Revisiting picks reveals Duke as lone constant

December 21, 2010|By Shannon Ryan, Tribune Newspapers

Before the season, choices look so clear. Predictions for MVP, Final Four and NCAA champion appear logical and sound.

A few weeks into the season, the only question is this: What were people thinking?

As the nonconference slates come to an end and we head into the meat of the season, let's reflect on who has proved us right, who has proved us wrong and who has confused the heck out of us.

Told ya so: Duke was a unanimous — and deserving — preseason No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. The Blue Devils haven't shown many flaws, but the toe injury to freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is unsettling. They're still loaded with talent at every position.

My preseason ranking of Minnesota at No. 23 was higher than most. The Gophers' only loss, to Virginia, came without two starters.

Oops: It's easy to get caught up in preseason potential, and North Carolina fooled a lot of people.

Expectations were too high for freshman Harrison Barnes, a preseason All-American. The Tar Heels were eighth in my preseason poll but have lost four times already. There's plenty of time, though, to avoid another trip to the NIT.

Connecticut wasn't on anyone's radar, including that of other Big East coaches, who picked the Huskies 10th in the conference. Leaving them out of the rankings, where they now sit in the top 10, was a huge mistake.

Nonconference MVP: UConn guard Kemba Walker leads the nation with 28.1 points per game and provides leadership for the Huskies.

Superconference: The Big Ten has five ranked teams, but the order isn't what we expected. Instead of Michigan State, ranked No. 2 in the preseason, Ohio State presides in the spot behind Duke.

Minnesota and Purdue are solid. Illinois slipped against Illinois-Chicago but still has a talent-rich roster.

Pay attention to unranked Michigan and Northwestern, which look ready to do some damage in conference play.

Tournament tormentors: When teams complain about their seeding or not making the NCAA tournament field on Selection Sunday, they'll know where to point their fingers.

Tennessee will blame Oakland for an 89-82 upset on Dec. 14. Illinois will fault its 57-54 loss Saturday to UIC. Kansas State's loss to Florida could haunt the Wildcats — and be a difference-maker for the Gators.

Keep an eye on: Central Florida is off to its best start since 1979 at 10-0 with solid victories against Florida and Miami. Marcus Jordan — yes, Michael's son — could make tournament waves if the Knights keep it up.

New Final Four: Where's my eraser? My preseason prediction of Duke, Michigan State, Kansas State and Pittsburgh needs a little editing.

The new version: Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Michigan State.

The Spartans get the benefit of the doubt. They returned a load of experience that has disappointed, but hasn't Tom Izzo taught us that nonconference woes don't stop MSU from reaching the Final Four? If not the Spartans, another Big Ten team — Ohio State — looks tournament ready.

Duke and Kansas look indestructible. They'll meet in the title game — and Kansas will win.

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