Predicting Who Will Be in the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis
The dust has barely settled in Indianapolis after a thrilling finish to the 2014 Elite Eight, but the basketball-crazy home of the NCAA is already gearing up for the 2015 Final Four.
Last weekend's combatants, Michigan and Kentucky, are certainly among the teams with legitimate hopes of being back at Lucas Oil Stadium a year from now, and they’ve got plenty of company.
One of the leading 2014 contenders who came up short was a Kansas squad built around a trio of elite freshmen. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are off to the NBA, but Wayne Selden Jr. remains to lend some experience to an incoming recruiting class that would love to erase the bad taste of this year’s third-round flop against Stanford.
Read on for more on the Jayhawks and the rest of the top candidates to make the Final Four next season, along with picks for all four of the teams who will be facing off in Indianapolis.
The Badgers, who will return four starters from this year’s Final Four squad, have every reason to expect an even stronger season in 2014-15. The other four teams highlighted here are all getting monster incoming recruiting classes, with the Blue Devils and Wildcats grabbing four McDonald’s All-Americans apiece.
North Carolina adds “only” three stud freshmen, but they’ll join returning star Marcus Paige and a fleet of talented forwards. Kansas, meanwhile, expects to bring back Wayne Selden Jr., Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe to go with its incoming duo of PF Cliff Alexander and SF Kelly Oubre Jr.
Three of 2014’s top seeds return enough weapons to have legitimate chances at another Final Four push, although Arizona (which could yet lose All-American Nick Johnson and any number of forwards in addition to Aaron Gordon) is less secure than the other two.
Like the Wildcats, Michigan won’t know what its chances look like until its three sophomore stars make their early-entry decisions, all currently up in the air. Villanova doesn’t expect any such problems, and four returning starters from a 29-5 roster put Jay Wright’s team in a great position to earn a top seed after stumbling as a No. 2 this year.
Team 1: Villanova
The Wildcats faded badly in March, losing two of their last three games to a bad Seton Hall team and a red-hot UConn squad.
That’s going to have a lot of people writing them off, no matter how high a seed they land, but it’s also going to give them some extra motivation to prove that this year was an anomaly.
Four starters will be back from a squad that started 29-3 with wins over Kansas, Iowa and Xavier (twice).
With a year of postseason experience (painful though it was) and a three-year starter at point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono, ‘Nova has a great chance to summon some of the same late-game magic that helped many of these same players build a reputation as upset specialists in 2012-13.
Team 2: Arizona
The chances of Arizona running into two defenses as strong as San Diego State and Wisconsin in its own regional, again, are slim enough that the success that barely eluded this year's Wildcats is a good bet to arrive next year.
Assume for a moment that Arizona keeps some but not all of the many underclassmen still mulling the NBA draft—say, Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson staying while Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley join Aaron Gordon on the early-entry list.
In that event, the Wildcats will have senior-to-be T.J. McConnell (the best point guard in years at Point Guard U) setting up one of the deepest frontcourts in college hoops.
Hollis-Jefferson and 7-footer Tarczewski will be joined by a pair of high-powered freshmen, combo forward Stanley Johnson and scoring PF Malik Pope, to create a group that will be tough to defend and even tougher to score on.
Team 3: Wisconsin
The major reason Wisconsin hadn't made a Final Four under Bo Ryan until this year is that the Badgers have so rarely had a functional offense to pair with their stifling D.
Now, with postseason hero Frank Kaminsky leading the charge, that problem has largely vanished in the face of a starting lineup loaded with jump-shooting threats.
The experience of a deep tournament run can only help the Badgers, and there will be plenty of returnees to benefit from that experience.
Three-point specialist Ben Brust is the only senior in Ryan's rotation, and early-entry NBA departures at Wisconsin have been even rarer than high-scoring offenses.
Team 4: Duke
At the very least, there's a legitimate chance that superstar freshman Jabari Parker will become superstar sophomore Jabari Parker rather than leave for the NBA. If he does stay in Durham, the Blue Devils will have the best frontcourt of Mike Krzyzewski's career, hands down.
6'10", 265-pound incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor is a star in his own right, and pairing him with Parker down low (plus another 5-star recruit, Justise Winslow, at SF) will give the Blue Devils an unstoppable combination of offensive firepower and defensive toughness.
Much-maligned Quinn Cook may yet win back his starting point guard job (again), but if he doesn't, cerebral recruit Tyus Jones is a top-notch distributor who will also provide terrific on-ball defense alongside underrated Rasheed Sulaimon.
Even with a minimum of experience, that's a lineup that would have to be considered a national title favorite.