Sleepers emerge on path to NCAA title
by Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
This week, leading to the start of men’s college basketball season, USA TODAY Sports college basketball reporters Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell will offer their predictions for 2012-13. They start today with the season’s finish: The Final Four.
Eric Prisbell’s Final Four: Indiana, Louisville, N.C. State, UNLV
Much of the college basketball season will revolve around the geographic triangle connecting Louisville, Lexington and Bloomington, Ind.
And none of the three schools from those parts is under more pressure than Louisville. This is the year. Kentucky coach John Calipari has his national title and Big Blue Nation is busy planning a celebration in April 2014 after one of the greatest recruiting classes in history rolls through. Tom Crean has reconstructed the Hoosiers program and they’ll be a national contender for the foreseeable future. Last season’s Final Four appearance for Louisville only upped the ante this season. The Cardinals have the roster to win the title and a fan base that won’t let them forget if they don’t.
Indiana would have reached the Final Four last season had it not encountered Kentucky in that frenetic, don’t-blink Sweet 16 game. With the nation’s best player, Cody Zeller, back and more than enough complementary pieces, it would be foolish to bet against the Hoosiers reaching Atlanta.
It’s always dangerous to board the bandwagon of a team that overachieved in the previous year’s tournament, but here’s predicting N.C. State lives up to considerable preseason hype. When at his best, C.J. Leslie is an NBA lottery pick. And the addition of three McDonald’s All-Americans, especially Rodney Purvis, will lift the Wolfpack.
Finally, it is not much of a reach to pick a team out of the top-heavy Mountain West. UNLV coach Dave Rice has recruited at an elite level, and with Khem Birch, Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett has one of the nation’s most formidable front court.
Darkhorse that could make a run: Ohio
In the past three years, three non-BCS conference teams – Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011) – occupied the 12 Final Four slots. Don’t be surprised if it happens again. Among players, most of the same faces are back from the … [For more on Final Four picks: Sleepers emerge on path to NCAA title, click here.]