This week is the start for the NCAA Men’s Basketball season, and this years’ recruiting class is sure to be an electrifying one. Atop the preseason rankings this season to no one’s surprise, is John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. Being referred to by Georgetown College coach Chris Briggs (whom the Wildcats routed 121-52 in a preseason meeting) as an NBA-caliber team, it is hard to dispute this team has the best chance to be the best in the nation. With returning starters in Willie Cauley-Stein and The Harrison twins, this Kentucky team has more experience than they are used to. However this is the same John Calipari, an absolute recruiting genius who is constantly bringing in multiple top-50 players. The recruiting class he brought in this year features four top-50 recruits, including #5 overall player Karl-Anthony Towns. With a combo of Towns and Cauley-Stein there will be no shortage of size for this Kentucky squad. Not only are these guys the most talented guys on paper, many of these guys were part of last years’ national championship runner-up squad. Obviously The guys returning are coming back with a chip on their shoulder and personally I feel bad for the teams that find themselves in their path. The one downside of having all this talent thus far is there are about 10 players for this team that could start. When only 5 can be on the floor at a time might cause some conflict for Calipari, but if that is your biggest problem for a team, you don’t have much to worry about.
Another men’s basketball powerhouse, Duke University is gearing up for a redemption year. After being booted out of the tournament in the second round two out of the last three years, Coach K will sure to be pushing his guys harder than ever. Losing that early in the tournament is not what Coach K has in mind any year, he always has his mind on cutting down the nets. He is doing a good job getting his team prepared, with the #1 ranked recruiting class this year which features #1 overall player Jahlil Okafor at Center and #4 overall player Tyus Jones at the point, this team could be dangerous. Duke is favored to win the ACC which is arguably the best college basketball conference out there. Playing in the ACC is a two-headed monster. On one hand if they produce to the expectations it could give them confidence heading into the tournament, on the other hand it could beat them up, having to go through teams like Syracuse and North Carolina, so we will see how they hold up at the end of the year.
Of course some teams have lost a lot of talent so there is a good chance we wont be seeing some constants late in the tournament that we have grown accustomed to. The 2013-2014 National Champions UCONN has seemed to lose more talent than they have gained in the recruiting class. Losing their best player and leader Shabazz Napier really cut them down because he truly was the heart and soul of that squad. Also other players like DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey left for the NBA and graduated, respectively. Another name I would be surprised to see around a lot come tourney time will be the University of Michigan. Last year surprising many by making it to the Elite-8 after outstanding point guard Trey Burke declared for the draft a year previous. Also missing big man Mitch Mcgary most of the season due to back injuries,the team was led by Glenn Robinson III and sharpshooter Nik Stauskas. They were able to grind and shoot their way through a good portion of the tournament but the lack of a solid ball-handler really forced them to crumble against Kentucky in their Elite-8 matchup. After losing Stauskas, McGary, and Robinson III to the draft, this years’ team seems weaker than we have seen in the past few years.
Other teams that have stuck around that seem to always come to play in March are teams like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Louisville. Teams that never really seem to be that dominant in the season always are very difficult to beat in the tournament. I praise the coaches for this more than the players. Coaches like Roy Williams and Rick Pitino just seem to thrive in the madness, so don’t be surprised to see them cause a few upsets in a few months. I think we are in for a good year, March really can’t come soon enough.