1. Harrison Barnes, UNC. My man crush on Barnes was clear for all to see when I included him in my 2012 Team USA Olympic squad. He’s the elite wing prospect of the 2010 college recruiting class and will be the man on a reloaded UNC team from day one.
2. Will Barton, Memphis. Memphis has been home to some all-world guards the past few seasons in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans – Will Barton is next. Maybe not the same impact as a freshman as the other two, but given time he’ll explode.
3. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. If Jared Sullinger was a Buckeye last season he might have combined with Evan Turner to win a National Championship. As it is, he should be a monster from day one and help Ohio State contend in the Big Ten.
4. Tobias Harris, Tennessee. 6’8″ forward who scores for fun. Averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks as a senior – expect more of the same this season.
5. Josh Selby, Kansas. He’s better than Sherron Collins – all you need to know.
6. Brandon Knight, Kentucky. Sure he’s John Wall’s replacement, sure expectations are pretty high, but the kid’s good. Don’t rate his overall production on what could be a down year (compared to last season) for Kentucky.
7. Vander Blue, Marquette. Looked sharp for the USA underage team this summer when paired with Austin Rivers, will be a steady hand from day one for a sticky Marquette team.
8. Perry Jones, Baylor. At 6’11” he contested in the McDonald’s All American Dunk Contest, which tells you a lot about what his game is based on – he’s a freak athlete. Plus, he can shoot. Scouting reports question his desire/intensity, but nobody questions the ability.
9. Patric Young, Florida. Had 7 blocks in his State Championship game, had 7 points and 9 rebounds in 15 minutes in the McDonalds game, will have Alex Tyus as a running buddy inside and Kenny Boynton outside, so won’t need to be “the man” but will certainly contribute.
10. Reggie Bullock, UNC. Potentially awesome on the perimeter with a sweet shooting stroke, I’m looking forward to seeing a UNC team run the floor with Bullock, Barnes and John Henson. Those guys will score on you all day long and will be huge defensively.
In regards to what teams we’ll see challenging, some of last years power schools should still be there or there abouts. Duke are going to very strong, Kansas have stocked up after losing Collins, Aldrich and Henry, Purdue will welcome back Robbie Hummel with open arms and for some reason I like the look of Florida. I’m not saying they’ll be Final Four material or anything, but they can’t be as poor as they have been the past few seasons for much longer, can they? With regards to what teams I’m expecting to have good seasons, here are my five – in no particular order, well except for Duke (I know what you’re thinking, I’m a major Duke homer. I’m not; I just like the look of them this year).
1. Duke. John Scheyer will be missed, he was the floor leader and three-point assassin for Duke last year – but hanging onto Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler was a huge boost. It’s been said over and over but remains key to it all – if the Plumlee brothers and Kyrie Erving plug the hole left from the departed Scheyer and Brian Zoubek, Duke will have another Final Four. Seth Curry is a zone buster all day long and will only add to their quality.
2. Ohio State. Jared Sullinger, David Lighty, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas as a team could be more than capable of countering the loss of the individual brilliance of Evan Turner who turned pro. Thad Matta is a fantastic coach who’ll have these guys ready to go from the jump.
3. Michigan State. They lose Raymar Morgan, but get back Kalin Lucas. The core of their team is almost the exact same as last season’s Final Four team – Delvon Rose, Durrell Summers, Korie Lucious and Draymond Green. Five star recruit Adreian Payne and fellow freshman Keith Appling could both be potential X Factors.
4. Purdue. There won’t be many better trios in all of college basketball than Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twuan Moore. Throw in the fact that they were among the nation’s elite last season only to lose Hummel to an ACL injury and this season could be last season fast-forwarded 12 months but with a happier ending for the Boilermakers.
5. North Carolina. Last season’s disaster is over and done with. Sure they lost Ed Davis, but they got Harrison Barnes and we all saw what John Henson was capable of when Davis went down injured. Elite 8 is the absolute ceiling for this bunch, because Marcus Ginyard, Dean Thompson and the (albeit surprising but devastating) loss of the Wear twins (and Ed David) are obstacles any program would struggle to overcome. But it’s North Carolina, it’s Roy Williams – surely they won’t miss the Tourney again?
I could have easily added Villanova, Baylor or Kansas to the list – ditto Kansas State, Florida and a host of others, but I’m sticking with my five and would be very shocked (and not to mention upset) if the 2011 national champions didn’t emerge from my group above. I’m not really good at picking darkhorse teams; it’s my Achilles heel of all my sports “knowledge”. In the NBA you can call what teams will give you the odd upset here, make a shock playoff surge there – but nobody in their right minds can predict before the college season what team will be the darkhorse come the big dance. Who had Northern Iowa? Who had Butler making it awwwlllllll the way to the National Championship game? Exactly, it’s a tough thing to do but if I were forced to give you three I’d go with Georgia, Syracuse and maybe, if all things align themselves correctly Memphis.
The greatest sport on our planet is only a matter of weeks away…I can’t wait!!
Contact me for the Stepien Rules mailbag on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @DOL17 or Facebook.