Men's college basketball preview: Contending in their blood

Usual suspects to show up in title lineup

  • Sophomore forward Tyler Zeller should help North Carolina stay among the elite on the national stage.
Sophomore forward Tyler Zeller should help North Carolina… (AP photo )
November 11, 2009|By Shannon Ryan | Tribune reporter

The outlook on the college basketball season promises some quality time with familiar champions.

While in past seasons relatively unheralded teams like Oklahoma, Memphis, Florida and Ohio State were popular preseason picks, this season's contenders are basketball blue bloods.

Kentucky could return to glory and raise its eighth national championship banner. Or North Carolina could go for back-to-back titles and a sixth championship. Or preseason No. 1 Kansas could win its second title in three seasons.

While Texas looks strong enough to see its first "one shining moment" after three Final Fours, Michigan State hopes to avenge last season's runner-up finish by earning its third national title.

Don't be surprised if feelings of deja vu arise with so many tradition-rich teams in the hunt to repeat history.

Early Final Four picks
Kansas: The Jayhawks know what it's like to win a championship and this season's team is a complete one. With center Cole Aldrich (11.1 rpg last season) and point guard Sherron Collins (18.9 ppg) leading the way, Kansas is primed to win the championship - as long as players can avoid more off-the-court trouble.

Kentucky: Few go from the NIT to the national title hunt. But expectations are high again for the Wildcats, who boast NBA-ready talent and a buzz-worthy coach in John Calipari. They'll chase their first Final Four since 1998's championship with power forward Patrick Patterson (17.9 ppg).

North Carolina: Without Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, the road looks tougher for the Tar Heels. But an impressive frontcourt should carry them. Sophomore forwards Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller will supplement senior Deon Thompson.

Texas: With Damion James returning for his senior season, improved center Dexter Pittman and talented freshmen guards, Texas' depth could push Kansas for the Big 12 - and national - title. The Longhorns just need to find a reliable point guard.

5 players to watch
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, sophomore, 6-9, forward. Ebanks blossomed during the Big East tournament to win conference rookie of the year. In adding 30 pounds of muscle to his frame this offseason, Ebanks has stated his renewed focus to build on his 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, senior, 6-8, forward. Harangody tore it up among the giants of last season's Big East, averaging 23.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game to become the only player to rank in the top 10 nationally in both categories. Imagine what this season holds in a weakened conference.

Kalin Lucas, Michigan State, junior, 6-1, guard. When coach Tom Izzo compares you to Mateen Cleaves, you know he likes you. That's the case with Lucas, whose leadership will be vital for the Spartans to return to the Final Four.

Willie Warren, Oklahoma, sophomore, 6-4, guard. Despite Blake Griffin's departure, the Sooners still boast one of the nation's top players. Warren averaged 14.6 points as a freshman and shined when Griffin was injured last season. Now the stage is his.

Kyle Singler, Duke, junior, 6-8, forward. Singler is free to play on the perimeter where he fits more naturally as the focal point of the Blue Devils' offense. Last season, he averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds and shot 38.3 percent on 3-pointers.

5 freshmen to watch
Avery Bradley, Texas, 6-2, guard.'s No. 1 shooting guard, Bradley will help fill a backcourt void left by A.J. Abrams.

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech, 6-10, forward. Rated as the nation's top freshman, Favors' big body will be an immediate defensive force.

Xavier Henry, Kansas, 6-6, guard. Originally a Memphis commitment, Henry averaged 28.3 points and shot 55 percent as a high school senior.

Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati, 6-5, guard/forward. Big recruits out of New York face heavy expectations, but Stephenson seems to have the talent to handle it.

John Wall, Kentucky, 6-4, guard. He's been called the next Derrick Rose and makes Kentucky a title contender.

5 coaches to watch
John Calipari, Kentucky: After coaching at Massachusetts and Memphis, he's in the big time now.

Bill Carmody, Northwestern: Could this finally be the year the Wildcats make the tournament?

Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech: He led the Yellow Jackets to the title game in 2004, but won just two ACC games last season.

Jerry Wainwright, DePaul: After a winless Big East regular season, the Blue Demons must show significant improvement.

Doug Wojcik, Tulsa: Can he unseat Memphis as king of Conference USA this season?

Shannon Ryan's Preseason Top 25
1. Kansas: Every top player from last season's Sweet 16 returns for coach Bill Self.

2. Michigan State: Three starters are back from last season's national runner-up team.

3. Texas: With this much depth, the Longhorns can expect to be in the Final Four.

4. Kentucky: Coach John Calipari is playing with the big boys now in the Bluegrass State.

5: North Carolina: Huge losses? So what? North Carolina just reloads.

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