It's never too early to look ahead to next season and we're only six months away from tipping off. With perhaps more players than expected returning to school for another season, we look at some of the teams that could surprise in 2011-12 and two that will not.
We got a pretty good look at how good UCF can be when they won 14 straight games, including an upset of then No. 16-Florida. But then, the Knights crumbled under poor shooting and turnovers, losing their next eight and finishing just 6-10 in C-USA play. Head coach Donnie Jones returns his top four scorers, including a pair of NBA prospects in shooting guard Marcus Jordan and power forward Keith Clanton. In addition to adding Virginia-transfer Tristan Spurlock on the wing, Jones also brings in four-star center Michael Chanlder
Much has been made about Vanderbilt's late season collapses under Kevin Stallings, including getting upset in the first round of the past two NCAA Tournaments, but look for the 2011-12 Commodore squad to run to a different tune. Every role player from last season returns, led by sharpshooter and SEC runner-up John Jenkins, defensive wiz Jeff Taylor and developing big man Festus Ezeli. They'll get steady play from point guard Brad Tinsley and power forward Lance Goulbourne, both of whom do the dirty work on offense and defense. Add in a pair of four-star recruits in the backcourt and this Vanderbilt team is capable of making a deep run in March.
Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance, the Seminoles lost top scorers Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen and that alone has some counting them out already. Florida State was fine without Singleton in the lineup, while a pair of young guards in Ian Miller and Michael Snaer should give Leonard Hamilton a better offensive punch than a year ago. Bigs Bernard James, Okaro White and Xavier Gibson has NBA aspirations and should surprise this year.
The Tigers have become a perennial power and this year could be there best. They came on late to win the Conference-USA tournament and gave Arizona all it could handle in the NCAA tournament. Memphis returns nearly its whole team, specifically Wesley Witherspoon, Will Barton, Tarik Black and Joe Jackson, while adding in a top-10 national recruit in big man Adonis Thomas.
What a letdown 2010-11 was- beginning the year as a Top 25 program and finishing under .500 in Big 12 play and with 13 losses overall. Perry Jones is a great player and a top five NBA prospect to enter this seas and he teams up with Quincy Acy, but also five-star recruit Quincy Miller and four-star prospect Deuce Bellow and senior Anthony Jones joining the bunch off the bench. It's not the loss of the Big 12's all-time leading scorer and trigger-happy guard LaceDarius Dunn that I'm worried about, it's the point guard play; Baylor averaged four more turnovers (16) than assists (12) per game. AJ Walton returns to the reigns, but his backup Stargell Love will transfer.
The Huskies had a great 2010-11 season by finding a way to come through in the clutch. The speedy and reliable scorer and distributor Kemba Walker is gone and while the pieces remaining are exciting, it won't be the same. Walker really did it all (23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals) and turned up his game to another level when the game was on the line and that's something Jim Calhoun won't be able to replace with any one player. Jeremy Lamb's development is exciting and Shabazz Napier could be an interesting prospect at point guard, but the team's success will hinge on Alex Oriakhi down low. The expectations are set pretty high coming off their national title campaign and Jeremy Lamb & Co. will find it difficult to keep up.