I’m not going to write a drawn out intro because this damn thing is long enough already. On with the preview! One note before I get going: all of the previews for the Big Ten teams are short because I already wrote about them in this article.
Editors’ note- These rankings were compiled before the start of the season on Friday.
2012-2013 College Basketball Preview
College Basketball Preview, Teams Missing out
Butler- They bring back almost every key player from last year and add Rotnei Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas. The Bulldogs should be one of the better mid-majors.
Creighton- Another top mid-major. Doug McDermott is a stud, but losing Antoine Young hurts. Better defense would also help.
Miami- They have a lot of talent back both inside (Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji) and outside (Durand Scott).
Stanford- Their backcourt of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright is excellent, but they need better production in the frontcourt. Could they get it from UConn transfer Roscoe Smith?
Texas- They have a lot of athletes, but their guards need to be better than they were last year.
College Basketball Preview, The Rankings
The Badgers always find a way to finish near the top of the Big Ten regardless of what their roster looks like. Even without Jordan Taylor, there are still solid options on the roster. Jared Berggren should thrive in their offense and Ryan Evans was solid last year. Plus Wisconsin usually finds at least one player that no one has ever heard of that steps up to score in double digits. They will need that to contend in the Big Ten after starting point guard Josh Gasser tore his ACL.
I don’t see any stars on the roster, but the Volunteers have several solid players and should have a balanced and effective team.
The strongest part of the team is their froncourt. Jarnell Stokes is a breakout candidate after joining the Vols at mid-season last year and Jeronne Maymon is a solid athlete. Kenny Hall also looks like a decent option off the bench. They also have Trae Golden, a productive point guard that can score and distribute.
Their level of success they have will be determined by how much help those guys get. Jordan McRae and Skylar McBee have experience, but need to hit shots to keep defenses honest. They don’t have any other proven players beyond the guys I mentioned either.
I don’t think they can catch Kentucky, but they should be one of the better teams in the SEC.
Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are gone, but they have a lot of role players back and added an impact transfer from Arizona State.
Trent Lockett should be a big boost to a team that will have a lot of guys in new roles. He averaged 13 points per game his last two years at ASU while shooting 50% from the floor.
The Golden Eagles have numerous of other players that could potentially produce big numbers. The leading contender is Davante Gardner, who was lethal in the post last year in limited minutes. He will probably need to improve his conditioning to make a bigger impact. He’s by far their best option inside.
Most of their other experienced players are on the perimeter. Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson all played significant minutes last year (Todd Mayo is academically ineligible for the time being). They’ll need some of these guys to be more effective scorers, especially from outside.
They’re going to be a very different team, but they have enough talent to avoid a major drop-off.
The Running Rebels are going to have a ton of talent, but it remains to be seen how well it will all come together. This is especially true since a lot of that talent is in their newcomers.
This group is led by Anthony Bennett, a big-time recruit that should step into the starting lineup right away. He’s a strong, athletic big man that will be tough for a lot of teams to handle. They’ll also add Khem Birch, a top-10 prospect that started at Pittsburgh who will be eligible after the fall semester; Katin Reinhardt, a consensus top-50 recruit at shooting guard; and USC transfer Bryce Jones.
They have some good returning players as well. Mike Mosier is an effective combo forward that attacks the glass and can step outside. Anthony Marshall can fill a lot of roles on the wing and should be a big part of the team. Guard Justin Hawkins and big men Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez are also back after they were rotation players last year.
If their newcomers are as good as advertised and they can hit some outside shots, UNLV can be a Sweet 16 caliber team. If not, they might be the third best team in the Mountain West.
With Trevor Mbakwe back from injury, the Gophers should break into the top half of the Big Ten. He gives them a tough rebounder and finisher inside to complement the athletic Rodney Williams and their solid but not stellar backcourt. Depth is an issue for Minnesota, so they have to stay healthy.
20) San Diego State
Despite finishing in a tie for first in a strong Mountain West Conference and earning a 6-seed in the tournament, SDSU wasn’t that strong a team last season. They were 94th in offensive efficiency, 54th in defensive efficiency, and 69th overall (behind 15 non-tournament teams) according to Pomeroy Ratings. They were promptly “upset” in the first round by NC State 79-65.
But enough about last year. They should improve this season as they bring back every key member from a deep and talented backcourt and have some newcomers in the frontcourt that could add some more balance.
Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames comprise what might be the best starting backcourt in the country. Franklin is a versatile 6’5″ wing that led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, Tapley averaged almost 16 points per game while shooting a stellar 43.3% from outside, and Thames averaged 10-3-4 running the offense. James Rahon also played big minutes, though he may move to the bench this year.
Their frontcourt was an issue last year, but it could be significantly better. They will add two big men with major conference experience (albiet limited): Dwayne Polee from St. Johns and James Johnson from Virginia. They should add some support for returning big Deshawn Stephens. The Aztecs also might get some help from freshman Winston Shepard, a consensus top-50 recruit.
San Diego State could be a force to be reckoned with if their frontcourt can catch up with their backcourt.
They made the Elite 8 in each of the last two years, but the Gators will need some new players to step up in order to continue that trend. The Gators relied on a dominant backcourt for production and two of those guards have moved on.
They need to improve in the froncourt on both ends, which is possible. Patric Young is a strong, athletic big man that was able to finish offensively but didn’t rebound and defend as well as you’d expect for someone with his physical talents. He’s flanked by Eric Murphy, who is a dangerous shooter in the stretch-4 role. Will Yeguete gives them some depth up front.
In the backcourt, Kenny Boynton is back after a stellar junior season. He struggled with his shot selection early in his career, but was absolutely lethal from beyond the arc last year. He’ll need to be solid again because they need more production from guys that didn’t play much last year at the other two starting spots. Mike Rosario put up some big scoring numbers at Rutgers, but didn’t shoot a great percentage there and got far fewer chances at Florida. He needs to be a double-digit scorer this year. It’s not totally clear who else will play on the perimeter. Scottie Wilbekin has the most experience (though he is currently suspended), but Casey Prather is probably the most talented option.
They have a decent core, but it’s hard to put them any higher based on what we’ve seen so far.
18) North Carolina
UNC was gutted by the NBA, but I don’t think anyone has any real sympathy for them. They still have more talent than most teams in the country, though it is almost entirely unproven.
The keys to this team are sophomore forwards James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. They were both big time recruits that struggled to get on the floor for last year’s loaded team. McAdoo is a mobile, skilled forward that could be a top-5 pick in next year’s draft and Hairston is a highly regarded shooter. Both struggled as freshmen, but could thrive in bigger roles.
They do have some experience on the wings, though two of those players are coming back from ACL tears. Dexter Strickland was an athletic combo guard before missing the last 19 games and Leslie McDonald was expected to get more minutes before his injury in the summer. Reggie Bullock did step in and was a factor due to his insanely deep range on his jumper.
They do have some question marks involving the point guard and interior spots. They might start freshman Marcus Paige at the point, or it’s possible one of the previously mentioned wings will try to fill that role. Outside of McAdoo, their other options inside are also freshmen Brice Johnson and Joel James.
If they play up to their recruiting rankings, the Tar Heels won’t slip as much as people are expecting. if they don’t, it could be a long year in Chapel Hill.
17) Notre Dame
The Irish weren’t a particularly good team last year, but they have a lot of players back that could lead to a solid season.
The most important player on their team is big man Jack Cooley. He’s an efficient scorer in the post and racked up rebounds. He’ll get some help inside this year from Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman. Those two will have to carry much of the load since their other options inside are inexperienced.
They should provide balance for a backcourt that is talented but was a bit erratic last season. Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant can both score and pass, but they need to get a few more high percentage shots to take the next step to stardom. Scott Martin and Patrick Connaughton had similarly inefficient scoring numbers, but don’t have the upside of Atkins and Grant.
Notre Dame should have a decent season, but could be really solid if their guards step up.
Duke outside the top-10? How often does that happen? There is a reason for that. The Blue Devils have a lot of young players and a few questions that they may or may not have answers for.
The first is on defense. They were 70th in defensive efficiency last year according to the Pomeroy Ratings, which is low for a top-3 seed. They’ll need to improve that if they want to make a deep run in the tournament.
The second is their ball-handling. They got by reasonably well with Austin Rivers taking over last year, but he’s gone now and they don’t have an obvious answer at the point. Tyler Thornton has more playing time under his belt, but Quinn Cook was a highly touted recruit that has more upside.
If they can answer both of those questions, they could be in good shape due to their offensive weapons. Mason Plumlee is an explosive finisher on the interior and they have a couple of lethal outside shooters in Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. They also have a plethora of highly regard recruits that could step up this year. Keep an eye on Rasheed Sulaimon, a big time recruit with the talent to contribute right away.
They still have the raw talent to have a good season, but a few things need to break their way for that to happen.
The Bulldogs were a bit of a wildcard last season, but they finished with a solid season behind a pair of freshmen guards and a solid frontcourt. Look for them to have a similar formula this year.
The driving force of this team will be Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. on the perimeter. Pangos did a fantastic job limiting his turnovers while running the offense and still leading the team in scoring, and Bell shot a whopping 47.7% from outside (that’s not a misprint). If one or both of them take a step forward in their second college season, Gonzaga’s opponents are in big trouble.
Amazingly, Elias Harris is still around too. It seems like we’ve been talking about him possibly going to the NBA for a decade, but this is only his 4th season in Spokane. He’s still a highly capable big man that can fight inside and step out for jumpers.
Robert Sacre is gone, leaving a bit of a hole in the middle. However, Sam Dower appears primed for a breakout season. The junior big man has been highly effective off the bench the last two seasons and will finally get a shot as a starter.
There are definitely question marks about the roster beyond those four. Guy Landry Edi and David Stockton have some experience, but weren’t exactly standouts. If they can find production from other players and/or keep their key players out of foul trouble, the Zags could be very dangerous in March.
Baylor easily could have been a top-10 team if Perry Jones III or Quincy Miller had stayed. However, they’re both gone and the Bears will have to lean on a new batch of stellar athletes and a strong duo of guards.
Isaiah Austin should step in to the starting frontcourt and has a chance to be a difference maker. He has a lot in common with the previously mentioned Jones: great length, mobility and leaping ability combined with decent perimeter skills and and a raw interior game. We’ll see if he can play with a little more aggression than Jones and take advantage of those abilities.
He’s hardly the only impact athlete on the roster. Duece Bello is an explosive leaper that should see more playing time this year. The key for him will be showing more refined skills than he did last year. Cory Jefferson should also play more inside now that their plethora of lengthy athletes has thinned out a bit. Freshman Ricardo Gathers also might be able to break into the rotation, though J’Mison Morgan seems more likely.
In the backcourt, Pierre Jackson and Brady Haislip will see the bulk of the minutes. Jackson is a versatile guard that can put it on the floor, find the open man, hit the 3 and harass the defense into turnovers. He’s an All-Conference caliber player. Haislip isn’t as versatile, but he is a spectacular outside shooter that hit at least four threes 18 times last season. He will keep people from crowding the paint against their bigs.
While they’re not the favorite after their NBA defections, they have a shot at winning the Big 12 if they can replace most of the frontcourt production from last year.
13) Ohio State
Jared Sullinger and William Buford have moved on, but the Buckeyes might still contend. Deshaun Thomas is a scoring machine, and Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith were solid as role players last year. The question is who else will step up for OSU? They have a lot of talented players, but they need to produce in order for Ohio State to be a threat this year.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gifted perimeter players, but they need their highly rated freshman class to step up to support them. They also need to improve their interior defense and find some shooters from outside in order to live up to their pre-season hype.
Even without John Calipari, Memphis continues to have one of the most athletic and talented teams in a non-power conference.
Their most important player is Adonis Thomas. He was an elite recruit last year, but struggled with injuries and didn’t make a big impact. He has a strong build that lets him attack inside but is also a deadly 3-point shooter (40% from deep last year). He has lottery-level talent.
Their other players probably aren’t going to be stars, but they still make up a good core. Joe Jackson is a super-quick point guard that is always looking to attack. Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton can hit the three and Tariq Black is a lethal finisher inside.
On the downside, they do appear to be thin inside. Black is their only productive big, though Shaquille Goodwin was a covted recruit. they may have similar issues in the backcourt unless JuCo Geron Johnson makes an impact immediately. They should survive Conference USA without much difficulty, but these issues could come up in March.
This ranking is based on the assumption that Shabazz Muhammad will miss a large chunk of the season. The consensus top-5 recruit and NBA lottery lock is currently ineligible while the NCAA is investigating his amateur status because of potential improper benefit. It would be a huge blow to the Bruins if he can not play this season. Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker were also investigated, but are eligible to play. They potentially have a ton of raw talent, but these issues and the number of new pieces makes me wonder how it will all fit together.
Their frontcourt is one of the deepest in the country. They already had the Wear twins and Josh Smith on the roster, then they signed McDonald’s All-American Tony Parker. All of those guys are good options.
If they’re eligible, the headliners in a talented backcourt are Muhammad and Anderson. Both are top-10 recruits with superstar potential. Muhammad is a big-time scorer and athlete while Anderson is a versatile offensive player with great length. They still have Tyler Lamb, who was solid last year, and Norman Powell, and add another solid recruit in Jordan Adams.
Larry Drew is the big wildcard for UCLA. He has experience and talent, but North Carolina’s offense was very erratic when he was running it. Has he improved on that? They don’t have other options on the roster, though Anderson could serve as an unconventional point guard.
The status of Mohammad is a huge factor in their ranking. If he’s eligible, they could be a top-5 team. If not, even this ranking might be optimistic.
The key with this team is going to be making the pieces fit together. They may not have enough ball-handling or outside shooting to go the distance. They’re one of the hardest teams to project even without considering the eligibility issues. That said, all Drew has to do is get the ball to their excellent frontcourt or talented wing players for the team to thrive.
They’re nowhere near as deep as they were last year, but the Orange still have quite a bit of talent. The one down side is that it’s largely unproven.
Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair are the most experienced players on the roster. Both were capable role players last year and should get a few more shots this season. However, the real upside for this team will come from Michael Carter-Williams and James Southland. Carter-Williams is a former McDonald’s All-American that is one of the top breakout candidates in the country, and Southland was a versatile forward off the bench last year.
The biggest question with Syracuse is what they have inside. Rakeem Christmas and Dajuan Coleman were solid recruits with good athleticism, but the former barely played last year and the latter is a freshman. Baye Keita also got some playing time last year, but not much.
Syracuse has enough talent to win the Big East, but it’s hard to rank them much higher until we see what some of their role players can do.
8) Michigan State
The Spartans should be able to ride their frontcourt to Big Ten contention. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson (who looks healthy after his knee injury) are explosive athletes that can make a big impact on both ends. They also have Derrick Nix, who is somewhat limited but can score down low. They have talent in the backcourt too. Keith Appling was highly productive last year and freshman Gary Harris has a chance to make an impact immediately.
They may not have enough shooters and their depth is somewhat questionable, but they should still be able to hang with anyone in the country.
Last year, Missouri used a 4-guard lineup that was brilliant offensively but lacking on defense. They had a great regular season, but their flaws caught up to them in the tournament, where they were upset by Norfolk State. They will be hard pressed to match that regular season, but they could be more prepared for the tournament.
Marcus Denmon and Kim English have moved on, but the Tigers still have plenty of options on the perimeter. Phil Pressey was the team sparkplug. He distributed the ball well and forced turnovers on defense. They also still have Michael Dixon, who was one of the best bench scorers in the country. He still may not start though due to their numerous transfers. Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Earnest Ross (Auburn) posted good numbers at their previous schools, albiet with questionable efficiency. They also added Jabari Brown, who was a 5-star recruit when he signed at Oregon. It will be interesting to see how the depth chart shakes out because all of these guys could contribute.
Unlike last year, Mizzou has several options inside. The best news for them is that Laurence Bowers should be healthy. He was a highly effective power forward in 2010/11 but tore his ACL before last season. They also should get a big boost from Alex Oriakhi, who struggled at UConn last year but can bang inside. Tony Criswell, a top junior college player that spent some time at UAB, should also play.
Missouri should have better size and depth than they did last year, so if the backcourt can be anywhere close to what it was last year, they’ll be in very good shape.
Arizona has a plethora of talented newcomers that could lead them to their best season in years.
The most important addition is Mark Lyons, a senior transfer from Xavier that will be eligible immediately.
He averaged 15 points per game last season and gives the Wildcats some much-needed firepower in the backcourt. They also brought in numerous highly-rated big men that could contribute right away. Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley are both very athletic and Kaleb Tarczewski has good size and scoring touch.
Solomon Hill is the best of their returning players. He averaged roughly 13-8 last year playing inside with a smaller lineup, but could play more at small forward with the influx of post players. He has the outside shot to make it work.
The key to their season probably rests with Nick Johnson. The sophomore has serious scoring potential, but needs to make more shots this season. He also might have to absorb much of the ball-handling duties considering that Arizona doesn’t have a pure point guard on the roster. Johnson and Lyons will probably play the majority of the minutes in the backcourt and have to find a way to make it work.
If they can take care of the ball and get it to the right players in the right spots, Arizona should be a top-2 seed with a chance to make it to Atlanta.
Betting against Kansas in the Big 12 is a good way to lose money. They keep losing All-American caliber players and still find ways to win the conference. I’m not expecting anything different this year.
Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are massive losses, but the other three starters from their team that lost in the championship game will be back. Jeff Withey anchors the defense with his elite shot-blocking and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford should both score in double figures this year.
If they get any help from their other players, the Jayhawks should be dangerous again. Given the number of options they have, they will likely be in good shape. Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor will be eligible after eligibility issues their freshman year, and they also add solid recruits in power forward Perry Ellis and shooting guard Andrew White. Ellis and McLemore seem like the best bets to contribute given their talent.
It’s hard to say what to expect in March given the number of players that will have to enter the rotation or take on bigger roles, but they have the fewest obvious holes in the Big 12.
I hate trying to rank Kentucky. They depend on freshman production more than any team in the country and their top players rarely hang around. It was easier last year; they had two good starters back as well as an experienced rotation player to supplement their typical stellar recruiting class. That’s not the case this year since their top six players were selected in the NBA draft.
As usual, they’ve reloaded. Nerlens Noel is widely projected as a top-3 pick for next year’s draft. He’s not likely to be as good as Anthony Davis, but he has the same kind of absurd length and athleticism and should be an elite shot-blocker.
They also brought in two top-tier athletes on the wing. Alex Poythress is a long, skilled player that will be tough for most teams to cover, and Archie Goodwin could be the next Calipari player to terrorize opponents off the dribble. Big man Willie Cauley-Stein would be the major coup in a lot of classes, but he’s probably not even a starter this year.
They also add two transfers: Ryan Harrow from NC State and Twany Beckham from Mississippi State. The former is a lot more important since he is going to have to carry the load at the point. He’ll need to be more efficient than he was as a freshman two years ago.
Their one returning player that will definitely see significant playing time is Kyle Wiltjer. He’s an elite shooter and should help create room in the paint by drawing the opposing big out to the 3-point line to cover him.
It’s really hard to predict how productive these guys will be given the extremely limited experience on the roster. They certainly have some very good athletes, which usually wins out. It’s largely a guess, but I’m predicting a season somewhat like the 2010-11 Wildcats. They had some struggles in the regular season, but they were a tough out in March once their gifted freshmen started to mesh as a team.
3) NC State
Look for the Wolfpack to end the Duke/UNC stranglehold on the ACC title this season. The four best players from their Sweet 16 team are back and they added a trio of highly rated recruits.
The biggest reason they are rated this high is the star duo of Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie. Brown is a playmaker whether he’s looking to score or pass, and Leslie makes plays with his athleticism. They also have Scott Wood, a lethal outside shooter, and rugged big man Richard Howell.
They would already be a tough team, but their recruiting class gives them even more talent. Rodney Purvis was one of the top scorers in the 2012 class and should play right away as a combo guard. They also added a combo forward with serious shooting range (T.J. Warren) and a pass-first point guard (Tyler Lewis).
The Wolfpack should be able to take advantage of a down year from UNC and Duke and rule the ACC this year.
The Cardinals rode a stellar defense to last year’s Final Four. The core of that defense is back in Louisville, and there are reasons to expect their offense to improve.
Their defensive anchor is Gorgui Dieng, an elite shot-blocker and rebounder. He could be a really good player if he improves on offense. They also generate a lot of turnovers, especially Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.
Their problems came on offense. Their guards took (and missed) a lot of shots. That was a big part of the reason they finished 103rd in offensive efficiency last year. They will have to be more efficient to get a top seed.
Their frontcourt should help with that. Besides Dieng, they also have Chane Behanan, a banger down low that can finish. Luke Hancock is a potential impact transfer from George Mason. He shot almost 50% from the floor and averaged over 4 assists a game in his last year there, so he could help the offense significantly.
Perhaps their biggest reason to expect improvement offensively is Wayne Blackshear, an elite athlete who missed most of last season. He can get to the rim and finish, which is something that the Cardinals could really use. They also have a few other talented underclassmen that could contribute: Kevin Ware, Zach Price and Montrezl Harrell.
Their defense should keep them near the top of the rankings regardless. But in order to reach their goals, they’ll have to put the ball in the net at a better rate.
The Hoosiers are the best team on paper, but they’re not an overwhelming #1.
Obviously they have talent if I’m putting them at #1. Cody Zeller is a star, and guys like Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo are capable of taking over games. Plus they added one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Their offense is dominant, though their defense will have to be better than it was last year.
That said, they benefit from what could be a down year in talent. Most of the top underclassmen declared for the 2012 NBA draft, unlike last year where numerous players stayed in school due to the NBA lockout. Indiana won’t have to deal with teams like the 2011-12 Kentucky and North Carolina teams that had depth, experience and numerous NBA prospects. Many of these teams I have rated well this year would not have made the top-10 last year in my opinion.
This should be a highly entertaining college basketball season with a lot of competition for the top spots in the league. What are you most looking forward to? Let us know in comments!