6. Indiana - The summer in Bloomington was marred by more Kelvin Sampson recruiting issues. The man of many phone calls and text messages became the three-way caller. Slapped on the wrist once before, Sampson had to forfeit his $500,000 bonus as punishment. While all of this was going on, the IU campus was a buzz over their best team since 1993. Freshman Eric Gordon will be this year's Kevin Durant. He can drop 30 on anybody with his NBA three point range, his lightning quickness, and amazing athleticism. He is the biggest recruit to step on the IU campus since Isiah Thomas. While Gordon is killing it from the outside, PF D.J.White will be controlling the post. The best defensive big man in the Big Ten, White's offense game has expanded each year. Nobody would ever have though he'd still be here, but he is and he is ready to dominate. A deep supporting cast led by slick shooting point guard Armon Bassett who played a huge role as a Freshman, floor-burn king Lance Stemler, PF Mike White, Senior G A.J. Ratliff, and JUCO transfer JaMarcus Ellis. The man who is under the radar but you will know come March is Freshman G Jordan Crawford. Sampson loves this combo guard, who dropped 30 in his preseason debut this past weekend. Enjoy Gordon while you can too, he'll be long gone from Bloomington after this year.
5. Kansas - Here is where my beloved Jayhawks will start the season in our rankings. The bad? F Julian Wright who said "guaranteed" he'd stay in Lawrence three years, bolted for the NBA lottery. All-American Wing Brandon Rush is coming off a torn ACL and won't be ready until December 1st at the earliest. The Good? Without that knee injury, Rush was gone to the NBA. Everyone but Wright returns for a #1 seeded squad. The backcourt maybe the best in the country, with combo guard and ultra-clutch Mario Chalmers, super-Soph three point and cross-over killer Sherron Collins, and the heart and soul of the Jayhawks, defensive stopper Russell Robinson. Senior wing Rodrick Stewart will also provide big minutes until Rush returns. The front-court goes four deep, featuring preseason all-Big 12 PF Darrell Arthur. C Sasha Kaun can play big at times, but is an enigma. McDonald's All-American C Cole Aldrich will play extended minutes, as will Senior PF and my favorite player in college basketball, Darnell Jackson. Nobody plays harder or with more heart. Bill Self better get to his elusive first Final Four this year, because this team will lose five seniors, Rush and most likely Arthur to the NBA, and possibly Chalmers and Collins as well.
4. UCLA - Like Kansas, everyone is back except one key piece, The Bruins' being SG Arron Afflalo. Affallo is gone, but the best Freshman big man in the country will be plugged into the starting lineup in his place. Kevin Love has all the moves in the post that make coaches drool. His all around game has been praised widely. Arizona coach Lute Olson calls Love ''the best outlet passer I've seen since Wes Unseld.'' So you've got Love in the middle, flanked by defensive wizard Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata-Real. Running the show is Junior Darren Collison, who was just named AP first team All-American. There may not be a better defensive Guard in the country, nor a better leader. He is also a deadly three-point shooter, who led the PAC-10 in percentage. His big shots killed Kansas down the stretch in the West Regional Finals. Next to Collison is SG Josh Shipp, who is expected to take over Afflalo's role as the top perimeter scorer. He will also draw the assignment of the other team's best wing scorer. A deep bench includes veterans Michael Roll, the three point specialist, PF Alfred Aboya, F James Keefe, and this year's breakout Bruin, G Russell Westbrook. You also cannot discount coach Ben Howland who turned this program back into a National Power in just four short years. There is no reason they cannot return to their third straight Final Four.
3. Memphis - The last two years, the Memphis Tigers have ended their season just one game short of the Final Four. They are hoping that all ends this year, and the man who will taken them over the hump is dynamic Freshman Point Guard Derrick Rose. The #1 rated PG in the nation, Rose will start from day one. He has incredible court vision and a knack for getting his teammates the ball, yet can still average 20 a game. Said his coach John Calipari ''He's a kid who is more concerned with blending than trying to come in and be 'the man.' He's talented, but he's also unassuming.'' With the amount of talent the Tigers have, those are good qualities to possess. SG Chris Douglas-Roberts, like Rose, is capable of being an All-American. At 6-6, he is a shooting guard who is a very tough guy to defend. He can play all three guard spots if need be and will likely improve on his 15 ppg this season. Starting PF Robert Dozier is extremely athletic and C Joey Dorsey (6-9, 260) is a load in the post. If he stays out of foul trouble, he will own the boards most nights. You've got shooter Doneal Mack off the bench, as well as steady Guards Willie Kemp, and Andre Allen. oh yeah, Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggert is eligible as well to back up Dorsey and Dozier. Did I mention heady guard Antonio Anderson will be starting as well? College coaches kill for that kind of depth. Calipari's greatest task will be finding the right combinations and keeping everyone happy. With this kind of talent, he could be cutting down the nets in April.
2. North Carolina - Doesn't it seem that since Roy Williams took over in Chapel Hill, the team is always loaded? They lose Freshman Brandan Wright? So what, they still have the premier post man in the country in Tyler Hansbrough and Stud Sophomore Deon Thompson takes over Wright's spot. Guards Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson both started every game as Freshman and a regression isn't in the cards. Lawson is a blur with the ball and Ellington stepped up as their most clutch shooter at the end of the season. Senior SF Marcus Ginyard is their lock down defender. Junior Danny Green has played some big minutes in his career and expects to see more of the same. 6'9 Alex Stephenson will back up Hansbrough and Thompson. Less depth this year will only help Williams. Last year, he seemed to tinker way too often with his team, as he went 11 deep. At the end of games, other than Hansbrough and Lawson, the other three slots were like a revolving door. Take it from a Kansas grad, Roy Williams does his best work with an eight man rotation where the roles are defined. You will see that this year. Last year's season ended with the epic choke job against Georgetown. The Heels were extremely young then. What a difference a year will make.
1. Tennessee - Yes, you are reading correctly. MTAC's pick to win it all is Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers. There style of play is fantastic to watch: run and gun, full court pressure, three point chucking. They are physical and have taken on the personality of their fiery coach. SG Chris Lofton is the most clutch shooter in college basketball and a first-team All-American. He beats you from deep, and takes you off the dribble. Then you get to the Smith's. PG Ramar, a Sophomore out of Detroit, is an NBA prospect who is th perfect catalyst for Pearl's offense. He's got a serious motor and loves to drive and kick it to spot up shooters. One of those shooters is SG JaJuan, a Senior who Pearl describes as "one of the most overlooked players to have played here. He scored over 15 a game last year and led the SEC in steals; another perfect fit for the Pearl system. Finally we come to Tyler, the 6-7 Sophomore transfer from Iowa. The NCAA actually did something good for once, allowing Tyler to transfer home to be near his father who is battling lung cancer without penalty. As a Freshman, he averaged 14.9 PPG and instantly becomes the best big man in Knoxville. His talent is more than welcomed, especially with the up in the air status of 6'7 F Duke Crews, who was suspended after Marijuana was found in his apartment. 6-9 C Wayne Chism will be counted on again to play a key role in the middle. 'There's a lot to like about Wayne's game,'' Pearl said. ''First of all, he's got inside-outside ability. Second, he's a big man who really knows how to move his feet. He's got quick feet, and he can defend. He can defend in the post. He can defend on the perimeter. And he's got a high basketball IQ.'' 6'9 Ryan Childress is another guy who can be counted on to knock down big shots and provide depth. Don't forget the 6'8 Arizona transfer and former big-time recruit J.P. Prince. Nobody wants to play this team and this style of play. With their defensive pressure and ability to shoot, Bruce Pearl's boys will be cutting down the nest in San Antonio.