By Mitchell Light
Which teams from a Big Six conference that did not make the NCAA Tournament last season are most likely to make it this season?
Well, North Carolina is the first team that comes to mind. With another strong recruiting class, led by Harrison Barnes, the Tar Heels have more than enough talent to be a top-15 team in 2010-11. Other than UNC, I’d say Virginia Tech is another team that should be in the expanded Field of 68. The Hokies suffered a setback this fall when combo forward J.T. Thompson was lost for the season with a knee injury, but Tech still has three All-ACC-caliber players, led by Player of the Year candidate Malcolm Delaney. The Hokies have a 26–22 record in the ACC over the past three seasons but have nothing but three NIT appearances to show for it. That should change this season.
Arizona — Derrick Williams should have the Cats back to the NCAAs after a one-year hiatus.
Colorado — The Buffs boast two of the best players in the Big 12, Cory Higgins and Alec Burks.
Connecticut — The Huskies will lean heavily on talented point guard Kemba Walker.
Georgia — Trey Thompkins should emerge as one of the better big men in the nation.
Illinois — Bruce Weber’s team features three solid seniors — Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis — and some outstanding young talent.
Mississippi State — The Bulldogs suffered heavy losses, but there’s still plenty of talent in Starkville.
NC State — A banner recruiting class must come through for the Pack to end their four-year NCAA drought.
Northwestern — John Shurna and Juice Thompson are two of the more underrated players in the nation.
St. John’s — Steve Lavin inherited one of the most experienced rosters in the nation.
UCLA — The Bruins will be pleased that the NCAA Tournament has expanded to 68 teams.
Which Big Six conference teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year are in danger of missing the field this season?
Two teams from the ACC headline this list — Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons lost their coach (Dino Gaudio) and four key players — most notably Al-Farouq Aminu — from a team that went 9–7 in the ACC. New boss Jeff Bzdelik is known as an outstanding tactician, but his first Deacon team simply doesn’t have enough good players to be much of a threat in the ACC. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech lost its top three frontcourt players, including two draft picks (Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal), after barely making the NCAAs last year with a 7–9 record in the ACC. As usual, the Jackets will have talent, but as usual, they will underachieve.
California — Never count a Mike Montgomery team out, but not many teams can survive the loss of four double-digit scorers.
Clemson — New coach Brad Brownell will do well at Clemson, but the loss of Trevor Booker will be too much to overcome in the short term.
Louisville — Where will the scoring come from for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals?
Oklahoma State — The Pokes were the last team out in the Field of 68 in Athlon Sports’ preseason magazine.
Which current head coach is likely to make a move up the food chain after the 2010-11 season?
Billy Kennedy has taken two programs to the NCAA Tournament, Southeastern Louisiana (’04-05) and Murray State (’09-10). In four years at Murray, he has an overall mark of 84–44 and an OVC record of 56–20. He is a proven winner and his teams play an entertaining brand of basketball.
Rank the top 10 teams from outside the Big Six conferences.
Elias Harris and Robert Sacre form an intimidating frontline. The Zags will need better play at the point to be a top-10 team.
Lavoy Allen and Juan Fernandez should lead the Owls to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers are painfully young, but very, very talented.
The Cougars outscored MWC foes by an average of 15.4 points per game last season.
The Bulldogs will still be good, but don’t expect another magical ride in March.
Kevin Anderson is a star, but this team needs to hit the boards to be a threat in the NCAA Tournament.
7. San Diego State
Steve Fisher welcomes back four double-digit scorers, including emerging star Kawhi Leonard.
Don’t ever doubt the X-Men, who have won four straight A-10 titles and been to three straight Sweet 16s.
9. Wichita State
It will be a shocker if Gregg Marshall’s fourth WSU team doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament
10. Murray State
All the key pieces are back from a team that beat Vanderbilt in the first round and took Butler to the wire in Round 2.