to be off the charts, with one of history's most epic recruiting classes coming in. Beyond the big blue sea of McDonald's All-Americans, however, the 'Cats have only four scholarship players with any college experience.
Alex Poythress' season numbers actually look solid (11 points, six rebounds, 58 percent FG shooting), but he tended to disappear at times, especially late in the season. Poythress had nine games in which he took four or fewer shots, and he scored in double figures only twice in UK's final 13 games.
In comparison, fellow sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein flourished as the season wore on. He scored 10 or more in seven of nine games during February and early March. In one five-game stretch after Nerlens Noel's season-ending injury, Cauley-Stein averaged 12.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. And neither returning stud is guaranteed a starting spot.
Cauley-Stein will need to hold off 265-pound man-child Dakari Johnson. Johnson is nowhere near as athletic as Cauley-Stein and isn't as good a rim protector, but he'll score and rebound with the best.
At power forward, Julius Randle is perhaps the only player who can stave off the inevitable Andrew Wiggins takeover at next June's NBA draft. The consistency of his jump shot may be the only weakness he carries into Lexington.
California native Marcus Lee would start for any other team in the country. Here, he'll caddy for Randle, block copious amounts of shots and try to add muscle to his spindly 200-pound frame.
The trio of James Young and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison will take the bulk of the perimeter shots. The brothers already know how to work together, and their biggest task will be to integrate their teammates and avoid a constant two-man game. If Young manages to take enough minutes from Poythress, he could be first or second on the team in scoring.
Players like freshmen Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins and seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood will force the Studly Six to work hard in practice, but if any of them are playing major minutes, something has gone drastically wrong.
Only Kentucky and Kansas brought in as many ESPN 100 recruits as the Memphis Tigers. The UM freshmen, however, have an advantage in being introduced to the college game by talented veterans like Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford.
That trio forms one of America's best threesomes, one that combined for 34.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 11.5 assists and five steals per game last season. Four-year starter Jackson is likely to end his career as one of Memphis' top 10 scorers all-time. He's already top-10 in assists and may earn the same rank in steals by Christmas.
Johnson may be the best pro prospect of the bunch, thanks to all-around skills that produce numbers like his three-game run in February that averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. Crawford will surpass both 1,000 points and 400 assists early this season and is a career 36 percent shooter from deep.
Beyond that trio, two newcomers are all but certain to figure in the backcourt mix. Freshman Rashawn "Pookie" Powell is Jackson's likely heir apparent, and the year he spends learning to be a vocal leader will be invaluable.
And we haven't even mentioned Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, who is still waiting on an immediate eligibility ruling from the NCAA. Dixon was the nation's best sixth man in 2011-12, but missed last season after leaving Missouri under a cloud.
The frontcourt lost Tarik Black to Kansas, but experience will still be on hand in the form of sophomore Shaq Goodwin and grad transfer David Pellom. The 6'8" Pellom was a 10-point/six-rebound man at George Washington. The 250-pound Goodwin will need to prove he can be a double-double threat in full-time minutes.
Freshman Dominic Woodson will need to drop some of his 290 pounds, but he'll be a handful inside. Classmate Austin Nichols (6'8", 200) could stand to find some of those pounds to maximize his back-to-the-basket skills. Wings Nick King and Kuran Iverson can be explosive scorers, but they'll need some time and experience.
Unlike so many of the prior teams in this listing, Michigan isn't relying on a ton of freshmen for quick production. They've been there and done that. Now, the Wolverines have sophomores who've shown they can produce in the college game.
Five Michigan players cut their teeth last season, chief among them forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary. Robinson was one of America's top 50 true shooters last season, including making 65 percent of his two-point shots.
McGary's NCAA tournament run has put him into the NBA lottery discussion. While the hype may be getting a bit ahead of us all, McGary did dominate the glass all season, even in his limited early minutes.
McGary has very able interior support from senior Jordan Morgan and junior Jon Horford. Morgan was a 9.2-point/6.5-rebound man as a freshman. Speaking of freshmen, 6'9", 225-pound newcomer Mark Donnal can open driving lanes for Robinson and low-post room for McGary with his shooting range, which extends to college three-point land.
Sophomore Nik Stauskas and freshman Zak Irvin will also provide long-range support. Stauskas struggled down the stretch until NCAA tournament regional games against Kansas and Florida. He was almost an afterthought in the Final Four, perhaps a herald of a bench specialist role for him this season.
The point will be manned by freshman Derrick Walton and sophomore Spike Albrecht. Albrecht dropped six points in five minutes against Syracuse, then poured in 17 against Louisville in the national title game. Walton may have a Yogi Ferrell type of season, establishing himself as a creator before attempting to become a college scorer.
The wild card may be Caris LeVert, who started last season as a 6'5", 165-pound guard destined for a redshirt. He may start this season as a 6'8", 185-pound swingman with a nasty defensive reputation, according to this MLive.com report.
Of the five players in this picture, all five averaged at least 16 minutes per game last season. Four of them are back this season, with Gorgui Dieng (No. 10) being the lone exception.
From left, Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware should all play important roles for the defending national champions this season.
Smith is, of course, Russdiculous. Scorer of baskets, stealer of dribbles, shooter of outrageous shots. He may struggle to better last season's 18.7 points per game without veteran point guard Peyton Siva to help him create.
Blackshear and Ware will be counted on for additional backcourt production, Blackshear on offense and Ware on defense. Louisville's guard depth chart is further filled by point guards Chris Jones (JUCO transfer) and Terry Rozier (freshman), plus freshman shooting guard Anton Gill. Rozier may be the heir apparent to Smith's sparkplug role. (Rozdiculous?)
In the frontcourt, there's no dominant rim protector like Dieng, but the 6'8" Harrell finished second on the team with a 4.8 block percentage, according to StatSheet. The sophomore could easily score in double figures if he can tighten up his 50-percent free throw shooting.
Junior Chane Behanan and senior Stephan Van Treese are experienced bigs who were the Cards' top two leaders in offensive rebounding percentage last season. Behanan crushed Michigan in the national championship game with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Speaking of the NCAA final, senior Luke Hancock won Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors with 42 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the Cards' two games. Offensively, he's a one-dimensional gunner, taking 70 percent of last season's shots behind the arc, according to Hoop-Math. His leadership and maturity, however, will be essential in making up for the loss of the steady Siva.
After Van Treese, the only other true center on the roster may be freshman Akoy Agau. The Omaha, Neb. product can rebound and block shots, but his putbacks will likely form the lion's share of his offense.
The 2013-14 Duke Blue Devils won't be a team big in height, but they will be enormous in talent. This may be the only team in America that could legitimately go 12 men deep.
At the point, offensive sparkplug Quinn Cook heads into his second year as the full-time starter. He finished second in the ACC in assists and fifth in steals as a sophomore. Senior Tyler Thornton was enough of a defensive pest to finish 10th in the conference in steals while playing only 22 minutes per game.
Sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon should take over at shooting guard, with fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins and freshman Matt Jones in reserve. None of the three have the unconscious shooting stroke of the departed Seth Curry, but all can drain shots from anywhere when in proper rhythm. Sulaimon and Cook are the only returnees to average more than four points per game last season.
The Devils' two biggest celebrities are wing players. Top recruit Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood both have All-ACC first team potential. Names like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and Grant Hill have been thrown about in comparison to the uber-versatile Parker. The 6'8" Hood is similarly considered capable of playing four positions.
Sophomore Alex Murphy and freshman Semi Ojeleye could play major minutes for most other teams, but are likely to see spot duty in Durham this season.
Duke's weak spot may lie in the post. Sophomore Amile Jefferson has added 20 pounds to his frame, but that only puts the 6'8" athlete up to 215. Redshirt sophomore Marshall Plumlee has all of 50 minutes and two points to his name so far, a long way from building the equity that his brothers Miles and Mason enjoyed. Senior Josh Hairston will add bulk on the glass and interior defensive grit.
While Duke doesn't have the size to bang with larger opponents, we'll be hard pressed to find many teams that will be able to outrun the Devils. Any team that comes for a track meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium will certainly leave tired, and more than likely defeated.