Irving of Duke, Barnes of UNC. Goodness.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels (20-17, lost NIT to Dayton)
Last year was miserable for UNC. With underperforming and over-injured Ed Davis out of town as well as twin forwards David and Travis Wear, roles will be open for freshmen Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock to take. Both are slated to start right away, and Barnes is a popular top pick in the preseason mock drafts. Barnes is a 6'8 wing that can do everything on a basketball court. He's a level-headed kid with NBA-ready skills that should translate in Chapel Hill right away. Bullock is another 5-star recruit that profiles as a scoring guard with a deadly jump shot and shaky ball-handling. Bullock may be overshadowed by Barnes, so 2012 seems like the year for him. These are two of the best freshmen in the country and they profile as the best wing duo in the country. Considering the amount of talent that's left, it's amazing that the Heels are ranked number 8 in the nation with room to grow if the freshmen mature early.
Charlie Day Wild Card: John Henson was a huge recruit coming out of high school and his frail frame has been exposed thus far at UNC. Expect a monster year from the 6'10 pterodactyl. Tyler Zeller, if healthy, could make a push for a lottery spot as well.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (33-3, lost second round to Northern Iowa)
Marcus Morris returns as the best player to a Jayhawks squad that lost Xavier Henry, Sherron Collins, and Cole Aldrich to the next level. He's got a more well-rounded game than his brother Markieff, and one that translates better into an NBA career. At 6'8, he can play inside or out, profiling more as a hybrid 4 because of his versatility and lack of supreme athleticism. With a dependable jump shot and the ability to defend multiple positions, a good season from the junior makes him a late lottery pick in 2011.
Charlie Day Wild Card: He may be too good to be a wild card, but the eligibility issues with Josh Selby make him a question mark. He's going to line up at point next to Tyshawn Taylor, but my bet is the top 5 recruit in the country shifts to the 2 and works off the ball. In the NBA, he has combo guard written all over him -- very Jerryd Bayless with a better jump shot. Give him a full season and he's a lottery pick based on scoring alone.
6. Villanova Wildcats (25-8, lost second round to St. Mary's)
Jay Wright loves his guards. Corey Fisher, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek all have tons of potential that could blossom into an NBA career for them. I'd bet on Fisher, the senior from the Bronx, who was rumored to have scored 105 points in a summer league game, defense be damned. If he turns his aggression up a notch, he has the playmaking ability to bring to mind another former Nova guard, Kyle Lowry, who has stuck around in the NBA for a few seasons. Without Scottie Reynolds around, Fisher will get a full-time opportunity to run the show for the Wildcats. For the record, I think the ranking is a bit generous. Corey Stokes has been a disappointment all three years and the bigs there can't compete with the rest of the top 10.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Speaking of bigs, Mouphtaou Yarou had an intriguing freshman season as a 6'10 starting center for a good part of the year. He's so very raw, but if Wright can harness his potential, he can move Antonio Pena to the four, have a bigger lineup, and give Yarou a good shot at a lottery pick in 2012. Also keep an eye on JayVaughn Pinkston, a 4-star freshman forward who may end up missing time for assault charges.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers (25-9, lost second round to Xavier)
Pitt's already 2-0 on the season after defeating Rhode Island and Illinois-Chicago. Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs form a terrific backcourt, loaded with experience and still-improving guard skills. Wanamaker's always been praised for his defense, but the senior has really jacked up his offense and ball-handling. As a 6'4 guard, there could be a spot for him in the late first round. Gibbs is more of a scorer, but thus far this season he has done a better job of leading the offense and moving the ball, going for 24 and 7 assists with no turnovers against UIC. With a deadly jump shot, Gibbs could climb some draft boards if GM's think he's capable of running the point in the NBA.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Dante Taylor didn't have a great freshman season, but he's a 6'9 rebounder with good inside instincts and has a shot to break into the starting lineup for the mostly useless Gary McGhee.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (29-8, lost Sweet Sixteen to Tennessee)
OSU has an excellent blend of youth and experience, highlighted by the dynamic forwards David Lighty (senior) and Jared Sullinger (freshman). Sullinger won the Naismith award for top prep player and used to profile as a center because of a lack of outside game, but he's worked himself to be a 6'9 power forward that can step outside and hit shots. Right now he's more suited for dominating the college game (which he will) but if he keeps expanding his repertoire, he's a guy to watch in the pros. Either way, he'll be successful enough to warrant a lottery pick this season.
Charlie Day Wild Card: When Evan Turner was still there, he ran the point somewhat out of position. Currently Jon Diebler and William Buford are the backcourt, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them bumped (or have minutes taken away) by freshman guard Aaron Craft. He's one of the best defensive guards in the class, and even though scoring guard Deshaun Thomas is a better player, Craft should get more time as the only true point guard on the roster.
3. Kansas State Wildcats (29-8, lost Elite 8 to Butler)
I don't think Jacob Pullen has much, if any, NBA potential even with the beard. This is a team mostly filled with role players that will succeed as a unit directed by Frank Martin, but not exactly a feast for pro scouts. That is, except for sophomore power forward Wally Judge, the toolsy D.C. native that needs court time to show what he's got. And he'll be awarded that this season as K-State's starting power forward next to senior Curtis Kelly. Without much game outside of five feet, Judge will have to improve his jump shot and ball-handling before he becomes a complete player. I'd say 2012 is his year but he could surprise me and bounce after this one.
Charlie Day Wild Card: While it's typically freshmen that get the Wild Card status, Curtis Kelly is a senior big man that showed a ton in K-State's run last season. A former 4-star prospect for UConn, Kelly has a solid all-around game that could work as a 8th or 9th guy on an NBA bench. Second round pick this season, most likely.
2. Michigan State Spartans (28-9, lost Final Four to Butler)
Tom Izzo's squad boasts a ton of depth, but aside from the high-level freshman class, nobody that stands out for NBA eyes. Draymond Green could sneak in as a Glen Davis-type player, but I'm perennially surprised when Green plays well and maybe that's why I dislike him so much. Kalin Lucas has been there for a decade and he'll be recovered from the Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him late last year. Delvon Roe is okay, Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious are fine. Ho Hum.
Charlie Day Wild Card: With such a loaded upperclassmen corps, there may not be much time available for freshman Keith Appling, but he'll make his presence felt for 2012. He's a Kalin Lucas clone, only taller and better defensively. Missing a jump shot though, his NBA prospects are unclear this early.
1. Duke Blue Devils (35-5, won National Championship)
Well, Duke is just a very good basketball team. Hands down the favorite to repeat as champions to the chagrin of most of the country, the Devils bring back Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith to lead a squad as deep as they come with a big old target on their backs. With Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek out of there, the front court is in the milky twin hands of Miles and Mason Plumlee. But the guy everyone is most excited for is point guard Kyrie Irving. Good enough to bump Smith from the one-spot, Irving is a 6'3 true point guard that may not have John Wall's athleticism, but he profiles as a better passer and shooter right now. With the multitude of guards at Duke, Irving will stand above them and go top 5 in the 2011 draft.
Charlie Day Wild Card: One of my favorite things to do is follow really good players on bad teams. Andrew Goudelock on Charleston, CJ McCollum on Lehigh, guys like that. So when Seth Curry went from Liberty to Duke -- despite my hatred for Duke -- I was pumped. Getting to see him play against great talent is going to be a lot of fun. And starting next to Smith and Irving, Seth will spend a lot of time wide open for jump shots. He hasn't played point as well as his brother, but he should get more than a few NBA looks in the late first round.
Enjoy the first real day of college basketball tonight. I've got my pointy hats ready to go.