ACC (predicted order of finish and records)
Duke Blue Devils (27-3) – For the first time in a while, Duke comes into a season as both the defending national champion and the best team in the nation. To be honest, it’s really not even close, with the best player in the country in Kyle Singler, and a top-notch backcourt duo of Nolan Smith and super freshman Kyrie Irving. The talent doesn’t end there either, and even after losing three out of five starters, the Blue Devils got better. In a good conference, Duke is the best, and will go deep in the tourney once again.
North Carolina Tar Heels (25-5) – If there’s one team in the ACC with the talent to push Duke, it’s North Carolina. Coming off an incredibly disappointing and injury-plagued season where they didn’t even make the Big Dance, Roy Williams can add top recruit Harrison Barnes to what is still a deep and extremely talented team. Players like Henson and Zeller and bound to come into their own for the Tar Heels, and last year’s nightmare will be forgotten as this perennial top ten program will return to familiar places.
Virginia Tech Hokies (23-7) – Even though they were snubbed last season, the Hokies come into the season as one of the most underrated teams in the nation. A young core is led by one of the country’s premier guards, Malcolm Delaney and solid big man, Jeff Allen. Their weak non-conference schedule is undoubtedly what kept them out last year, but matchups against Kansas State and Purdue this year make it a lock that Seth Greenberg’s team will make the field of 68 for the first time since 2007-08.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (21-9) – An up and down program to say the least, NC State has been down of late, finishing no higher than ninth under the tenure of coach Sidney Lowe. That won’t be the case this year as Lowe has brought the best recruiting class of his term, highlighted by the likes of C.J. Leslie. The new players complement senior forward Tracy Smith and are expected to deliver immediate results and a NCAA tournament berth. If they don’t , there will be a new coach in Raleigh next year.
Maryland Terrapins (20-10)
Florida State Seminoles (19-11)
Miami (FL) Hurricanes (17-13)
Clemson Tigers (16-14)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-14)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (15-15)
Boston College Eagles (14-16)
Virginia Cavaliers (13-17)
Big East (predicted order of finish and records)
Pittsburgh Panthers (24-6) – The Big East is as down as it’s been in years, but it is still has a number of good teams, whose cream of the crop is Pitt. A team that puts together tremendous regular seasons is a perennial postseason failure, having never made a Final Four. However, the trio of Gibbs, Wanamaker, and Brown may build on last season, where they started 15-2 and move into the top five in the nation at some point. They’ll win the conference, but we could see more of the same disappointment come springtime.
Syracuse Orange (23-7) – Undoubtedly the best team in the Big East year in and year out, Syracuse has lost three of its five starters, and will not miss a beat coming in 2010-11. Having one of the best coaches in the nation doesn’t hurt, and coach Boeheim has built a Syracuse program with some of the elite players in the Big East. Also known for their NCAA Tournament disappointment, the Orange aren’t among the best in the nation this year, which may leave them as just a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team in March.
Georgetown Hoyas (21-9) – The loss of Greg Monroe leaves a substantial void in the frontcourt, but the talent never stops coming at another traditional Big East powerhouse. Their veteran leaders, Wright and Freeman, are probably enough to carry John Thompson’s team on offense, and almost certainly will. Expectations are probably very high among Hoya circles this year after having lost to a 14 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year. No way that happens again for this always solid team.
West Virginia Mountaineers (21-9) – This national semifinalist of a year ago loses its two top guns from last year in Butler and Ebanks. However, Bob Huggins still has a ready to compete to squad led by who will a breakout star in Kevin Jones and a pair of tough point guards in Bryant and Mazzulla. A program who for decades struggled in mediocrity in the Big East has really become one of the conference’s best, but still overlooked programs. Expect another deep tournament run for the people of Morgantown.
Villanova Wildcats (20-10)
Marquette Golden Eagles (19-11)
St. John’s Red Storm (19-11)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-12)
Connecticut Huskies (17-13)
Seton Hall Pirates (17-13)
Louisville Cardinals (16-14)
Cincinnati Bearcats (15-15)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-16)
South Florida Bulls (14-16)
Providence Friars (13-17)
DePaul Blue Demons (9-21)
Big Ten (predicted order of finish and records)
Ohio State Buckeyes (26-4) – The best conference in America will be won by Ohio State. Losing Evan Turner is a tough break for Ohio State, but Thad Matta has replaced him with one of the top recruits in the nation, a young big man, Jared Sullinger, who should average a double-double as a diaper dandy. Concerns at a few spots like point guard would be the Buckeyes’ biggest Achilles’ heel, but programs with as much recruiting appeal and tradition can replace talent and be contenders at their pleasure.
Purdue Boilermakers (25-5) – Losing their best and one of the nation’s best in Robbie Hummel was probably the death blow for Purdue’s championship hopes, but the duo of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson keep the Boilermakers among the top ten or fifteen teams in the country. Matt Painter and Co. has fallen into hard luck over the past few years with injuries to such talented teams, and though the odds of them winning a title have plummeted, they will get awfully close—even without their star player.
Wisconsin Badgers (24-6) – The next time that Wisconsin finishes lower than fourth place under Bo Ryan will be the first, and even though they may not be the most consistent come March, their defensive style and low-scoring games have proved effective this rugged conference. They have voids to fill in the backcourt, and even though they will be flawed in that regard, the returning Jon Leuer is one of the best players in the nation. Wisconsin should actually be better than usual and make a deep run in 2010-11.
Michigan State Spartans (23-7) – Year after year, with whatever bodies are out there, Tom Izzo gets Michigan State to the Elite 8, and more often than not, the Final Four. Don’t expect them to roll through the regular season, especially with Kalin Lucas coming off of injury, and sometimes sporadic play from Summers and Green, but come tourney time, Michigan State will be as dangerous as ever. They appear to be a collegiate version of the current Celtics, coasting and then turning it on when it matters most, in March.
Illinois Fighting Illini (22-8)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-10)
Northwestern Wildcats (19-11)
Indiana Hoosiers (17-13)
Michigan Wolverines (15-15)
Iowa Hawkeyes (13-17)
Penn State Nittany Lions (12-18)
ACC's Top 10 Players
1) Kyle Singler, F - Duke, Sr.
2) Harrison Barnes, F - North Carolina, Fr.
3) Malcolm Delaney, G - Virginia Tech, Sr.
4) Nolan Smith, G - Duke, Sr.
5) Kyrie Irving, G - Duke, Fr.
6) Chris Singleton, F - Florida State, Jr.
7) Jordan Williams, F - Maryland, So.
8) Tracy Smith, F - North Carolina State, Sr.
9) C.J. Leslie, F - North Carolina State, Fr.
10) Durand Scott, G - Miami (FL), So.
Big East's Top 10 Players
1) Austin Freeman, G - Georgetown, Sr.
2) Ashton Gibbs, G - Pittsburgh, Jr.
3) Kevin Jones, F - West Virginia, Jr.
4) Kemba Walker, G - Connecticut, Jr.
5) Jeremy Hazell, G/F - Seton Hall, Sr.
6) Jimmy Butler, G/F - Marquette, Sr.
7) Kris Joseph, F - Syracuse, Jr.
8) D.J. Kennedy, G/F - St. John's, Sr.
9) Corey Fisher, G - Villanova, Sr.
10) Tim Abromaitis, F - Notre Dame, Sr.
Big Ten's Top 10 Players
1) JaJuan Johnson, F/C - Purdue, Sr.
2) Jared Sullinger, C - Ohio State, Fr.
3) E'Twaun Moore, G - Purdue, Sr.
4) Jon Leuer, F - Wisconsin, Sr.
5) Kalin Lucas, G - Michigan State, Sr.
6) Demetri McCamey, G - Illinois, Sr.
7) William Buford, G - Ohio State, Jr.
8) Durrell Summers, G - Michigan State, Sr.
9) Draymond Green, F - Michigan State, Jr.
10) Mike Tisdale, C - Illinois, Sr.