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Nov. 19, 2013

2013-2014 College Basketball Preview

by Ross Cohen-Kristiansen, Managing Editor and Abel Chanyalew, Online Sports Editor
One of the most exciting and unpredictable sports seasons is upon us and Silver Chips Online has got you covered with our experts’ analysis. With the addition of several top recruits and NBA prospects, Kentucky is already being hailed as a team that could blow away the competition this season. Veteran teams like Michigan State and Louisville will have a lot to say about that and other teams with great talent, like Arizona and Kansas, would surely beg to differ. Regardless, college basketball experts Ross Cohen-Kristiansen and Abel Chanyalew give you their take of the nation’s top 10 teams as well as the hometown Maryland Terrapins.

10. North Carolina: North Carolina's fate lies largely in the hands of guard PJ Hairston, who couldn't keep himself out of trouble over the summer. Roy Williams brought a talented squad into the NCAA tournament, but because of the team's relatively poor regular season, they were forced to play a tough Kansas team in the second round.

If all goes right: UNC will be much stronger on the boards this year, a shortcoming of 2012-13. Roy Williams consistently played a small lineup, forcing power forward James Michael-McAdoo to collect most rebounds and play in the post. The Tar Heels brought in two McDonald's All Americans, however,—a power forward and a center—who will see good minutes along with sophomore Joel James. North Carolina will play a high-tempo, fast break offense similar to last year while having more success on the boards.

If all goes wrong: UNC will be consistently outrebounded in conference play because the two freshmen and James don't pan out and Coach Williams has to play small again. This season, they also won't have shooting guard Reggie Bullock, who averaged the second most rebounds on the team and the third most points in 2012-13.

Preseason ACC player of the year, CJ Fair will play a key part in the Syracuse offense and signature 2-3 zone. Courtesy of USA Today
Preseason ACC player of the year, CJ Fair will play a key part in the Syracuse offense and signature 2-3 zone.
9. Syracuse: Syracuse consistently found success against Big East opponents with their 2-3 zone, which will be put to the test in the faster-paced Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). One weakness of the zone is guarding the perimeter and it just so happens that they lost in the NCAA to a strong 3-point shooting team in Michigan. The 'Cuse won the National Championship in 2003 and made the Final four last season, but consistently winds up facing one team in the tournament that beats the zone.

If all goes right: Preseason ACC player of the year CJ Fair will carry the load from the small forward position. Syracuse will gain a significant advantage from the tighter calls on defense because zones generally help players stay out of foul trouble. Freshman and Canada product Tyler Ennis will be Michael Carter-Williams with a better jump shot and sophomore Trevor Clooney will be a go-to perimeter shooter.

If all goes wrong: The Orange find themselves turning the ball over frequently with the unproven Ennis at the point. They repeat their 2012-2013 free throw performance in which they shot 67.5 percent, good for 230th in the country.

8. Michigan: We all know Michigan is a team that can shoot its way back into any game, as they did against Kansas in the NCAA tournament last year. A team even as strong as the Wolverines, however, that relies heavily on jump shooting will find itself on the losing end of several games over the course of the season. Likewise, in the NCAA tournament, one cold spell as they had in the championship game against Louisville is enough to end their year.

If all goes right: Michigan will be able to compensate for the loss of Trey Burke with a greater involvement of other backcourt players. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr will serve as the distributor and allow Michigan's array of shooters more looks at the basket. We will see one of the best rebounding offenses in the country, which includes preseason All-Big 10 team members Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.

If all goes wrong: Michigan will struggle to find its identity without last year's leading scorers, Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr because Walton is unable to spark the Wolverine offense. Mitch McGary's back problems nag him for the entire season and Michigan is forced to play small.

7. Florida: I’m really high on the Gators, and I feel like they’ve been vastly underrated coming into this season. They are absolutely loaded this year and I think it’s impossible to ignore. They bring back Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young, all significant contributors to last season’s squad. The Gators also bring in impact transfers and freshmen in Eli Carter (Rutgers transfer), Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Damontre Harris (South Carolina), Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. Like I said: loaded.

If all goes right: The depth and talent will be too much for opponents to handle, taking the Gators deep into the NCAA tourney once again. Coach Billy Donovan will have a very good frontcourt with Young, Finney-Smith, Harris and Walker (once he enrolls in the winter). With Wilbekin, my personal favorite, Frazier II, Carter and Hill the backcourt will be no slouch either. This team shouldn’t struggle to score points and has the blend of experience and talent to do a lot of damage.

If all goes wrong: Injuries, suspensions and eligibility issues will cause major problems for the Gators. Wilbekin, Finney-Smith and Harris have had to deal with suspensions and Carter and Yeguete are dealing with injuries. Also, as I said before, Chris Walker has yet to enroll at Florida. Things like these can really mess with a team’s dynamic. Having guys go in and out before and during the season will prevent the Gators from reaching the full potential that lies within this very gifted squad.

Duke freshman Jabari Parker (right) is the number two recruit in the nation and has impressed thus far. Courtesy of USA Today
Duke freshman Jabari Parker (right) is the number two recruit in the nation and has impressed thus far.
6. Duke: Not to be outdone by its fellow blue bloods, Duke added a top 3 recruit and McDonald’s All-American of their own in 6’8” forward Jabari Parker. In fact, the Blue Devils added two McDonald’s All-Americans when another 6’8” wing by the name of Rodney Hood transferred to Duke from Mississippi State. Coach K’s squad returns very solid starters in Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon as well as dependable senior Tyler Thornton and sharpshooter Andre Dawkins. The new thing in Durham, NC this year will be tempo. Duke plans to play very uptempo on offense and try to be one of the fastest running teams in the nation.

If all goes right: The versatility and athleticism on this team will let the Blue Devils scrap the slowed down, half court offenses of past years and play as fast they can. The players on this Duke team are in the best shape of their lives as they’ve had to adjust to this uptempo scheme and they should be able to outrun most teams in the country. With Cook running the show, two long and athletic wings in Parker and Hood and Sulaimon, a former five-star recruit, the Blue Devils will be arguably the best offensive team in America.

If all goes wrong: Duke’s defense and lack of size inside will wreck its title chances. With this new fast paced style, turnovers will increase and the defense will fall behind. The lack of a post presence will hurt Duke when they face bigger teams that can rebound (Duke finished 213th in the nation in rebounding last year). If the Blue Devils are ever forced to slow down, it will be difficult for them to operate in a half court offense with little interior size.

Hailed as potentially the next LeBron James, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins looks to lead the Jayhawks to their tenth straight Big 12 title. Courtesy of news.yahoo.com
Hailed as potentially the next LeBron James, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins looks to lead the Jayhawks to their tenth straight Big 12 title.
5. Kansas: The Jayhawks have won the last NINE Big 12 regular season titles and while Oklahoma State looks like a legit contender this year, Bill Self’s squad is the favorite to win it all again. First off, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they added one of the most hyped high school players in recent history and the number one recruit in the nation in Andrew Wiggins. What flies under the radar amongst all the Wiggins talk is the return of sophomore Perry Ellis, the additions of Memphis transfer Tarik Black and freshmen Wayne Selden and Joe Embiid. These four, along with Wiggins, form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the country. Kansas lost all five starters from last season’s Elite Eight team, but what they lack in experience, they make up for in talent, depth, versatility and athleticism.

If all goes right: Kansas’ lethal combination of the above four players will give the Jayhawks their 10th straight Big 12 championship. Andrew Wiggins will play up to his potential and become a 20 point, 10 rebound per game player. Talented scorer Wayne Selden, a 6’5” wing, will also be a major scoring threat and take some pressure off the enigmatic Naadir Tharpe. Speaking of Tharpe, Kansas’ “point guard” will make sound decisions and give the Jayhawks consistently good performances at the position. The frontcourt will be the team’s strengths and one of the best groups in the nation.

If all goes wrong: The inexperience and unreliable point guard play will come back to bite them. Even with all the talent coming into Lawrence, Kansas, keep in mind that many of these players are freshmen or transfers. The chemistry has to be fully developed and established, which will hurt the Jayhawks just like it did Kentucky last season. Naadir Tharpe will continue to be inconsistent at point guard, further disrupting the flow of this potential laden team.

4. Arizona: I’m very impressed with the talent that head coach and recruiting savant Sean Miller has assembled in this Arizona program. Freshman Aaron Gordon, a five-star recruit and arguably the top NBA prospect in the country, joins this Wildcats squad and will line up alongside three other McDonald’s All-Americans. Add freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to a group that already consists of sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley and you have the makings of a dominant frontcourt. And I haven’t even mentioned the underrated Nick Johnson and transfer point guard T.J. McConnell…

If all goes right: Arizona’s guards McConnell and Johnson as well as wingman Jefferson will continue to be dogged on ball defenders and cause problems for opposing ball handlers. The length of Ashley and Tarczewski on the inside will allow the Wildcats to alter shots, protect the rim and crash the boards. McConnell, who shot 43.2% from three last season, will keep defenses honest with his outside shooting and will be a reliable floor general for this fairly young team. Johnson, who was a 39.3% three point shooter, might even be able to contribute to stretching the defense too. This will space the floor for Ashley and Tarczewski in the paint and allow the slashing wingman Jefferson to get in the lane. If Arizona can play up to its potential and knock down shots, this big, athletic team should be Pac-12 champs and could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

If all goes wrong: The Wildcats’ inexperience and lack of outside shooters will prevent them from fulfilling their potential. Arizona will struggle mightily when they go up against a zone. This defensive scheme will prevent the Wildcats from playing to their strengths in the interior and force them to shoot jumpers that they can’t hit. This will derail the offense and make it hard for Gordon, Tarczewski and Ashley to perform on a consistent basis.

Kentucky freshman Julius Randle looks to lead the cohort of Wildcat freshmen. Courtesy of bleacherreport.com
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle looks to lead the cohort of Wildcat freshmen.
3. Kentucky: Shocker of 2013: Kentucky brought in four top 10 recruits. Whether you love or hate the approach, John Calipari consistently signs several NBA-ready, one-and-done players. There's always a little mystery surrounding Coach Cal's Kentucky teams, because they all have the potential to be national champions but can also just as easily crumble. Kentucky went from 2011-2012 champions to losing to Robert Morris in last season’s NIT. With new squads every year, you never know exactly what to expect. That's why we can't put Kentucky higher in the rankings.

If all goes right: Kentucky's freshmen are able to play cohesively, as they did two years ago. Veteran leadership is key for Kentucky, and while on most teams you wouldn't consider underclassmen leaders, two impact sophomores is more than Calipari could have asked for. Athletic small forward Alex Poythress can be explosive around the rim. He put up good numbers last season (11.2 points, 6.0 rebounds per game) and is still pretty raw, so he will have a strong season. Center Willie Cauley-Stein, who played behind Nerlens Noel last year, will also be a strong rebounding presence.

As for the freshmen, power forward Julius Randle will be unguardable with his combination of height (6'9) and agility, the Harrison twins will shine in the backcourt and center Dakari Johnson will prove a weapon in the half court offense at seven feet tall.

If all goes wrong: Kentucky plays like a group of individuals looking to impress NBA scouts. Such a team can easily deteriorate toward the end of the season as players realize their main goal. No Wildcat inherits the leadership position, causing disarray on both ends of the court.

2. Louisville: It seems like the nation has been sleeping on the defending national champs. Yes, they lost coolheaded point guard Peyton Siva as well as 7-footer Gorgui Dieng, but the Cardinals bring back “Russdiculous” (Russ) Smith as well as NCAA tournament breakout star Montrezl Harrell and sharpshooter Luke Hancock. Throw in junior college transfer PG Chris Jones as well as the newly reinstated Chane Behanan and you have a deep, experienced team that should take the American Athletic Conference title.

If all goes right: Speedsters Jones and Smith will form one of the fastest and most dynamic backcourts in the country. The defense is fast and athletic and will continue to hound and harass opposing offenses with the press just like it did last year. Harrell will take the next step in his development and be a monster in the interior and Luke Hancock will be able to stretch defenses with his long range shooting ability.

If all goes wrong: Russ Smith goes from "Russdiculous" to simply "ridiculous" and reverts to his frantic, turnover prone habits. Smith’s assist to turnover ratio (2.9-2.7) doesn’t improve and Louisville’s guard play suffers. Louisville, even with Hancock, will have a hard time knocking down threes (they shot 33% last year, 203rd in the nation) and failing to space the floor will cause the paint to be too congested for Harrell to flourish. Missed shots won’t let the Cardinals set up their suffocating press, allowing opposing offenses to set up in the halfcourt and limiting Louisville’s opportunistic defense.

1. Michigan State: Michigan State takes the top spot in our rankings and they are the clear cut number one team in our eyes. They return a majority of their talent and experience from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, and of course, they’re led by one of the top coaches in the nation in Tom Izzo. Senior point guard Keith Appling and senior center Adreian Payne are back along with talented guard Gary Harris and wingman Branden Dawson as they look to reclaim the Big 10, arguably the best conference in the country.

If all goes right: The combination of talent and experience will carry the Spartans through the Big Ten and deep into March. Keith Appling will settle down and give Michigan State consistently good point guard play. They will continue to defend and rebound well (staples of a Tom Izzo coached team) and the team’s strong chemistry will lead them to a Big Ten title.

If all goes wrong: Appling will continue to post up and down performances at the most important position in basketball. As a result, the Spartans won’t fix their ball security issues and will fail to improve on last year’s high turnover rate, leaving the Spartans to flounder in the rugged Big Ten.

And here is the Maryland basketball preview for all you fans of the home team.

Maryland

Maryland already has three four-star recruits committed for the 2014-2015 season, but this year's team does not look destined for an NCAA tournament appearance. Alex Len might be an overstated loss because through all of the potential that he showed as an athletic seven-footer, he frequently disappeared on offense. The only other players to depart were Pe'Shon Howard, who struggled greatly last year and would not have seen many minutes anyway, and Logan Aronhalt, the pure shooter who could knock down 3-pointers but provided little else.

Maryland swingman Jake Layman could be poised for a breakout year. Courtesy of the Washington Times
Maryland swingman Jake Layman could be poised for a breakout year.
Now we turn to this year's positives. To begin with, Maryland's young team of last year should be significantly improved. This begins with the two big men Shaquille Cleare and James Mitchell, both sophomores who were successful rebounders but generally liabilities on offense in 2012-2013. Then of course, there's Dez Wells, who was the team's most important player toward the end of last season, especially when Len could get little going on offense. Finally, Jake Layman, a role player last year with tons of potential, could be headed for a breakout season. At 6'8”, the sharpshooter will be heavily scouted by NBA teams.

Maryland should improve dramatically at the point guard spot, which was atrocious last season. Recruit Roddy Peters will provide much needed ball-handling ability because, frankly, Nick Faust, Wells and the injured Seth Allen were turnover machines when running the point.

Despite having promise, Maryland does not appear to have the offensive prowess needed to make the tournament. Just as last year when Len couldn't establish himself in the paint, Maryland will find themselves taking far too many jumpers because of their bigs' lack of offensive ability. And although Wells can knock down the occasional jumper and Layman has a nice outside shot, we should expect Faust to continue throwing up and missing contested shots and the rest of the team to shoot poorly from the field. Even a strong Mark Turgeon defense will likely not be enough to propel Maryland into the tournament, as was the case last season.





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