Heel Turn

UNC’s cast of vets leads the way in our annual NCAA preview.
by November 12, 2015
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The NCAA has decided the best way to deal with its offensive issues is to shorten the amount of time skill-challenged teams have to shoot the ball. The avalanche of hurried and ill-advised shots that will cover arena floors may actually drive scoring down until teams adapt. While the rules committee deals with the fallout of its actions, the fight for top honors nationally should make those who pine for the old ACC days nostalgic for battles between Lefty Driesell and Dean Smith. North Carolina and its killer frontcourt could well meet resurgent Maryland for the Big Prize. If so, maybe the game can be played in Greensboro, for old times’ sake. We were one of the outlets smart enough to pick Duke to win it all last year, so give this year’s edition some respect.

  1. North Carolina

Key Players: Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Paige

The Skinny: Nobody was happy in Chapel Hill last year when Duke won it all, but it’s time for the Tar Heels’ revenge. Paige (who will miss the first three weeks of the season but should be back to full strength by the new year) is one of the nation’s top guards, and UNC has the best frontcourt in the land.

  1. Maryland

Key Players: Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble

The Skinny: Was it just a year ago that coach Mark Turgeon was the subject of criticism and doubt? Thank you, Melo Trimble! The outstanding guard gets help this year from newcomers Stone and Carter, along with Layman, probably the country’s most underrated player.

  1. Kentucky

Key Players: Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray, Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis

The Skinny: Coach Cal has another great crop of freshmen in Lexington this year. Yawn. The question—as always—is whether it can come together and win big. Don’t bet against it, especially if Labissiere is a fire-breather, as expected.

  1. Virginia

Key Players: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, London Perrantes, Mike Tobey

The Skinny: The Cavaliers’ python-like defense will again torment opponents, especially those trying to play too fast because of the new, 30-second shot clock. UVA doesn’t score a bunch, but when you hold the other guys to 40, you don’t have to.

  1. Duke

Key Players: Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton

The Skinny: Remember when Coach K didn’t like one-and-done kids? After last year’s National Title, he sure loves ’em. A bunch more come to town in the nation’s top recruiting class, joining Allen, who is ready to break out.

  1. Kansas

Key Players: Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden

The Skinny: Never doubt the power—and luck—of Bill Self. Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are gone, but Ellis and Selden decided to return. Then Diallo commited late, providing needed toughness inside. The Jayhawks will probably win the Big 12. Again.

  1. Iowa State

Key Players: Deonte Burton, Jameel McKay, Monte Morris, Georges Niang

The Skinny: The Mayor—Fred Hoiberg—has left Ames, but Steve Prohm has a team with lots of talent, particularly Niang and Morris, and the ability to score. As usual, some transfers buttress the holdovers, and a trip to the top reaches of the Big 12 is likely.

  1. Utah

Key Players: Jordan Loveridge, Jakob Poeltl, Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker

The Skinny: The NBA is already drooling about Poeltl, who’ll be a Lottery pick when he decides to leave Salt Lake City. The Utes have plenty of guards and good depth. So what if Delon Wright is gone? There’s plenty left.

  1. Oklahoma

Key Players: Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard

The Skinny: The Sooners are going to play some nasty defense; count on that. And Hield can pile up the points. OU has good experience, but if the newcomers don’t deliver, depth will be a problem.

  1. Arizona

Key Players: Ryan Anderson, Justin Simon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Allonzo Trier

The Skinny: Every year, it’s the same thing in Tucson: Is this the season the Wildcats get to the Final Four? Nope. But there’s plenty to like about this squad. The freshmen are amazing. The defense will be stout. Tarczewski is tough to handle. And BC transfer Anderson will make a big impact. Pretty darn good.

  1. Wichita State

Key Players: Ron Baker, Connor Frankamp, Anton Grady, Fred VanVleet

The Skinny: Some of the names are the same, but the one that matters—Gregg Marshall—signed a big-money contract to hang around. VanVleet and Baker lead the Gonzaga of the Plains to another big season.

  1. Villanova

Key Players: Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu

The Skinny: Nobody does guards like the Wildcats, and adding the explosive Brunson to Arcidiacono and Hart will make ’Nova as potent as ever. Watch out for Ochefu, who’s ready to be a bigger producer inside.

  1. Baylor

Key Players: Rico Gathers, King McClure, Lester Medford, Taurean Prince

The Skinny: The Bears will still board well; Gathers sees to that. But what about the backcourt? Medford can’t keep turning it over so much, and McClure had better come through quickly to keep Baylor near the Big 12’s top.

  1. Indiana

Key Players: James Blackmon, Thomas Bryant, Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams

The Skinny: No coach got better news last spring than IU’s Tom Crean, who learned Ferrell and Blackmon weren’t going to the NBA and that Bryant was heading to Bloomington. Instead of hearing fans’ grousing about lack of success, Crean should be listening to a season of cheers.

  1. Gonzaga

Key Players: Przemek Karnowski, Josh Perkins, Damontas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer

The Skinny: It doesn’t get much better than the Zags’ forward wall, which has the ability to handle any job necessary. But the losses of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell mean Perkins had better be good quickly, or the big guys will go hungry.

  1. Notre Dame

Key Players: Zach Auguste, Bonzie Colson, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia

The Skinny: The Irish scored more than Russell Brand last year, and though Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are gone, ND will be plenty potent this time. Auguste emerged as a force in last year’s tourney, and Jackson should become a big producer in the backcourt.

  1. California

Key Players: Jabari Bird, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Tyrone Wallace

The Skinny: The returns of Wallace and Bird are big, but the arrivals of Rabb and Brown, two of the top recruits in the country, are enormous. For the first time in a long time, Cal is national player.

  1. Michigan State

Key Players: Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Eron Harris, Denzel Valentine

The Skinny: Once again, the Spartans are going to win with a bunch of players who lack star power. All they do is execute, defend like predators and obey the wild man on the sideline, Tom Izzo. WVU transfer Harris boosts the offense, while everybody else does his job.

  1. Michigan

Key Players: Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton

The Skinny: The returns of LeVert and Walton from injury mean offensive mad scientist John Beilein will have a deep and versatile cast to unleash on the Big Ten. If the big guys can consistently rebound and finish, Michigan will be dangerous.

  1. Miami

Key Players: Tonye Jekiri, Sheldon McClellan, Kamari Murphy, Angel Rodriguez

The Skinny: Murphy balances the potent backcourt of McClellan and Rodriguez and gives the Hurricanes some much-needed frontcourt pop. Underrated coach Jim Larranaga does the rest. The result: an ACC darkhorse with plenty of punch.

image via Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC