NCAA Preview: Teams 11-20
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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After breaking down the top ten teams in the country, it’s time to take a look at teams 11-20. The depth in college basketball this season is going to be incredible; the gap between the teams we break down today and those in the top 10 is actually not that big at all. These teams are also stockpiled with talent and capable of making a deep run if they peak at the right time. Within a week or two, they could very possibly surpass some of the teams ahead of them.
11. Louisville Cardinals
Key Losses: Preston Knowles
Key Additions: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Zach Price.
Outlook: Upset by Morehead State in their opening game of the NCAA tournament last year, the Cardinals are poised to come back with a vengeance this season. The Cardinals did not lose much from last year’s team that was quite formidable during the regular season before underachieving when it mattered most. The addition of another stellar recruiting class by head coach Rick Pitino will once again make them one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Big East. Expect big things from junior Peyton Silva and senior Terrence Jennings. Just like all Pitino-coached teams, they’ll be stifling defensively.
12. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Losses: Senario Hillman and Chris Hines
Key Additions: Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper.
Outlook: The Crimson Tide have steadily improved under Anthony Grant’s watch in his first two years with the program, advancing to the NIT Championship last season. This year they should take their biggest leap forward yet as Grant has assembled a potential contender. Forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell are two of the top players in the SEC and in Nick Jacobs, Lacey, Randolph and Cooper Grant has four freshmen who should make the most of their minutes. Junior college transfer center Moussa Gueye has the size and strength to be a difference maker in the low post. Don’t tell the Crimson Tide that Kentucky is going to run away with the SEC, because they’re going to have a lot to say about it.
13. UCLA Bruins
Key Losses: Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee
Key Additions: David Wear, Travis Wear and Normal Powell
Outlook: While this may not be the year that Ben Howland leaves the Bruins back to the Final Four, they do have the ability to win the Pac 10. The addition of the Wear twins should help offset the loss of Honeycutt. Meanwhile Powell shares a lot of similarities with Lee, possessing great athleticism that helps him get into the lane regularly. As important as those three newcomers will be, Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith carry the hopes of the Bruins’ on their shoulders. Their level of play will determine how far they go.
14. Texas A&M Aggies
Key Losses: B.J. Holmes and Nathan Walkup
Key Additions: Jamal Branch and Jordan Green
Outlook: At first it’s going to seem like the Aggies are experience culture shock as newly-hired head coach Billy Kennedy is bringing in a system that almost completely differs from former head coach Mark Turgeon’s. Unlike the defensive-minded Turgeon, Kennedy is an offense-first coach who will have the Aggies getting up and down like they never did before. Still, Turgeon’s impact will be noticeable defensively, but they’ll benefit from Kennedy’s style. Khris Middleton has the potential to be one of the top small forwards in the country, and incoming guards Branch and Green are tailor-made to run and gun. The Aggies will make sure that nobody in the Big 12 misses them in their final year before bolting to the SEC as they could win the league.
15. Cincinnati Bearcats
Key Losses: Rashad Bishop and Ibrahima Thomas
Key Additions: Shaquille Thomas, Jermaine Sanders and Ge’lawn Guyn.
Outlook: The Bearcats are coming off of a strong 2010-2011 campaign and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t pick up right where they left off in 2011-2012. Led by the underrated inside-outside combination of Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon, the Bearcats are going to be extremely deep with talent this year. They’re bringing in one of their best recruiting classes in recent memory that could help them become serious contenders if they make the transition smoothly. Most importantly for the Bears, Gates has to dominate inside like he’s capable of. Too often he’s just blended in when he should be dominant. That can’t be the case this year if he wants to leave a first round pick.
16. Pittsburgh Panthers
Key Losses: Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown.
Key Additions: Khem Birch, Durand Johnson and Malcolm Gilbert
Outlook: The Panthers experienced one of the craziest endings ever in the history of college basketball last season. It has to be hard for Panther fans to think about how their season would have ended had Butler not made such spectacular plays down the stretch of their third round meeting. Losing Brown and Wanamaker hurts a great deal, but luckily Ashton Gibbs is still around to take over a leadership role. Overall the Panthers have a nice balance of freshmen and seniors and should still be tough defensively. Keep an eye on Nasir Robinson, who could have a big year.
17. Marquette Golden Eagles
Key Losses: Jimmy Butler and Dwight Buycks
Key Additions: Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo
Outlook: Buzz Williams has done an excellent job of taking over for Tom Crean, helping Marquette remain a team that cannot be slept on year in and year out. At times people get too caught up in criticizing the way they play, which is a tad bit unorthodox but becoming a trend. They’re not going to change who they are, especially after winning 22 games last year and advancing to the Sweet 16. They’ll be up tempo, led by Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Chris Otule. Freshmen Wilson and Mayo fit the system perfectly and could contribute in year one. In time freshmen Anderson could replace some of the versatility they lost in Butler.
18. St. John’s Red Storm
Key Losses: Dwight Hardy, D.J. Kennedy and Justin Brownlee
Key Additions: D’Angelo Harrison and Maurice Harkless.
Outlook: After a seven-year hiatus from coaching, Steve Lavin had the luxury of coaching one of the most senior-laden teams in the country in his first year back. This year, he’ll have one of the youngest teams in the country that features six freshmen and three junior college transfers. While his team will be athletic and versatile with a lot of interchangeable players, they’ll be virtually without any experience at the D-I level. That means they’ll have to learn on the fly, but they have a proven coach to show them the way and a non-conference schedule that should allow them to both grow and be tested.
19. Arizona Wildcats
Key Losses: Derrick Williams
Key Additions: Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, and Angelo Chol.
Outlook: As we’ve written many times, Williams would have had a hard time replacing himself after the year he had, so of course the Wildcats are going to have a difficult time replacing him now that he’s a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sean Miller has signed a top five class, though, with Turner and Johnson poised to play big minutes in the backcourt along with returner and Kyle Fogg. Solomon Hill will have the opportunity to really step up with Williams gone, as will the freshman Chol inside. The hope is that Chol will serve as their defensive anchor while Williams’ offense is replaced by committee.
20. Kansas Jayhawks
Key Losses: Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby
Key Additions: Ben McLemore, Naadir Tharpe and Jamari Traylor.
Outlook: The Jayhawks lost a great deal from last year’s 35-win team. That’s nothing that Bill Self isn’t very well accustomed to, but this year he doesn’t have a star-studded recruiting class coming in to take their place. While the freshman McLemore has the potential to make an instant-impact, Self will be heavily relying on upperclassmen Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. This should be the year that Taylor produces like he’s capable of, while Robinson is a near lock to blow up. He’s looked great this summer and is finally going to be the featured option inside the post. This will be one of the years that’s a testament to how good of a coach Self really is, because it’s not one of the most talented teams he’s ever had by any means. Note: Since the writing of this article McLemore and Traylor have been ruled ineligible for the 2011-2012 season.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat on Friday October 11th at 11 am EST. You can get your questions into him here.