2014-2015 College Basketball Preview
The 2014-2015 College Basketball season is upon us, and for those of you who read my articles last season, you should know that this is my absolute favorite time of the year. It was a very busy offseason with a record number of transfers, new coaches, and(hopefully), the final year of teams switching conferences for awhile. It will be hard to top last season, but this season has all the makings of becoming one of the best seasons in recent memory. Here is my top 10 for next season, along with some other predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Another year, and another loaded recruiting class for John Calipari and Big Blue Nation. This year, however, Kentucky will be even more dangerous with the return of some starters from last season, something Kentucky is not used to having. With Andrew and Aaron Harrison returning along with Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky will return a nice portion of its team who made it all the way to the NCAA Championship game last season. The big buzz in Lexington is all around incoming freshman Karl Towns, who is already on the radar of being a top 3 pick in the NBA draft next year if he chooses to declare. Throw three more McDonald’s All-Americans in Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, and Devin Booker into the mix, and you have the perfect combination of veteran leadership and young talent that will make this Kentucky team a real problem for teams to prepare for. A repeat championship performance is something to be expected of this team.
Projected Starters: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress,Karl Towns, Dakari Johnson
2. Wisconsin Badgers
While most experts have Arizona as the clear #2, Wisconsin brings back all but one player from its Final Four team of last season, losing in an instant classic to Kentucky. A team that has no shortage of leadership and great coaching, the Badgers will be looking to go all the way this year, and they will be one of the favorites to do so. Bo Ryan and the Badgers return All-American center Frank Kaminsky along with athletic forward Sam Dekker, easily their two best players from last season. Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes will step into the starting lineup this year with the lone departure Ben Brust graduating, but there is not much of a drop off from Brust to Hayes. Look for the Badgers to be a much more physical team this year, something they really lacked last season.
Projected Starters: Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Frank Kaminsky
3. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona will have perhaps the most versatile team this upcoming season. Even with Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson gone to the NBA, the Wildcats still return a large core of their team last year, including Kaleb Tarczewski, T.J. McConnell, and Brandon Ashley, who is coming back from a season ending foot injury last season. Look for Rondae-Hollis Jefferson to slide into Aaron Gordon’s spot this year and burst onto the scene and make this season his coming out party after taking major strides his freshman season. Arizona brings in highly touted recruit Stanley Johnson, who will likely start the season on the bench, but see heavy minutes throughout the year. Johnson is said to have gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James in offseason camps, so the ability is clearly there for him to hop into the starting lineup at any point. No talent is lacking for the Wildcats this season.
Projected Starters: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski
4. Duke Blue Devils
After another embarrassing first round exit last season to Mercer, Coach K takes a new approach to this season, bringing in the best recruiting class in America and potentially starting three freshman this season, something that is unheard of at Duke, where upperclassmen always seem to get the nod. While most of us thought that freshman Tyus Jones and senior leader Quinn Cook would play in a two point guard set, it is being said that Matt Jones will start at shooting guard and Cook will back up Tyus Jones at point guard, a true testament to how impressive he has been. The big story and the key to Duke’s success this season will run through the top overall recruit and top NBA prospect Jahlil Okafor, who is drawing many comparisons to the great Tim Duncan. Okafor has already been named preseason All-American, just an idea of how good this kid really is. Freshman Justise Winslow has also been outperforming veteran Rasheed Sulaimon so far, so look for him to get the nod to start as well. With veterans Cook, Sulaimon, and Marshall Plumlee coming off the bench, it is a different kind of season in Durham, but it also means that Duke may be the deepest team in America. Don’t expect another first round defeat this season.
Projected Starters: Tyus Jones, Matt Jones, Justise Winslow, Amile Jefferson, Jahlil Okafor
5. Kansas Jayhawks
With the Andrew Wiggins/Joel Embiid era over, Kansas will focus on two new top recruits in Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Alexander was ranked as the 2nd best recruit in the country and is an absolute man-child who will be nearly impossible for anyone to overpower. The Jayhawks also return Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, who will be counted on to lead this team that contains no seniors and lacks leadership. With Naadir Tharpe transferring, the Jayhawks will depend on sophomore Frank Mason and freshman Devonte Graham to split time at the point guard position. With an early season showdown with Kentucky looming, Kansas will have to iron out these problems quickly. Even with some small problems, Kansas is still the favorites to capture yet another Big 12 title.
Projected Starters: Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander
6. North Carolina
UNC instantly became a threat for this year after star guard Marcus Paige announced his intentions to return for this season. Even with James Micheal McAdoo and Leslie McDonald gone, the Tar Heels return the majority of their team from last year, along with Paige, J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson will be key contributors and leaders and to the Tar Heels overall success. UNC also brings in a strong recruiting class in Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, and Theo Pinson, which will give them one of the more talented backcourts in America. In a loaded ACC, UNC may have some struggles early on, but under the leadership of Paige, the Tar Heels will be right in the thick of things when all is set and done.
Projected Starters: Nate Britt, Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Joel James
7. Texas Longhorns
Texas has their entire team back for this season, and also adds star recruit Myles Turner to the mix. Turner has perhaps the highest potential of any freshman this year and can hit shots from anywhere on the court, a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. The Longhorns also bring back Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix this year, two players that were relied on heavily last season and will be depended on to carry the load yet again. One player on the Longhorns who I feel is going to have a big time breakout year in his sophomore season is Isaiah Taylor and is someone who I see becoming a household name by the time conference play comes around. Texas will compete with Kansas for the Big 12 title, but whether they can finally dethrone the Jayhawks remains to be seen.
Projected Starters: Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor, Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner, Cameron Ridley
8. Florida Gators
Despite losing four starters, the Gators will still be among the nations elite with some key bench players stepping into starting roles and key transfers becoming eligible. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker will step into the starting rotation and are both very capable of keeping this team among the nations best, especially Walker, who many see as an NBA prospect. The Gators bring in Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, Michigan transfer Jon Horford, and Duke transfer Alex Murphy, who all will become eligible just in time for conference play and will provide a major boost for this team. Michael Frazier and Dorrian Finney-Smith will also big big contributors for a team who is looking to challenge Kentucky in the SEC this year, a monumental task. I don’t think this team has the talent to win the SEC, but they could be a tough matchup come March.
Projected Starters: Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier, Brandon Francis, Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Walker
9. Louisville Cardinals
New to the ACC this season, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals lose some key pieces from last season, but with the return of Montrezl Harrell, Louisville will be right near the top of the standings in its new conference. With Wayne Blackshear and Chris Jones both back as the senior leaders, the Cardinals will have no shortage of senior leadership. One player I see definitely having a breakout year is sophomore guard Terry Rozier, who just may be the X-Factor for Louisville this season. While they may not be as talented as past years, Louisville is still good enough to challenge for a conference title and will just do that under its Hall Of Fame coach Rick Pitino.
Projected Starters: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang
10. Virginia Cavaliers
The fourth ACC team in my rankings, Virginia loses stars Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell from last years ACC Championship squad, but return All-ACC player Malcom Brogdon, easily the best player on this team. Most of these players will never see the NBA, but the system that coach Tony Bennett runs fits these guys perfectly and will make them a threat yet again in the ACC. This team is very balanced offensively with no big time scorers, but is perhaps the best defensive team in the country. I’m not sure that this team is as good as last season, but there is enough talent on this team to still contend for an ACC title.
Projected Starters: Landon Perrantes, Malcom Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey
Next 5: Villanova, Wichita State, Gonzaga, Iowa State, VCU
Marcus Paige-North Carolina
Second Team: Fred VanVleet, Juwan Staten, Caris LeVert, Geroges Niang, Frank Kaminsky
For my bettor friends out there, this section is for you. Here are my sleeper picks this year for the national title with great money lines out there for value:
Michigan State +5500
San Diego State +6600
FINAL FOUR PREDICTION: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Gonzaga