Ranking the 10 Most Balanced NCAA Basketball Teams for the 2013-14 Season

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Balanced NCAA Basketball Teams for the 2013-14 Season

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    In college basketball, one star player can make all the difference. Legends from Danny Manning to Kemba Walker have dragged their teams to championships in the last quarter century alone.

    Unfortunately, players like those don't simply grow on trees.

    Most teams need a group of scorers to perform at their best. When that leading star is having a rough night, other talented performers can be the difference between a national title and a round of 32 loss.

    These 10 programsplus a handful of honorable mentionswill score in varying amounts, but all should be able to get points from multiple sources if needed.

Honorable Mentions

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    Boston College Eagles

    BC has the pieces in place to be a dark-horse contender in the ACC. Double-figure scorers Ryan Anderson, Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon all return, and none are seniors. Juniors Lonnie Jackson and Patrick Heckmann can both score 15 any night, and junior center Dennis Clifford was an eight-PPG producer as a freshman.


    Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

    The Ramblin' Wreck had six players average between seven and 11 PPG last season, and five return. The major task will be kick-starting an offense that struggled with a lack of solid point guard play. Tennessee transfer Trae Golden could help with that if he is ruled immediately eligible.


    Saint Mary's Gaels

    With point guard Matthew Dellavedova pursuing a pro career, SMC can spread the ball around between five players who scored at least six PPG last season. Guard Stephen Holt, forward Beau Levesque and center Brad Waldow will get the bulk of the shots, but will anyone really dominate without Dellavedova to pull the strings?


    Tennessee Volunteers

    The Vols got all-conference performances from Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. Now, the returning Jeronne Maymon and touted recruit Robert Hubbs will provide support. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton will need to return to his freshman form, but if he can orchestrate the offense, all five starters are capable of double-figure averages.

10. Arizona Wildcats

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    Even with top scorers Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill gone, Arizona coach Sean Miller still has a wide array of scoring weapons at his disposal.

    An All-Pac-12 season may be in the cards for Nick Johnson, who made noticeable improvements in all of his shooting efficiencies as a sophomore. His three-point and overall field-goal percentages both jumped by about seven points. How much of that was due to the gunslinging presence of "point guard" Mark Lyons remains to be seen.

    This season's floor general, Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, is every bit the scoring threat Lyons was. McConnell's impact and efficiency will be even greater than Lyons' since his shots will come in the flow of the offense rather than being his first priority.

    Skilled freshman Aaron Gordon was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American game, and could potentially win similar honors in the Pac-12.

    Gordon will form a monstrous frontcourt with seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and 6'8" specimen Brandon Ashley. With full-time minutes, Tarczewski could record a long string of double-doubles.

    If this group comprises the Wildcats' starting five, it's a potent quintet to say the least. All five are easily capable of averaging double figures, and any could produce a 20-point night whenever needed.

9. Duke Blue Devils

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    Like Arizona, Duke could either find its games dominated by a talented freshman or could seamlessly assimilate him into a potent, cohesive whole.

    The freshman in question is Chicago product Jabari Parker, who has copped comparisons to NBA stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce.

    Parker is a dangerous penetrator whose jump shot must also be respected. Defenders will frequently tie themselves in knots trying to decide how exactly to defend him.

    The Blue Devils lost top scorers Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, which will lead to open auditions for top-scorer roles.

    In addition to Parker, guards Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook are proven double-digit scorers with decent outside strokes. The two may struggle early to get good looks until Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood hit their stride to draw defensive attention.

    Speaking of Hood, he could very well surpass Parker and lead the team in scoring. Another player who can score in a myriad of ways, Hood was a 52 percent effective shooter at his previous school, dropping in more than 10 points per game.

    Between Hood, Sulaimon and Parker, the Devils have an insane group of slashing wing players.

    Don't forget about freshman shooting guard Matt Jones, who could contribute in a three-point specialist role similar to a Brady Heslip at Baylor or Troy Daniels at VCU.

    Forward Amile Jefferson can score with an arsenal of mid-range shots and putbacks, and he'll get more chances to prove it this season.

8. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Again, the great mystery of hyped freshmen presents itself in Lawrence, Kansas.

    Between Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Connor Frankamp, Brannen Greene and Joel Embiid, the Kansas Jayhawks have a tremendous amount of scoring potential.

    Wiggins will be expected to lead as the alpha scorer, but he's a player who likes to make his job easier by creating for others.

    Bold prediction: Wiggins leads KU not in scoring, but in assists.

    Selden will attack the basket with regularity and he shows little fear of contact. If he's any sort of decent foul shooter, he can average 12-15 PPG with ease. Frankamp and Greene are both fearsome from three-point range.

    The post area is always an important one in KU's high-low offense.

    While Embiid is still a very raw offensive player, he'll see his opportunities if he can hit the offensive glass. Sophomore Perry Ellis showed moments of dominance, particularly in the Big 12 tournament against Iowa State.

    Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe could also provide some scoring if he proves he can shoot straight. He was an 88-percent free throw shooter last season, which provides hope that he can make shots if the open looks are there. Surrounded by the gifted wings named above, Tharpe shouldn't have any problem in that regard.

7. Florida Gators

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    While Arizona's Aaron Gordon won the McDonald's All-American MVP award, Florida commit Chris Walker walked away with the slam dunk championship at the same event. Walker's athletic ability will make him a leading producer for the Gators—whenever he's allowed to play, that is.

    Time is running out for Walker to enroll at UF for the fall semester. The Gainesville Sun's Kevin Brockway reported this week that the 6'10" forward may not enroll until December. Such a move would put him in line to miss the entire non-conference schedule.

    Without Walker, frontcourt scoring will certainly have to come from a committee. Senior Patric Young has never scored much more than 10 PPG. Classmate Will Yeguete has barely contributed half that, and he's currently recovering from a knee operation.

    Athletic senior Casey Prather and transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina) can also produce points when given the opportunity. Finney-Smith should be especially intriguing, as his varied skill set allows coach Billy Donovan to use him nearly anywhere on the court.

    Long dominated by scoring guards like Erving Walker, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton, this season's Gator backcourt will be more designed toward distributing. The May-December point guard duo of freshman Kasey Hill and senior Scottie Wilbekin will be responsible for keeping the ball moving, although both can easily score 10-15 if needed.

    Shooting specialist Michael Frazier will get his looks, too. Frazier drilled a team-leading 47 percent of his three-point shots as a freshman in 2012-13.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    If you're wondering which Ohio State Buckeye is going to step up and replace Big Ten scoring champ Deshaun Thomas' production, just stop.

    No one player is going to duplicate the 20 PPG that Thomas hung on opponents. That's not to say there aren't scorers on hand, but pure point producers like Thomas don't exactly show up every day.

    The Buckeyes will look to senior Lenzelle Smith and juniors Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross to lead them in scoring, at least early on. Smith finished second to Thomas with 49 made threes and third on the team with 9.2 PPG. Ross and Thompson both shot better percentages than Smith from long range, but the man they call "Slam" Thompson made his (nick)name on ferocious dunks.

    Ross averaged 8.3 points in 16.9 minutes last season, which comes out to about 19.6 points per 40. Where he really got OSU faithful excited was in his three straight double-figure games in the NCAA tournament, highlighted by a buzzer-beater against Arizona.

    Speaking of buzzer-beaters, point guard Aaron Craft can't be forgotten as a scorer, either.

    The only other Buckeye to crack 10 PPG last season, Craft hit a last-second three to put OSU into the Sweet 16. His shooting efficiencies dipped last season, and he'll need some of the wings to step up and create open looks for him.

    Speedy backup point guard Shannon Scott carded 15 against Kansas, and could see more minutes if one or more of the prospective starters falters. Freshman forward Marc Loving and gunner Kameron Williams should both have a couple of double-figure games, if only in the non-conference.

5. Indiana Hoosiers

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    Age-old rivals Indiana and Kentucky have something in common this season. Their attacks may be expected to be quite balanced, because no one can quite be sure how the shots will be allocated.

    Alternatively, both teams could find one alpha male and fall in line behind him.

    IU's most likely big dog should be freshman Noah Vonleh. At nearly 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan, Vonleh should be favored to win the Big Ten's top rookie honors, as there may not be a player in the conference with more talent and opportunity to average a double-double.

    Balancing Vonleh's talent will be the blazing competitiveness of senior Will Sheehey. Sheehey averaged nearly 10 points per game last season in only 22 minutes. The Hoosiers' main question is how he'll react to being a prime focus of opposing defenses instead of a complementary piece.

    Sophomore Jeremy Hollowell and freshman Luke Fischer should provide some offensive versatility to the frontcourt. Hollowell is a solid mid-range scorer who needs to either hit his threes more consistently (23 percent made last season) or stop taking them altogether. Fischer is an athletic center whose mobility draws comparisons to recently-departed Cody Zeller.

    Freshman swingmen Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson may both be solid college scorers if they see solid college minutes. They may be competing for the same position, but either one could take Sheehey's role as the bench spark plug.

    Pulling all the strings will be sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell, who often struggled to get and make good shots as a rookie. His NCAA tournament performance against James Madison proved him capable; now can he get points against brutal Big Ten defenses?

    Last but not least, graduate transfer Evan Gordon joins the Hoosiers from Arizona State. He can fill the sniper role for one season that Jordan Hulls played to perfection for four.

4. Kentucky Wildcats

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    If Kentucky's deep blue sea of McDonald's All-Americans can form a balanced, cohesive attack, the rest of the country is deeply and thoroughly screwed.

    There seems to be no limit to the talent on this team, but opponents have to hope there's a few "me-first" guys to torpedo the chemistry.

    Guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison have become accustomed to dominating the ball during their high school and AAU games, so how will the twins react to keeping an array of other scorers involved? Both are multi-purpose creators who can score from anywhere on the court.

    Likewise, lefty swingman James Young is ready and able to score every time he touches the ball. He may usurp some minutes from sophomore Alex Poythress, who was suffering through an epic scoring drought when last we saw him. Poythress scored in double figures only twice in UK's final 13 games, although he only got about six shots per night.

    At the 4, top freshman prospect Julius Randle should be assured of major minutes. Capable of consistent scoring at both close and medium range, he could be the Wildcat most likely to average 20 PPG if he gets enough touches.

    Randle's willowy classmate Marcus Lee will need to add strength or lengthen his shooting range to find enough time to contribute.

    The center battle between coltish sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and bullish rookie Dakari Johnson is one of America's most intriguing position controversies. Cauley-Stein is an athlete made for transition, while Johnson is a more conventional halfcourt post-up center.

    Of the eight, Randle, Young, Poythress and the Harrisons could most easily pour in 15 points a night with enough opportunities.

    UK can bring the athletes at its opponents in waves. The only reason the Cats' balance isn't higher on the list is because we have no clue how this group will meld in the one year they'll all be together.


3. Harvard Crimson

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    Hahvahd? Ahead of mighty Kentucky?

    Let's examine the evidence before the Big Blue whining commences.

    Last season's Harvard team was expected to be rocked by stars Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey being implicated in a massive cheating scandal. The two missed the entire season, only to watch their Crimson teammates get by beautifully without them.

    Seven Harvard players averaged at least 5.7 points per game last season, and six of them return.

    Curry will likely serve as the setup man for sophomore Siyani Chambers and senior Laurent Rivard, forming easily the best backcourt trio in the Ivy League and one of the better groups in America.

    Chambers and Rivard were both over 40 percent from three-point range last season. Curry shot that well as a freshman, but has flagged in his two seasons of action since.

    Casey returns to seek his fourth season of double-figure scoring, but he's been supplanted as the top option by rising junior swingman Wesley Saunders.

    Saunders exploded from three PPG as a frosh to 16 last year, scoring 18 each against Boston College, Cal and New Mexico. The latter performance sent the 14th-seeded Crimson into the NCAA round of 32.

    Frontcourt reserves Steve Moundou-Missi, Jonah Travis and Kenyatta Smith all made at least 52 percent of their shots last season. Freshman center Zena Edosomwan passed up offers from half the Pac-12 to play for Harvard, and he could provide additional interior scoring.

    The returns of Casey and Curry at least mean that Chambers, Saunders and Rivard won't have to play 35 to 37 minutes per game, as they did last year. The Crimson could easily have five double-figure scorers at season's end.


2. Marquette Golden Eagles

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    Marquette's one truly aggressive scorer, guard Vander Blue, made the ill-advised choice to enter the NBA draft, where he was roundly ignored.

    Coach Buzz Williams' returning crew should form a well-balanced attack, if only because there's not a proven dominant force on his team.

    The main man is burly forward Davante Gardner, a 290-pound beast with a deceptively smooth shooting stroke. When a big man drills 83 percent of his free throws, he's a scoring threat every night. Gardner must, however, play more than 21 minutes per night if he's going to be a 15 to 18 point scorer.

    Small forward Jamil Wilson established himself as a burgeoning shooter last season, making 36 of 100 attempts from beyond the arc. He cracked double figures in 13 of the Eagles' final 15 games.

    Marquette's recruiting class was ranked ninth in America by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), and that didn't even take junior college transfer Jameel McKay into account. The 6'8" junior averaged nearly 15 PPG in his freshman season at Indian Hills CC.

    Top recruit JaJuan Johnson is not to be confused with the former Purdue All-American center. This Johnson is a lithe 6'5" guard who can score from nearly anywhere on the court.

    If anyone other than Gardner will lead this team in scoring, it will be Johnson.

    Freshman Duane Wilson will compete for the point guard position. His game is designed to push tempo more than Marquette was used to last season. The Eagles ranked 239th in the nation in adjusted pace per Ken Pomeroy.

    Wilson's fellow rookie Deonte Burton is an undersized bruiser at 6'4" and nearly 230 pounds. He may be only a spot scorer until he can improve his mid-range game.

    The Golden Eagles' roster has a great array of talent and potential, and all of the top five or six players are capable of being 10 PPG scorers. Until someone leaps out and takes control of the offense, we can expect that Williams will ask his players to focus on defense first and let the scoring take care of itself.

1. Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Some coaches ignore balance and some embrace it. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon all but legislates it.

    All 10 Panthers who suited up last season averaged more than 11.9 minutes and 4.2 points per game. That kind of substitution pattern can sometimes create balance at the expense of momentum, as players struggle to develop a hot hand under constant rotation.

    Senior swingman Lamar Patterson was an abysmal 32 percent shooter his first season and change, including his redshirt freshman year. He improved to a 56 percent true shooter as a junior, producing well enough to become a 10 PPG man.

    In Pomeroy's 11th-slowest offense and with that much substitution, double-digit scoring becomes a major achievement.

    Nigerian big man Talib Zanna should become a 10-plus man after carding 9.6 per night last season. Other than more Dixon over-coaching, the one thing that can stop Zanna will be freshman Mike Young getting all the interior touches. The top 100 RSCI prospect is a legitimate low-post threat who can be the most dangerous Panther of all with a more consistent mid-range touch.

    Forward Durand Johnson may be the team's top perimeter threat. In his only two 20-minute games last season, he carded back-to-back double-figure nights against Marquette and Villanova. Junior Cameron Wright also produced a pair of 10-plus point nights, shooting over 50 percent from the floor for the season.

    Point guard James Robinson will need to improve on his 36 percent shooting, lest he lose playing time to freshman Josh Newkirk. Another rookie, Detrick Mostella, is the kind of athletic off-guard that Pitt hasn't had in recent years.

    Whichever Panthers see the majority of this season's minutes, look for Dixon to keep the rotation deep, unless someone truly breaks out as a star.


    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.