It's that time.
ACC (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
North Carolina Tar Heels (26-4)
It says a lot when you win a championship, lose your top four contributors, and are still considered to be the favorite in one of the best conferences in the country.
Theoretically, this should be a rebuilding year at UNC, similar to what occurred in 2005-06, but there’s no such thing at Chapel Hill. The roster is reloaded with a tremendous recruiting class highlighted by Henson, replenished with Marcus Ginyard, and to a lesser degree with Ed Davis returning, as he should emerge as the premier big man in the ACC. This is the conference's best team.
Duke Blue Devils (24-6)
In the perennial two-horse race in the ACC, Duke is still the follower, but not by much. They still possess some of the issues that have prevented their appearance in a Final Four since 2004, but this will be a good team, regardless.
Two concerns for Duke could be lack of perimeter depth and reliance on the three-pointer (as always). The loss of Henderson will be overshadowed by the improving Singler and Scheyer, ensuring that this edition of Coach K basketball will challenge for both the conference and the national title this season.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (22-8)
The window may be very slim for Georgia Tech to compete for a championship since the roster is loaded with young players who could be one and done.
Up front are Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, both of whom are soon to be pros, a main reason why coach Paul Hewitt needs to capitalize on this year with this group of players. There is no question that Georgia Tech has the talent to compete with both watered-down editions of UNC and Duke, as they should reach the tournament with ease en route to advancing a few rounds.
Maryland Terrapins (22-8)
With all of Maryland’s struggles, it seemed that Gary Williams’ days were numbered at College Park, but he always gets the most out of what he has. This year he has a team that will reach their third NCAA Tournament in four years.
His team will be led by big-bodied, senior point guard Greivis Vasquez and a true arsenal of perimeter threats. The only thing standing between the Terps and a deep postseason run is an elite group of frontcourt players. However, they’re better than a lot of the other teams in this year's ACC.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (21-9)
Clemson Tigers (20-10)
Florida State Seminoles (18-12)
Virginia Tech Hokies (18-12)
Boston College Eagles (17-13)
Miami (FL) Hurricanes (17-13)
North Carolina State Wolfpack (16-14)
Virginia Cavaliers (13-17)
Big East (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Villanova Wildcats (24-6)
The Big East is a bit diminished after losing a boatload of players to the NBA last year, but one team that did not regress is Jay Wright’s squad.
They bring in a top-notch recruiting class and even though they lost a number of seniors which aided their run to a Final Four last year, they retain their stabilizer, senior guard Scottie Reynolds. They have to be eyeing a Big East title with lots of fresh blood, mostly in the backcourt, but they almost certainly will run into problems if they face a team with a bigger, superior frontcourt to theirs.
West Virginia Mountaineers (23-7)
A team with huge upside that disappointed in the last year’s tournament, should rebound this year and be able to make a deep postseason run.
They’re a tough, talented, and extremely athletic team led by the likes of Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, both of whom averaged a double-double in the latter stages of last season. In a normal year, this array of players probably would be lower than a second place team in the Big East, but in such a depleted conference, they are absolutely a team that could finish in the top four.
Connecticut Huskies (22-8)
Similar to UNC, it is a testament to the work of Jim Calhoun that a team that loses its top three players and made a Final Four, is in good position to make another run the following year.
With defensive catalyst Jerome Dyson returning from injury, swingman Stanley Robinson becoming the featured scorer, and with the reigns being handed over to point guard Kemba Walker, one would be hard-pressed to find a better returning group of three in the nation. The Huskies are plenty talented enough to win this year’s Big East.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-8)
The Irish still have the player that is potentially the best in the nation, Luke Harangody. That means it won’t be hard to shake off the ghosts of last year’s disastrous underachievement.
They lose a lot of outside shooting, but I think their new starting backcourt is the best in the conference, with transfer Ben Hansbrough and senior point guard Tory Jackson. If those two are solid, Harangody produces at an All-American level, and Brey gets the most out of the supporting cast, the Irish should finish in the top half of the conference.
Georgetown Hoyas (21-9)
Louisville Cardinals (20-10)
Syracuse Orange (20-10)
Pittsburgh Panthers (19-11)
Cincinnati Bearcats (18-12)
Marquette Golden Eagles (17-13)
Seton Hall Pirates (17-13)
St. John's Red Storm (16-14)
Providence Friars (15-15)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-17)
South Florida Bulls (13-17)
DePaul Blue Demons (10-20)
Big Ten (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Michigan State Spartans (26-4)
The Spartans are among the top five teams in the nation coming into this season and are led by one of the nation’s best in Kalin Lucas and the return of a healthy Raymar Morgan. Both players could garner All-American honors and, even after losing their best big man in Suton, Delvon Roe should have a true breakout year.
It would be nice for someone to emerge as a true low post scorer and dominant rebounder, but even if this team plays small, Izzo always gets the most out of what he has, usually making a deep postseason run.
Purdue Boilermakers (24-6)
The junior class of JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, and Robbie Hummel have been a group that have transformed this school’s basketball program and have truly made them into a championship contender this season. As freshman they won 25 games and last year they won 27, both times making runs into the NCAA Tournament.
They won’t rack up that many wins this year, only because of a much improved Big Ten, but this is easily the best team at Purdue in decades. If pieces fall into place, Purdue will challenge for the Big Ten title.
Ohio State Buckeyes (23-7)
Their junior swingman Evan Turner is a superstar in the making and could be the best overall player in this conference, but still needs help from a rather suspect surrounding cast in order for the Buckeyes to be the championship contender that most expect them to be this season.
They certainly have the weapons to be a top-notch team, but it’s the experience that should be Thad Matta’s main concern coming into 2009-10. Finding a consistent point guard will be the key to Buckeye success if they hope to make a deep run come this spring.
Michigan Wolverines (22-8)
Out of the two coaches at Michigan, John Beilein’s transition to Ann Arbor has been a lot smoother than Rich Rodriguez’s and, in my opinion, he has brought excitement back to this school’s basketball program for the first time since the early '90s.
Many thanks deserve to go to junior guard Manny Harris, who led the team in scoring, and to an NCAA Tournament bid last season. The Wolverines actually return their top five scorers off a 21-win season, so things are definitely looking up for this resurgent basketball program.
Illinois Fighting Illini (21-9)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-10)
Penn State Nittany Lions (18-12)
Wisconsin Badgers (18-12)
Northwestern Wildcats (16-14)
Indiana Hoosiers (15-15)
Iowa Hawkeyes (13-17)
ACC's Top 10 Players
1) Greivis Vasquez, G - Maryland, Sr.
2) Ed Davis, F/C - North Carolina, So.
3) Kyle Singler, F - Duke, Jr.
4) Derrick Favors, F - Georgia Tech, Fr.
5) Al-Farouq Aminu, F - Wake Forest, So.
6) Trevor Booker, F - Clemson, Sr.
7) Gani Lawal, F - Georgia Tech, Jr.
8) Jon Scheyer, G - Duke, Sr.
9) Sylven Landesberg, G - Virginia, So.
10) Malcolm Delaney, G - Virginia Tech, Jr.
Big East's Top 10 Players
1) Luke Harangody, F - Notre Dame, Sr.
2) Greg Monroe, C - Georgetown, So.
3) Scottie Reynolds, G - Villanova, Sr.
4) Devin Ebanks, F - West Virginia, So.
5) Kemba Walker, G - Connecticut, So.
6) Jeremy Hazell, G/F - Seton Hall, Jr.
7) Da'Sean Butler, F - West Virginia, Sr.
8) Deonta Vaughn, G - Cincinnati, Sr.
9) Lazar Hayward, F - Marquette, Sr.
10) Wesley Johnson, F - Syracuse, Jr.
Big Ten's Top 10 Players
1) Kalin Lucas, G - Michigan State, Jr.
2) Evan Turner, G/F - Ohio State, Jr.
3) Manny Harris, G - Michigan, Jr.
4) E'Twaun Moore, G - Purdue, Jr.
5) Robbie Hummel, F - Purdue, Jr.
6) JaJuan Johnson, F/C - Purdue, Jr.
7) Raymar Morgan, F - Michigan State, Sr.
8) Talor Battle, G - Penn State, Jr.
9) DeShawn Sims, F - Michigan, Sr.
10) Mike Davis, F - Illinois, Jr.