A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
As defending national champions, many of us made the mistake of pegging the North Carolina Tar Heels as a top 10 team last season, despite losing a whopping 74 percent of their scoring and a whole bunch of upperclassmen. Those sentiments shifted quickly after non-conference losses to Syracuse, Kentucky, Texas and…um…College of Charleston, all which preceded an ugly 5-11 conference tour.
This season we're treading a bit more lightly, as the Heels few steps backwards was proof that victories aren’t generated simply because of the name on the front of the jersey. While much improved from last season, the Heels still have their work cut out for them in a top-heavy ACC. Those dorky Dukies are back at the top, talented enough to repeat, and NC State has the makings of a real team that will play with urgency.
But the Heels do boast the best incoming recruiting class, with potential star players that can score from the wing (Reggie Bullock), run an offense and share (Kendall Marshall) and do everything right on and off the court (Harrison Barnes). While Barnes will immediately start, play exceptionally and likely lead the team in scoring, Bullock will have focus on falling into Williams' good graces by playing sound perimeter defense, instead of having to score to earn playing time. There's also the question as to who can run the point. Larry Drew II It will be interesting to see how Williams uses the more dynamic Marshall, and if he supplants Drew as a starter.
With Will Graves leaving the team, and the Wear Twins transferring to UCLA, more responsibility will fall on these three freshman. But they appear to be skilled and thick-skinned enough to be cool with being thrust into the rotation.
What happened this summer?
With more than $12 million to play with following the season, North Carolina was named the second most profitable college basketball program, according to CNN. The Wear twins returned to Southern California. It was announced that Duke-UNC’s second match-up of the season would get a primetime slot on CBS. 2011 recruit James McAdoo decided not to graduate early from high school and head to Chapel Hill. The media revealed that Dean Smith, 79, was dealing with memory loss.
Games that really matter
- 11/28 vs. College of Charleston (you know, because it didn’t go so well last season)
- 11/30 @ Illinois
- 12/4 vs. Kentucky
- 12/18 vs. Texas
- 1/29 vs. NC State
- 2/9 @ Duke
- 2/23 @ NC State
- 3/5 vs. Duke
Most intriguing player
John Henson – Barnes may be receiving the most pre-season hype as the top freshman in the country, but it’s Henson we will be monitoring closely all season to see if he is, in fact, all he was cracked up to be coming out of high school. Last season the slender forward tricked us into thinking he was a one-and-done player, but proved to be wayyyy too thin to score and defend down low. Perusing the interwebs, it was shocking to see that he only averaged 5.7-points and 16 minutes-per-game last season. If he’s still wants to be a lottery pick, he’s not going to impress anyone with his post moves, so expect Williams to allow Henson to step out along the perimeter more this season, and leave the more physical play to Tyler Zeller.
What’s on the line?
Nationally, North Carolina needs to just return to relevancy and remind us they’re still one of the top three programs in the country. But within The Triangle, there’s much more at stake. Duke is primed to repeat as national champions, and North Carolina State is amped up for one of their most anticipated seasons in recent memory. No way Roy Williams wants to find himself below-the-fold of The News & Observer’s sports section.
With arguably the most talented frontcourt in the country, questions abound on whether or not the Tar Heels backcourt can navigate through the first weekend of the tournament. Guard play is pivotal for a ticket to the Sweet 16, but its at these positions where the Heels are fairly inexperienced.
- Conference: 2nd
- Postseason: Elite Eight, but an early exit isn't far fetched.