2010-2011 College Basketball Preview
Runner-Up: North Carolina
Duke’s arch rival is still very young and inexperienced, but the additions of super freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall should put them back in the NCAA Tournament this year. John Henson had a disappointing freshman season, but he’s a lanky project who will take a few years to grow into his body. Henson already looks much improved from last season, and could be the X-Factor that takes UNC from a fringe Tournament team to a higher seed.
Sleeper: Virginia Tech
Two words: Malcolm Delaney. This guy can flat out fill it up and will take the nation by storm with his jaw dropping scoring ability. If he can solid contribution from teammate Dorenzo Hudson, and VT can find someone to step up in the place of injured swingman JT Thompson, Seth Greenburg’s Hokies could make some major noise in the ACC and the NCAA’s.
Player of the Year: Kyle Singler (Duke), F, Sr.
The best player on the best team generally wins the player of the year award, and Singler is just that. He can handle the rock, rebound, play tough man to man defense, great passer, and shoot the lights out---he’s a complete player and has really come into his own over the past 2 years.
Freshman of the Year: Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), F
Barnes is the most complete freshman swingman to enter the college basketball landscape since Kevin Durant in 2006. He’s a silky smooth wing who can fill it up from almost anywhere on the court. He will also get plenty of chances to establish himself as the premier player in the nation, as Roy Williams will make Barnes his go to guy from Day 1. Duke’s Kyrie Irving is a special player as well, but Barnes will trump all other freshman not only in the ACC, but in the country.
The Panthers are a team that will fly under the radar all season despite having a high national ranking. They’re a very good team, but they aren’t appreciated by the media like they’re a very good team. Their deadly perimeter trio of Brad Wanamaker, Ashton Gibbs and Gilbert Brown is back from a team that made a nice NCAA tournament run last year. Dominant defensive big man Gary McGhee is a game changer in the paint, and is the backbone of Pitt’s physical, trademark defensive style. This team will shut people down defensively, and have enough perimeter play makers to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. In addition to that, they have one of the best coaches in America in Jamie Dixon who always has his team’s prepared.
Make no mistakes, this is not the Orange of 2009-2010. Gone are Syracuse’s two best players---Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins---and with them a bulk of the scoring and leadership. Jim Boeheim still does return guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche though, and last year’s sixth man Kris Joseph should become a breakout star this year. Boeheim also was able to get what could be the best freshman big man in the country in Fab Melo, which should significantly help the Orange inside. They don’t have enough talent to win the Big East, but they still are a force to be reckoned with.
Sleeper: St. John’s
This is a team still a year or two away from returning to a national power, but Steve Lavin has inherited a veteran team who could surprise a lot of people in the Big East this year. Dwight Hardy, DJ Kennedy and Paris Horne are all senior perimeter players who will keep St. John’s in games and can score the ball with ease. This is a program on the rise and that rise could easily begin this season in New York.
Player of the Year: Kemba Walker (UCONN), G, Jr.
First of all, Walker can flat out fill it up. He’s had some magical games the past two seasons playing in the shadows of more popular teammates AJ Price, Hasheem Thabeet and Stanley Robinson. More importantly than that though, is that this UCONN team is very young and made up mostly of underclassmen. Walker will have to shoulder the scoring load and takeover games by himself at times, which he is more than capable of doing.
Freshman of the Year: Fab Melo (Syracuse), F/C
The Brazilian Brute is not a long term project big man, he is ready to take over right now. Melo has good hands, can shoot with range, and is a gifted passer----rare skills for a freshman post player with his size. He should fit perfectly in Jim Boeheim’s famed 2-3 zone and dominate in the paint on the offensive side of the ball.
Champion: Michigan State
This very well could be the most loaded squad Tom Izzo has ever had. Veteran leaders Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green are all back to try and lead Sparty to a 3rd straight Final Four and beyond. Another terrific recruiting class will join those veterans, headlined by electrifying forward Adreian Payne. This is a very dangerous and very balanced team, and anything less than another trip to the Final Four will be a disappointment in East Lansing.
Even without senior forward Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers could compete for a Big Ten crown. That is because of their other two seniors---guard E’Twaun Moore and forward JaJuan Johnson. Moore has been one of the best kept secrets in college basketball for awhile now, a guard who can score at will and is a tenacious defender. Johnson is a lanky, athletic big man who can changes games with his shot blocking and nice outside shooting touch. That 1-2 punch plus the trademark stout Purdue defense will keep them a contender. Losing Hummel is a big blow, but Matt Painter’s squad has the depth and resolve to overcome it.
Every year, Bo Ryan’s teams seems to be overlooked. And every year, the Wisconsin Badgers still make deep tournament runs and compete for Big Ten titles. This year should be no different. Jon Leuer has dramatically improved from his freshman campaign in Madison, and the Minnesota product is now a NBA talent who can take over games all by himself. Junior point guard Jordan Taylor has proven he can be the floor general and run the show for Ryan, who will get the rest of his roster to overachieve as he does every year.
Player of the Year: Jon Leuer (Wisconsin), F, Sr.
Leuer has transformed from a skinny forward with a nice perimeter shot to a complete player who can rebound, shoot, defend, and has a nice array of post moves. At this point in his career, Leuer could be the most talented player that Bo Ryan has ever coached, and he will show us why this season.
Freshman of the Year: Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), F
Sullinger is an absolute bull in the paint in the same vein as former Pitt Panther DeJuan Blair and former North Carolina Tarheel Tyler Hansbrough. He cleans the glass with reckless abandon and out muscles opponents to give himself high percentage looks around the rim. Thad Matta has a pretty good history with freshman phenoms (see: Oden, Greg and Conley, Mike), so Sullinger should be no exception.
Champion: Kansas State
Frank Martin’s floor general Jacob Pullen has become one of the few players in college basketball that you’d want to pay to see play this season. He’s aggressive, fearless and the epitome of a leader, and I’m not sure there is any other player in the nation that you’d want to take the final shot with the game on the line. While Pullen could very well be the best player in college basketball, Kansas State’s true strength may lie in their front court, where Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and Jamar Samuels provide defense, toughness and rebounding. If those three can provide consistent play alongside Pullen, the Wildcats could be cutting down the nets in Houston.
As I am writing this, senior guard LaceDarius Dunn has been suspended three games for an alleged domestic dispute with his girlfriend that put his season and Baylor’s NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy. With Dunn back for the entire Big 12 conference schedule, plus the addition of the nation’s most jaw dropping athlete (and freshman)---Perry Jones, Baylor could once again be a force to be reckoned with. Outside distractions and lack of a true point guard could ultimately be the demise of Scott Drew’s club, but there’s still enough talent to do some serious damage.
How could the Longhorns possibly be a sleeper you ask? Well for one, they are very young. Rick Barnes’ team lost Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley from last year’s team, arguably his three best players. In typical Barnes fashion though, he reloaded with a dynamite recruiting class headlined by elite point guard Cory Joseph, and his high school teammate, forward Tristan Thompson. The Longhorns best player, however, could be sophomore Jordan Hamilton, the prized recruit of last year’s recruiting class. Hamilton is a pure scorer who has improved every facet of his game and looks ready to take a step up to an elite level this season. You’ve been warned.
Player of the Year: Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), G, Sr.
See above. Pullen is cold blooded and has a closer’s mentality, taking over and finishing games all by himself. Fear the Beard!
Freshman of the Year: Perry Jones (Baylor), F
Perry Jones is a freakish, freakish athlete that has drawn comparisons to a young Tracy McGrady (before the injuries). If he can add a consistent jump shot and some muscle to his frame, he could be one of the premier players in the entire country. (Did I mention he’s only a freshman?)
It is once again a down year in the Pac-10, so having an elite player on your team could be the difference in winning a conference title. Fortunately for head coach Sean Miller, he has that player in forward Derrick Williams. The 6-foot-8, 240 pound sophomore was the Pac 10’s top newcomer last year, and he has gotten even bigger and stronger this year, which is fitting because he will be carrying this team on his shoulders. Throw in the solid backcourt of MoMo Jones and Kyle Fogg, and Zona has enough to make a run in March.
The Huskies have perhaps the best inch for inch player in the nation---5-foot-8, 185 pound lightning fast guard Isaiah Thomas, and another open court terror in sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy. Those two alone should keep Washington in the Pac-10 race all season long and fans on the edge of their seats. It is on the interior where the Huskies will struggle, with teams like Arizona and UCLA pounding them in the paint. A lot of pressure will be on their electrifying back court to keep them afloat.
Sleeper: Washington State
Here is a team that is getting no credit despite returning all five starters from last year’s team, including All-Pac-10 guard Klay Thompson. On many different occasions last season, Thompson showed he can carry his team for stretches at a time. Combine that with returning point guard Reggie Moore, and the Cougars have a solid, veteran nucleus that could make some noise in the great northwest.
Player of the Year: Derrick Williams (Arizona), F, So.
All signs indicate that Williams will improve on his impressive freshman campaign, where he averaged 15.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game. The sophomore is a very hard worker who bulked up and refined his post game even more, which is a scary thought for opposing Pac-10 coaches. He’s one of the true hidden gems in the entire country, and should become a household name on the national level this season.
Freshman of the Year: Joshua Smith (UCLA), F/C
The massive 300-pound freshman is the most talented big man Ben Howland has had in Westwood since Kevin Love. He creates space and cleans the glass well with his strength in the paint, and can score at will once he gets position with his good hands and soft touch around the rim. If he can keep his weight under control, Smith could be the anchor of UCLA’s resurgence.
All five starters are back from a team that lost in the final minutes of OT in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Billy Donovan was able to nab McDonald’s All-American power forward Patric Young to add physicality and toughness to the Gators front line that was a glaring weakness last year. Young anchored the U-18 United States team that won gold this past summer, and is a defensive dynamo that can change a game without scoring a point. Solid depth at all the major positions and the expected improvement of sophomore guard Kenny Boynton---who lead the team in scoring last year as a true freshman---puts Florida back into contention for the first time since 2007, when they won their second consecutive national championship.
Runner-Up: Mississippi State
This is a team that will gradually get better as the season goes along, as the Bulldogs will get two major additions midway through the season---senior point guard Dee Bost and ‘sophomore’ forward Renardo Sidney. Bost declared for the NBA Draft and withdrew past the mandated NCAA deadline, but will still be able to come back for his senior season after serving a nine-game suspension (a suspension that begins in the spring semester since he is academically ineligible for the fall semester). Sidney, a consensus five star recruit out of high school, never saw the court last season as he battled eligibility issues with the NCAA. He is cleared this season and slimmed down, and if he shows any of the promise he did as a top five recruit, Mississippi State very well could have the best power forward in the country.
Georgia packs one of the best 1-2 punches in the SEC (and the nation) that makes them a serious darkhorse---juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Thompkins, a forward, lead the SEC in scoring and rebounding last season, and hopes to improve on that sensational campaign as the consensus preseason SEC Player of the Year pick. He’s joined by guard Leslie, who is an electrifying sidekick that can score in bunches. With a solid supporting cast, Georgia could easily finish in the Top 25 at the end of the season.
Player of the Year: Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt), F/G, Jr
The junior swing man can do a little bit of everything, and showed last season that he’s capable of being the go-to guy on a good team. Taylor can score without taking a high amount of shots, gets to the free throw line a lot, rebounds and defends well, and plays with the leadership and savvy of a ten year veteran. You could say last year was his breakout year, but this year will even be more of a breakout campaign for the Vandy wing.
THE BEST OF THE REST (MID MAJORS)
Balanced team who returns forward Lavoy Allen and guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore from a NCAA Tournament run last season.
Lost leading scorer David Gonzalvez, but brought in a solid recruiting class to join returning point guard Kevin Anderson.
Player of the Year: Lavoy Allen (Temple), F, Sr.
Double-double machine who commands double teams.
The Tigers return to C-USA dominance led by the #1 recruiting class in the country---particularly prized recruits Will Barton and Joe Jackson.
Tough to peg the Miners as a sleeper this year, but losing Derrick Caracter to the NBA was a huge blow. Fortunately for them, senior guard Randy Culpepper returns to make UTEP a formidable team again.
Player of the Year: Will Barton (Memphis), G, Fr.
The 6-foot-6 guard can score at will (pun intended), and is the best freshman to play for Memphis since Derrick Rose. He’ll be the go-to guy for head coach Josh Pastner from day one.
Gordon Hayward moved on to the NBA, but all the other pieces are back for a team that was one shot away from the greatest upset in college basketball history. They may not be quite as good as last year’s Cinderella team, but there is no reason this veteran squad can’t make another NCAA Tournament run.
Rarely do you see a McDonald’s All-American bypass all the biggest schools in the nation and stay home to attend a small, mid-major school, but that’s exactly what elite 6-foot-1 point guard Ray McCallum did by choosing the University of Detroit. That decision alone could propel Detroit near the top of the Horizon League.
Player of the Year: Matt Howard (Butler), F, Sr.
Howard has never been particularly strong or athletic, but he has a motor that does not stop and a vast array of post moves and footwork that make him an efficient and effective post scorer and rebounder.
Champion: Wichita State
Northern Iowa---one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament last year---will be in contention for a MVC title again, but it’s Wichita State who looks like a team coming into it’s own led by junior guard Toure’ Murry.
Sleeper: Missouri State
It’s very tough to pick a sleeper in the MVC because it seems like a new contender emerges every year, but Mizzou State has two phenomenal shooters in Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard that could shoot them to any victory in conference play.
Player of the Year: Kyle Weems (Missouri State), F, Jr.
Great shooter and athlete with size (6-foot-6) that could lead the Bears to a MVC title.
In what is a loaded conference for mid-major standards, BYU takes the cake because they have the best player in the conference that has already shown he can single-handedly will (and shoot) his team to victory---Jimmer Fredette.
The Runnin’ Rebels have one of the best floor generals in the country in senior guard Tre’Von Willis, and added Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas and JUCO talent Carlos Lopez to shore up their front line.
Player of the Year: Jimmer Fredette (BYU), G, Sr.
He was one of the premier scorers in the entire country last year, and will have to carry an even heavier scoring load this year if BYU wants to be dancing again. If you’ve seen the kid shoot, you know he can do it.
Gonzaga was the original “Butler,” a Cindarella team who seemingly came out of nowhere to shock the world. After nearly a decade of success, head coach Mark Few may have the best team he’s ever coached this season. Senior guard Steven Gray and sophomore wing Elias Harris could rival any 1-2 punch in the country, as both are capable of taking over games single handedly. This team is experienced, poised and will be the most dangerous team in the tournament come March.
Sleeper: Loyola Marymount
The inside-outside combo of forward Drew Viney and guard Vernon Teel could make the Lions competitive again.
Player of the Year: Elias Harris (Gonzaga), F, So.
While much of the talk is about Steven Gray, Gonzaga may go only as far as Elias Harris takes them. He quietly put together a fantastic freshman season while constantly facing double teams and working hard for every bucket. Gray is expected to pick up a lot of the scoring slack, which should allow Harris to flourish even more.
NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), G, Sr.
NATIONAL FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), F
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
MICHIGAN STATE over DUKE