NBA stans can’t say anything about a lack of talent in the college ranks this season. Too bad it comes partially due to the NBA lockout. But if that’s the price to be paid, fine—maybe a few stubborn minds will open to a world of impossible runs, scandals, bitter rivalries, etc. So, throughout the most anticipated college hoops season in a minute, SLAMonline’s biggest college heads—Cub Buenning, Jon Jaques and David Cassilo—will weigh in on the biggest issues of the season. Here’s a pre-season special dedicated to all ‘NBA-only’ fans everywhere.—Ed.

Do you expect this upcoming college basketball season to be more “top heavy,” with so many of the top programs seeing their star players (such as Jared Sullinger at Ohio State, and Harrison Barnes at North Carolina) return because of the NBA lockout? Will the NBA lockout impact this upcoming season in any other way?

Jon Jaques: The top college teams (Kentucky, UNC, UConn, Ohio State) will definitely be stronger than last year’s elite, but I still think there’s potential for a few other teams to emerge throughout the season.

And if nothing else, the lockout will make college basketball a must watch early in the season. A lot of basketball fans don’t even tune into watch the college game until the first week of March. Now (unless a dramatic 180 takes place), NCAA hoops will be the only game in town. Early non-conference games (which die-hard fans know to mark on their calendars) should catch the eye of even the most casual fan.

David Cassilo: This will be one of the best seasons in college basketball history because of the talent across the board after many players decided to stay in school. While it will be top heavy in the sense that only a few teams can win it all (there will be no Connecticut this season), the product will be better as a whole.

The other effect the NBA lockout will have on college basketball is an increased attention on the game. With no other basketball to watch, crowds, coverage and hype should be greater than ever. There is so much talent out there this year that the product should match.

Cub Buenning: I do think that there will be some very strong teams toward the top with so many top players choosing to stay in school, but I am one of those observers who doesn’t see the mass exodus scenario as one that “kills” college basketball. Not having the same dominant teams every year fighting for the national title, just allows for more Butlers and VCUs to crash the party.

I dig that.

As for the NBA lockout’s impact on this NCAA season, I don’t think there will be any major lasting effects. Most of the individuals who I have spoke with and/or have read about, all said that the NBA lockout has nothing to do with their ultimate decision to leave school and enter the Draft.

Who’s the team to beat?

JJ: North Carolina, followed by Kentucky, and then Connecticut after Andre Drummond’s recent change of heart and decision to begin play for the Huskies this fall. The Tar Heels have the most weapons in the nation (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, and a loaded freshman class). If someone (anyone) can learn how to shoot a three-pointer, Roy Williams will once again have an offensive juggernaut. Kentucky has nearly equal talent, but far less experience.

DC: The best team in the country is North Carolina. The Tar Heels were a different team last season when Kendall Marshall took over at point guard. A full season with him at the helm and the natural progression of Harrison Barnes and John Henson would be exciting enough before you even add in top recruits James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.

CB: The team to beat this year is North Carolina. Returning too much talent for the rest of the country and could have the nation’s best in Harrison Barnes. After an up-and-down freshman season (where he was jinxed by being named the first frosh to be named to the pre-season First-Team All-American list), Barnes seems primed for a blowout year. All reports during this offseason, also indicate that the kid looks different. More aggressive. More dominant. Throw in Tyler Zeller and John Henson running things on the block and finally some dependable stability at the point guard position with Kendall Marshall and there should be no answer to stopping the ‘Heels.

I know it’s early, but give us your projected Final Four.

JJ: North Carolina, Connecticut, Syracuse, Vanderbilt

DC: North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State, Louisville

CB: UNC, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ohio State

Who’s the best player in the country? Who’s the NBA prospect?

JJ: The best player in the country is Jared Sullinger. He dominated games last year as a freshman, and I don’t see big boy slowing down. The best NBA prospects might actually be Drummond or Kentucky frosh Anthony Davis, but since we haven’t seen them play their first college games yet, I’ll go with Harrison Barnes. His combination of athleticism and skill translates to your prototypical NBA small forward.

DC: Harrison Barnes is hands down the best player in the country. By season’s end he showed that the hype was justified and proved that he was one of the toughest players to defend in the country.

But the best NBA prospect is Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Due to a late growth spurt, Davis is still really figuring out how to use his impressive frame, but in the high school all-star game circuit he showed just how dominant he can be. Expect him to be the No. 1 pick next season.

CB: I will reiterate what I said in the second topic, Harrison Barnes is BOTH. Best college player and best pro prospect. It rarely happens like that in the same year, but I strongly feel that we could be heading for one special season from this kid. He has that mix of ridiculous physical ability and an all-court game that translates on every level.