The Duke Blue Devils (35-5, 13-3 ACC) are probably the best team in the ACC and they may also be the best in the nation. Last season, the Devils tied for first in the ACC and then went to the Big Dance where they won it all. You wouldn’t say last season that Duke was the best team in the country, but they proved to play the best when everything was on the line. It was a validation of sorts for their coach as in recent years Mike Krzyzewski’s teams had been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the early rounds. People were starting to wonder about the strength of the program. Now they’re wondering if the word “repeat” will be in their vocabulary this season.
Going into the NCAA Tournament last year everything looked good for the Michigan State Spartans (28-9, 14-4 Big Ten). They finished tied for first with Purdue in the Big Ten and in last NCAA Tournament had made it to the national title game. Thus, most folks expected the Spartans to go all the way. But it all came to a screeching halt when Michigan State lost to Butler 52-50 in the Final Four. How good are the Spartans this year? There’s a lot expected of this team that has not missed a bid to the Big Dance since 1997. One thing is just about certain, they won’t miss one this season either.
Are the Kansas State Wildcats (29-8, 11-5 Big 12) better than the Kansas Jayhawks? It depends on who you talk to, which means that debatable question will be answered when the entire season and post season is over. We do know that last year the Wildcats tied for second in the conference, while the Jayhawks won the conference regular season crown and tournament title. We also know that KSU lost to Kansas both times in the regular season and in the Big 12 Tournament. The other thing that we know about last year was that the Wildcats got to the Elite Eight at the Big Dance while the Jayhawks were out after round two. The final thing that’s known is that KSU had its best season ever last year. Things are looking up for the Cats.
The Kentucky Wildcats (35-3, 14-2 SEC) finished first in the SEC East in 2009-2010 and then won their conference tournament, beating Mississippi State in OT 75-74. The Cats then went to the Big Dance where they hammered opponents, beating East Tennessee State 100-71 Wake Forest 90-60 and Cornell 62-45. In the Elite Eight, Kentucky lost to West Virginia 73-66. It was a good but disappointing run for the Wildcats and their new coach John Calipari.
Although some might think that the Memphis Tigers’ (24-10, 13-3 C-USA) second place finish and trip to the NIT translated into disappointing season, it was actually a pretty good accomplishment as the team had to deal with coach John Calipari’s move to Kentucky. Rookie head coach Josh Pastner did a good job of keeping the team on track overall and in recruiting for the next season. Of course, the disappointment came from the fact that Memphis in the four seasons before had made it to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 once, Elite Eight twice and Title Game Once. Plus they had dominated their conference. For those who want to know when the Tigers will get back to the top of C-USA and also appear next at the Big Dance, the answer is this year.
The Baylor Bears (28-8, 11-5 Big 12) made it to the Big Dance last year, a place they’d been only five times before and just once since the dawn of the new millennium. They had a good run in the tournament as the Bears, who had tied for second in the Big 12, beat Sam Houston State 68-59, Old Dominion 76-68 and St. Mary’s 72-49 before losing to Duke 78-71 in the Regional Finals. Baylor had never before been to the Elite Eight or the Sweet 16. It was the best season the Bears had seen under head coach Scott Drew who has been at the helm for seven years. It looks like despite some important loses that Baylor will have the manpower to compete for the Big 12 title and go deep into the NCAA Tournament again.
The Gators of Florida (21-12, 9-7 SEC) won back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2006 and 2007 and then fell off the map for two seasons, going to the NIT on 2008 and 2009. Last season, the Gators were fourth in the East Division of the SEC and made it back into March Madness for the first time in two seasons.
When you consider what the Villanova Wildcats (25-8, 13-5 Big East) have to deal with, the loss of three major contributors from last season, you can see why there’s a disparity amongst those evaluating andwriting about the Big East concerning where they will finish—first, secondor third. One thing just about everyone agrees with is that this team is a top 25 performer. Last year, the Wildcats tied for second in their conference and then went two and out at the Big Dance as they lost to St. Mary’s 75-68. This season, there appears to be enough returning talent and a few new guys to make this a club that has the potential to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels of North Carolina (20-17, 5-11 ACC) won the NCAA Tournament in 2009 but in 2010 ended up at the NIT. The NIT appearance happened after the Tar Heels accumulated a losing conference mark of 5-11, finishing tied for ninth. It was a bad season for a club that had won two national titles over the past five seasons and had also been to the Final Four and Elite Eight in two of the other three years. If you’re a Tar Heels fan, there’s good news because the team looks like it is back in contention.
The Kansas Jayhawks (33-3, 15-1 Big 12) won the National Championship in 2008 and in 2009 they made it to the Sweet 16. So last season after winning the Big 12 regular season title and the tournament championship, the Hawks were extremely surprised and disappointed to be knocked out of March Madness in the second round by Northern Iowa 69-67. The last time Kansas missed the NCAA Tournament was in 1989. Most of their present players weren’t even born then. And despite the fact that since last season they lost center Cole Aldrich (11.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.5 bpg), guard Sherron Collins (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) and guard Xavier Henry (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg. 1.5 apg), this team looks poised to win its seventh straight Big 12 crown and go deep into the Big Dance. They are loaded.
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