The 2014 NCAA men’s basketball season is already underway, and it is full of exciting storylines. Here is a comprehensive overview of the top conferences this season, and a prediction for the March Madness tournament.
Powerhouses: Duke has the perfect recipe for success this year, and will be the favorite to win the ACC, and maybe even the national championship. Start with the leadership of Coach K, add the experience of Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and the freshman talent of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, and Duke will be a force to be reckoned with this year. Additionally, North Carolina is looking very strong behind veteran coach Roy Williams. Marcus Paige is easily one of the best players in the nation, and UNC’s strong rookie class consists of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. Expect a very strong season from the Tar Heels.
Contenders: Louisville will step into its first year in the ACC ready to fight. Coach Rick Pitino has lost players from his last championship run, but will have a strong core left to begin the year with. The Cardinals will be stacked with Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Add the team’s freshman talent, and they will be looking at success leading up to March. Virginia exploded onto the national spotlight last year when they won the ACC, and they should be looking to carry over their success into this season. Malcolm Brogdon remains the key piece for this Cavalier team, and will be joined by London Perrantes, Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson. Expect a good season, but a rough time against the top ACC teams for Virginia.
Pretenders: Boston College is in for a rough season under a new coach. The team finished second to last last season, and should expect the same this season. The lone bright spot for this struggling squad is one of the best players in the country, junior Olivier Hanlan. Virginia Tech will round out the bottom of the ACC this season, as they did last season. Don’t expect great things from new coach Buzz Williams as he tries to salvage the wreckage of this team.
Powerhouses: Wisconsin might be the absolute best team in the country, and will easily sweep the Big Ten. Led by Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, this squad is potent and fully loaded. Nigel Hayes rounds out the rest of the starting five, and each player will be producing at a high level. The Badgers have a legitimate shot at the championship this year. Michigan State surprises nobody with yet another top season. Tom Izzo is a fantastic coach, and should be able to lead a group of youngsters to glory. Additionally, the key weapon for the Spartans is Dawson, who will explode this season.
Contenders: Ohio State had a rough year, losing to Dayton in the first round of the tournament, and losing star point guard Aaron Craft. However, the Buckeyes once again have a great recruiting class, and D’Angelo Russell will mix well with the returning seniors to make a lethal combination on the court. Michigan will be another deep team, even though they lost their star Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines have brought in the touted recruit Kameron Chatman, who should be able to dominate no matter where he is on the court, due to his large frame. Additionally, guard Caris Levert should be watched as he will hope to lead this team to success this season.
Pretenders: Northwestern no longer has Drew Crawford, who was their only good player last season. Now this team will struggle to find a point-producer, and with little defense as well, the Wildcats will sink to the bottom of the Big Ten this season. Don’t expect much from Penn State either this season, as the Nittany Lions have little to no depth. The only bright spot for this struggling squad is Brandon Taylor, but he is the only good thing going for this team.
Powerhouses: Kansas is one of the absolute best teams in the country, and will no doubt win the Big 12. The main concern for the Jayhawks is their loss of several key players, such as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But Bill Self has assembled a young new squad, anchored by veteran Perry Ellis. The youngsters consist of Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte Graham, and will be dominating the court. Expect a very strong showing from Kansas this season. Also a top performer is Texas. Texas had a fantastic season last year, and they will be losing no key players. Instead, the Longhorns are adding one of the best freshmen in the country in Myles Turner. Expect Turner to inject a shot of energy into this squad to propel them to a high ranking this year.
Contenders: Iowa State lost a few key players in the offseason, yet gained a much more important transfer in Dejean Jones from UNLV. While the team has to replace some stars, they still have talented players from last year in Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader. Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang will round out this talented squad in what looks like a very successful season for the Cyclones. Oklahoma will have a solid season no matter what, yet one player will decide if it will be very successful, or not so much. Transfer TaShawn Thomas is a force to be reckoned with, and will round out a great Sooner team filled with the likes of Dante Buford and Buddy Hield. Watch for the Sooners’ season to go one of two ways.
Pretenders: Texas Christian is looking shoddy in the upcoming season, after a no-win season last year. Incoming freshman Trey Ziegler is literally the only thing the team has going for it. In dead last in the Big 12 will be Texas Tech, after losing four top players to graduation and transfers. Justin Jamison and Devaugntah Williams will be arriving, and will hopefully add some talent to this lacking team.
Powerhouses: Arizona already has a lot to prove this season after a disappointing overtime loss in the Elite 8 last year. It will be even more difficult for the Wildcats this year, after having lost stars Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Luckily for Arizona fans, the team still has a very strong team centered around the core of Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell. Additionally, the Wildcats recruited very well, and were able to grab an elite recruit in Stanley Johnson. Look for this deep Arizona team to easily win the Pac 12. Utah is another strong team in the conference, who will be once again led by point guard Delon Wright. This team will be making an all-out effort to win the Pac 12, as they brought back four starters from last year. The Utes’ schedule is tougher this year, but this team should be able to handle their opponents.
Contenders: Colorado is fired up and ready to get back to winning after a frustrating blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the tournament. Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott are back and ready for action as they hope to lead this young squad to another successful season. UCLA won the Pac 12 tournament last year, but will be taking a huge hit after losing several key players. Only senior Norman Powell remains, and he and coach Steve Alford must lead a team of youngsters to the promised land. Look for UCLA to be just on the brink of success this season.
Pretenders: Washington State has coach Ernie Kent and guard Davonte Lacy and not much else. This Cougar team better hope for solid production from its freshmen if it hopes to not have a complete disappointment of a season. Oregon State is also in the same boat, as it has only one returning starter in Langston Morris-Walker. This team will have an abysmal season, and the only other bright spot is the transfer of Gary Payton II.
Powerhouses: Kentucky is an absolutely dominant team, and will have an easy time winning the SEC. Coach Calipari has a great class of freshmen with Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. These youngsters will be joining the already proven talent in the Harrison twins, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Expect the Wildcats to have a dominant season, and get to the NCAA Championship Game. The SEC is also stacked with several other great teams, like Florida. The Gators have quite a few players to replace, yet their core remains in tact. Hill and Walker will get good movement of the ball going from the arch to the paint, and this team will dominate most of their games.
Contenders: Arkansas is another solid team with a great coach, Mike Anderson. Although the Razorbacks are not very deep, they have good stars in Rashad Madden, Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. Expect this team to put up a solid fight this year, and even make surprises with upsets. Louisiana State also has lots of potential this year, even if they have lost players at the point. On the other hand, the LSU paint is absolutely dominant with Jordan Mickey, Jarrell Martin and Elbert Robinson III. Watch for a good season from the Tigers.
Pretenders: Tennessee has a fantastic player in Josh Richardson, and not much else. Richardson is the team’s only returning starter, and cannot produce enough to keep an entire team afloat. It will be an interesting and disappointing season for the Volunteers. Mississippi State has had an excellent football season, but that success will not transfer over to the basketball season. The Bulldogs haven’t recruited well enough to get talent to be able to compete with the SEC elite, so don’t expect much from them.
Other Top Teams
Wichita State should be expected to have another great year, and is ranked 11 in the AP preseason poll. Gonzaga, VCU, San Diego State and Connecticut are ranked 13, 15, 16 and 17, respectively. These squads come from non-major conferences, yet should all be looked out for as they will all post successful seasons and interesting performances in March.
National Championship Winner:
The title game will pit two top teams against each other, with Kentucky facing Duke. While the Blue Devils have produced some fantastic regular seasons, they have stumbled recently in the tournament. This year, however, will be different with Coach K’s leadership guiding an elite group of veterans and eager youngsters. Look for the Blue Devils to steal this one from Coach Calipari and his Wildcats.