2013-14 NCAA Basketball Preview: Expect the Spartans to cut down the nets

The talk for most of the 2013-14 college basketball season will be about the next wave of fabulous freshmen and how the new "freedom of movement" rules are affecting play. What will go overlooked to a degree is the success of a team like Michigan State. With grizzled veterans and a Hall of Fame coach looking for title No. 2, the Spartans won't care about being a story in November; they'll enjoy being the center of attention in early April.

Tom Izzo has a great shot to lead Michigan State to another title,
its first since 2000. Will he do it? Deuce2Sports says, "Yes!" (AP)

1. Michigan State If there is every a year Tom Izzo will get his second title, this is it. The awe and wonder of the fabulous freshmen scattered throughout the nation will get most of the attention but this upperclassmen-laden team with anywhere from 3-5 NBA prospects has all the tools to win the title. Despite losing it's big post force in Derrick Nix the Spartans return everything else, led by experience and the goal of winning the national championship - not just making the Final Four - for the first time since the early 2000s.

2. Kansas
Outside of a few blips in NCAA Tournament shockers the Jayhawks are always peaking in March. I actually think Bill Self, not Coach K or anyone else, is the best coach in college basketball. Self gets talent, but nowhere near as much as Duke or UNC bring in but Self develops players and his teams always get better. Landing Andrew Wiggins, the "next LeBron" will be huge but it'll be Kansas' other parts that have the Jayhawks on the brink of another national title.

3. Louisville
The defending national champions will be in the mix again. I was very skeptical of Louisville entering last season but this group reminds me of three-year dynasties such as Kentucky from 1996-98 and Michigan State from 1999-2001. The team continues to reload, always improving while adding new parts. Russ Smith's decision to return, while a shocker, will be nothing but positive for the Cardinals. I don't think the Cardinals can match last year's success (it would take a national title) but another Final Four seems more than likely.

4. Ohio State

This last Final Four spot is really a coin flip between Ohio State and Oklahoma State. Thad Matta continues to be one of the most underrated coaches in America and it might surprise people but this team will actually be better without DeShaun Thomas. While Thomas was a prolific scorer it became the DT show way too often in Columbus the past few years. With no "go-to" guy it means the Buckeyes will have a team full of weapons. And believe me when I say all of them are very dangerous. 

5. Oklahoma State - Marcus Smart is this good, people. The surrounding pieces aren't that shabby either. This is the best chance for a team to snap Kansas' streak of Big XII Championships.

6. Arizona - At some point Sean Miller's recruiting success is going to translate into a deep NCAA run, right? (It should be noted Arizona did reach the Elite Eight in 2011 before falling to eventual national champs UConn). Still, as a No. 5 seed the entire season seemed underwhelming. Here's a guess Arizona looks really, really good from start to finish.

7. Kentucky - What will go down as the best recruiting class in all of history (Kentucky hauled in five of the top 11 Rivals players (6 of 19) might not translate to Final Four much less a national title. Remember how great Michigan's Fab Five was in the early 1990s? The class wasn't nearly this talented but did manage back-to-back NCAA title-game losses. Can Kentucky repeat that feat or best it? Absolutely. The feeling here is the lack of a great PG will be UK's undoing in a very good-but-not-great season.

8. Michigan - Michigan's success this season doesn't hinge on the back (literally) of Mitch McGary; it will hinge on the roll players and incoming freshmen. Look out for Caris LeVert to be a major player for the Wolverines as Michigan surprises many doubters with a near Final Four trip.

9. Duke Jabari Parker is the real deal but Rodney Hood will be the difference maker for the Dukies this year. Unfortunately I see another early Sweet 16 exit for the Blue Devils due to a lack of size. This is Coach K's smallest team in years and it'll show at crucial moments.

10. Syracuse - It seems too easy to put Syracuse in this spot for a plethora of reasons. First, despite the move to the ACC the Orange are still talented. Another weak nonconference schedule (outside of a meh Maui Invitational field and Indiana at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) plus the chances to rack up notable ACC victories (Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina) will give Syracuse another gaudy record, high NCAA seed and fairly easy path to the Sweet 16.

11. North Carolina - Roy's boys will be running and gunning again this season. The Tar Heels will benefit from a brutal schedule, including a game at Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, that will boost their RPI ranking as well as give UNC plenty of opportunities to cash in on notable victories. The team will get past some early bumps due to suspensions and NCAA investigations to give Duke a slight scare in the ACC title race.

12. Memphis - Josh Pastner recorded his first NCAA Tournament win last year before falling to Michigan State in the Round of 32. With all the talent he's brought to Tiger Nation it seems a Sweet 16 will be the next step, no? 

13. Connecticut - It feels like Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have been in college for a decade. The senior-junior combo will get a chance not only to play in the NCAAs this year but will have a legitimate shot to reach the Final Four. This team reminds me a little of Duke -- plenty of athletes but will get exposed by a bigger, more physical team. 

14. VCU - Havoc is alive and well. It's not just Shaka Smart's system that keeps VCU successful year after year but also the fact he's bringing in some talented players. This will be a disciplined team that most teams will hope to avoid being near on Selection Sunday's bracket reveal.

15. New Mexico - Gone is Steve Alford but remaining is much of the nucleus of a team that went 29-6 last year and was stunned by Harvard in the NCAAs. Given another chance the Lobos will reach the tourney's second weekend.

16. Gonzaga - Hard to believe Gonzaga hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2009 and has only won two NCAA games in one year twice since 2002. The program is too good to continue that stretch. 

17. Wichita State - I won't call last year's Final Four run a miracle, especially because the Shockers had Louisville on the ropes in the national semifinals, but to expect anything close to a repeat would be unfair. The Shockers lost a lot and while Gregg Marshall will make his parts work together the goal should be the Sweet 16 in 2014.

18. Marquette - Never, ever doubt Buzz Williams. Find me a coach who gets good-but-not-great players to player harder than Buzz and I'll slap you in the face for being an idiot.

19. Notre Dame - The move to the ACC might actually be beneficial to Notre Dame. The Irish are already talented but the styles of play in the ACC might bring out the best in Mike Brey's team. Look for former Michigan State big man Garrick Sherman, he who wore the Superman cape during last year's 5 OT thrilling win vs. Louisville, to be a huge force this season. 

20. Pittsburgh - Jamie Dixon's club will rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 season. Mark my words: This team will be a major NCAA sleeper and could very well be in the ACC title hunt in March.

21. Florida - Despite all the injuries and early-season suspensions the Gators have too much talent to find themselves in a NIT-type situation. If folks in Gainsville level their respective expectations this season things will seem fine. Expecting a fourth-straight Elite Eight (or better) is just unrealistic.

22. Tennessee - Like Marquette, this team will out-hustle most of its opponents on the floor. In a weaker SEC that really is Kentucky and everyone else, Tennessee could very well be No. 2.

23. Harvard - Forget that this team plays in the Ivy League and really flies under the radar. The Crimson will be solid from start to finish this season. 

24. Oregon - Chalk this one up to football success helping out a basketball program. I like the Ducks as the No. 2 team in the Pac-12. 

25. Georgetown - Debate Josh Smith's immediately eligibility all you want (it's ridiculous, yes) but he's going to be a major factor for the Hoyas all season long. John Thompson III will have this team playing great defense and it'll have just enough offense to win a lot of games.

Filling out the Round of 32: Baylor, Creighton, Virginia, Texas, Iowa, UCLA, Boise State.


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