NCAA Tournament Predictions: The Top Four Overall Seeds for Next March
With the NBA possibly missing its entire season, the only basketball we're guaranteed to see next season are of the college kind.
This college season is shaping to be one of the best in years, with many top players electing to return, an impressive collection of recruits arriving and some of the top teams last season losing few of its core.
Grabbing one of the top four overall seeds for the NCAA tournament is obviously not an easy task. In order to accomplish such a feat, mid-major teams can lose maybe one or two games, while the FBS schools can probably get away with four or five losses.
This means there can be no growing pains; these teams must be incredibly consistent from game one to game 35.
Keep in mind that top seeds don't equal championships or even Final Four appearances, so this is not a list of favorites to win it all, though certainly, most teams that will be mentioned are viewed as the favorites.
The list is in reverse order, and No. 4 should surprise everyone.
Four on the Outside Looking In
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A la Bracketologist extraordinaire Joe Lunardi, here are my First Four Out, with the main reason as to why I eliminated them.
Syracuse: Love their experience, but I have doubts about them offensively. Losing Rick Jackson hurts their inside scoring, and unless Fab Melo drastically improves, they may end up being one-dimensional. Kris Joseph will have to be their go-to-guy, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Duke: When a team loses its top three scorers, all of which were NBA draft picks, there's going to be a question as to who will carry the load.
Austin Rivers is the prime candidate, but he's just a freshman, and I don't think he's Kevin Durant or Michael Beasley 2.0. I'm also not sold on the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly providing a scoring punch down low.
Connecticut: The Huskies lost their best player and arguably the top guy in the country in Kemba Walker. I know Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier will improve, but they won't be able to collectively replace the hunger and leadership Walker provided.
Also, being the returning champs means they'll be getting every team's best shot every night.
Vanderbilt: Vandy brings back everyone from yet another NCAA tourney appearance along with a couple highly regarded recruits, so they're going to be one of the most experienced and talented with the trio of Festus Ezili, John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, teams in the country.
I'm just not sold on coach Kevin Stallings' ability to keep his team consistent enough to warrant a top seed.
4. Memphis Tigers
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G Joe Jackson
G Antonio Barton
G/F Will Barton
F Adonis Thomas
F Tarik Black
Bench: F Wesley Witherspoon, G Charles Carmouche, G Chris Crawford, C Stan Simpson
I forced myself to go out on a limb for one selection, and the Memphis Tigers are that limb. These guys are going to be very young, with just two upperclassmen expected to crack the rotation (Witherspoon and Carmouche), but man are they talented.
The starting five consists of four sophomores and highly regarded freshman Adonis Thomas. Jackson and the rest of the sophomores went through some growing pains last season, but they were able to put it all together by the end of the year and gave a much bigger Arizona team a run for their money in their first NCAA tournament game, only losing by two points.
I expect the rising sophomores to really improve their games, and because they're playing in Conference-USA, the Tiger probably won't lose more than one game in the final two months of the season.
They have some pretty tough non-conference games scheduled consisting of Xavier, Louisville and Georgetown, so if they're able to win a couple of those games, their resume will be looking pretty impressive.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
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G Marquis Teague
G Doron Lamb
F Michael Gilchrist
F Terrence Jones
F Anthony Davis
Bench: G/F Darius Miller, F Kyle Wiltjer, F Eloy Vargas
Much has been made of the 2011 Kentucky Wildcat recruiting class, and all of the rumors about it being one of the best in years are accurate.
Teague, Gilchrist and Davis are all the top players at their positions in the class and Wiltjer was a McDonald's All-American along with the other three.
The biggest issue coach John Calipari has had in the past is that his best freshmen would always leave for the NBA after their one mandatory season.
Such is not the case this year, as Terrence Jones, a projected lottery pick, elected to return surprisingly, as did sixth man Doron Lamb.
Their returns, coupled with the immense talent that's on their way to Lexington, make this team one of the most talented in the country and gives it a potential four of the top ten picks in the 2012 NBA draft in its starting lineup.
I advise everyone to watch this team as much as you can, because Anthony Davis is unlike any player I've ever watched, though he reminds me a little of Kevin Durant.
If he's able to figure the college game out quick enough, he could be the player of the year.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
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G Aaron Craft
G William Buford
F DeShaun Thomas
F Jared Sullinger
C Amir Williams
Bench: G Shannon Scott, G Jordan Sibert, F LaQuinton Ross
Jared Sullinger's decision to return to school after having a spectacular freshman campaign immediately makes the Ohio State Buckeyes the favorite to win the Big Ten and one of the more balanced teams in the country.
Despite the graduation of starters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale, the Buckeyes bring in yet another top-10 recruiting class.
Expected to fill the role of Lauderdale is Amir Williams, a McDonald's All-American. Williams isn't as good defensively (Lauderdale was one of the best, and Williams is no slouch) but is much better offensively than Lauderdale (who isn't?) though I don't expect him to play as much as typical starters.
Still, with him and Sullinger, the Buckeyes have one of the most imposing duos down low in the country.
The future sixth man will be Shannon Scott, a pure point guard and fellow McDonald's All-American. Once in the game, I expect him to play the point and Craft will move to the shooting guard position as he's the better shooter.
Be sure to watch out for William Buford this season. Buford had the worst performance of his life in their tournament loss to Kentucky (shot something like 2-for-16), and I expect him to be hell bent on redeeming himself throughout the year. I think he's a potential All-American.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
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G Kendall Marshall
G Dexter Strickland
F Harrison Barnes
F John Henson
C Tyler Zeller
Bench: G Reggie Bullock, F James McAdoo, G P.J. Hairston, G Leslie McDonald, G Justin Watts
North Carolina is widely viewed as the favorite to win it all, and I'm no different. The return of potential number one pick Harrison Barnes, lottery pick John Henson and first-rounder Tyler Zeller makes the Tar Heels incredibly talented, very deep and experienced.
There were huge expectations for Barnes at the beginning of the season. While his first half was shaky, by the end of the year, Barnes was one of the best players in the country. I expect him to continue his development and be a top contender for player of the year.
Henson and Zeller form the top frontcourt duo in the country. Henson's athleticism and developing mid-range game combined with Zeller's size, low-post game and experience allows for those two to complement each other very effectively.
What's scary is that UNC's top two recruits, McAdoo and Hairston, both McDonald's All-American's and top 20 overall players, might not see much of the floor this season.
Both guys are incredibly talented, but the Tar Heels are one of the deepest teams in the country, and they may have to wait their turn to be significant contributors.
The key for these guys will be Kendall Marshall. He proved to be one of the better passing guards in the country during the second half of the year after Larry Drew's departure, and if he's able to get better and develop a decent offensive game (showed flashes of it last year, but wasn't consistent), he could be deadly and might propel the Heels to the top overall seed.
While that doesn't always equal a championship (right, Kansas?), it certainly doesn't hurt to get that distinction.