Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NFL Draft Preview 2012

The last time the Lions picked 23 or lower they
drafted Robert Porcher at No. 26 in 1992 (AP).


It's an odd year for the NFL Draft here in Detroit. For the first time since 2000, the Lions will be picking in the 20s (barring any sort of trade, of course). With the 23rd pick, it's the lowest first-round selection for Detroit since 1992 when it used the No. 26 pick on then-South Carolina State DE Robert Porcher. (*Detroit did trade away its 1993 first round pick making the first selection at No. 33 in the second round).


That said, the consensus seems to be this: There are about 10 can't-miss players who should go in the Top 10 and, after that, the next 15-25 guys are pretty interchangeable. That'll make this a very interesting three days from New York.


The one thing I didn't do that I've done in the past with Mock Drafts is project trades. However, I do see three things more than likely to happen: Dallas trading up, possibly just a few slots, to make sure it gets its guy; Detroit getting plenty of calls at No. 23 from other teams wanting to move up; New England trading the 27th pick, likely to Cleveland for its second rounder (No. 37) and third rounder to grab Brandon Weeden if he's still available.


(*Cleveland is picking 3rd here, taking Richardson,
while Minnesota is taking Clairborne 4th.)




The following is a list of current first-round selection positions with two players (sometimes, it might be the same player): Who the team WILL pick, and who I think the team SHOULD pick.


1. Indianapolis Colts
Will pick: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Should pick: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Analysis: I don't necessarily buy that Luck is the next coming of Peyton Manning, but what I do love about him is his worth ethic. The fact he ran a very complex offense at Stanford -- he would come to the line with three different plays and then, after reading the defense, would select the best one -- and did so very well. The Colts need more help, but Luck gives them the cornerstone player to help replace Peyton.

There will be no surprises with Luck and RGIII going 1-2 (AP).


2. Washington Redskins
Will pick: Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Should pick: Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Analysis: It isn't that RGIII is worse than Luck -- though, I do think Luck's track record is substantially more impressive -- it's that Luck fits the Colts while RGIII fits the 'Skins. 


3. Cleveland Browns
Will pick: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Should pick: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Analysis: The trade to move up one spots seals the deal: Cleveland is taking Richardson. I think the Browns would have gotten him anyway, but I guess giving up a 4th, 5th and 7th was worth it.

If Richardson doesn't go in the Top 5, he  might slip a lot (AP).

4. Minnesota Vikings

Will pick: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Should pick: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Analysis: Many mocks have USC OT Matt Kalil going here and he could. The Vikings need so much help and I don't see Kalil as the game-changing LT that Joe Thomas was years ago. This isn't to say Kalil will be like Baylor's Jason Smith (read: bust), but I think teams need to realize the best LT in a draft class isn't necessarily a game-changing LT. This has to be a can't-miss player and Claiborne is a can't-miss corner.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will pick: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Should pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Analysis: With Richardson and Claiborne gone, the Bucs have their worst nightmare. I don't see them grabbing Blackmon with so many defensive needs. Here's a reach for Ingram.

6. St. Louis Rams

Will pick: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Should pick: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Analysis: If the Rams really feel Sam Bradford is the guy, which I believe they do, they should find a way to protect him. It's the reason why, even if Blackmon falls this far I don't think the Rams would pull the trigger; they have too many other needs.  

7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Will pick: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Should pick: David DeCastro, OL, Stanford
Analysis: Keeping MJD happy would mean going for O-line help (DeCastro or others) but with Blackmon available it'll help out Gabbert's development. Don't be shocked, if Blackmon's available, that the Jags field numerous calls to trade down.

8. Miami Dolphins
Will pick: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Should pick: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Analysis: It is probably the worst-kept secret that Tannehill is going to be reunited with his college coach Mike Sherman. Outside of Luck and RGIII, the group of QBs is all pretty similar. It would make more sense to get better value at QB in Round 2 and get a defensive playmaker here. However, I understand reuniting Tannehill with his former college coach and Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. I just don't believe Tannehill will be a long-term NFL QB, which is why I'd go with another impact player.

9. Carolina Panthers
Will pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Should pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Analysis: In reality, either Gilmore or Quinton Coples would be a hometown hit here and both would be instant impact defenders.

10. Buffalo Bills
Will pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Should pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Analysis: While there have been rumors that Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd might go here, Cox falling into Buffalo's lap is great. Now, grabbing an OT in Round 2 is a must.


11. Kansas City Chiefs

Will pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Should pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Analysis: Kansas City has so many holes (remember that 48-3 beatdown at Detroit?) but defense is the biggest. My guess is, with Mark Barron available here, Kansas City will field plenty of offers and end up moving down. Kuechly is the guy, however, if picking here or within five spots lower.
Dallas might have to trade up to get the guy its wants: Mark Barron (AP).

12. Seattle Seahawks
Will pick: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Should pick: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Analysis: Seattle's two biggest needs are LB and DE so the 'Hawks will also look at Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw but they'll go with the high-upside Coples. Don't be surprised if Dont'a Hightower goes here either, however, as some believe he's better than Kuechly.

13. Arizona Cardinals
Will pick: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Should pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Analysis: If the Cardinals brass believes Floyd opposite of Fitzgerald is a dynamic 1-2 punch, it won't pass him up. There are more pressing needs on defense though. Problem is, without a second rounder, Arizona would need to trade out of this spot to get back into the second round. It's highly possible teams wanting Alabama SS Mark Barron, if he's still here, (who will go no later than No. 14 to Dallas) will move up here. (*I would not be shocked if Dallas moves up a handful of spots to make sure it can get Barron. Look for it to be discussed on draft day).

14. Dallas Cowboys
Will pick: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Should pick: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Analysis: Dallas wants Mark Barron as he's very similar to Roy Williams II. The 'Boys likely will have to trade up to get him and the price might be too much. However, that has never stopped Jerry Jones in the past; Dallas has traded its first-round pick 75 percent of the time under Jones. 

15. Philadelphia Eagles
Will pick: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Should pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Analysis: Jones is the kind of player that'll be a star in Philly and he'll have a year to develop as he plays sparingly. Keeping Vick upright, however, should be the main goal and passing on Reiff could be a huge mistake if he's available.

16. New York Jets
Will pick: David DeCastro, OL, Stanford
Should pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
Analysis: The Jets have a bunch of needs. If Ingram falls to this spot the Jets will snatch him up. That, however, is very unlikely. Upshaw would be the No. 2 DE, but I'm guessing there will be some player that falls from the Top 10 and the Jets will grab him as the best player available. In this mock it's DeCastro.

17. Cincinnati Bengals
Will pick: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Should pick: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Analysis: The questions surrounding Kirkpatrick's off-field issues might scare the Bengals away with their first pick and grabbing Upshaw isn't a bad choice. Kirkpatrick will be the better pro, however, and that's why I can't see Cincinnati passing him up.

Kirkpatrick is a game-changing corner and the draft's best (AP).

18. San Diego Chargers
Will pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Should pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Analysis: If Reiff is available he's the guy here. If not, look for Georgia's OT/G Cordy Glenn to go because of his versatility (San Diego has holes at both guard and tackle and Glenn plays both).

19. Chicago Bears
Will pick: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Should pick: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Analysis: Now that Jay Cutler has Brandon Marshall again, give him another second to stand in the pocket. Martin does just that.

20. Tennessee Titans
Will pick: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Should pick: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Analysis: We know this is going to be a defensive pick and grabbing a great edge rusher makes the most sense.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Will pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Should pick: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Analysis: It's clear the Bengals haven't been scared by off-field issues before and Jenkins' baggage is there. It doesn't erase the fact he's a stud corner though. It's a coin flip between Jenkins and Wright here.

22. Cleveland Browns
Will pick: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Should pick: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Analysis: After getting Colt McCoy (or the Round 2 QB of the future) a major weapon early, getting a starting RT to put opposite of Joe Thomas solidifies the exterior O-line.

23. Detroit Lions
Will pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
Should pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
Analysis: Most Detroiters want the Lions to take a corner here or possibly a left tackle. If Riley Reiff falls that would be a dream scenario for the Lions, but it's unlikely. A trade down is a major possibility. With Cliff Avril's contract situation and the fact the D-line dramatically underperformed last year, getting Upshaw helps make the D-line a big strength once again. 
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw could very well fall to Detroit at
No. 23. There is a good chance the Lions also trade down (AP).

24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Will pick: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Should pick: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Analysis: The LB corps is getting older and Hightower just feels like a Steeler.

If Baltimore doesn't move ahead of Pittsburgh to take Hightower
it isn't likely he'll fall past the Steelers (AP).
25. Denver Broncos
Will pick: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Should pick: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Analysis: Some have MSU's Jerel Worthy going here, but Brockers has more upside in the minds of NFL scouts. He's been said to be the next Kris Jenkins.


26. Houston Texans
Will pick: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Should pick: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Analysis: It is pretty clear the Texans would like a legit No. 2 WR to pair opposite of Andre Johnson. I like Jeffery's size more than Hill's ceiling. But, in reality, we're nitpicking here.




27. New England Patriots
Will pick: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State 
Should pick: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
Analysis: I've never pegged a New England first rounder, so I don't expect to this year. Honestly, it would be a shock if the Patriots held on to this pick. Some "stud" will be falling and teams will trade up to grab him. New England is okay with that since it also has the 31st pick. I think they'll grab McClellin at 31 if he's there. (*My gut tells me Cleveland trades New England the 37th pick and a third rounder to move up 10 spots to take Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden here).

28. Green Bay Packers
Will pick: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
Should pick: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
Analysis: The Packers could go DT, DE or LB here. I think Worthy would fit more than some of the linebackers available.

Worthy's fire, which I witnessed first hand by watching all
MSU games throughout his career, will make him one of the
NFL's best defensive tackles within a few years (AP).

29. Baltimore Ravens
Will pick: Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Should pick: Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Analysis: Branch feels like a Raven and reminds me of Terrell Suggs. Seems like a perfect fit.

30. San Francisco 49ers
Will pick: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
Should pick: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
Analysis: O-line is the biggest need here and Glenn's versatility makes him a great catch.

31. New England Patriots
Will pick: Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame
Should pick: Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame
Analysis: New England usually gets such a big lead that it plays nickle coverage more than any other team. Smith is a 4-year starter who will play from Day 1 and helps the Patriots immensely.

32. New York Giants
Will pick: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Should pick: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Analysis: Poe will force double teams making life even easier for New York's plethora of DEs, however Jeffery would be a great insurance policy in case Victor Cruz wants big-time money. Plus, a pair of 6-foot-4 WRs on the outside would be heaven for Eli Manning. I could also see Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith coming off the board here as well.


BEST PLAYERS STILL AVAILABLE (in alphabetical order):
Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
Jared Crick DE, Nebraska
Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (Fla.)
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Kendall Reyes, DT, UConn
Amini Silatolu, G, Midwestern State
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State

Friday, April 20, 2012

Inside Look: Michigan State Basketball Transfers

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan said he was only following protocol when
blocking Jarrod Uthoff from possibly transferring to 26 schools,
including the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. (AP)

There has been nothing short of an uproar recently with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan blocking redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff from seemingly transferring to any Division I school (Ryan actually only blocked 26 schools - all 11 Big Ten schools, all 12 ACC schools, Marquette, Iowa State and Florida).

It wasn't until Ryan and the entire Wisconsin program experienced a Twitter assault spanning a few days coupled with a saving-face-interview-gone-terribly-wrong with ESPN's Mike&Mike Thursday morning that Ryan and Wisconsin broke the stranglehold on Uthoff's future, granting a release to any school not in the Big Ten. (The school said Thursday the ban on all non-Big Ten schools was lifted after Uthoff's meeting with school officials).

While the real problem here is the NCAA's system that allows coaches and schools to handcuff athletes but has no restrictions in place for a coach to break a contract and start work at another school immediately.

While Uthoff is only Ryan's second transfer in his 10 years at Wisconsin, it got me thinking about one of the golden programs - Michigan State - and how transfer heavy Tom Izzo's teams have been.

Izzo just finished his 17th season as the Spartans' head coach. There have been eight transfers under his watch and, surprisingly, five have come in the past four seasons.

They range from players unhappy with playing time, to those kicked off the team, to those using the NCAA's graduate program loophole to, finally, a player leaving due to a death in the family.


The constant seems to be how, regardless of how Izzo felt, the only schools "blocked" were Big Ten institutions.

I exchanged tweets with Garrick Sherman, who played for the Spartans in 2009-10 and 2010-11 before transferring to Notre Dame where he'll be eligible this season, and he confirmed Izzo's transfer policy.


Despite "booting" both Chris Allen and Korie Lucious from their respective teams that Izzo said he would be working with both players and helping them find a transfer destination.

In Lucious' case, Lucious told the media Izzo had vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.

According to Sherman, Izzo didn't intervene in his situation.


The only time Izzo might have exerted his authority similar to the way Ryan did with Uthoff and many coaches continually do today was with Brandon Cotton in 2004. While it's not certain, it appeared Izzo only blocked Big Ten schools. The issue here was whether MSU would allow Cotton three-and-a-half more years of eligibility or "screw" him out of that half year by not officially accepting the transfer until the second semester. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Cotton was eligible to play the following December at Detroit.

Other than the Doug Davis transfer early in Izzo's regime - which it seems even Izzo felt for Davis being stuck behind one of the greatest Spartans ever and likely an incoming McDonald's All-American - Cotton was the first major transfer disgruntled with playing time. 

No joke, I remember Izzo having one of his weekly Monday afternoon round tables with reporters talking about the situation. Off the record, Izzo was very candid about Cotton, dumbfounded that an incoming freshman coming off an injury had such a sense of entitlement.

"He couldn't play for months because of the stress fracture; what the **** was he expecting?" Izzo said.

Brandon Cotton (Detroit)
Continuing on, Izzo said: "Brandon may be back in school. It's going to be his decision now to just come back and go to school. He may transfer. I don't think he's made that decision yet... To me, it's a sad situation because I think a lot of people got in his ear, and as I told you before, he's had a variety of personal problems and he's had the injury.

"I think a lot of things happened that were not related to us or our team. That's all I can tell you right now. I don't know exactly what he's going to do. He's not here as a player right now. I guess if he comes back and goes to school and it worked out for him, that's his [choice]."
*********************************************************************************

Here's some other information on the non-Brandon Cotton transfers:

Doug Davis (Miami, OH)

Doug Davis: It was just a matter of bad timing for the really solid point guard. Davis was stuck playing behind Mateen Cleaves his first two years and, had he not transferred before his junior season, would have played behind Cleaves during the Spartans' 2000 NCAA National Championship. If that was going to be the only issue, chances are Davis never leaves East Lansing.

His already grim playing status didn't get any brighter when MSU recruited Marcus Taylor, the No. 3 PG recruit in the country. While Davis might have been the starter early in the year, he read the writing on the wall that he would forever be a career backup at Michigan State. 

After averaging around seven minutes and two points per game in both his years at MSU, Davis averaged close to 31 minutes per game in both years as a RedHawk, scoring 9.8 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.

Maurice Joseph (Vermont)
Maurice Joseph: MoJo, as he was known in East Lansing, was nothing more than a role player. While his brother was starting at Syracuse, MoJo was playing around 17 minutes a game for the Spartans and averaging 5.9 points. Just wanting a to be the "focal point" of an offense, MoJo talked with Izzo and the separation was mutual.

"I'm happy for Maurice," Izzo said at the time. "This was an amicable situation, and he handled things the right way. He will always be a part of us. Vermont seems to be a perfect fit for MoJo in terms pf playing basketball for a successful team, playing less than two hours from home and at a strong academic institution. I'll miss him because he's a great kid."

Tom Herzog (UCF)
Tom Herzog: Despite graduating in four years, Herzog had a year of eligibility left because he redshirted his first year. There is little doubt that Herzog, at 7-feet, knew he could be a big-time player at a smaller school. Michigan State's pool of big men was so strong that Herzog just wasn't going to be a 25-minute-a-game player. Herzog never got those minutes at UCF either, playing 16 minutes a game and scoring 5.7 points, grabbing 3.5 rebounds and recording a pair of blocks each game.

It was a peaceful separation, with Izzo somewhat putting the blame on himself.

"He works his butt off," Izzo said. "He's a great kid. He's one of the few big men who has a passion for basketball. I don't know, because of the Big Ten, because of some injuries he's had, because of me -- whatever -- it just didn't work out for him here."

Chris Allen (Iowa St.)
Chris Allen: Despite all his flashes of greatness, Allen and Izzo always seemed to clash. If you watched Allen's body language throughout games, it was clear he wasn't the type of player who could accept Izzo's tough love and constant criticism. That coupled with some off-court incidents were too much for Allen to continue playing at Michigan State.

Described as a "schism enabler," by some, much of the chemistry issues during MSU's surprise Final Four run in 2009-10 were linked back to Allen.

"It's been no secret that Chris Allen's been in a tenuous position since spring," Izzo said before the 2010-11 season. there were multiple obligations that Chris had to meet in order to return for his senior season. While he did make progress through the summer, he has failed to meet all obligations and will not be a part of our program this fall."

In his "going away" statement, Allen said that Izzo was straightforward with him and that he was leaving on good terms with all the coaches.

Allen had his best college season this past year at Iowa State. He logged a career high in minutes (29.2 per game), free throw percentage (82.2), points (12.2), assists (2.3) and steals (0.6). The only dips came in his field goal percentage, which dropped from 43 percent his junior year at MSU to 37.6 percent at Iowa State, and his 3-point shooting (36.9 percent down from 39.8 percent).

Garrick Sherman (Notre Dame)
Garrick Sherman: This was no doubt a quiet, under-the-table transfer that didn't generate a lot of buzz. It's unclear whether Izzo ever addressed Sherman specifically, but the initial press release did say Izzo "appreciated Sherman's contributions."

Other than the fact Izzo, according to Sherman (tweet pictured above) didn't help him find another school, the one clue that this wasn't the cleanest break was another line in the press release. After acknowledging Sherman's contributions, Izzo said he was looking forward to an offseason "with players committed to Spartan basketball."

It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines there; Izzo seemed miffed that Sherman didn't understand or embrace his role on the team.

Sherman will play his final two seasons at Notre Dame beginning this fall.

Korie Lucious (Iowa St.)
Korie Lucious: When rumors surfaced of Lucious' suspension, people flocked to his Twitter page and found the now infamous message: "Man did I really mess up this time...off 2 the gym I go!"

Later, Lucious spoke with the media and said, "Everything just didn't work out, so I think it's time to move on. We just didn't see eye-to-eye on things. Just little minor things that I could have done better on my part."

Despite what seemed to be an ominous relationship toward the end, Lucious said he still talked with Izzo almost daily and that Izzo vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.

Obviously, that "fit" was at Iowa State where Lucious will conclude his college career this upcoming season.

Dwaun Anderson (Wagner)
Dwaun Anderson: Despite never playing at MSU, this Top-100 recruit would still fall under the transfer category. Anderson was dealing with an ailing mother who ended up passing before he was to start his freshman season.

Anderson never enrolled at MSU and Izzo was completely supportive in Anderson focusing on everything but basketball at that moment.

"We know it's been a difficult last few years for Dwaun, culminating with the death of his mother this spring. He's trying to iron out his personal life before moving onto his collegiate and basketball life. We will be supportive of him throughout this process, understanding there are things in life more important than basketball."

For reasons unknown, Anderson has ended up at Wagner College where he'll begin his collegiate career this fall.
*********************************************************************************
Including Cotton, Izzo has had seven transfers in the past decade. That is a pretty high number but is the same number Duke's had. That said, seven transfers is nothing compared to Kentucky's 17 and UConn's 14 in the past 10 years.

It's tough to really put Kentucky in the same class with multiple coaching changes (Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari) since coaching transfers usually incur player transfers.

It would be interesting to see a list of all major colleges and their respective transfer rates over the past decade (or, worst case, under the current head coach).

The fact remains, transferring has become an epidemic. After the 2010-11 season, 271 players transferred according to College Hoops Update. This year has felt worse, but there have only been 192 players transferring according to the same Web site. That number, of course, is expected to grow as many transfer requests happen during the summer months.

There are many reasons for the rapidly increasing transfer rate: More and more coaching changes, the 1-year renewable scholarship and playing time are only the obvious ones. There are dozens of other reasons that will keep this an epidemic until NCAA changes are made. In the meantime, a coach who averages less than one transfer every two seasons like MSU's Izzo is actually doing incredibly well in retrospect.

For the most part, MSU's Tom Izzo has avoided the transfer
hardships that programs like UConn and Kentucky have had
to endure over the past decade. (AP)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Way Too Early College Basketball Top 32 for 2012-13

While many "Way Too Early" Top 25s are posted the days after the national championship game, those are more for the shock factor and because there is still a need for college basketball coverage and the games have concluded.

The ideal time for a set of "Way Too Early" rankings is the eve of the NBA Draft (April 28 this year) but for the sake of not going a near month between college basketball stories, a week after college athletes are forced to keep their names in or pull their names out of the NBA Draft seems like the second-most logical time for a sneak peek to the 2012-13 season.

It should be noted that players who have not yet declared for the draft can do so at any time before April 28, so there obviously can still be changes. There are also dozens of high-level recruits who have yet to commit.


If the "Way Too Early" Top 32 is correct, Kansas' Bill Self will
be able to take the NCAA Championship trophy back to home
to Lawrence, Kansas, for the first time since 2008. (AP)


1. Kansas
Underestimate Bill Self and the Jayhawks once, shame on you. Underestimate the duo twice? Well, then you're an idiot. Kansas overachieved in 2011-12, which means things should only get better. I loved Thomas Robinson and he'll be sorely missed. I hated Tyshawn Taylor and, despite all the accolades thrown his way by his coach, his graduation will be a blessing for the Jayhawks. Is this a risky pick? Absolutely. But I'd be willing to wager a few potato chips that Kansas lasts longer in the 2013 NCAA Tournament than everyone else's sure-fire No.1 Indiana. A few new faces but similar dominant talent will keep the Rock-Chalk Jayhawks relevant for all of 2013. 

2. Kentucky
The  revolving-door Wildcats lose a lot (Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller,  Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) but don't think that means Coach Calipari is in for a measly 20-win season. Coach Cal can flat out run a team and get divas to play defense. That, coupled with gifted athletic abilities and limitless offense games, is a recipe for success. There is enough incoming talent to repeat as national champions but taking the field is more smarter. The names Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel, NC State transfer Ryan Harrow (and possibly Anthony Bennett)  will be Fab Five-esque in the future. I can this 3-year stretch(2012-2014) of Kentucky basketball looking like the 1996-1998 years (championship, runner-up finish, championship).


3. Baylor
The Bears lose their heart and soul in Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III is heading to the NBA, but the rest of the core is intact. I believe Pierre Jackson is one of the best (read: Top 3) point guards in the country and Brady Heslip's ability as a Ray Allen-type 3-point shooter is deadly. Top-5 recruit Isaiah Austin will put the Bears in their first Final Four. 

4. UCLA
The Bruins are a tough team to gauge. This isn't just about a pair of Top 3 recruits (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson); it's about a team that drastically underachieved in 2012 because of chemistry issues. With those resolved, I expect UCLA to mirror Michigan State's rise from the one-year-into-purgatory ashes from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Ben Howland can coach and ridding the program of excess baggage was difficult but it'll pay big dividens this season.

5. Memphis
At some point the Tigers will make a Butler-type run, right? Josh Pastner's squad is bound to pick up some big nonconference wins (the one thing missing from the 2011-12 resume that regulated Memphis to a No. 8 seed) and another blitzing through Conference USA - the last before heading to the Big East - should be enough to secure a Top 4 seed.  

6. Indiana
Listen, I really like Indiana. Tom Crean is one of my favorite coaches molded from the Tom Izzo coaching tree. But I even feel this is a tad high for Indiana. Why? The team plays no defense. None. Some will say to ignore the 102-90 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. Even if we do, Indiana still surrendered 89 points to Iowa and 82 points to Penn State. It Indiana wants to play like Loyola Marymount of the 1990s, that's fine, but it won't result in a Final Four or national title as many are projecting. The offense is lethal and Cody Zeller and Christian Watford both returning means IU won't miss a beat on offense. But until someone other than Victor Oladipo and Zeller play defense, this team just can't be in that Final Four discussion. 

7. Florida
The Gators have a little addition by subtraction in the case of Erving Walker. Bradley Beal's NBA departure will hurt, but that'll mean Mike Rosario, the former Rutgers transfer, will get his chance to shine. Throw in a more mature Patric Young and another solid recruiting class and Billy Donovan's gang will be sniffing the Final Four again. Only this time, expect a not-so-disappointing regular season.  

8. Michigan State
The Spartans lose do-it-all Draymond Green but this team will still be loaded for years to come. It's other departures are Brandon Wood (a fifth-year Valpo transfer) and Austin Thornton (a walk-on who worked his way into big minutes by knowing Tom Izzo's system and coming up big in key moments. If Branden Dawson gets healthy by midseason, this team will challenge for another Big Ten title. The recruiting class is loaded, led by Gary Harris. Two other Top 80 recruits (Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello) give MSU the depth it likes to have. If the injury bug stays away from East Lansing, this could be another Final Four year for Izzo & Co.


9. Arizona
Count me as one of the people who had the Wildcats peaking a year early. That won't happen again. This year's team will still have Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom returns from an injury. Like Kentucky this past season, Arizona will rely heavily on freshmen. Of course, it helps when all four recruits - Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are ranked in the Top 50. It's easy to forget that while Arizona struggled most of the season it was just a Pac-12 Tournament Championship game win away from a spot in the Big Dance. I wouldn't be surprised if 2013 ended with one win away from an Elite Eight or even Final Four.


10. Louisville
The Cardinals will be good next year, but don't fall into the trap most already are: Because Louisville reached the 2012 Final Four it should reach it again (or go further) in 2013. The Cardinals beat one higher-ranked team (No. 1 seed MSU) in their Final Four run. The other wins - No. 13 Davidson, No. 5 New Mexico and No. 7 Florida. That isn't to say Louisville didn't earn a spot in the Final Four - it did - it's just that using one phenomenal defensive performance against Michigan State shouldn't be the blueprint for a 2013 projection. (In covering the Spartans, I can say that was the worst Izzo's team played all season. Yes, even worse than the 42-41 loss at Illinois). While Louisville's offense likely can't get any worse, especially from 3-point range, the defense can't possibly be much better. Like post-bracket expectations this season, it would be wise to expect Louisville to be in the 3-4-5 seed range with a ride to the Sweet 16 but no further.

11. Cincinnati
The Bearcats are a mix between Michigan State and Marquette; typically undersized, but quick, very athletic and great on the boards. I've been a Mick Cronin fan for a while, long before he became a folk hero for the way he handled the Cincinnati-Xavier crosstown brawl fiasco. While Yancy Gates leaving will be a big blow, the Bearcats still have one of the league's best backcourts in Jaquon Parker (a star in the making), Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. It'll be interesting if Top 60 recruit Christopher Obekpa lands in a Cincy uniform. Rumors have him going to Providence, but Rivals has his only "high" interest schools as Cincinnati and St. John's. That 6-foot-8 center would really help fill Gates' void.




12. UNLV

The Runnin' Rebels will be Mike Moser's team again but Khem Birch will be a major player in how Vegas' season goes. Birch, if you've forgotten, was a Top 10 recruit who left Pitt after a few games. The shocking move set the stage for Pitt's fall from grace last year and UNLV's bright future. The 2013 version might not be as flashing as the 2012 team, but this one might be better.


13. Missouri

Without Alex Oriakhi the Tigers were a fringe Top 25 team; with him in the post this team could be really good once again. Not only will Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey need to pick up the slack left by the departing seniors Kim English, Marchs Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe, but Laurence Bowers will have to play a key role after missing this past year with a knee injury. It will be very, very tough for the Tigers to duplicate last year's success from 3-point range -- the main reason they went 30-4 and were Big 12 Tournament Champions. The move to the SEC coupled with three impact transfers will make Missouri an interesting team to follow.

14. Texas
Call this a hunch. I don't see Rick Barnes' team being bubblicious for another year. Losing shoot-shoot-shoot guard J'Covan Brown will be a huge addition by subtraction. That, coupled with another stellar recruiting class (Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh are both Top 60 recruits) and the fact the 2012 Longhorns were one of the Big XII's youngest teams and 2013 will be sweeter. 


15. Duke
It would be foolish to doubt a Coach K team. It's sounding cliche, but Austin Rivers leaving will actually be better for Duke. Rivers was great in Duke's offense other than in creating his own shot and he didn't make teammates better. Oh, he also didn't play much defense. That was Duke's downside capped off with the shocking Round of 64 loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh. While it's not a monster recruiting class (Rasheed Sulaimon, ranked 18th at Rivals, is Duke's only Top 150 coup) the pieces are there for Duke to once again have a successful ACC season and find a way into March's second weekend. 

16. North Carolina
Lost in all this year's UNC hoopla was the fact the Tar Heels were down to their 4th-string point guard in the Sweet 16 win vs. Ohio and in the Elite Eight loss to Kansas. Losses of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller will ultimately sting, but don't kid yourself; Roy Williams' teams are always loaded with talent. UNC will score and still be an ACC threat. But without good Ol' Roy's typical level of talent it would be a shock to expect great things from the most overrated coach in the country. 



17. NC State

How did this happen so fast? Is North Carolina State really the ACC favorite? Why not. North Carolina and Duke are taking on serious losses, and the Wolfpack overachieved under Mark Gottfried (and top assistant Bobby Lutz) to get to the Sweet 16. If the Wolfpack don't get too giddy about leaving (willC.J. Leslie remain?), they should be the favorite in the conference. Gottfried has one of the top recruiting classes in the country with Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. So get ready, Raleigh. You might just have the ACC favorite.


18. Gonzaga
If there is one program these recent Final Four Cinderella runs by George Mason, Butler and VCU have made me feel sorry for it's Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were the original Cinderella, but the deepest tourney run was an Elite Eight in 1999 (Gonzaga lost 67-62 to eventual national champion UConn). That said, coaching plus continually talent makes Gonzaga a Top 25 mainstay. After a one-year hiatus, the Bulldogs should climb back to the top of the WCC thanks to uber-talented youngsters Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower.

19. Creighton
Sometimes one player makes a world of difference, especially in a mid-major conference. That's the deal with Creighton and Doug McDermott. Will the world have Dougie figured out in 2013? Possibly. But this will again be a deep team rolling through a down MVC. Anything less than a Top 7 NCAA seed would be a major surprise.

20. Ohio State
The Buckeyes will have a different look in 2013 but don't think Thad Matta's crew will fall off the face of the earth. Amir Williams had flashes of greatness and LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott are both Top 50 recruits who played sparingly last season. This will be a loaded team and, despite all the doubters, could still win the Big Ten. Deshaun Thomas staying was key and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will have to step up his game even more. The Buckeyes might need Aaron Craft to provide more offense, but this is still a 24-win team that'll be a tough out in March.

21. Minnesota
The Gophers are a major Big Ten sleeper. All five starters and nearly the entire bench returns for Tubby Smith. The NIT runner-ups have the experience of playing in the loaded conference this past season and are poised to finish games this time around. Lost in Minnesota's disappointing regular season was that the Gophers were a few minutes away from a NCAA berth if only they could have closed out a few games (see Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan). NIT wins at LaSalle, at Miami, at Middle Tennessee State and against Washington showed the true potential of this team. Expect to see much more of that Minnesota team next season.

22. San Diego State
One of the budding programs out west has been San Diego State. If you doubt Steve Fisher will have his guys playing great basketball out of November's gates you're nuts. A handful of BCS transfers plus a returning trio of Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and James Rahon will have the Aztecs battling UNLV for Mountain West supremacy.

23. Kansas State
Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin, and it isn't a terrible time to head to Manhattan. I expect Rodney McGruder to take over a Draymond Green-like role for Weber, being his voice on the floor. (Note: I am not comparing McGruder to Green in any way, other than the on-floor leadership). The core of this team returns and while Kansas, Missouri and Texas will still be the class of the Big 12, there is no reason Kansas State shouldn't be No. 4.


24. Marquette
Most pundits always save a spot in their Top 25 for Wisconsin. While that's usually smart, there is one team that has been consistently better year in and year out -- and its in the same state: Marquette. The Golden Eagles play hard every night under Buzz Williams. Unless you're a Wisconsin fan - Marquette's biggest rival - how can you not like Marquette? (Okay, maybe West Virginia fans have a beef after Buzz's celebratory dance to "Take Me Home, Country Roads" after a victory this past year). It won't be easy in 2013 as Marquette loses its best two players in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder but that seems to be the story every year and Marquette doesn't skip a beat. Despite being undersized, the athleticism and up-tempo style this team possesses will make it dangerous once again.

25. Pittsburgh
This past season was over before it began for Pitt. Despite the early-season success, Khem Birch's decision just seemed to send shock waves through the Panthers' team. Then the injury to Tray Woodall was the dagger. That said, Pitt won its first postseason championship in a while (we can celebrate the CBI title, right?) and that momentum should be nothing but positive for this season. Jamie Dixon always has his teams ready to play and, outside of last year's outlier, is always a beast in the Big East. Woodall's return along with Lamar Patterson's further development means Pittsburgh should approach that 25-win mark once again.

26. Michigan


Never underestimate what seniors mean to a team. Michigan loses two in Zack Novak and Stu Douglass that really helped the underclassmen the past three years. While Michigan has talent, the pieces aren't exactly what John Beilein wants for his 3-point shooting clinic. Trey Burke's decision to return is big and Tim Hardaway Jr. can be lethal when he wants. Add two stud recruits in Glenn Robinson Jr. and Mitch McGary and the Wolverines will have loads of talent. The issue will be 3-point shooting, which is something odd in Ann Arbor. That will be the problem that keeps Michigan from the Final Four aspirations many are projecting.

27. St. Louis


St. Louis' win over Memphis in the Round of 64 showed that despite lacking the athleticism of some big-time programs, the Billikens can win with defense. Kwamain Mitchell is a very good player that you probably haven't heard of while Dwayne Evans and Mike McCall are also names you should get familiar with. The Billikens should go head-to-head with Xavier and Temple for the A-10 crown.

28. Butler
Brad Stevens' team should be the Horizon League's best again in 2013. Ronald Nored leaving is big -- he's the last big-time player from the back-to-back NCAA Runner-up finish squads -- but Andrew Smith, Chase Stigall and Khyle Marshall all form a nice core. Add in Roosevelt Jones, a Top 125 recruit in 2011 and Kellen Dunham, a Top 100 recruit this year, and Butler should be back to wrecking defensive havoc on its conference and the country.


29. Wisconsin
I'm expecting big things from Top 20 recruit Sam Dekker. It isn't often Bo Ryan snags a player of that talented. Jordan Taylor's graduation create a huge point guard void. If Wisconsin can find a suitable replacement or a suitable PG committee another Top 4 Big Ten finish will be in the books. That said, I'm still expecting a year like 2008-09, where Wisconsin lost a lot, finished 20-13 with a 10-8 Big Ten record. That season, where Michigan State won the league by four games, Wisconsin finished in a 3-way tie for fourth. 

30. Syracuse

Don't be fooled by another hot start for the Orange this season. Syracuse loses more than meets the eye in Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. There are enough pieces to continue Jim Boeheim's success - Michael Carter-Williams should be a stud and C.J. Fair should have more freedom to excel - but there is nowhere to go but down from a 34-3 season. 



31. Tennessee
Cuonzo Martin showed why he was a great hire for the Vols last season. By instilling the defense and toughness mantra in the SEC the Vols will be able to scrap wins against the big boys (Kentucky and Florida) more often than other teams who try and outscore the league's best (read: Vanderbilt). Despite not having any mega recruits, the roster seems to have enough names that some unknown should step up. (Seriously, how many players can be on a college basketball roster?) A healthy Jarnell Stokes will be key in Tennessee's climb back up the national ladder.

32. Maryland
I like the pieces Mark Turgeon has in place in College Park. Terrell Stoglin and Alex Len form one of the best inside-outside duos in the country. Couple that with Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman - a pair of Top 70 recruits who'll play in the post - and there is no reason why Maryland shouldn't be next in the ACC pecking order after the Big Three (Duke, UNC, N.C. State).

OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:  Alabama, Villanova, Stanford, New Mexico, St. Mary's, Xavier, Iowa