Location: Minneapolis, MN
Nickname: Golden Gophers
Conference: Big Ten
Last Year’s Record: 22-11
Minnesota Guard Lawrence Westbrook
Key Returners: Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 ppg), Damian Johnson (9.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Top Newcomers: Royce White, Rodney Williams
Strengths: Coach Tubby Smith returns the bulk of his roster this season and that is especially important for the Gophers. The Gopher’s balanced attack kept their opponents guessing last year and with most of the roster, including the key guys, returning, this year should be the same. Only Lawrence Westbrook averaged double-figures for Minnesota last season while seven other guys averaged at least five points-per-game. Getting contributions from so many people will once again be the key to the Minnesota’s season.
Weakness: Minnesota had some ugly offensive numbers last season. The Gophers were second in the Big Ten in turnovers with 14.5 per game and they shot less than 33% from behind the arc. Those pedestrian numbers were the reason why they finished as a middling Big Ten team and were ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers will have to value the basketball and shoot the three better if they expect to finish near the top of the Big Ten.
Outlook: With the core of the roster returning and a couple of blue-chip recruits stepping on campus, Minnesota should be a team to reckon with this season. Tubby Smith has this program going strong and a return trip to the Big Dance should be in the cards for the Gophers.
Location: Washington, DC
Conference: Big East
Last Year’s Record: 16-15
Georgetown Guard Austin Freeman
Key Returners: Greg Monroe (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Chris Wright (12.5 ppg), Austin Freeman (11.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Top Newcomers: Vee Sanford, Hollis Thompson
Strengths: With three McDonald’s All-Americans returning, there’s no reason why the Hoyas shouldn’t be expected to have a drastic improvement over last season. With Big East Player of the Year candidate, Greg Monroe, and Chris Wright having full Big East season’s under their belts and a trimmed Austin Freeman moving back to shooting guard, Coach John Thompson III seems to have his team in the image he wants. Add-in four-star prospect Hollis Thompson, who’s been on campus since last winter, and the Hoyas appear to have the talent to challenge in the Big East.
Weakness: If this team didn’t do any maturing over the off-season then it is in big trouble again. Bouts of inconsistency marred Georgetown’s season taking a team that, at one point, was ranked in the top 10 to a team that lost in the first round of the NIT. This team beat UConn and Villanova on the road, yet was swept by St. John’s. If the Hoyas haven’t learned from the mistakes they made last season they may be doom to repeat the past.
Outlook: With seven players who saw significant minutes returning, expect the Hoyas to be able to overcome the youthful mistakes they made last season. This team belongs to the junior backcourt of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. They’ll take ownership and get Georgetown back into the NCAA tournament.
Location: Tulsa, OK
Nickname: Golden Hurricane
Last Year’s Record: 25-11
Tulsa Guard Ben Uzoh
Key Returners: Ben Uzoh (14.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Jerome Jordan (13.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Justin Hurtt (9.6 ppg)
Top Newcomers: Donte Medder, Bryson Pope
Strengths: Tulsa probably has the two best players you’ve never heard of in Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan. Uzoh is an explosive guard who can score and rebound. Jerome Jordan is an experienced seven-footer who has NBA scouts watching closely. The two of them will lead the Hurricane in transition year in Conference-USA. The two of them will have banner seasons and, with the help of Justin Hurtt, will make Tulsa difficult to beat this year.
Weakness: Any team with 25 wins should’ve made the NCAA tournament right? Well, the Golden Hurricane would’ve come away with even more wins had it not been so turnover-prone. The Golden Hurricane turned the ball over 14 times per game on its way to having 106 more turnovers than its opponents on the season. The fact that it even had 25 wins with that stat speaks to Tulsa’s talent. However, if it expects a different result, it will have to take better care of the basketball this year.
Outlook: Coach Doug Wojcik probably spent all off-season banging his head over why his team didn’t make the NCAA tournament last year. He knows he has the talent, but mistakes cost his team. Don’t expect history to repeat itself and Tulsa should break Memphis’ stranglehold on this conference.
Location: College Park, MD
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Last Year’s Record: 21-14
Maryland Guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez
Key Returners: Greivis Vasquez (17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5 apg), Landon Milbourne (11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Eric Hayes (10.3 ppg), Adrian Bowie (9 ppg)
Top Newcomers: James Padgett, Jordan Williams
Strengths: As long as the Terps have Greivis Vasquez, they’ll be a team to reckon with. Vasquez is the best returning point guard in the ACC and the senior is ready to continue his stellar play. His mouth sometimes gets him in trouble, but his game always saves him. He got solid contributions from Landon Milbourne, Eric Hayes, and Adrian Bowie last year so don’t believe this is just a one-man team. However, there’s no doubt that Vasquez is the heart and soul of Gary Williams’ team.
Weakness: This team was an enigma last season. The up-and-down play the Terrapins displayed was mind-boggling to their fans so it had to be maddening to Williams. The Terps did enough late in the season to make it to the Big Dance, but they were so bad in the middle of the year that people were calling for Williams’ job. Being consistent will be the key for Maryland if it expects to move up in the ACC. If not, the boo-birds will come back in College Park.
Outlook: With Vasquez back to lead, this team can finish in the top third of the ACC. It has experience and two blue-chip recruits so the talent is there. If they can play consistent basketball, this can be a great year in College Park.
Location: Columbus, OH
Conference: Big Ten
Last Year’s Record: 22-11
Ohio St G/F Evan Turner
Key Returners: Evan Turner (17.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg), William Buford (11.3 ppg), Jon Diebler (11.2 ppg) David Lighty (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Zsisis Sarikopoulos
Strengths: With seven of the top eight players in its rotation returning, Ohio St will be one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten this season. Junior swingman Evan Turner leads an offensive attack that should once again be one of the best in the Big Ten. Turner will be flanked by double-digit scorers in William Buford and Jon Diebler, both of whom are outstanding three-point shooters. Ohio State will also see the return of David Lighty from injury to provide another scoring option.
Weakness: In the rugged Big Ten, teams have to be able to rebound. Last season, the Buckeyes were one of the worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin. While the injury to David Lighty contributed to that number, they’ll still be without B.J. Mullen this season who was their main low-post presence. He’s in the NBA and the Buckeyes will need Greek National Zsisis Sarikopoulos to step in and help on the boards right away. In their NCAA tournament loss to Siena, they were out-rebounded 53-37. If they’re not able to rebound better, they may find themselves as a middle of the pack Big Ten team once again.
Outlook: Ohio St has the talent to finish in the top third of the Big Ten. There is no doubt about it, they will have to become tougher on the glass to finishi that high. If they’re unable to sure their rebounding up, they’ll be looking at a 8-10 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Location: Nashville, TN
Last Year’s Record: 19-12
Vanderbilt Center A.J. Ogilvy
Key Returners: A.J. Ogilvy (15.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Jermaine Beal (12.5 ppg), Jeffery Taylor (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Brad Tinsley (11 ppg)
Top Newcomer: John Jenkins
Strengths: With the top four players in its rotation returning, Vanderbilt will be loaded this season. Led by Australian National A.J. Ogilvy, the Commodore will have plenty of scoring options this season. Along with Ogilvy, Jermaine Beal, Jeffery Taylor, and Brad Tinsley all averaged double figures last season and are expected to do the same this season. They’re also welcoming in top shooting guard prospect John Jenkins to provided an added punch. Coach Kevin Stallings definitely has a talented team on his hands.
Weakness: The Commodores will have to get production from their bench this season. Last season, no reserve player averaged more than five points-per-game. That has to change if the Commodores want to challenge in the SEC East. Their starters played a lot of minutes and, as a result, were not as fresh as they needed to be down the stretch. It’ll be a shame if they can’t get the production from their bench this season to help make a run in March.
Outlook: The Commodores’ bench is still unproven, but they will have a starting five that can rival any other in the SEC. If they’re able to get solid points from their reserves, this can be a top-15 team when its all said and done.
Location: South Bend, IN
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Conference: Big East
Last Year’s Record: 21-15
Notre Dame F/C Luke Harangody
Key Returners: Luke Harangody (23.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg), Tory Jackson (10.6 ppg, 4.9 apg)
Top Newcomers: Joey Brooks, Jack Cooley, Ben Hansbrough-Tr
Strengths: Led by Luke Harangody, the Fighting Irish will have no trouble scoring. Harangody, along with his backcourt mate Tory Jackson will be one the best inside-out combinations in the country. Harangody will be his usual self this season, but due to several departures, expect Jackson to take a larger role in the offense. The Irish also expect Mississippi State transfer, Ben Hansbrough to provide an instant boost to the offense.
Weakness: Notre Dame had serious depth issues last season. Notre Dame’s starters played way too many minutes last season. Harangody and Jackson both played around 34 minutes-per-game while Jonathan Peoples, the next best returner, only averaged around 14. That is a serious hole. The Irish must get major contributions from their freshmen and have it’s reserves take a significant leap in production to have any chance of returning to the Big Dance.
Outlook: This team will still have major issues with depth, but it may have the talent in the starting five to overcome that. Harangody, Jackson, and Hansbrough will provide Coach Mike Brey with three outstanding scoring options. Don’t expect the Irish to have the struggles it did last season.
Location: Storrs, CT
Conference: Big East
Last Year’s Record: 31-5
UConn Guard Jerome Dyson
Key Returners: Jerome Dyson (13.2 ppg), Kemba Walker (8.9 ppg), Stanley Robinson (8.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Top Newcomers: Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel, Alex Oriakhi, Darius Smith
Strengths: It’s crazy that a team can lose A.J. Price and still have one of the best backcourts in the Big East. Kemba Walker and a healthy Jerome Dyson return to lead a Husky team in the middle of a rebuild(load). Before the injury, Dyson was the heart and soul of the Huskies. He averaged over 13 points-per-game and was the one player who was unafraid to take the big shot. Walker stepped in for Dyson and provided solid scoring while becoming UConn’s best on-ball defender. With these two returning, UConn will still be in the mix in the Big East.
Weakness: This team was hit hard by players leaving. A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien left due to graduation while Hasheem Thabeet chose to forgo his final year of eligibility. Between the three, they averaged 42 points and 24 rebounds per game. It doesn’t matter that UConn has good talent returning and a top-ten recruiting class. When that level of production leaves, there will always be a drop-off. How large of a drop-off depends on well the younger players adjust.
Outlook: With Dyson and Walker in the backcourt and Stanley Robinson returning up front, Jim Calhoun still has plenty to work with in Storrs. Throw in a top-ten recruiting class and the Huskies don’t look to be a team to be taken lightly.
Location: Dayton, OH
Conference: Atlantic 10
Last Year’s Record: 27-8
Dayton Forward Chris Wright
Key Returners: Chris Wright (13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Marcus Johnson (11.8 ppg), Chris Johnson (5.2 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Matt Kavanaugh
Strengths: With 14 players returning from last year’s team, the Flyers are far and away the favorites in the A-10. While not explosive, they’ve bought into Coach Brian Gregory’s system. Their style of play would suit them well in the Big East or Big Ten as they prefer to grind out games. Their opponents shot less than 40% and were held to just 61 points-per-game last season. The way the Flyers guard translates to any conference in America and it will pay huge dividends for them this season.
Weakness: The Flyers were almost as dreadful offensively as their opponents were last season. Shooting only 42% as a team, the Flyers let a lot teams hang around in games which should have been easy victories. Their ineptness was put on full blast in the second-round NCAA tournament match-up with Kansas. The Flyers scored just 43 points on their way to a loss in a game they were never really in. Repeating the same offensive performance this season won’t get them any further.
Outlook: The Flyers will be the top team in the A-10 this season and will challenge Ohio State for the top spot in the state. With the guys they have returning and the way they defend, this team can make a legitimate run at the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Location: Manhattan, KS
Conference: Big 12
Last Year’s Record: 22-12
Kansas State Guard Denis Clemente
Key Returners: Denis Clemente (15.0 ppg), Jacob Pullen (13.9 ppg), Jamar Samuels (8.3 ppg)
Top Newcomers: Wally Judge, Curtis Kelly-Tr, Rodney McGruder, Nick Russell
Strengths: Denis Clemente is back to lead a Wildcats’ team that is looking to build on recent success. He, along with Jacob Pullen comprise one of the best backcourts in the Big 12. They averaged almost 30 points-per-game last season and that number is expected to rise. They played the bulk of the minutes last season too, but now it looks like help is on the way. Freshmen Nick Russell and Rodney McGruder join the fray to sure up the backcourt while Wally Judge should provide an added punch from his forward position.
Weakness: The Wildcats were the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big 12 last season. Shooting just 65%, it’s no wonder why the Wildcats finished a marginal 9-7 in league play. Clemente and Pullen are solid from the line, but it is a huge drop-off from there. Jamar Samuels, the next best returning scorer, could only muster 57% from the line. This is an issue that the Wildcats will have to conquer if they want to show that good basketball in the state of Kansas isn’t only played in Lawrence.
Outlook: This squad has the right mix of newcomers and experience to be successful this season. A top-20 recruiting class and one of the best backcourts in college basketball should spell the second trip to the NCAA tournament for the Wildcats in three years.