1. Duke and Butler aren’t going anywhere.
In the run-up to this year’s tourney, pundits liked to note how poorly last year’s #1 seeds were faring. Perennial powerhouses North Carolina and Connecticut missed the NCAA tournament altogether after having atrocious seasons, and Louisville needed a late-season surge just to make the tourney. This type of turnover is unlikely to happen next year. In fact, there is a significant chance that the top two teams in the nation will be the same ones that treated us to an instant classic this year.
Defending champion Duke will likely be the favorite to win next year’s title. The Blue Devils lose senior point guard Jon Scheyer, but he will be replaced by one of the best recruits in the nation in Kyrie Irving and Liberty transfer Seth Curry (yes, he’s Stephen’s brother), who averaged over 20 points a game as a freshman in 2008-09. Duke’s frontcourt shouldn’t miss a beat either, as the Plumlee brothers will step right in for Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, who are also graduating. Stars Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will have a great chance to leave Durham with back-to-back titles. A note of caution: If my Blue Devils prediction doesn’t hold up, I won’t be terribly surprised – after all, I couldn’t have been more wrong with my pre-season prediction that Duke would continue to fall further behind UNC.
The lovable Butler team that Duke edged in the final may be back in the Final Four as well. Head Coach Brad Stevens decided to stay in Indianapolis and signed a 12-year extension, making it more likely that star Gordon Hayward will remove his name from the NBA Draft. If Hayward returns, Butler will have its fearsome trio of Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack back, and you can bet that they will be hungry after missing a national championship by inches.
2. Michigan State and Purdue will be back atop the Big Ten.
ichigan State, which has now made back-to-back Final Fours, has a very good shot at making it three in a row. Point guard Kalin Lucas, who missed most of Michigan State’s tourney run with a torn ACL, will be back to lead the Spartans and chase his second Big Ten Player of the Year title. He will be joined by emerging stars Durrell Summers, who averaged 19 points in the NCAAs, and Draymond Green, the do-everything forward who put up 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists per game last year. And the Spartans have the best coach in the nation in Tom Izzo, who has led Michigan State to an unbelievable six Final Fours in the last twelve seasons.
Challenging the Spartans every step of the way will be Purdue, which was poised for a Final Four run before star forward Robbie Hummel tore his ACL late in the regular season. Center JaJuan Johnson and guard E’Twaun Moore have declared for the NBA Draft, but neither have hired agents and both are likely to return to school. If they join a fully recovered Hummel, this talented trio of Indianans will be playing together for the fourth year and will not be satisfied with anything short of a national title. You won’t find three players that complement each other better or play with more chemistry. All three take good shots, rebound the ball and can score in bunches. It’s clear that Butler is not the only school in Indiana that plays fantastic team basketball.
3. Coach Calipari will be experiencing déjà vu for the fourth time in a row.
In 2007, John Calipari brought 6-foot-4 point guard Derrick Rose, the #3 overall recruit in the nation, to Memphis, and after leading the Tigers to the national title game, Rose became the #1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. In 2008, Calipari recruited 6-foot-5 point guard Tyreke Evans, the #6 overall recruit in the nation, and following a great freshman year, Evans became the #4 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. In 2009, Calipari recruited 6-foot-4 point guard John Wall, the #1 overall recruit in the nation, to his new school Kentucky, and after being named First Team All-America and helping the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, Wall will become the #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
So if I told you that the #1 overall recruit this year is a 6-foot-3 point guard named Brandon Knight who is projected to be a top-5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, you might venture a guess that he would be headed to play for Calipari at Kentucky. And of course, you’d be right. Like Rose, Evans and Wall before him, Knight is a lock to put up big numbers and bolt to the pros after one year. These guys may not technically be clones, but they’re virtually indistinguishable in terms of the way they run Calipari’s dribble-drive offense.
Furthermore, Wall came to Lexington last year alongside a pair of 5-star recruits in center DeMarcus Cousins and combo guard Eric Bledsoe. This year, Knight will arrive in Lexington with 5-star recruits in center Enes Kanter and, yes, combo guard Doron Lamb.
Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Undoubtedly, Calipari will continue to win games at Kentucky and make runs in the NCAA Tournament. But for the sake of his sanity, let’s hope that he is not expecting to win a national title with his newest crop of freshmen. There’s no reason to believe next year will be different.
Such could be said about much of college basketball.