Well, we finally got to the Top Ten. Thanks for sticking with me. Most of the programs in this list have been here before, including one who is hoping to return to royalty and another who is enjoying a rare appearance in the rarified air of college hoops elite. Without further ado, let's take a look at the "class" of 2009-10.
Why they should make the Sweet 16: The focus shifts from the frontcourt to the backcourt. Willie Warren assumes control of Sooner Nation with Tony Crocker and precocious Tommy Mason-Griffin forming a potent three-guard lineup. Cade Davis and Ray Willis add solid depth to this top unit.
Why they could be out after round 2: Tiny Gallon, Orlando Allen and Ryan Wright will compete for the two frontcourt starting spots. Allen and Wright combined to average under four points a game last season while Gallon comes in with great press clippings and a prodigious appetite. There’s not much depth after these three.
Early season test: Not much until conference play begins.
Why they should make the Sweet 16 (and possibly the Elite Eight): Gordon Hayward was recruited by a Final Four contender (Purdue) before deciding to cast his lot in Indy. Good call. He and Matt Howard form one of the best forward combos in the nation. Ronald Nored, Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley complete a very experienced starting five. The bench is deep, particularly in the backcourt.
Why they could be out after round 2: Veasley only goes 6-3 and will face taller opponents at the small forward every night. Nored is also undersized at the point. Fast-paced teams could give them fits – they will have to control the tempo each night.
Early season test: Like last season the Bulldogs have beefed up their non-conference slate to better prepare for the Dance. First up is Minnesota on Turkey Day.
Why they could make the Elite Eight: They lost only reserve Josh Tabb off last year’s squad that finished in a first-place tie for SEC East. Tyler Smith has gone from troubled young man to a leader that could be a lottery pick next year. J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson will provide nightmare matchups as six-seven guards. Bobby Maze takes care of the rock and will get help from juco transfer Melvin Goins.
Why they could get knocked off in the first weekend: Despite their talent the Vols tend to go into streetball mode at times where they’re more concerned about making Sportscenter highlights than making the smart play. Since the Vols like to go at a breakneck pace they sacrifice defense at times.
Early season test: Here’s your warmup before conference play starts. Jan. 10 at Kansas. Enjoy.
Why they could make the Elite Eight (and possibly the Final Four): Billy Gillispie out, John Calipari in. Michael Porter out, John Wall in. Patrick Patterson in, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton also in. Starters Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris may not play much this year. Of course, Wildcat fans also expect Wall to solve the economic crisis, Patterson to fix health care and go undefeated.
Why they could be out before the Elite Eight: Out of all the talent there really isn’t a consistent outside shooter, though Darnell Dodson and Jon Hood will get opportunities to fill that role. A hot-shooting team that has a frontcourt capable of hanging with Patterson and Co. may take them out.
Early season test: Back-to-back toughies. December 5 against North Carolina and December 9 against Connecticut.
Why they should make the Elite Eight (and possibly return to the Final Four): Three starters and super sixth man Corey Fisher want another shot at it. The frontcourt has been a concern for a while in Philly but top recruit Mouphtaou Yarou and Duke transfer Taylor King should help address that issue.
Why they could exit early: The Wildcats will be around for the second weekend of the Dance but could have trouble with a team that boasts a great front line. Scottie Reynolds can only do so much. Obviously, Yarou and Co. are the key to a long run.
Early season test: Maryland comes up on December 6 but the early-season schedule is soft otherwise.
Why they could make the Elite Eight: Only in Chapel Hill could a team that returns one starter be considered for elite status. Of course, when you factor in likely lottery pick Ed Davis with Marcus Ginyard coming off a redshirt year followed by a slew of All-Americans you can see why the Heels should compete for top honors again.
Why they could exit early: Dexter Strickland or Larry Drew II? Roy Williams has to decide among these two who will inherit the reins from Ty Lawson. Most insiders think Drew is more than capable but just hasn’t had the opportunity to show it. A more pleasant problem is finding minutes for these guys.
Early season test: In a month-long span the Heels get Texas, Kentucky and Michigan State. That’s a possible Final Four right there.
Why they could make the Final Four: The same team that battled Connecticut for a spot in the Elite Eight welcomes all the starters back – and what a versatile group. Chris Kramer’s the football player in a hoops uni. Robbie Hummel is the heart and soul and leader. Lewis Jackson only lacks a jumper while running the offense. E’Twaun Moore is silky smooth. JaJuan Johnson can take centers outside or bang in the paint.
Why they could fall short: The Boilermakers will get to the second weekend of the Dance with little trouble but need some help up front off the bench from untested freshmen. Like Kramer, Patrick Bade is a gridiron grinder – he and Sandi Marcius will need to pick things up quickly.
Early season test: West Virginia on New Year’s Day. No champagne for you, boys!
Why they should return to the Final Four: Seven players have intimate experience with playing on a team that made a run at the championship. No weakness exists in the backcourt with Lucas, Allen, Summers and Lucious. Up front Raymar Morgan finished strong down the stretch and should get help from a healthy Delvon Roe. And all Tom Izzo has done is go to five Final Fours in fourteen years.
Why they could fall short: A lot of their inside power left with Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Two freshmen and a little-used junior have to provide muscle on the inside. It would also help if North Carolina didn’t come up on the Dance card – the Heels have knocked the Spartans out of three of the last five tournaments.
Early season test: North Carolina and Texas loom large in December.
Why they could be in an all Big-12 championship game: As if Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason weren’t enough here come these reinforcements: Avery Bradley (some circles consider him the no.1 prospect), Jai Lucas (started at Florida), Jordan Hamilton (another top prepster). Add in bench studs Gary Johnson, Alexis Wangmene and Dogus Balbay and these Horns will hook plenty.
Why they could fall short: A.J. Abrams and Connor Atchley are tough to replace. Lucas or Balbay must provide quality leadership quicky. Atchley didn’t have great numbers but was a great glue guy. Wangmene or Johnson must fill that role.
Early season test: See Michigan State and North Carolina.
Why they could win the whole schmear: Their 13th man (yes, I wrote that correctly) could be either of two talented freshmen in Elijah Johnson or Thomas Robinson. Everyone is sick of hyperbole where they hear about college teams being able to beat an NBA team but the Jayhawks could actually do it. They’re the only squad with two first-team All-Americans (Aldrich and Collins), two freshmen who decided against playing with two big-name programs (Xavier Henry and Jeff Withey), a Ryan Robertson/Jeff Boschee clone in Brady Morningstar, a solid brother unit (the Morrises)….we could go on.
Why they could disappoint (and nothing outside of a title will accomplish that): Tyshawn Taylor and Morningstar got themselves in trouble during the off-season. Bill Self has to get these guys re-focused on the right goal. If he does that the sky’s the limit for the Jayhawks.
Early season test: Five BP Top 40 teams come up before conference play.