Ten Burning Questions On The 2010-11 SeasonPosted by zhayes9 on November 6th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
With the season tipping off on Monday, there’s a few questions rolling around the minds of college basketball fans regarding the upcoming season. Let’s tackle the ten most pressing questions, from Duke’s expected dominance to a battle at the top of the Big East and one special freshman:
1. What’s Purdue’s season outlook without Robbie Hummel?
Purdue fans don’t need to read another rehash of Hummel tearing his ACL for the second time in eight months, so we’ll skip the gory details. With that setback in the past, the question now becomes: is Purdue still a legitimate contender to cut down the nets in Houston? The short answer is probably not. Hummel was the most important piece to the Boilermakers’ puzzle — a gritty, tough-minded, versatile scoring threat and can rebound and defend. The haunting memory of Purdue’s 11-point first half performance against Minnesota in the absence of Hummel is still fresh in some minds. The hoppers off the Boilermakers bandwagon have been countless, the injury considered so devastating that ESPN’s Andy Katz dropped Purdue from #2 to #23 in his Preseason Top 25.
Although the impact of Hummel’s injury shouldn’t be diminished, it is in no way a crushing blow to Purdue’s entire season and absolutely does not deserve a 21-spot decline in the preseason polls. Take a step back and remember that Matt Painter still has two all-Big Ten players on his roster even in a grueling year for the league- preseason All-American center JaJuan Johnson and scoring guard E’Twaun Moore. Those are building blocks the majority of major conference coaches would bend over backwards to have at their disposal. Point guard Lewis Jackson is finally 100% and ready to build on an encouraging freshman season before his foot injury. Kelsey Barlow is a multi-positional threat while secondary players D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith have practiced for weeks knowing they’ll be thrust into a larger role. Most of all, it’s Matt Painter’s insistence on defending aggressively in the halfcourt keeps Purdue in any contest no matter the talent differential.
This isn’t Purdue unexpectedly thrown into limbo when Hummel tore his ACL last February. The Boilermakers enter the season knowing who must step up to prove the doubters wrong. Even in an unforgiving Big Ten, I expect Purdue to be a mainstay in the top 15 all season long.
2. Who is this year’s first round Cinderella?
If you picked Ohio over Georgetown in last year’s NCAA Tournament, congratulations. That’s a pick you brag about to your buddies for years. The majority of the tournament pool participators did not have such a keen eye for upsets, though. Searching for this year’s preseason candidate to shock the hoops world and knock off a major conference powerhouse as a #13 or #14 seed? Look no further than the Southern Conference and the Wofford Terriers.
Start with the fact they took Wisconsin down to the wire last March in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Sure, the Badgers play a style that can produce closer outcomes against weaker opposition, but degrading that accomplishment is unfair. It’s the building block for what could be a special 2010-11 campaign with Noah Dahlman, Tim Johnson, Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs all back in the fold. Don’t overlook the urgency factor with ten seniors and juniors knowing this is the Terriers last chance to secure a NCAA Tournament victory.
Ranking #41 in the nation in defensive efficiency a season ago, head coach Mike Young has instilled a lockdown mentality on that end of the floor. Dahlman returning is also a huge deal. The best player in the SoCon, Dahlman is a double-double threat and extremely efficient scoring the basketball. He’ll be a handful for Wofford’s first round opponent and one of those names that won’t soon be forgotten around the college hoops landscape. Young challenged his team with a brutal schedule with road games at Minnesota, Clemson, Xavier, South Carolina and VCU in the non-conference, so we’ll see fairly quickly whether the Terriers can challenge stiff opposition this season.
3. How many games will Duke lose this season?
Couple Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith’s decisions to return for their senior years with a down year in talent around the ACC and the potential is there for a remarkable season in Durham. Although the ultimate goal will only be reached in March, the Blue Devils could run off a season similar to what Kansas and Kentucky did in 2009-10. The backcourt is the best in the nation with Smith, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins all expected to see minutes (not to mention Singler’s guard-like skills), a group that should allow Coach K to run, run, run, run and run some more. Prepare yourself to see Duke total 100+ points on more than a few occasions this season.
Just how good can Duke really be? Do they have a chance to go undefeated? With a frontcourt that lost key cogs Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, it’s extremely unlikely. If one of the Plumlee brothers falls into foul trouble and Duke has to play the inexperienced Ryan Kelly or freshman Josh Hairston too many minutes, a forward-oriented squad may knock them off. I have two games circled as losses for Duke: at NC State and at Virginia Tech. If the Wolfpack could pull the upset last year with a cellar-dwelling team, they have a fighter’s chance to beat Duke again with Lorenzo Brown, Tracy Smith, Ryan Harrow and C.J. Leslie. The contest in Blacksburg should produce a raucous environment with the Hokies granted a golden chance for a signature win that has evaded Seth Greenberg the last couple seasons.
Other possibilities include the CBE Classic when Duke runs into Kansas State or Gonzaga in the final. Of course, the Blue Devils could fall to North Carolina in Chapel Hill on the season’s last Saturday, but I expect Duke to squeak by with a memorable win. It was immediately a possibility when Singler opted to return for one last hurrah that Duke would lose only two or three games all year long. Barring injury, I predict they’ll do just that.
4. Could the Pac-10 actually be worse?
It’s very possible. Anyone recall last March when it was entirely possible the Pac-10 was going to be a one-bid league until Washington’s run through the Pac-10 tournament paired the Huskies with Cal as the lone representatives? Factor in that the conference lost 11 of its top 20 scorers and nine of its top 20 rebounders, and more struggles may lie ahead this time around. Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson are gone. Nic Wise is gone. Quincy Pondexter has left the building. Don’t forget about Tajuan Porter and Landry Fields. The cupboard isn’t completely bare. Isaiah Thomas, Klay Thompson, Derrick Williams and Jeremy Green are returnees that could make the leap into stardom. Players like Tyler Honeycutt, Alex Stepheson, Roberto Nelson and Rihards Kuksiks should make impacts.
The bottom line, unfortunately, is that the Pac-10 could be in the exact same situation this March with Washington a near shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament and the only way to avoid a one-bid scenario is a conference tournament upset. Due to the tournament expanding to 68 teams and the expected improvements of Arizona and UCLA, I don’t envision that embarrassing scenario taking place again. By that criteria, the conference will be better. In terms of overall talent, marquee wins and single-digit seeds, though? It could be worse. Don’t fret, left coasters: this is just a trend. With schools like Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Stanford making strides on the recruiting trail, this dip could be relatively short-lived.
5. Pittsburgh or Villanova in the Big East?
One of the more enjoyable parts of the preseason is predicting who will emerge as the champion in each conference. There seems to be a general consensus, or at least a working majority, when it comes to five of the six major conferences. Duke is the logical choice in the ACC. Most favor Kansas State to take the cake in the Big 12. Michigan State is the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten, as is Florida and their returning five starters in the SEC. Washington is truly the only viable option in the Pac-10. The one conference where there appears to be a 50/50 split is the Big East in a battle between Villanova and Pittsburgh.
One could make an intriguing case for both, and that’s what makes the debate so fun. Villanova certainly has more talent. Corey Fisher keeps getting better, Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou are breakout candidates, Corey Stokes can really shoot and Antonio Pena holds down the frontcourt. Nova supporters will point to Pittsburgh’s lack of star power as a reason to side with the Wildcats. Pitt backers counter with the Panthers perennial toughness, consistency and ability to defend their home floor. Jamie Dixon and Co. returns four starters from an overachieving #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova, meanwhile, doesn’t have Scottie Reynolds to take and make big shots and had undeniable problems defending as the season progressed.
At this juncture, I’d side with Pitt as the favorite. Jamie Dixon is a phenomenal coach that always brings the best out of his team. Pitt isn’t exactly devoid of talent, either. Gilbert Brown is ultra-athletic. Ashton Gibbs is a top-notch scoring guard. Gary McGhee really holds down the paint defensively. Dante Taylor has the potential to do some damage. I expect Pittsburgh, not Villanova, to reign supreme by season’s end in college basketball’s premier conference.
6. Who is the major conference team flying the lowest under the radar?
Staying in the Big East, I’d like to nominate Seton Hall for this award. This team was already littered with talent under a dysfunctional coach. Bring in the even-keeled Kevin Willard, who lifted Iona from the depths of Division I to MAAC contender in short time, and the Hall absolutely has a chance to notch their first NCAA Tournament win since downing Arizona in 2004.
Aside from Robert Mitchell and Eugene Harvey, the roster is almost completely in place from a team that finished a respectable 9-9 in the Big East. Jeremy Hazell isn’t exactly someone that values every possession, but it’s evident he can single-handedly win the Pirates a game with his jump shooting prowess. It’s not a stretch to say he has the ability to score 40 points on any given night. But Seton Hall is at its most dangerous when Hazell doesn’t have to carry the load. He has a supporting cast that’s plenty capable from rugged forward Jeff Robinson to rebounder extraordinaire Herb Pope (my sleeper for first team all-Big East) and junior point guard Jordan Theodore, who quietly had a solid sophomore season running the hectic Hall offense. Don’t discount the help that Ole Miss transfer Eniel Polynice can provide, as well.
If Willard can erase the bad habits imposed by the former Hall head coach, Pope stays healthy after a scary collapse last April and Hazell learns to play within the offense, the Pirates are one to keep an eye on in 2010-11.
7. Which transfer makes the biggest impact this season?
There are a few candidates for this designation. Jio Fontan has a chance to emerge as one of the Pac-10’s finest guards when he becomes eligible for USC, Trevor Mbakwe is finally eligible and gives Tubby Smith even more size at Minnesota, Duke’s Seth Curry is two years removed from scoring 20 per game as a freshman at Liberty, Drew Gordon provides a much-needed boost for New Mexico up front, Juan Patillo has a chance to blow up playing against Sun Belt competition at Western Kentucky and both John Fields and Jeronne Maymon add bulk to the Tennessee frontcourt.
One player that I feel could single-handedly swing one team’s chances from NIT to NCAA is Gregory Echenique of Creighton. The Rutgers transfer had a stellar sophomore campaign in Piscataway, making a remarkable 61% of his shots and averaging 13/8/2 BPG in just over 23 MPG. When Echenique is eligible, the frontcourt tandem he will form with Kenny Lawson is easily the best in what should be a competitive Missouri Valley. It has the potential to propel the Bluejays back to the Big Dance.
8. Which coaches receive a pink slip by season’s end?
Although Cincinnati has improved their overall win total each year during Mick Cronin’s tenure, his time as Bearcats head coach hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. His overall record is an uninspiring 61-68, his Big East record is a hideous 25-45 and the best finish during Cronin’s stay is tenth, resulting in an NIT berth. For a program that experienced tremendous success under Bob Huggins in the 90s and early part of the decade, Cronin has to win now. With Lance Stephenson bolting early to the NBA (addition by subtraction?) and most predictions pegging Cincinnati somewhere around 10th to 13th in the conference, the seat could be real hot come February and March. Cronin needs Yancy Gates, Ibrahima Thomas, Cashmere Wright and Rashad Bishop to step up to save his job. I suspect it won’t be enough.
The same issues hold true for Ed DeChellis at Penn State. In fact, the history is even worse: a 95-123 overall mark and a 34-93 Big Ten record during his tenure. With Talor Battle returning for another year in Happy Valley, DeChellis does have a star player at his disposal, but the supporting cast severely lacks and the conference is expected to be brutal this season. It’s hard to see Battle single-handedly carrying the Nittany Lions to enough wins to save DeChellis’ job another year.
I also believe this is the last season for Keno Davis at Providence. It’s been a tumultuous first two seasons at the helm for the former Drake head coach. Unexpected defections, player arrests, recruiting controversy/misses, and a lack of execution on the defensive end of the floor all contribute to the problem. Not to mention the 4-14 Big East record the Friars posted last season. Providence fans expect to contend on a yearly basis and Davis hasn’t shown to be the answer. I expect him to be shown the door for someone that can totally remake the program.
9. Just how good is Harrison Barnes?
Does the best freshman since Kevin Durant put it in simple enough terms? Some heads turned when Barnes was pegged as a preseason All-American, but why not? Haven’t we seen enough examples in recent seasons of freshmen immediately stepping into the collegiate game and proving one of the best players in the sport?
Barnes has an incredible amount of pressure heaped on him for his one year at North Carolina, but if anyone can deliver, it’s this kid. His maturity is off the charts, his basketball IQ atypical for an 18-year old freshman, his skills reminding most scouts of Tracy McGrady in his prime. Barnes attacks with an advanced mid-range game, is an outstanding passer that makes his teammates better, contributes on the boards and can even stroke it from deep. There’s a reason why Carolina is pegged to jump from the NIT to a top ten spot in the polls. His name is Harrison Barnes.
I expect Barnes to immediately vault himself into the discussion for national player of the year where he finishes second to rival Duke’s Kyle Singler. The Tar Heels show marked improvement as the season wears on, Barnes leads the Carolina resurgence to the Sweet Sixteen, and then has his name called first by David Stern two months later in New York City. Believe the hype, folks.
10. Who are the four #1 seeds on Selection Sunday?
Duke is the #1 overall seed. I’ve made that point clear already.
Most also agree Michigan State is very formidable. It wouldn’t shock me if Durrell Summers wins Big Ten POY. There’s not a player more talented than Summers in the conference, he just needs to maintain focus and consistency for 40 minutes a night. Kalin Lucas is as dependable as it gets at the college game running the Spartan attack. Throw in Draymond Green, Delvon Roe, Korie Lucious and a pair of impact freshman and Izzo has the ingredients to win the Big Ten. This season, that results in a #1 seed.
The conference will be strong enough to merit two #1 seeds. This is where Ohio State comes in. Jared Sullinger is the second best freshman after Barnes and will give the Buckeyes a true post presence. William Buford has the makings of a first round pick, Jon Diebler is a pinpoint gunner from outside and David Lighty is one of the best glue guys on the planet. Whether they sort out their point guard vacancy is a lingering question, but there’s too much throughout the roster to not love the Buckeyes.
The final #1 seed will go to Kansas State as the Big 12 champions. Jacob Pullen will ease into his new role as full-time point guard and only improve at that spot as the season wears on. There are four capable big men at Frank Martin’s disposal, including Curtis Kelly and impact transfer Freddy Asprilla. The Wildcats defend, rebound, intimidate and impose their physicality on every opponent. With Pullen have a Scottie Reynolds-type senior season, Kansas State edges Pittsburgh for the final #1 seed.