NCAA: Top Five Storylines
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The start of October means that we are inching ever close to the start of the 2011-2012 college basketball season. In a few weeks teams will be allowed to start practice and not much long afterwards games will officially be underway. As we get closer to the start of the year, HOOPSWORLD will break down the top 25 teams in the country and the best players by position, but right now it’s time to take a look at the top five storylines for the upcoming season.
Is this the team that gets Coach Cal a championship?
Throughout his tenure in college basketball, Kentucky head coach John Calipari has had some very promising teams capable of winning a national championship. However, even his best teams have come up just short in his bid for what has become an elusive first championship. With the allure of redeeming himself in the NBA likely to take Calipari away sometime in the future, this year may be somewhat make or break from him.
He has one of the best teams he’s ever assembled set to represent Kentucky this season, highlighted by a stellar recruiting class and the return of two of his top three freshman, which is quite rare. They’ll rank amongst the most talented teams in the nation, but it’s up to Cal to get them to come together and play disciplined enough to beat the likes of Ohio State, North Carolina, Connecticut and Syracuse, who will also be in championship contention.
Can the 2011 recruiting class live up to the hype?
One of the main reasons why this season is looking like one of the most compelling in recent memory is the incredible amount of talent that the 2011 recruiting class contains. Guys like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Duke’s Austin Rivers and UConn’s Andre Drummond are projected to be top five picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, but the big question is can they live up to all the hype.
It’s easy to be a top-ranked prospect at this time of year because it’s all about being talented and having upside. Proving that you’re deserving during the season is what’s tough, and many freshmen have failed to deliver as expected in the past. While this year’s class seems to be filled with players who will bring a lot to the table, you never know until they actually do so.
Perhaps the one certainty going into this season is that things will look far different as far as conferences go come 2012-2013. The Texas A&M Aggies are already set to join the South Eastern Conference, while the Pac 10 is becoming the Pac 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference is looking to expand. This creates an avalanche effect through the rest of the country that will cause other teams to react accordingly to make sure they are in the best place for their future. The next big move, whether it be a combining of conferences or another big departure, could occur during the midst of the season.
What surprising stars will emerge?
Every year there are players who are under the radar that end up being amongst the biggest stars in the country when it is all said and done. Last year San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard improved on a solid freshman year to take the Aztecs to new heights as a sophomore. Meanwhile, Doug McDermott established himself as one of the best freshmen in the 2010 recruiting class when few looked at him in such light beforehand. This year will be no different. Some players to keep an eye on include Florida’s Patrick Young, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Villanova’s Mouphataou Yarou and Duke’s Seth Curry.
Will North Carolina take the next step?
The table is set for the Tar Heels to once again be in the mix for a national championship. Their top three players, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson are returning and will be joined by a strong recruiting class featuring power forward James McAdoo. From top to bottom they could be the most talented team in the country. Last time Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams had a team this good was in 2009 when they won it all. Last year they got off to a bit of a slow start, but they’re more experienced and deeper now. They’re the favorites, but it will be interesting to see how they handle having a much bigger target on their back than they had last year.
Roe’s Career Finished: When Delvon Roe signed on to become a Michigan State Spartan four years ago, it was with the expectations that he would be an instant-impact player who would eventually go to the NBA. The athletic and explosive 6’7 big man had the game of a hybrid power forward that made him attractive to scouts at the next level. The only thing that was concerning about Roe was his knee issues, which were already an area of concern back then. Unfortunately, they only got worse throughout his career and after three seasons Roe has decided that he just cannot fight through them anymore.
“This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Roe said in a statement. “It feels that I’ve been playing through pain throughout my career at MSU, but the daily grind of basketball – the running, cutting, jumping – has finally taken its toll given the intensity required to play at our level. I started playing basketball because I loved the game, but the pain has taken that away and forced me to always think about just getting through the next few minutes or the next game. I don’t want to just ‘get through’ anymore. I’ve played on a leg and a half for most of my career, and that’s not fair to my teammates as they go through the daily grind.
“I have no regrets about my time at Michigan State. I’ve been blessed to be a three-year starter and be a part of back-to-back Big Ten Championships and Final Fours. I’m lucky to have been surrounded by great teammates that have become my brothers, and coaches that have provided great guidance. The medical and training staff have been phenomenal just to give me the opportunities that I’ve had. But as one of our doctors told me, the wear on my knee is like tread on a tire, and that once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back. It became time to consider my health moving forward.
“I will always be a Spartan. The support of everyone in the University and the fan base has left an impression that will last a lifetime. It remains my goal to walk across the court on senior night.”
Roe is going to remain on scholarship and is scheduled to graduate in May. His departure is a big loss for the Spartans, but head coach Tom Izzo understands and supports his decision.
“We’ve built our program at Michigan State on toughness, and I’ve never had a player who played through more pain than Delvon,” Izzo said in a statement. “I feel bad for Delvon, because I know how much basketball means to him. It’s a shame that most Spartans never got to see the player I recruited. And yet he found a way to contribute and be a valuable part of two Final Fours and Big Ten Championships just by his will and desire. Last year, he unselfishly reinvented himself into a defensive stopper that the team needed. For him to call it a career at this time shows the severity of his pain. I look forward to having him remain around the program this year as he finishes his degree.”
N.C. State Lands Purvis: It didn’t take long for newly-hired head coach Mark Gottfried to land his first big recruit at N.C. State. This weekend Gottfried landed a commitment from Rodney Purvis, a 6’4 combo guard who is ranked in the top 30 of the 2012 recruiting class overall and fifth for his position. He joins point guard Tyler Lewis, ranked 69th in the country overall and 9th for point guards, in what is already looking like a star-studded recruiting class for the Wolf Pack.
Purvis and Lewis very well could form the Wolf Pack’s backcourt of the future. The two have complementary skill sets and most importantly they’re very unselfish. They’re the kind of guys who other players want to play with, which leaves hope for the Wolf Pack faithful to believe that this recruiting class is only going to get better.
To compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference with the likes of Duke, North Carolina and the talented teams coming in via conference realignment you have to be able to recruit the best in the country and that’s exactly what Gottfried is trying to do. It’s clear that his year off from the game didn’t hurt his recruiting connections. If sophomore forward C.J. Leslie sticks around for a third year to play with Purvis and Lewis, they could compete for a conference championship. They’re 23 seasons removed from their last league championship, which came in 1988-1989 under Jim Valvano. Their best finish since was in 2003-2004 when they finished in second.