This season promises to be one of the more special, we've had in college basketball in a while and we can all thank the greedy NBA owners. The ability of these owners to be greedy enough to argue over millions of dollars has given us an amount of talent in college basketball we have not seen in a very long time.
The NBA talent coming in is finally be joined with NBA talent that was smart enough to stay for another year and it has resulted in the formation of some really talented teams and a dream season for anyone who loves the sport. This is a preseason top 15 that will acknowledge most of these quality teams and should get you excited for what promises to be a memorable season (or at least one that washes away any memories left over from last years awful title game.)
After losing five players to the first round of the NBA Draft, John Calipari was able to lead the 2010-2011 Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four. Calipari has a team this season that is even more talented than his team last season and if he sticks to the same coaching methods his team should be able to make it back to the Final Four. Calipari returns potential All SEC players in Doron Lamb and Darius Miller along with potential All American Terrence Jones and he also once again has a number one recruiting class that could lead to three top 15 draft picks.
Calipari arguably has six NBA first round picks (Lamb/Miller, Jones, Davis, Teague, Gilchrist, and Wiltjer) and could have a team that is even more talented than his first team at Kentucky (Wall, Cousins, Patterson, Orton, and Bledsoe were picked in the first round.)
The Cats get the nod over the Heels because of last years Elite 8 action (the Wildcats were able to beat a more talented Heels team) and because they might have an easier time coming together and playing as a team with slightly lower expectations.
This Carolina team is talented enough to draw comparisons to the National Championship teams that the Tar Heels had in 2005 and 2009. As if that is not enough already the Heels have the nations best player (Harrison Barnes), the nation best passing point guard (Kendall Marshall), one of the nations best front courts (Henson and Zeller), one of the nations best recruiting classes, and a Hall of Fame coach in Roy Williams. Carolina might not give me as good of a gut feeling as Kentucky but as long as they match their talent with their guts they should be able to take home the schools sixth national title.
Ranking Vanderbilt this high is going to surprise some people but Vanderbilt has the chemistry and the talent to be the third best team in the nation. Vanderbilt returns all five starters from a team that was in contention to win the SEC last season. They will be aided by having one of the best big men in the nation in Festus Ezeli and two of the best scorers in the nation in Jeffrey Taylor and John Jenkins. The veteran talent on this team should allow them to contend for a Final Four
It is tough to find a trio in the nation that is better than the lethal combination of Sullinger, Buford, and Craft. This team also has a lot of depth returning and has added five very talented players in their 2011 recruiting class. As long as Thad Matta gets this talent to gel, we could see Ohio State back in the Final Four.
A lot of people doubt the coaching ability of the very young Josh Pastner but no one can really question his ability to recruit and assemble very talented teams. Pastner may actually be the second best recruiter in the nation behind his mentor John Calipari. Pastner combines his insanely talented 2010 recruiting class (speedy guards Joe Jackson and Will Barton along with the very athletic Jalen Kendrick) with two extremely talented players he has recruited for the 2011 season. Pastner's team should dominate the C-USA schedule and be at least a two seed by this seasons end.
For some reason I am a Scott Drew believer but really I am a believer that just about anyone can coach a team that has this much talent. Drew should have one of the best young frontcourts in the nation (Quincy Miller and Perry Jones) and this unit will also be one of the most versatile in the nation. Even though Jones and Miller are talented enough to be top ten draft picks the Bears will still have one of the quickest backcourts in the nation.
Even though Syracuse should have one of the best backcourts in the nation the reason I have them ranked this low (most others have them ranked fourth) is that I am not completely sold on their frontcourt. I was not as impressed as many other people were with Christmas and I think the jury is still out on Fab Melo who can sometimes look lost on the court. If Syracuse can solve these frontcourt issues they should be able to contend for a national title.
It is tough to fathom that Billy Donovan and his two national championships has his most talented team in five years and this team is still somehow flying under the radar. The Gators have the most back court depth of any team in the nation (Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Brad Beal, Mike Rosario, and Scottie Wilbekin) and they have two members of their frontcourt might be headed for breakout seasons (Patric Young and Erik Murphy.) The Gators should be able to at least match last seasons Elite 8 appearance.
The 2012 season should bring Rick Pitino and the Cardinal fans happier times as Rick Pitino has one of his deepest and most talented teams. The Cardinals could be considered the favorite to win the Big East if all of this talent gels and this team could go up to 12 deep. Pitino's Cardinals should be able to get well past the first round of the NCAA tournament this season.
On most lists you will see Duke ranked as "the team America wishes the Chinese would have beat up" but I think they are probably the tenth best team in America. Duke has a very deep, talented, and young back court (Curry, Rivers, Dawkins, and Cook) that should allow the Blue Devils to once again be a very good three point shooting team. If the Devils can get any post production out of the Plumlee trio (I am not counting on it and that is why they are at 10) and can get improved play out of Ryan Kelley they might be able to be a top five team.
The defending national champions come in at number 11 and they have potentially one of the longest front courts in the nation and have a star guard in Jeremy Lamb. The key to the Huskies season is going to be how much they are going to miss Kemba Walker. Was Kemba Walker really all the Huskies had last season or was he actually holding other Huskies players back by demanding the ball so much? This should be interesting to see but the Huskies still have some solid players for this upcoming season.
I think Jordan Taylor is going to have a player of the year type of season for the Badgers and is going to will this team to a top 15 ranking throughout this season. Also, Bo Ryan teams always have great chemistry and play great defense and there is no reason to think that this will not end up being one of Ryan's better teams. Now please score over 50 points a game...
Jamie Dixon has proved himself to be one of the best regular season coaches in college basketball. Dixon should be able to lead the Panthers to a top three finish in the Big East as he returns a star guard in Gibbs and Dixon. He also has one of his best recruiting classes. Expect the Panthers to be able to get a three or four seed in the NCAA tournament and to go to a Sweet Sixteen.
Cincinnati returns a big man who will burst onto the national landscape and could be an All-American in Yancy Gates. The team also has a lot of quick guards, great chemistry and a coach who needs a break through season. They should be one of the top teams in the Big East and a darkhorse team to go far in the tournament.
So is Butler playing North Carolina or Kentucky in the National Title game?