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.
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.
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
Mike Krzyzewski is back on top of the college basketball world, having done it his way, building a program step-by-step with character guys who generally stick around for the majority of their eligibility. So, what to do for an encore? Introducing freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the nation’s top recruits and a guy who could head the NBA after one year. While Irving will be ready to step right in for departed point guard Jon Scheyer, there is still one big unanswered question for the Blue Devils as of April 15: will wing Kyle Singler return for his senior season? If so, expect Duke to be a strong favorite to win the ACC again. But, even if Singler is to head to the next level, this Duke team will still have firepower. Nolan Smith will return for his senior season and start alongside Irving in the backcourt. Seth Curry (Steph’s little brother) joins the team as a sophomore transfer from Liberty (where he led all freshman in the country in scoring two seasons back with 20.2 a game) and could give the Devils either depth in the backcourt or a third-guard, if coach K decides to go that way. Add in Andre Dawkins returning for his second season and incoming freshman point Tyler Thornton and the Devils will not be hurting in the backcourt.
However, regardless of Singler’s decision, the Blue Devils will need some of their talented frontcourt players to take the next step and improve their consistency. Brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee (a junior and a sophomore, respectively) have shown flashes of the type of talent that made them highly sought-after recruits, but need to be able to bring that type of game for more than just a few bursts here and there, and with Greg Zoubek’s Duke career over, they’ll be counted on to provide most of the minutes in the middle. Former McDonald’s All-American Ryan Kelly will also be called on to provide some help up front, but despite his six-foot-ten frame, he is more of a perimeter player and will need to add more strength and toughness to compete in the paint in the ACC. Freshman forward Josh Hairston will likely also need to contribute for the Devils up front, but he is also more of a skilled forward than a grinder.
What put Duke over the top in 2010 was its ability to create points by hitting the offensive glass, and in order for the Devils to replicate that kind of success in March, they’ll need to get some serious improvement from their front court players. But given the talent and upside of those players, that is far from out of the question.