After a year in basketball purgatory, the Hoosiers started the long trek back up the Big Ten standings. Sure, 4-14 in conference is not going to remind anybody of the glory days of Bob Knight, or even Mike Davis, but there was definite improvement over the 08-09 iteration of the IU squad. Nevertheless, while head coach Tom Crean was given a pass in his first year due to the necessary complete reconstruction of the program, those Indiana fans aren’t used to losing and won’t remain patient long, as this year proved.

The 10-11 version of the Hoosiers will not look a whole lot different than last year’s, but hopefully shooting guard Maurice Creek will fully recover from the knee injury that robbed him of the final 19 games of his freshman season, after having led IU in scoring through the first 12 games. Creek is a high-percentage scorer, a guy that can drop 31 on Kentucky as he did as a freshman while still shooting high percentages from all over (53% from the field, 45% from 3-pt and 76% from the line – a number which will likely improve over his career) and assuming a full recovery will again be the go-to scorer for the Hoosiers. Alongside him in Crean’s three-guard lineup will likely be senior Jeremiah Rivers and junior Verdell Jones. After Creek’s injury, Jones was as close to a clutch performer as Indiana had and was a capable scorer, despite shooting significantly lower percentages than Creek. Rivers, a transfer from Georgetown, was a bit of a disappointment for Crean’s squad. He has all the tools you look for in a big guard his size – athletic, good quickness, finishing ability, a nice jumper, good on-ball defense, penetration, passing – but has never been able to put all of those tools together to form a complete game; there is just no excuse for Rivers averaging just six point per game in over 28 minutes of playing time. Depth in the backcourt will come from sophomore point Jordan Hulls, incoming freshman Victor Oladipo, junior sharp-shooter Matt Roth and junior scrapper Daniel Moore.

Up front, Christian Watford started every game in his freshman season with the Hoosiers and will be a vital cog in the Hoosiers’ 10-11 plans. He is a bit undersized at the four, but moves well, can play out of the post, blocks some shots and is the best rebounder on the team. Junior Tom Pritchard will likely start alongside Watford up front, and he is a capable is unspectacular post-man. Ideally for Crean, either Derek Elston, Bobby Capobianco or Bawa Muniru would step up and claim, or at least challenge for, that fifth starting spot. None of the those three showed any type of consistent offensive games in their freshman seasons, but Elston and Capobianco may turn out to be better rebounders than Pritchard. Muniru, on the other hand, is an athletic freak, but is so raw that is may be another year, or even two, before the guy sees any type of significant minutes. Will Sheehey is a 6-6 incoming freshman who may get a chance to spell Watford a bit as an undersized four.

 Best case scenario in Bloomington next season is Creek getting back to form early in the season, Rivers putting his considerable talents together for his senior season, Watford bulking up a bit and the front-line depth taking a step forward, allowing the Hoosiers to creep toward .500 in conference play. Them actually getting there in 10-11 still seems unlikely, however.

This is the year and the roster that Bruce Weber and his Illinois program have been building to, ever since the rebuilding project following the ’05 run to the national championship game. All major contributors will likely return (Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey have both entered their names in the NBA Draft, but neither has hired an agent and both should return to school for their senior seasons), last year’s very good recruiting class has a year of experience and three new highly-regarded recruits join them and a roster loaded with six seniors. Last year’s Illini team fell just outside of the tournament; this year’s team, and likely the team for the near future, should be able to skate in on talent alone.

Assuming Davis and McCamey indeed pull their names out of the draft before May 8th, the Illini should return their entire starting five from 09-10. McCamey is the mercurial point guard, very talented but with some personality flaws that are likely accelerating coach Weber’s aging process. He is prone to bad shots at time, can get a little out of control and when things don’t go well for him he doesn’t always play with a sense of urgency. While he was better on all of those fronts last year than he was the year before, he still had some meltdowns as the season progressed, and he’ll need to mature in those areas in order to help his team make the most of its talent. Davis, likewise, is a talented but flawed player. At 6-9, Davis has a soft touch on his jumper and is a skilled shot-maker around the hoop. He is a very good rebounder and can block a few shots, but often shies away from physical play, a nearly fatal fault in the Big Ten. Davis’ soft play is exacerbated by the fact that he plays alongside a center, Mike Tisdale, who is more of a face-up jump-shooter than a back-to-the-basket post, leaving Illinois without a true grinder inside.

Both D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul will return for their sophomore season with experience as starters. Richardson started all but one of the Illini games while Paul started in 14 games as freshmen. Paul is an athletic slashing two-guard, while Richardson is a combo-guard than can score in a variety of ways. Both, however, shot under 40% from the field last year and each will need to significantly increase that percentage. When Paul did not start, that role went to Bill Cole, a long and lanky swingman who is a savvy player: excellent defender, good passer, three-point range and plenty of hustle.

However, it is quite possible that the fifth starting spot will not go to Cole or to Paul, but to incoming freshman swing Jereme Richmond, a fine athletic specimen that will give their frontline more of the physicality it needs. The rest of the freshman class should see playing time, but it is Richmond who will play the biggest role immediately. Meyers Leonard is a 6-11 center who, much like Davis and Tisdale, is more comfortable facing the basket and is more of a finesse big than a power guy. The final member of the class is off-guard Crandall Head, brother of former Illini guard Luther Head. He has a similar skillset to his brother, but will need to improve his shooting accuracy before he has a chance to take minutes away from either Richardson or Paul.

Rounding out the roster are players like sophomore power forward Tyler Griffey, a good interior player who will continue to get minutes through his Illini career, and senior guard Jeff Jordan, a quietly effective guard and the son of some schmuck you’ve probably never heard of. Jordan actually had the best assist-to-turnover margin on the squad and is a pretty good rebounding guard in limited minutes, although with all the talent on this team it will be interesting to see if he gets any minutes in his senior season; he may be an ideal backup point on a team loaded with off-guards.

This Illini squad is talented enough to challenge for a Big Ten title, but they’ll need to get tougher, especially in the paint, and they’ll need to get smarter, especially at the point. Those things are not out of the question, but it would require seniors to do things that they haven’t yet shown the ability to do in their previous three years. But that is sometimes exactly what seniors do.

In the past week we've gotten some good news in basketball land: NCAA tournament expanding only to 68 teams, not the 96-team scenario that would have irreparably damaged the early rounds of the tournament.While most basketball fans would certainly take 64 instead of 68, 68 is such a huge relief after having been faced with 96, that it counts as good news.

Now, there's the issue of what's going to happen with Big Ten expansion and all that it might entail. I've got an article that posted today at Rush the Court that deals with that issues, and to sum it up: it ain't pretty.

Other updates, dealing with some of the ACC previews I posted below: Kyle Singler staying at Duke for his senior season, Solomon Alabi leaving Florida State for the NBA. Singler's return cements Duke as the ACC favorite, the preseason #1 and the early favorite to repeat as NCAA champion. Alabi's departure significantly hurts FSU's outlook and I can no longer get behind them as the #2 pick in the ACC. I would drop them out of the second tier of ACC teams and put them in that big third tier of teams with Maryland, NC State, Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College.
Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Duke
  2. Florida State
  3. Virginia Tech
  4. North Carolina
  5. Maryland
  6. North Carolina State
  7. Clemson
  8. Wake Forest
  9. Boston College
  10. Virginia
  11. Georgia Tech
  12. Miami
With Singler back, Duke is clearly the favorite in the conference and the team to beat, all alone in the top tier of the conference. Next, I’d put Florida State (and note, as of 4/21 when I’m writing this, Solomon Alabi has not yet declared for the NBA draft), Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the second tier, where each would need something very special to happen for them to challenge Duke at the top . The next group of five teams will all challenge for tournament bids, with those teams that finish at the top of the tier getting in, those in the middle sweating it out on Selection Sunday, and those at the bottom NIT bound. Of course, if a 96-team tournament happens, all of those teams get in. And, probably, a team or two from the bottom tier of teams (Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami) gets in as well under that scenario, while in reasonable-land, where the NCAA tournament is still only 64 teams, all three teams in the bottom tier wrap up their seasons when they get eliminated from the ACC tournament, and two of those three team’s coaches start polishing their resumes.

All-ACC First Team
G Malcolm Delaney, Sr, Virginia Tech
G Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke
F Kyle Singler, Sr, Duke
F Harrison Barnes, Fr, North Carolina
C Solomon Alabi, Jr, Florida State

All-ACC Second Team
G Dorenzo Hudson, Sr, Virginia Tech
G Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke
F Chris Singleton, Jr, Florida State
F Tracy Smith, Sr, North Carolina State
C Jordan Williams, So, Maryland

All-Freshman Team
G Kyrie Irving, Duke
G Ian Miller, Florida State
F Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
F James Johnson, Virginia
C Carson Desrosiers, Wake Forest

In Dino Gaudio’s three years at Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons went just 61-31. Clearly, things weren’t working out, so athletic director Ron Wellman got rid of Gaudio and instead hired Jeff Bzdelik away from Colorado where he had gone 36-58 over the same time span. These types of things just make sense.

Now, to be clear, Wake faded down the stretch each of the last two years and was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, and Gaudio has received criticism for his halfcourt offense (or lack thereof) and Bzdelik certainly has the reputation as a better X’s and O’s coach, but it was still a surprising and odd turn of events in Winston-Salem. However, the Bzdelik era did get off to a successful start when he was able to retain the Wake assistant coaches and the strong five-man recruiting class that Gaudio and his staff had put together. And given that the Deacons have four starters who will not be back, including Al-Farouq Aminu who declared early for the NBA Draft, Wake will need every one of those five recruits in order to compete in the ACC in 2010-11.

The lone returning starter for Wake is sophomore guard C.J. Harris, who averaged almost 10 points per game in his freshman season. Harris is a versatile offensive performer, with athleticism, speed, deep three-point range and acrobatic finishing ability. Ari Stewart is another intriguing perimeter player coming back for his sophomore year, with three-point range from all over the court, good size and slashing ability. He will likely be the starter at the three. The Deacs also returns a couple of potential difference makers in the middle in juniors Tony Woods and Ty Walker, both five-star recruits from a couple years back who have yet to live up to their advanced billing. Woods has at least seen the court on a regular basis, but neither has developed into a productive player as of yet. But with Aminu, Chas MacFarland and David Weaver all gone, both players will have plenty of opportunities to win a spot in Bzdelik’s rotation.

The recruiting class has a little bit of everything for Bzdelik to play with. Center Carson Desrosiers is the most highly regarded of the class, and his skilled post-play should fit in well in Bzdelik’s system. He is an excellent passer, has range out to the three-point line and is still an excellent rebounder. Melvin Tabb is a power forward who has to improve his strength and interior play. Ideally, Woods and Walker earn plenty of minutes next season, allowing Tabb some time to grow into his playing time. Travis McKie is a smart swing with a pretty jumper who will likely spell Stewart at small forward. J.T. Terrell is a scoring guard who will battle Harris for playing time. And finally, Tony Chennault is the point guard of the group, and he may step into starter’s minutes right away. The Philly product doesn’t have the blinding quickness of Ishmael Smith, but he is a tough penetrator. If Chennault is not ready for big minutes right away, Bzdelik may have to go with Harris and Terrell in the backcourt, despite neither being a true point guard.

 A couple final pieces of the puzzle for Bzdelik may fit in perfectly with his system. The lone senior on the Wake Forest squad, Gary Clark, is a shooter pure and simple. He doesn’t do a lot of other things well, but he can fill it up from all over, mid-range out to deep threes. Likewise, Georgetown-transfer Nikita Mescheriakov (eligible at the semester break) is best known for his three-point ability. In Bzdelik’s modified Princeton offense, shooters are at a premium, and as a result, both of these guys may play a big role for the Deacons.

When the regime change took place in Winston-Salem in late March, Deacon fans were just about ready to hit the panic button. But with Bzdelik keeping the recruits on board and getting some continuity in the program through the retention of the assistant coaches, it looks like things will be fine for Wake. This team may be too young and inexperienced to compete for an ACC title or even a NCAA Tournament berth, but sooner rather than later, this Demon Deacon program will be right back where they belong.

Okay, before we get started here, may I offer a little tip to Hokie head coach Seth Greenberg? I see that last year you did try to bump up your schedule strength a little bit. You had road trips to Iowa and Penn State, you had a neutral site game against Seton Hall and a more-road-than-neutral game against Temple, you had Georgia, even UNC Greensboro isn’t the worst thing in the world. And, in the end, it really wasn’t your fault that most of those teams had bad years. This year, don’t take that chance at all. Schedule your four or five non-conference BCS opponents, schedule an A-10 school or two, but then, when you’ve already got a Charleston Southern or a Campbell or a Longwood on the schedule, maybe resist the urge to also schedule Brown and UMBC and VMI and instead go with another BCS school, or another upper-echelon A-10 school, or hell, even a CAA school would be an upgrade over Longwood or Campbell. Coach, you’ve got a good team and a veteran team, there’s no need for you to baby these guys in the non-conference schedule. There are plenty of upper-mid-major programs that would gladly come to Blacksburg. But if you line up directional schools and worse, no one is going to be surprised if you get another unpleasant surprise on Selection Sunday.

All that being said, it shouldn’t really come down to that. Assuming guard Malcolm Delaney returns for his senior season (and he should, as a guy who is projected as a second-rounder at best), the Hokies will return all five starters from a team that was good enough to have been a Tournament team. With Delaney and fellow senior Dorenzo Hudson manning the backcourt, Virginia Tech will have good size, good ballhandling and excellent scoring from their backcourt. And up front, the combination of junior Victor Davila with seniors Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell make an athletic, if undersized frontcourt. Add in another undersized senior post-player in J.T. Thompson and you’ve got the nucleus of a talented veteran Hokie team.

To that nucleus, add a big beastly rebounder in 6-9 Allan Chaney, a transfer from Florida who sat out last season and could challenge for a starting spot this season. Sophomore Cadarian Raines, a nice interior presence who will need to be more aggressive on the glass, will also provide depth in the middle. Incoming four-star recruit Jarell Eddie will compete with sophomore Manny Atkins for the first minutes off the bench at the three. In the backcourt, depth will come from sophomores Erick Green (a sweet-shooting back-up point who will be the likely choice to jump into the starting lineup should Delaney opt for the NBA) and Ben Boggs and freshman point Tyrone Garland.

Assuming Delaney returns, this Hokie team is quite capable of an upper-division ACC finish, but they’ll need to take advantage of their non-conference opportunities to pick up quality wins, something that has cost them NCAA Tournament appearances the past three years. A backcourt of Delaney and Hudson would definitely have coach Greenberg feeling comfortable, but if Jeff Allen is able to corral all of his ample ability and give consistent effort, this could be a special VT team.

The hiring of Tony Bennett a year ago heralded big changes in Charlottesville; it just took the better part of a year for the depth of those changes to become apparent. When the Cavs head into their second year under Bennett, the roster will show little connection to the Dave Leitao era.  The team’s best player and leading scorer, Sylven Landesberg, will be in the NBA. Center John Brandenburg and wing Tristan Spurlock, both among Leitao’s last recruits have announced their intentions to transfer, as has wing Jeff Jones, another Leitao recruit who had fans alternating between excitement and disappointment throughout his Cavalier career.  In any program with a coaching change, there are going to be personnel issues between the new coaching staff and the holdover players, and given the deliberate pace and defensive commitment that Bennett requires of his players, those personnel issues are likely to be heightened. But after this offseason, with the defections and the six player (so far) recruiting class, it looks like Bennett will have begun to remake the program according to his specifications.

The returnees for the Wahoos begin with senior Mike Scott, the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder and a rock-solid, if unspectacular base upon which to build the team. Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski will also return and while he can play either guard position for Bennett, he is more suited to being a catch-and-shoot guard off the ball. Sophomore Jontel Evans and senior Mustapha Farrakhan are both more pure one-guards, and Evans coming out and winning the starting point job in the fall would be ideal for the team. Junior center Assane Sene and senior forward Will Sherrill round out the returnees and both will be called on to provide plenty of minutes along the front-line. Both are rebounders who have displayed limited offensive games thus far in their careers.

The six-man recruiting class will be asked to play and contribute right away. The class is highlighted by two four-star recruits: center James Johnson and off-guard K.T. Harrell, both of whom will have the chance to grab a starting spot early. Johnson is a skilled post-man, if slightly undersized at 6-8, and could start right away alongside Scott. Harrell is an athletic scoring guard who will fill the spot left by Landesburg’s departure nicely and could fit in very well in a three-guard backcourt with Evans and Zeglinski. Elsewhere in the recruiting class there is sweet shooter Joe Harris, pure point Billy Barron, skilled big man Will Regan and combo-forward Akil Mitchell, each of whom could be in for some important minutes for the ‘Hoos next season.

With the relative youth of this squad and their lack of playing time together, it is hard to see this Cav team making a big splash in the ACC or contending for an NCAA Tournament bid (remember now, I’m still in denial about this whole 96-team BS until it is actually official), but Bennett is an excellent coach and is good or a couple of wins by himself. Whether the Cavs win in 2010-11 is pretty irrelevant, however. Sure, Bennett and the entire Cavalier program would like to see this thing get turned around immediately, but based on what Bennett has done so far, whether that happens next year or not, this program is headed in the right direction.

For the Tar Heels, the less said about last year the better, despite putting it together long enough to advance through some mediocre teams to the NIT Championship game. Given the talent and the expectations, an NIT berth was unacceptable, regardless of whatever bad luck may have cropped up during the year. Even after losing 80 percent of their NCAA-title winning starting lineup, with three of those guys headed to the NBA, the Tar Heels didn’t expect to have to rebuild, because, as the saying goes, they just reload. Well, talented players like Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson have used up their eligibility and promising forward Ed Davis decided to peddle his wares at the next level, and what do the Tar Heels do? Little more than bringing in three more five-star recruits to reload again. Small forward Harrison Barnes is the most highly touted of that threesome and, depending on who you listen to, perhaps the best incoming freshman in the country, but big guard Reggie Bullock will step in and make an impact immediately as well, and even point guard Kendall Marshall may figure prominently in Roy Williams’ plans.

Fair or not, point guard Larry Drew took a lot of the blame for Carolina’s poor play in 2009-10, despite starting in every game and handing out six assists a night. Drew is not a great shooter, not a terrific pressure defender and not a flashy player. There was some talk after the season ended that he might decide to transfer somewhere else to escape some of the pressure, but such talk has since been rejected and Drew will be back next season. Whether he will retain the starting point position remains to be seen, however, as Marshall will definitely give him a push, and even sophomore Dexter Strickland may something to say there as well, despite the fact that he is decidedly not a pure point guard. More likely, Strickland will compete to start at the two-guard with Bullock, with fellow sophomore Leslie McDonald getting some minutes there as well.

Up front, this Tar Heel team will be significantly less physical than the best of the best UNC squads. Junior Tyler Zeller is a skilled shotmaker around the hoop and a hard-worker, but has yet to get through a season without injury issues. Sophomore John Henson may start next to Zeller, but he’ll need to improve his physicality as well; for all his phenomenal athleticism and length, he is paper thin and needs to add strength. The Wear twins, David and Travis, will also compete for time up front, but will more likely provide depth, with Travis, in particular, providing excellent offensive rebounding.

Barnes has got to be the favorite to start at the three-spot, and he is a versatile performer that can match some guard skills with the ability to fight inside as well. Junior Will Graves is the incumbent starter at that spot, and the leading returning scorer, but it will be awful hard for Graves to hold onto his spot over Barnes. It is possible that both players could wind up in the starting lineup (either at the 2/3 spots if UNC wants to go big or at the 3/4 if they want to go smaller and more athletic), but either way it would seem that Barnes will be stealing some of the shots that Graves got this year.

No doubt about it, this is yet another talented Tar Heel team, but there are some holes and some question marks that need to be answered before we can pencil UNC back in the tournament, let alone as the national championship contender that folks around Chapel Hill expect. Who is going to do the dirty work inside? Who is going to run the offense? There is plenty of flashy athleticism up and down the roster, but until there are answers to those two questions, the long-term viability of this UNC team will remain in doubt.

In the first four years of the Sidney Lowe experiment in Raleigh, the Wolfpack have gone 20-44 in the ACC and their best finish in the conference was ninth. Given the way other ACC head coaches have been kicked on down the line this past offseason for far less egregious records, it would appear that 2010-11 is going to have to be the last stand for Lowe’s ballclub.

And, luckily for him, this may be the most talented Wolfpack team during his run. Leading scorer and rebounder Tracy Smith will return for his senior season and will again be counted on to be a strong, efficient low-post scorer. But the key for the Wolfpack’s success next year may lie in a couple of five-star backcourt recruits. Six-foot-five shooting guard Lorenzo Brown committed to NC State last season, but did not qualify and spent the season at a prep school, where his stock rose even higher, but he remained true to his commitment to Lowe. Additionally, Lowe added guard Ryan Harrow, a quick little scoring point, who will likely take over the lead guard role from senior Javier Gonzalez almost immediately. Around that trio, Lowe would likely start sophomore Richard Howell up front alongside Smith and perhaps pure shooter Scott Wood to keep defenses honest. If Harrow and Brown perform up to expectations, that is likely the best starting five the Wolfpack have fielded in the Lowe era.

Depth, however, may be a question mark, and Lowe hasn’t quit scouring the nation for an additional athlete to add to that group. However, if the roster remains the same, Gonzalez will almost certainly be the first guy off the bench, providing another good three-point shooter and some senior leadership from the bench. Junior C.J. Williams will also provide minutes off the bench, but both of those players will need to cut down on their turnovers, especially in light of playing with a couple of freshmen guards. Up front, depth will come from junior Johnny Thomas (a natural three with athleticism enough to play the four in a pinch), sophomore DeShawn Painter (long and lean post-player who could turn into a monster with some added strength) and sophomore Jordan Vandenburg (a 7-1 Aussie center whose game still has to grow into his body).

It certainly isn’t a sure thing for Lowe, but there are enough pieces there to make an NCAA appearance, especially considering that this may not be an epic version of the ACC in 2010-11.

The Hurricanes suffered through an odd season in 09-10: winning 15 of their first 16 games against middling opposition, then losing 11 of their last 14 regular season games, only to catch lightning in a bottle in the first couple rounds of the ACC Tournament before eventually having their season ended by the eventual national champion after a tough battle. The bright side of the down season was the development of their younger players, with center Reginald Johnson in particular taking some serious strides late in the season. Highlight-reel forward Dequan Jones will likely join Johnson in the starting lineup with either Adrian Thomas or perhaps Julian Gamble rounding out the front-line. Head coach Frank Haith has a couple recruits coming in to provide some depth in the frontcourt in center Raphael Akpejiori and forward Erik Swoope.

In the backcourt, Durand Scott had a decent freshman season but will need to improve his range and take better care of the ball in the future. Scott should start alongside Malcolm Grant to make a pretty explosive backcourt for the Hurricanes, with sophomore Garrius Adams and incoming freshman Rion Brown providing depth.

This ‘Cane team is still a long way from being able to challenge for an ACC title, but they have good young talent to build around and should be an improved team next season.