1. North Carolina Tar Heels
Tate’s Take: Facts are that UNC has been absent to the Final Four since cutting down the nets in the Motor City in 2009. Nor have the Heels been to the Elite 8 or hung a regular season conference crown in 4 seasons under Head Coach Roy Williams (who has faced recent scrutiny as of late considering being able to land 5-star recruits and pressure of NCAA infractions). To add fuel to the fire, UNC hasn’t sniffed an ACC tourney title in 8 years. After losing ‘freak athlete’ JP Tokoto to the next level, Marcus Paige & ‘ol Roy are clearly the elephants in the room this upcoming season and will likely be the finger pointed to blame if they don’t end the drought. If talented, although occasionally mentally discouraged Kennedy Meeks can somehow get on the same consistency level as front court teammates Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson, Carolina blue can certainly get back to the ‘Carolina Way’. Meeks should be the most dominant player in the country this season and if he can find that “dog” within, they’ll likely be labeled as the North Carolina net-choppers in H-Town come April… (Keyword: SHOULD).
2. Virginia Cavaliers
Tate’s Take: UVA claims likely the most underrated teams and back courts in America and although the Cavs have carried the ‘underdog torch for the past few years, they certainly won’t surprise anyone this year… especially in the loaded ACC. After retaining the regular season conference title in back-to-back seasons, Memphis transfer Austin Nichols will join other Cav upperclassmen Anthony Gill and 7-foot Mike Tobey; not to mention some assistance from a trio of Metro-Atlanta studs, Malcomb Brogdon, Evan Nolte and Isaiah Wilkins (son of ATL Hawks legend, Dominique). The departure of Justin Anderson may hurt just a tad, but HC Tony Bennett is one of the best in the nation at making adjustments. Expect him to do just that, starting with London Perrantes who is one of the most serviceable role players in the country. The stifling ‘D’ has returned to Charlottesville and I’m sure the opposition is already gritting their teeth in thought of meeting with Virginia.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
Tate’s Take: When Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. announced their return to Lawrence, I could literally hear Big 12 foes sucking their teeth and smacking their lips in frustration to what KU will likely achieve yet again. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know that Kansas, one of college basketball’s most historic blue blood programs that oozes with some of the richest tradition have claimed (you may want to sit down for this one), the past 10 consecutive regular season conference titles OUTRIGHT!!! Also leading the nation in programs with the most regular season conference titles (58), the buck doesn’t stop there: KU also leads the nation in other statistical categories such as most first team All-American selections named (28), most consecutive 30+ win seasons (4), most seasons with a winning record (97) and most seasons with a non-losing record (100). All of this isn’t for no reason and I don’t guarantee many things but I will guarantee that KU will add to those totals this year, but enough with the history lesson. Like him, love him or hate him… Bill Self is one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the sport, not just where basketball was invented. The best part about the ’15-’16 team is that there are no selfish players on the roster and this may just be the deepest team nationally loaded with players that are poised for record setting/breakout game (or season) at any moment, making it difficult for opponents to prepare for.
One of the biggest teams to step onto a court that you will see all season in addition to it’s talent and versatility to switch lineups and mix it up a little with it’s depth. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham will steer the ship, running it’s ‘O’, and where Greene adds a bonus in the shooting department, Traylor’s experience & gerth mixed with Diallo’s effort & skill set just adds more damage. If you get Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk going, not a single team will stop the Rock Chalk! Think 2008 Final Four. This team can be THAT good! This will make Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander look like seat-fillers.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Tate’s Take: Now that we know that there isn’t a single active coach on the collegiate level better than Coach K, I do truly believe that he can give some others a run for their money as the best of ANY sport (*clears throat Poppovich, Saban, Auriemma, Meyer, Belichick). Now that we have established that, don’t for 1 second feel bad that K has lost Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor all to the NBA. Rest assure that the Devils have reloaded but the front court does have holes up front. The future looks bright in Durham after adding future highly touted stars in Derryck Thornton, Chase Jeter, Brandon Ingram and last but certainly not least my personal favorite Luke Kennard. This would be the ideal time for rising Junior Matt Jones to take off the training wheels, prepping for an abolished year. With all the hype surrounding Grayson Allen after April’s Final Four performance, will filling stat sheets as expected be too much pressure for only a Sophomore? Although filling Winslow’s shoes will be a bit much, Kennard can do exactly that. The key will be Marshall Plumlee in the middle and his abilities to make smart decisions when relied upon. If he can just be ex-Blue Devil Brian Zoubek at least, the Cameron Crazies will have something else to jump up and down about.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Tate’s Take: Led by and thanks to Super Sophomore Melo Trimble, the Terps are looking like that of old again. Replacing Seniors Dez Wells & Evan Smotrycz won’t remotely be as hard as originally anticipated after Jake Layman decided to forgo making the jump to the league and return to College Park, making TerpNation a contender on the national level and a front-running threat to the Big Ten after recently joining. Top-10 recruit Diamond Stone has it’s fans at Maryland ecstatic as to what MD can achieve with their high ceiling. Robert Carter (transfer from Georgia Tech), isn’t the only new face in town with college basketball experience. After being dismissed from the team last season, Rasheed Sulaimon will pull the Under Armor jersey over his head, becoming a very valuable asset to the Maryland team that despises his former University… Duke!!! Will the B1G make the necessary adjustments according to Maryland’s dominance last season, or will MD bring their old ACC ways over to the Midwest and hand out teaching lessons? We won’t know until November what HC Mark Turgeon (a man many considered was on the hot seat this time a year ago) has up his sleeves.