It’s finally that time of year again. College basketball has returned to the front stage. Ev-ery sports source you can think of is unleash-ing its preseason predictions but the truth is no one knows what will happen. There is a certain beauty in deciphering the unknown. This sea-son is even more unpredictable than last year. Kentucky was the undoubted title-contender throughout last year as they were led by one of the most dominant freshman college basketball players of all time, Anthony Davis. This year is different. Every conference has a team that can shock the sports world. With that in mind, there are still a few teams that deserve preseason recognition. The Indiana Hoosiers re-turn four starters including Naismith Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller. Last year, they managed to finish the season 27-9 and narrowly lost to eventual national champion Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Their 18-1 record at home last year will make it hard for any visiting team to win. For these reasons and many more, Indiana is the sure-fire preseason number one team in the nation. The Big 10 conference seems to be this year’s most formidable basketball conference consist-ing of powerhouse Indiana as well as Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and even Minnesota. Mentioning Minnesota may be a surprise to many considering their lacklus-ter basketball history. They finished last season by reaching the finals of the NIT. As long as their star player, injury-prone Trevor Mbakwe, remains healthy, Minnesota is not only in a po-sition to make the Big Dance but also has the potential to make it past the first round. Michi-gan could be a major competitor for a National Championship, but that success hinges on the cohesiveness of wunderkind point guard Trey Burke, lights-out shooter Tim Hardaway Jr. and star freshman recruit center Mitch McGary. Mc-Gary’s success will be most vital if Michigan is to compete for the National Championship. Aaron Craft’s smothering defense and capable leader-ship will once again lead Ohio State to another formidable season this year. Ohio State will look to its phenomenal transition offense to guide it to success. Wisconsin lost only one starter – star Jordan Taylor – from last year’s team. Expect coach Bo Ryan to find a way for other players to step up in Taylor’s absence and lead the Badgers to another strong NCAA Tournament berth. The Big East features some great teams, in-cluding Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Louisville powered through the Big Dance last season, making it to the Final Four. They return three starters from last year’s team including monster shot blocker Gorgui Deng. Coach Jim Boeheim always finds a way to win, so losing some of his best players including Fab Melo should not deter Syracuse’s winning ways. Its strangling 2-3 zone defense will continue to suffocate opposing teams. Notre Dame returns all five starters from last year’s team. As long as Eric Atkins continues draining his shots and for-ward Jack Cooley remains consistently dominant in the paint throughout the season, Notre Dame will be lights out when it reaches conference play. The SEC features 2012 National Champion Kentucky along with Florida and Missouri. Kentucky will remain at the top despite losing all of its stars. They feature the best recruiting class in the nation, reeling in three five-star re-cruits. Their most heralded recruit, center Ner-lens Noel, will be leading the way for yet another young Kentucky team to compete for a National Championship. Florida lost their star, Bradley Beal, to the NBA, but senior Kenny Boynton is expected to step up and lead this team to an-other successful run. The addition of freshman Michael Frazier complements Florida’s perimeter play and makes them competitive in the SEC. Missouri will remain competitive despite losing three starters from last year’s team. Transfer Alex Oriakhi is expected to help continue this team’s success from last year.
The ACC features a highly touted North Carolina State team along with perennial pow-erhouses Duke and North Carolina. North Carolina State’s duo of C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown will dominate the ACC and the nation. Coach Mark Gottfried secured a strong recruit-ing class, featuring star shooting guard Rodney Purvis and small forward T.J. Warren. Coach Krzyzewski’s elite coaching will guide Duke to another dominant season despite the loss of star Austin Rivers. Look for Quinn Cook, Seth Cur-ry and Mason Plumlee to step up and lead the Blue Devils to another successful season. UNC lost four top playmakers but potential ACC Player of the Year James Michael McAdoo is expected to carry the Tar Heels. The Big 12 features Kansas, Baylor and Texas as its premier teams. Despite losing star Thomas Robinson, Kansas has plenty of firepower with three returning stars and a top-10 recruiting class. Baylor returns two starters from last year’s explosive team, and, to complement that, it pos-sesses one of the most elite recruiting classes in program history. Expect Baylor to remain domi-nant, but they are not quite capable of National Championship-level success yet. Texas does not have much upperclassmen firepower, so its suc-cess hinges on the success of its underclassmen. Their phenomenal recruiting class is led by versatile centers Cameron Ridley and Prince Ebih.
The Pacific-12 Conference is led by UCLA and Arizona. Coach Ben Howland is on the hot seat this season. His UCLA team consists of number one recruit Shabazz Muhammad, along with a wealth of other star recruits and return-ing players who have the experience to guide this team to a National Championship. If UCLA continues the cold streak they’ve been on the past couple of seasons, Howland will be handed the pink slip before season’s end.
Contact Matt Washuta at [email protected]