Question of the day: Who are the favorites to win next season's NCAA basketball championship? [Updated]
Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times
As far as projecting in early April the top college basketball teams for this year's early fall, we say round up the usual suspects except for Kansas and Kentucky. The top two seeded teams in this year's tournament had their chances and blew it, and now are in major rebuild modes. Ask North Carolina how that went this year, but at least the Tar Heels disappeared into the ACC abyss with a national title.
The chances of seeing Duke versus Butler back in the Final Four are not outrageous. Duke loses veteran guard Jon Scheyer, forward Lance Thomas and center Brian Zoubek but if Kyle Singler returns, the Dookies can be right back in the mix. Same for Butler, which hinges on whether superstar Gordon Hayward returns for his junior season. If so, he may get another crack at a half-court shot to win the national title.
The team to watch next year, though, is Michigan State, which fell three points short of this year's title game despite a rash of injuries and off-field distractions. The Spartans lose Raymar Morgan but return the core of something special in Kalin Lucas, Korie Lucious, Draymond Green and Durrell Summers. The most important returning veteran though is head coach Tom Izzo, who is a notch behind Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams among active coaching all-stars.
Others to watch: Purdue, Syracuse. Also look for former UCLA Coach Steve Lavin, who inherits a lot, to lead St. John's to the NCAA tournament in his rookie year before he has to start over from scratch. This will put a lot of heat on current UCLA Coach Ben Howland, whose Bruins were conspicuously missing from this year's NCAA draw. But, hey, maybe if they expand to 96?
[Updated, 12:34 p.m.
Mark Wogenrich, The Morning Call
A Duke-Butler rematch will garner fashionable mentions come November, particularly since both will be among the 32 teams receiving first-round byes in the newly christened ESPNCAA Shootout. If Butler can sharpen its big-game shooting percentage, it might even win such a rematch, which won’t happen anyway.
North Carolina’s loss to Dayton in the NIT final should steel Chapel Hill for a chin-jutting return next season. The Tar Heels bring in three of the nation’s top five recruits (including top-ranked forward Harrison Barnes), and Roy Williams loves turning youngsters loose.
Tom Izzo could take five kids from Michigan State’s college of veterinary medicine to the Final Four. If Kalin Lucas stays to rehab his torn Achilles' tendon, Izzo will need only four.
And at Villanova, fans inconsolable over the loss of Scottie Reynolds should take comfort in a talented junior class, five freshmen who combined for 20 starts and incoming 6-7 forward JayVaughn Pinkston.
[Updated, 2:36 p.m.:
Andrew Carter, Orlando Sentinel
In terms of sports predictions, there are few more difficult tasks than picking the next national champion in men’s college basketball right after the current national champion has been crowned. There’s too much attrition, too much unpredictability about which players will actually stick around to play in college.
If Kentucky were to return John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, for instance, the Wildcats would be the overwhelming favorites next season. But there is approximately a zero percent chance those guys come back.
Among teams that might remain relatively intact, you have to like some of the teams that reached the Final Four this season. Michigan State should be better than it was this season. The Spartans, who aren’t likely to lose any of their key players, will be led by point guard Kalin Lucas.
Butler, too, should be back in the mix. But how will the Bulldogs react now that they won’t necessarily be playing the role of the underdog? And what about Duke’s chances to repeat? The Blue Devils lose Jon Scheyer, but if Kyle Singler returns they're still likely to be a preseason top-5 team.]
Photo: Tom Izzo's Spartans could be the team to watch next year. Credit: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer / MCT