11. Butler Bulldogs
Tate’s Take: Just when it seemed that Butler had fallen off the face of the earth following Brad Stevens’ departure, the Bulldogs have come back with a vengeance that is led by one of the best well-rounded players in the country, Roosevelt Jones. The Senior forward may not ‘wow’ you with much of his abilities (if any) although can score and lead as well as any in the nation. There’s a good chance that BU will challenge Nova for the Big East throne but in order to do so, Jones will need sharpshooter Kellen Dunham, Tyler Lewis (NC State transfer), game ready Andrew Chrabascz, and a pair of Sophomore’s in Kelan Martin & Tyler Wideman. Don’t feel bad for typically undersized Butler. These are no longer the ‘underdogs’ (no pun intended), and are known for taking down giants. *Note: See the 2010 & 2011 postseason results.
12. Utah Utes
Tate’s Take: Mr. do-everything Delon Wright has moved on to the NBA after leading the Utes to the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance. There’s little doubt that Coach K (Krystkowiak, not Krzyzewski) will have Utah contending for Pac-12 supremacy this season behind their 3 seniors, Loveridge, Taylor and Tucker. Logo scouts are high on International big Jakob Poeltl who should be every bit of a double-double stat stuffer nightly. Believe it or not, many comparisons have been made to yet another former Ute and #1 draft pick: Andrew Bogut. Is Poeltl expected to be nearly as good? Probably not. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill (especially for a Sophomore). Early season matchups vs. West Coast sleeper San Diego State is on the agenda bright and early adding meetings with BYU, @Wichita State and yep, you’ve guessed it… the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils in a neutral gym which whom eliminated Utah from the NCAA Tournament last season by 6 points in the Sweet 16. Better believe revenge is on the minds of those in Salt Lake City.
13. Texas Longhorns
Tate’s Take: With Rick Barnes out and Shaka Smart in, I just might be the only person breathing oxygen that truly believes that this team has REALLY GOOD chances of going to the Final Four and as wide open as the season is, take it a step forward and say break out the scissors to cut down some nets. In order for that to happen, the Horns will have to get accustomed quickly to Shaka’s style of play in his debut season as a head coach in a Power 6 conference. It’s no secret that Smart’s VCU clubs loved to get up & down occasionally on ‘O’ and be stingy on ‘D’ providing a unique mixture that’s hard to prep for. The ultimate benefit is the difference in talent that SS has to work with in Austin than @ VCU. After turning down plenty of historic powerhouse programs in the past such as Illinois & UCLA, Hook ’em Horns is the new home and oh yea, ink Isaiah Taylor in as an All-American if he can stay healthy.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Tate’s Take: This is likely Tom Crean’s last opportunity to go from hot seat to a huge extension as IU’s head coach. If that will be the case, key players will have to stay out of trouble. Over the offseason, Emmitt Holt and frequently used athletic Hanner Mosquera-Perea were booted from the program. Although I’d like to have seen HMP & ultra-talented Troy Williams together, Thomas Bryant will step right in as a highly touted recruit to do some dirty work in the paint. Here comes the asterisk: Bryant (only a Freshman) has also been cited for disciplinary reasons that are detrimental to team rules, something Crean cannot tolerate nor afford while on his last leg in Bloomington. It’s yet to have been shown if Senior Guard Yogi Ferrell can become the leader that’s necessary for this team to succeed and advance to the next level. James Blackmon Jr. is a star in the making and wouldn’t surprise me if this was his very last season in Indy. All will fall on the hands of Crean this season as he’s under the microscope more now than ever before as the HC at IU. Dwyane Wade, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo or Robert Montgomery Knight aren’t walking back through that door. The time is now for 1 of the sport’s most storied programs.
15. Michigan State Spartans
Tate’s Take: Known for their stellar play in the month of March, there’s not another team in the country that you’d want to be paired up with in regional play of the NCAA Tournament. That said, this isn’t March and let’s face it, MSU doesn’t exactly exceed the expectations this early in the season regularly. Losing Seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson will be somewhat bothersome to Sparty where Trice’s experience as a deep shooter with limited expectations considering his size and Dawson’s athleticism & rebounding especially on the offensive end will be tough to overlook. Though still young as a Sophomores, Marvin Clark Jr. is molded VERY SIMILARLY to Dawson and much improved Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn is slowly but surely getting more comfy in his floor leading role but still needs some assistance with his confidence on his shooting touch which we may not see for another year from now. Senior Denzel Valentine will own the keys to the city and can do well, just about everything from attacking glass to scoring & defending. Known for his charismatic attitude, big bright smile, high IQ, leadership skills and court vision, ‘Zel’ is the closest thing to ‘Izzo on the floor in a uniform’ as it could possibly get since Draymond Green, Mateen Cleaves and another hometown favorite (Lansing, MI) Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. Loaded with distant wings and rangy shooters such as West Virginia transfer (eligible immediately) Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Alvin Ellis III, Bryn Forbes and Javon Bess, can a small, scoring efficient yet stifling defensive Spartan team surprise anyone else with a run to (yet another Final Four) as they did last season as a 7 seed? I doubt it but there’s just so much relying on the shoulders of their limited big bodies in the middle that consists of upperclassmen Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello.
If anyone can do it, Izzo can!