College Basketball's Biggest Preseason Questions: 17 for the East Region

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<p> College Basketball's Great 68 Questions: 17 for the East Region</p>

College football season hasn’t begun, but here at Athlon we’re already hard at work in thinking about the 2012-13 basketball season. Believe us, the season will be here before you know it.

Every team has questions about the upcoming season, but some are bigger than others.

 

We’ll look at some of the biggest questions for 2012-13. Like the NCAA Tournament, we’re taking on 17 questions in each of our four regions of the country (South, East, Midwest and West) for our Great 68 questions. We’ve “seeded” our questions, too, ranking the biggest questions in each region.

 

On Tuesday, we examined 17 questions in our South Region, which included the Big 12 and SEC.

 

Today, we ranked the top 17 questions in our East Region, which includes the ACC, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association and the Ivy League.

 

East Region No. 1 seed: Will NC State live up to the hype?

NC State will be at or near the top of most ACC preseason rankings with a young, talented team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 last season, played in the Sweet 16 for the first team since 2005 and finished with the most wins (24) since 1988. NC State is hungry to be back in the spotlight. Will Mike Gottfried’s second team be the one to deliver? C.J. Leslie (second-team All-ACC) and Lorenzo Brown (third-team All-ACC) will lead a group of three McDonald’s All-Americans (guards Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis and forward T.J. Warren). Leslie and Brown played well at the end of last season, leading the Wolfpack to Tourney wins over No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 seed Georgetown, but the Pack still went 1-6 against ACC teams that reached the field.

 

No. 2: What’s next for Jim Calhoun?

The Connecticut coach suffered a hip fracture after a bicycle accident this summer, but it’s not likely to keep him from coaching. However, Calhoun is 70 years old and a cancer survivor who missed games last season while recovering from an operation related to spinal stenosis. The Huskies, who went 20-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big East, are also facing a postseason ban. Speculation about his future has been one of the storylines of the offseason, but Calhoun also is quite stubborn. And he’s nearing 900 career wins.

 

No. 3: Was Louisville’s Final Four run a sign of things to come or an aberration?

At the end of the regular season, Louisville looked nothing like a Final Four team. The Cardinals went 2-4 in the last six (the wins were over DePaul in overtime and Pittsburgh by 3) to stand at 22-9 overall and 10-8 in the Big East before the conference tournament. Louisville went on an eight-game win streak in the postseason to win the Big East Tournament and reach the Final Four. Did the Cards simply get hot at the right time or should those results be the norm for 2012-13? Possibly the latter. After two seasons of injury concerns, Louisville’s due for some better luck on that front. Peyton Siva is a Big East Player of the Year candidate, and Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng should form a formidble frontcourt. Sophomore Wayne Blackshear is looking to stay healthy, and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock will be eligible. Those are good reasons to believe the Cards will look more like the team in the 2012 postseason over the course of a full year.

 

No. 4: Is North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo ready for a Thomas Robinson-like breakout?

North Carolina under Roy Williams isn’t going to be low on talent and won’t stay down for long. That said, North Carolina must expect a drop off with Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller gone. No one will pick the Tar Heels to be title contenders, but how North Carolina absorbs those losses could depend on McAdoo. He considered a jump to the NBA Draft despite averaging just 15.6 minutes per game last season (averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds). Like Robinson before last season, McAdoo could have started for most teams but was blocked by established veterans. With Zeller, Barnes and Henson gone, McAdoo will have his chance to flourish.

 

No. 5: How will Duke’s backcourt shake out?

Seth Curry is one of the only certainties in the Duke backcourt with Andre Dawkins redshirting in 2012-13. Rasheed Sulaimon is another highly decorated freshman following the one-and-done Austin Rivers, but he’s mostly a scorer. That leaves a void at point guard. Junior Tyler Thornton and sophomore Quinn Cook played last season, but neither were impact players.

Related: Krzyzewski leads ACC coach rankings

 

No. 6: Are Michael Carter-Williams and DaJuan Coleman ready to take charge for Syracuse?

Last season, Carter-Williams averaged only 10.3 points, and Coleman was in high school. Together, they could determine the course of Syracuse’s season. Four key members of last season’s 34-win team are gone, but Jim Boeheim has good reason to be confident in veterans Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas. The point guard spot will go to Carter-Williams, who is a good passer with outstanding vision. Coleman could stabilize the frontcourt if he can hold on to the starting job at center, allowing Christmas to play forward.

Related: Boeheim tops rankings of Big East coaches

 

No. 7: Will Steven Adams be a rare freshman star for Jamie Dixon?

Freshmen seldom play major roles for Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon. The coach, though, rarely has signed a freshman like Steven Adams, a seven-foot center who was a consensus top-10 recruit. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and finishing 5-13 in the Big East, Pitt needs a jolt. The Panthers have veterans returning (though not leading scorer Ashton Gibbs), but some have yet to reach their potential, such as Dante Taylor. Adams, fellow freshman and James Robinson and Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler could be shots in the arm.

Related: Basketball conference realignment winners and losers

 

No. 8: Has Notre Dame moved from overachiever to Big East frontrunner?

Notre Dame has started the season ranked in the AP poll only once in the past six seasons, yet the Irish finished second in the Big East two years ago and third last season. The six-season run has included six 20-win seasons and five NCAA Tourney bids. Notre Dame has a veteran frontcourt with Jack Cooley, Scott Martin and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman plus an athlete backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Notre Dame will have preseason expectations for the first time in several years. Speaking of which, the Irish have started the season ranked in the preseason four times under Brey and missed the NCAA Tournament in three of those seasons.

 

No. 9 Can Reggie Johnson lead Miami to a signature season?

Miami last season had a winning record in the ACC for the first time since the Hurricanes joined the conference -- all of that despite an injury to Reggie Johnson and ineligibility from Durand Scott. All the while, Kenny Kadji became one of the ACC’s biggest surprises and Shane Larkin impressed as a freshman. If Miami has all its cogs in place for the duration of a season -- especially one with so man questions at the top of the conference -- the Hurricanes could be in line for a special season. Consistency from Johnson could be the key. 

 

No. 10: Where does Villanova go from here?

Marquette, Pittsburgh and Villanova were the only Big East teams to make the NCAA Tournament each year since the league reorganized in 2005-06. Now Marquette stands alone with that superlative. Pitt reloaded with Adams and other newcomers, but Villanova may be in a precarious position after going 13-19 last season. Normally a haven for point guards, Villanova has questions in its backcourt with Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek gone (though neither lived up to his billing). The rebuilding job could be a multi-year project.

 

No. 11: When will Maryland be ready to win again?

Mark Turgeon’s first season wasn’t all that different from Gary Williams’ last -- 17 wins and an absence from the NCAA Tournament. The season was a slog, but Turgeon is optimistic for the future. Sophomore guard Nick Faust has a bright future, and the incoming freshman class, anchored by three standout frontcourt prospects, was nationally ranked. Maryland should be back in NCAA contention soon, possibly as early as this season and certainly by 2013-14.

 

No. 12: Who will be the Big East’s 2012-13 version of USF?

The Bulls have been among the bottom five teams in the Big East since they joined the conference, but they defied the odds by going 12-6 in the Big East and reaching the Sweet 16 with a team that lacked a double-digit scorer. Will another Big East team enjoy that kind of leap forward? DePaul has an All-Big East contender in Cleveland Melvin, but the Blue Demons are in an awfully deep hole. Rutgers is still young. Seton Hall lacks a point guard. Providence could be a candidate, but the Friars could be a year away if five-star guards Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn are unavailable for all or parts of 2012-13. How about USF again? Anthony Collins played ahead of his years as a freshman point guards, and Augustus Gilchrist was the only one of the top five starters to exhaust his eligibility.

 

No. 13: Are Florida State’s part-timers ready for starring roles?

Leading scorer Michael Snaer is the Seminoles’ only returning starter, but sixth man Ian Miller and forwards Okaro White and Terrance Shannon are all juniors looking to move into more prominent roles. White can be a major scoring threat while the physical Shannon played only seven games due to injury. Miller may take on the point guard job vacated by Luke Loucks. The Seminoles brought plenty of junior college transfers and freshmen to fill out depth, but the play of Snaer’s veteran supporting cast likely will determine if FSU makes an unprecedented fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

 

No. 14: With VCU out, can Drexel finally represent the Colonial in March or will Delaware shock the league?

Drexel routinely finds a way into the NCAA bubble debate but comes up empty. Last season was perhaps the Dragons’ strongest case as they went 29-7 and won the Colonial regular season title. VCU defeated Drexel in the CAA Tournament final, though, banishing Drexel to the NIT for the fifth time in 11 seasons under Bruiser Flint. Now, VCU is gone to the Atlantic 10. This season, Drexel may have to contend with George Mason and Old Dominion, but the Dragons lost only one senior of last season’s team. Instead of VCU, upstart Delaware may challenge Drexel for the CAA title. The Blue Hens return just about everyone -- including junior Devon Saddler (18.1 ppg) and senior Jamelle Hagins (12.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg) -- to a team that went 12-6 in conference.

 

No. 15: Will Harvard continue to be a national player?

Harvard may be a runaway favorite to repeat as Ivy League champion, but will the Crimson be a thorn in the side of major-conference programs (Harvard defeated Florida State last season, but lost to UConn in December and Vanderbilt in the round of 64)? Keith Wright is gone, but coach Tommy Amaker has recruited at a high enough level to keep Harvard interesting. Wesley Saunders was Amaker’s most highly decorated signee, but he played only 13.9 minutes as a freshman last year.

Related: Amaker ranks among top coaches outside the Big Six

 

No. 16: What does the new-look bench mean for St. John’s?

Maybe that should read new-look/old-look bench. Steve Lavin is back after missing most of the season after recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, Lavin’s interim coach and a respected Xs and Os man, was hired as the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coach. Aside from the coaching situation, St. John’s struggled to a 13-19 season more likely because of youth. Lavin inherited a senior-laden team when the Red Storm surprised to win 21 games and reach the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. With two standout recruiting classes, Lavin has more pieces in pace, though they’re all freshmen and sophomores. Expect growing pains, but not quite as much as last season.

 

No. 17: Who should I get to know in the Big East?

All six members of the Big East’s first-team all-conference squad are gone. That makes room for new blood to make a run at stardom in the league. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick may have been overlooked last season and could make a bid for conference player of the year. And Marquette isn’t without replacements for Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett and “switchable” Jamil Wilson will be worth watching in Milwaukee. At Georgetown, Otto Porter should take his place in the run of versatile Hoyas forwards, which has included Dajuan Summers and Jeff Green.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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