College Basketball Preview…a bit late.

Okay, so the season has started already, but nothing relevant has happened yet. I give you my brief preview of this year’s College Basketball season, and it goes a little something like this: It’s going to be tough for anyone to beat North Carolina, but the Big East appears to be the Big Beast this season, and the experience those teams gain from playing one another this season will give them the experience they need to be a big factor in March as well.

TOP 20 TEAMS:

1. North Carolina- Part of me feels like they don’t even need to play the season because the Tarheels will be such massive favorites. While this squad on paper still isn’t as talented as the 2005 National Championship team, they will certainly be difficult to defeat. Considering they were most analyst’s pick to win the title last season, and they return all five starters, led by returning Player of the Year Tyler Hansborough (22.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg), it’s no doubt they’ll be the top choice again this season. He’ll get support from a deadly backcourt of Wayne Ellington (16.6 ppg) and Ty Lawson (12.2 ppg), while Danny Green and MArcus Ginyard provide depth along with a slew of top notch recruits.

2. Connecticut- After a disappointing finish to the season that culminated with a first round loss, the Huskies will be stacked and hungry this season. Senior guard A.J. Price (14.5 ppg) will be at full strength, while the massive 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet (10.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) improved rapidly last season and seems poised to be a huge presence. Versatile swingman Jeff Adrien anchors the squad (14.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg) while junior guard Jerome Dyson adds more depth and experience. Freshman Kemba Wallace is expected to make an impact as well.

3. Pittsburgh- I really like the group that Jamie Dixon’s Panthers return this season, starting with underrated senior point guard Levance Fields (11.9 ppg, 5.3 apg). Senior forward Sam Young provides a big scoring threat (18.1 ppg), while power forward DeJuan Blair returns after an electrifying freshman season (11.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg). This team has size, depth and experience, and will be better than most people think, and I’m usually down on them.

4. UCLA- Aside from the fact that the Bruins have made three consecutive final fours, there are many reasons to like them again this season. Point guard Darren Collison ( returns for his senior season and is the best in the land, (14.5 ppg, 3.8 apg). Josh Shipp returns from last year’s starting squad, but expect the real punch to come from the nation’s best class of freshmen, led by guards Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Lee.

5. Texas- Point guard D.J. Augustin will be sorely missed, but don’t forget that this was easily one of last year’s best teams with plenty of talent around him. A.J. Abrams (16.5 ppg) should pick up the slack as the primary scoring threat, while swingman Damion James (13.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg) adds muscle. Senior center Connor Atchley should add force to the middle.

6. Louisville- Most experts are a lot higher on this team than I am, primarily because I think that losing David Padgett will be difficult to overcome. Still, this is an athletic team with a strong and deep backcourt led by Jerry Smith, Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa. The force up front will come from power forward Earl Clark (11.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Terrence Williams (11.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Remember those dunks against Tennessee in that Regional Semifinal blowout? Read: Athleticism.

7. Purdue: As much as it pains me, it looks like the Boilers are poised for a huge season, and they’re my pick to win the Big Ten. No team in the conference demonstrated better teamwork last season than this underrated team, and they return four starters. Robbie Hummel is a scrapper inside, and E’Twawn Moore is one of the toughest three point threats in the nation. Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer add depth in the backcourt.

8. Michigan State: The Spartans got hot late last season, and the primary catalysts return in point guard Kalin Lucas (10.3 ppg, 3.8 apg) and athletic forward Raymar Morgan (14 ppg, 6.1 rpg). Big men like Goran Suton (9 ppg, 8 rpg) and Marquise Gray will add strength, but it remains to be seen how consistent this team will be.

9. Duke: There is more experience here now, but Duke is still searching for a go-to scorer. That man could be junior Jon Scheyer (11.7 ppg), a deep threat who can also drive and is automatic from the charity stripe. Senior Greg Paulus returns at the point, while returning scoring leader Kyle Singler (13.3 ppg) provides the primary inside presence, but at 6-8 leaves something to be desired. Still, the depth added from players like Gerald Henderson and Nolan Smith could make the Blue Devils a sleeper team.

10. Notre Dame: The Irish aren’t as deep as many of the nation’s top teams, but with monstrous 6-8 junior power forward Luke Harangody (20.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg) in the mix, they are automatically a force. He will get a lot of help from deep perimeter threat Kyle McAlarney (15.1 ppg, 44% 3 Pt) to create one of the nation’s most dangerous 1-2 punches and an experienced starting five.

11. Oklahoma: Sooner fans are excited about preseason All-American power forward Blake Griffin’s potential (14.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg), who returns for his sophomore season. Tony Crocker (11.3 ppg) returns in the backcourt, but all eyes will be on freshman guard Willie Warren, one of the nation’s top newcomers.

12. Davidson: After watching this team’s amazing run to the Elite Eight, where they nearly knocked off eventual champion Kansas, I gained a new respect for mid-majors. As opposed to George Mason, this was a team that was virtually invincible all season, didn’t just get hot in the tourney, and wasn’t intimidated by anyone. The main threat returns, as the now-household name that is junior Stephon Curry (25.9 ppg) is back, and should average more than that. Make no mistake, they belonged in the top eight teams of last season, and should be close again this time.

13. Memphis: The heartbreaking collapse in the title game won’t be soon forgotten, but Memphis still has a strong team and needs to move on. Willie Kemp and Antonio Anderson return in the backcourt, and power forward Robert Dozier adds strength and experience. Freshmen guard Tyreke Edwards is expected to become an immediate member of the scoring machine.

14. Gonzaga: The Zags return with another deep squad anchored by dynamic point guard Jeremy Pargo (12.1 ppg, 6.0 apg). There is depth here as well.

15. Tennessee: The Vols will miss shooting star Chris Lofton, but powerful athletes return in power forward Tyler Smith and swingman J.P. Price. Freshman bigman Emmanuel Nedegu should be in the lineup as well (although my Hoosiers needed him more!)

16. Marquette: One of the nation’s toughest backcourts will move on without Tom Crean (at least my Hoosiers got somebody good out of this mess) behind point guard Dominic James (12.9 ppg, 4.4 apg) and shooting guard Jerel McNeal (15.0 ppg). Expect Marquette to go four guards as usual, so there are some questions as to how they’ll adjust with this system to a new coaching staff.

17. Kansas: Sure, the defending champs lost a lot of talent, but they will still enter the season with the swagger that comes with being the champs, and behind returning starters like point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, that could go a longer way than a lot of people think.

18. USC: A disappointing second round loss last season cost me all of my NCAA Bracket Pools and forced me into an early Saturday morning trip to St. Louis earlier this fall, but that is beside the point. The Trojans will have the talent to make a run once again, as junior forward Taj Gibson (10.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and guard Daniel Hackett both return, and highly touted freshman Demar DeRozan fills in for the departed O.J. Mayo. The question is whether they can get their act together on the big stage this time.

19. Miami, Fl: Could this be the best team the Canes have ever had? Shooting guard Jack McClinton (17.7 ppg) returns to see if they are.

20. Arizona State: Sophomore guard James Harden (17.8 ppg) returns will All-America credentials, and there is depth around him to try to make amends for last year’s controversial tourney snub.

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