LAGUNA NIGUEL, Ca. – And so it’s upon us . . .
The 2013-14 college hoops season has officially tipped off.
What follows are my projected teams to be playing in the second week of the tournament.
The first four, naturally (do the math), are the teams I think have the best shot of getting to the Final Four.
These picks are pretty much, with a few tweaks, in the order that I projected for Lindy’s College Basketball Yearbook.
There is inevitably a “Final Four surprise”.
My surprise this season would be if any (and certainly, all) of the first three teams are not in Texas for the final weekend of the season.
Here we go:
1. MICHIGAN STATE (2012-13 record: 27-9)
Why the Spartans could be champions: There are veterans, including future NBA players, across the board. Tom Izzo takes these types of clubs to Final Fours.
2. KANSAS (31-6)
Why the Jayhawks could be champions: Bill Self has the best group of freshmen in the country (ever-so-slightly over Kentucky) and an underrated group of veterans.
3. KENTUCKY (21-12)
Why the Wildcats could be champions: If freshman point guard Andrew Harrison can get everyone on the same page, offensively and defensively, then that incredibly deep pool of future first-round picks will be very tough to stop, indeed.
4. DUKE (30-6)
Why the Blue Devils could be champions: Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t had a lot of clubs with this kind of perimeter skill and scoring pop.
5. NORTH CAROLINA (25-11)
Why the Tar Heels could be champions: If all of the pieces are in place come March (P.J. Hairston, obviously, included) then the most underappreciated point guard in the country, Marcus Paige, will lead a team that could be as good as any of the above four.
6. OHIO STATE (29-8)
Why the Buckeyes could be champions: Aaron Craft is one of the two best floor leaders in college. And some might be forgetting how much Thad Matta returned from a team that almost got to the Final Four last spring.
7. LOUISVILLE (35-5)
Why the Cardinals could be champions: If newcomer Chris Jones can even remotely approach the level of efficiency at which Peyton Siva operated at the past couple of seasons, and if all the pieces are in play by March (Chane Behanan, obviously, included), then a third FF trip in a row is highly doable.
8. FLORIDA (29-8)
Why the Gators could be champions: Billy Donovan has an exquisite blend of veterans (Patric Young is playing his eighth season of college hoops, right) and newcomers – good enough to get to the FF. But all the pieces have to be in play by March (Scottie Wilbekin, obviously, is the most notable of those; and freshman Chris Walker, eligible and focused, would be quite a help, too).
9. OKLAHOMA STATE (24-9)
Why the Cowboys could be champions: Travis Ford has Marcus Smart – the best college player in the country, if not quite the best NBA prospect, folks – and quite a few gifted teammates to go with him.
10. ARIZONA (27-8)
Why the Wildcats could be champions: If Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell can get the Wildcats’ veterans and newcomers in sync, at both ends of the floor, this should be a club capable of conquering more than just the Pac 12 Conference.
11. MICHIGAN (31-8)
Why the Wolverines could be champions: Last season’s national championship runner-up club was a lot more than just Trey Burke, as people will be reminded constantly this season.
12. SYRACUSE (30-10)
Why the Orange could be champions: No matter the severity of player losses from the previous season, Jim Boeheim always seems to put a national title contender on the floor. And 2013-14 will be no different.
13. VIRGINIA (23-12)
Why the Cavaliers could be champions: Led by the best jump shooter in college (Joe Harris), this is a team with the goods to get to the Final Four – although many non-ACC coaches and followers don’t realize it, yet.
14. MEMPHIS (31-5)
Why the Tigers could be champions: The Kansas and Kentucky freshmen classes are better than Josh Pastner’s – but not by as much as most surmise.
15. CONNECTICUT (20-10)
Why the Huskies could be champions: “Guards win championships”, right? If that adage proves true then not many clubs have backcourts on the same tier as the one Kevin Ollie is coaching.
16. WICHITA STATE (30-9)
Why the Shockers could be champions: Led by the player with my favorite name in college hoops – Cleanthony Early – there is more than enough depth of talent and experience to make a second consecutive successful FF run.