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.
Five starters return on a team that won 21 games and reached the NCAA Tournament, and people still can't stop talking about this Patric Young kid. The No. 13 ranked prospect by ESPN in the '10 signing class, Young already has the awe thousands of YouTube viewers. His teammates seem to think he's a pretty decent player too, and forward Chandler Parsons fueled the legend in a conversation with The Florida Times Union:
I swear he dunked the ball so hard, I thought he was gonna bite the rim when he dunked it. You saw the backstand come up and the shot clock shaking. He ran down back on defense and I was like, 'Pat, why don't you just bite the rim next time?'
Young is still a bit raw offensively, but Florida coach Billy Donovan really thinks he's found a throwback player reminiscent of former greats Joakim Noah and Al Horford. One problem: Young is already being touted as a lottery pick. Draft Express currently has him tabbed as the No. 2 overall pick in their 2012 mock draft. It took Horford and Noah a good two years to develop into impact players at the college level. The 6'9", 245lb Young might just be an elite player from day one.
And really, the first guy who comes to mind here for a comparison is current New York Knicks center Amar'e Stoudemire. Young has that exact same type of freakish athleticism, and enough of it that he can overcompensate for the occasional lapse in awareness in certain situations. Without the NBA's age limit, Young would have likely taken the exact same path as Amar'e to the pro level and skipped college altogether. But with NBA scouts hovering around constantly, how long will this talented big man really stick around Gainesville?
What happened this summer?
Kenny Boynton fingered big man Vernon Macklin as the team's resident prankster after being the victim of a pre-meditated "peanut butter shoe" attack. Assistant USA U18 coach Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech) raved about Patric Young like everybody else. Former Rutgers star Mike Rosario transferred in (He'll be eligible next season). Parsons and Macklin took their talents to Akron, Ohio.
Games that really matter
- 11/16 vs. Ohio State
- 11/28 @ Florida State
- 12/18 vs. Kansas State
- 12/31 @ Xavier
- 1/11 @ Tennessee
- 1/25 @ Georgia
- 1/29 @ Mississippi State
- 2/5 vs. Kentucky
- 2/9 @ South Carolina
- 2/26 @ Kentucky
- 3/5 @ Vanderbilt
Most intriguing player
(6'2" guard; sophomore) – Florida's top point producer (14.0 per game), the young scoring guard shot just 37.6% from the floor and 29.4% from behind the arc last season. Acknowledging that he was quite erratic at times, Boynton spent the summer refining his jump shot with a shooting coach out in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, the hard work appears to have paid off:
My confidence is up. My confidence is right where it needs to be. I think I've just got to apply it to the game.
With his mind in the right place, the former five-star prospect might just ascend to superstar status right before our eyes. We'll be stunned if he isn't in the running for SEC Player of the Year.
What’s on the line?
A trip down memory lane. After winning back-to-back titles, it took Donovan a couple of years to build a roster that would get this program into the spotlight again. Now that he's finally back on the radar, the experience of Florida's starting five will be one heck of an asset in March. That alone would normally be enough ammunition necessary to contend in the SEC East. Having the luxury of burying second units with a star freshman like Young off the bench is a scary thought too. And with Alex Tyus, Macklin and Parsons all set to graduate after the season, Donovan better hope he can lure some of his underclassmen back to avoid a mass exodus.
Florida's road schedule is rough, but we still think this is the best looking team in the SEC. And oh yeah, have you heard of this Patric Young character? The thing is, Boynton is too talented not to morph into a 20ppg scorer and take a step towards becoming one of the most exciting players in the sport. Depth, experience and size. Check, check and check. This group will outrun you, dunk on your heads or drain a three in your grill on any given possession. Make no mistake, that makes these guys must-see-TV every single time they hit the court. The excitement level has been ratcheted up, and postseason success could be right around the corner.
- Conference: 1st
- Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight