Today marks the most glorious time of year when the NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAAB seasons intersect each other. And to bring in college basketball in proper style I have put together a list of the top 8 teams to watch this season.
Of course this list would begin with the first team to end a season unranked and enter the next ranked #1. Many have deemed this Kentucky freshman class the best since Michigan’s “Fab 5,” and with lofty expectations comes the scrutinizing national spotlight. There’s no question Marcus Lee, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, and James Young make up one of the most talented freshman classes in over two decades, but individual players don’t make the Final Four, cohesive teams with chemistry do. That will be the key for this team of individual stars. Can they play together? Will players who would start and star on any other team in the nation be content as a role player? Will the freshmen live up to the hype? Anything less than a Final Four appearance would be a huge failure for this squad with such high expectations.
With all the attention Calipari and his Wildcats have been getting, the defending National Champions have flow somewhat under the radar. But those sleeping on Rick Pitino may need to be reminded that one of the best college basketball coaches returns 3 of 5 starters from last year’s team, and I’m sure Rick and crew may have viewed their in-state rivals being ranked ahead of them as a slap in the face (or at least I’m sure that’s what Pitino is telling them in the locker room). That “Us against the world mentality” will fuel an already talented Cardinal team even more. The match-up between Louisville and Kentucky at the end of December will set the tone for remainder of the season for these two…good and bad.
With USA Today preseason player of the year Marcus Smart and their second and third leading scorers returning, the Cowboys should compete with Kansas for the Big 12 championship. And if Smart lives up to his preseason ranking they may even be a contender in March. The experience of this Oklahoma State team will be an interesting contrast to the youthful talent in Lawrence in what will more than likely be a battle for the Big 12 crown. This team will go as far as Marcus Smart will take them (like he said players are proven on the court not through hype). If he can cut down his turn-overs and improve his perimeter shot this team will be one to watch come madness.
Have you heard of this guy named Andrew Wiggins? If not, I suggest you crawl from under that rock you’ve been living under. All eyes will be on the top freshman in this year’s class as he leads a youthfully talented Jayhawk team that returns no starter from last year. So how can such a young team (not named Kentucky) be ranked #6 in the preseason polls? Well, apparently Wiggins is just THAT good. He still has to prove himself on the court along with potentially one-and done freshmen Joel Embid and Wayne Seldon. Either way, Wiggins and crew should serve to keep Allen Fieldhouse rocking this year. We won’t have to wait long to see him on a national stage. They play Duke next week.
Tom Izzo and his Spartans have been one of the most consistent college basketball teams in recent history, with 7 final four appearances in the last 14 years, and this season will be no different. With all of the teams filled with freshman phenoms and sophomore talent, Izzo has one of only top teams that can been rightfully called veteran. With two key seniors in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, and junior guard Branden Dawson the expectations for the Spartans are high. Michigan State has all the key components needed to be successful…experience, talent, chemistry, and a great coach. Look out for the early season match-up against North Carolina on December 4th to set the tone.
Coach K touts one of his most athletically talented and deep teams in over a decade. With 2nd ranked freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who are viewed as “position-less” as his centerpieces, Krzyzewski will run his team much like he did his Gold Medal USA Basketball teams, by pushing the tempo on every possession and playing tough defense. Expect Coach K to have the most fun in years with this team that is sure to be a constant presence on college basketball’s weekly top 10 reel. With a good mix of new talent and experience, no one would be surprised if this team is in next year’s Final Four.
Mid-major teams made the Final Four in 3 of the last 4 years and VCU lead by coach Shaka Smart is one of the best. Although they lost the leadership of point guard Darius Theus, they should have enough fire power in senior Juvonte Reddic and junior Treveon Graham to contend. With the talent and depth on their roster, the Atlantic 10 favorite is sure to make a splash in March.
This is the first year Jim Boeheim and his tough zone defense will take their talents to the ACC and the constant Big East contender should have no problem adjusting to the competition in their new league. Last season’s final four team lost Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, and James Southerland, but senior CJ Fair and junior Rakeem Christmas should be able to provide enough on-court leadership and the always strong Boeheim defense will be sure to cause ACC teams some problems. Although they may not be favored to make another Final Four appearance they may surprise you and their new league transition should serve to provide for plenty of conference play entertainment.
Welcome to the best time of the year folks!