College basketball preview: 10 teams that could win it all
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter November 11, 2013 10:08PM
Michigan State's Gary Harris (14) puts up a layup attempt against Grand Valley State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) ORG XMIT: ELJ102
Updated: December 13, 2013 6:19AM
It’s hard to imagine a better night than the one college basketball will have Tuesday at the United Center. It might take a Final Four to beat No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas.
Of course, a little less than five months from now, we might see those same four teams in Arlington, Texas. They are, after all, the top four teams in the Sun-Times’ 2013-14 Top 10.
Amazingly, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup is the undercard. That’s because of Duke freshman Jabari Parker, a 6-8 forward who won four state championships at Simeon, and Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, a 6-8 forward from Canada who’s as hyped as any 18-year-old since LeBron James.
Since the NBA ruled before the 2006 draft against high schoolers going straight to the league, the college game largely has become
defined by one-and-done freshmen. Like it or not, this season is more about one-and-done freshmen than any before it.
Ten teams that could win it all*
(*Otherwise known as the Sun-Times’ Top 10.)
1. Michigan State. No freshman superstars leading the way? No problem. Gary Harris and Keith Appling form the most dependable backcourt in the country, and big man Adreian Payne brings
2. Kentucky. Its top three — burly power forward Julius Randle and twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison — are freshmen, with 7-0 sophomore rim protector Willie Cauley-Stein backing them up. Is it worth pointing out that the Wildcats didn’t make the Big Dance last season?
3. Duke. Jabari Parker and fellow forward Rodney Hood are matchup nightmares.
4. Kansas. As great as Andrew Wiggins is sure to be, 7-0 freshman Joel Embiid might be even more valuable to the Jayhawks.
5. Louisville. Guard Russ Smith leads a strong returning cast for the defending national champions. Don’t forget to root for Kevin Ware, who had that horrible leg injury last March.
6. Arizona. Wouldn’t you like to add two McDonald’s All-Americans to your favorite team? Forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are ready to explode.
7. Memphis. Four senior guards, including Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, make this team go. Louisville will be pushed hard in the American Athletic Conference.
8. Oklahoma State. Sophomore guard Marcus Smart is the best player no one talks about.
9. Ohio State. Don’t ever doubt old-timer point guard Aaron Craft. And watch Sam Thompson become one of the best players in the Big Ten.
10. Syracuse. Senior forward C.J. Fair has All-American potential, and there’s a breakout freshman — point guard Tyler Ennis — in the mix. Imagine that.
ACC-BIG TEN CHALLENGE
So which conference is the best? The ACC, after adding Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh to its usual mix led by Duke and North Carolina, has some calling it the best league in the history of college basketball. The Big Ten, which has soared of late, clearly was the best a season ago. The top five leagues:
1. Big Ten. This might be Tom Izzo’s most talented Michigan State team yet. Ohio State is in reload mode (at most places, it isn’t that simple). Michigan and Wisconsin have top-10 potential.
2. ACC. Best league ever? Maybe when Louisville comes on board next season.
3. Big 12. Kansas and Oklahoma State will lead the way. Baylor aside, it gets pretty thin after that.
4. Pac-12. It’s the fastest-improving league, no doubt, but UCLA is a distant second to Arizona.
5. American. Louisville and Memphis win the battle over what’s left of the old Big East.
G: Marcus Smart, So.,
G: Gary Harris, So.,
F: Andrew Wiggins, Fr., Kansas
F: Julius Randle, Fr., Kentucky
F: Doug McDermott, Sr., Creighton