By Jon Rothstein
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The Hawkeyes will lose veteran guards Matt Gatens and Bryce Cartwright but Fran McCaffery has this team on the cusp of finishing in the top half of the Big Ten and challenging for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Iowa will add two quality freshmen that figure to contribute immediately in 6-foot-11 big man Adam Woodbury and crafty floor general Mike Gesell. Ultra skilled combo guard Devyn Marble and bruising froward Aaron White figure to be borderline All-Conference players as juniors while Zach McCabe also adds insurance up front. The X-Factor for McCaffery will be versatile wing Melsahn Basabe, who had a tremendous freshman season but hit a little bit of a wall as a sophomore. Also keep an eye on 6-foot-5 sharpshooter Josh Oglesby, who should get better with experience and added strength.
Don’t be surprised if the Razorbacks finish among the SEC’s top four teams. Mike Anderson will welcome back maybe his best all-around player in forward Marshawn Powell, who missed nearly all of last season with an injury. The fastest 40 minutes in basketball should be back in full effect in Anderson’s second season in Fayetteville thanks a terrific back court headlined by star guard BJ Young, who should be one of the conference’s better players as a sophomore. Joining Young on the perimeter will be guards Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott, and the always instinctive Rashad “Ky” Madden. Devonta Abron is a quality role player up front and Hunter Mickelson should be one of the more improved players in the SEC.
The Trojans may not qualify for the field of 68 but they’ll be vastly improved under Kevin O’Neill. Decimated by injuries last season, USC was never a team with a chance — and that will change in 2012-13. High-octane scoring guard Jio Fontan returns from an ACL injury to form a potentially explosive perimeter with Maurice Jones and Wake Forest transfer Ari Stewart, who should add some much needed versatility at 6-foot-7. UC Irvine import Eric Wise is a bruiser at 240 pounds and will have an impact up front along with Aaron Fuller and 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon, two players who both fought injuries at one point or another last season. The top of the PAC-12 looks set with UCLA, Arizona, Washington, and Stanford, but don’t be surprised if O’Neill has this group challenging for a spot in the league’s top third.
4. ST. JOSEPH’S
Phil Martelli returns every single piece from a group that won 20 games and reached the NIT. With both Temple and Xavier suffering major defections, the Hawks should be in the mix with both Saint Louis and Umass as teams that have the potential to win the Atlantic-10. The triumvirate of Halil Kanacevic, C.J. Aiken, and Ronald Roberts figures to be capable of matching up with any baseline in America and Chris Wilson seems primed to take a major step forward at point guard as a sophomore. Look for Martelli to use a three guard alignment frequently with Wilson running the show and Tay Jones and Langston Galloway on the wings. Hawk Hill got a taste of what this group could do last year in wins over Creighton and Temple and next season they should have a legitimate chance to taste what everyone is really craving — a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Once this team gets healthy, the rest of the ACC should be put on notice. Jim Larranaga’s first season with the Hurricanes was spent rarely at full strength — but if that changes in year two, Miami should be a regular installment in the Top 25. Shane Larkin and Durand Scott are two quality breakdown guards and Trey McKinney-Jones is a “swiss army knife” type that can do a little bit of everything. Up front, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson should be one of the better power forward-center combos in the country and Rion Brown is a veteran wing with accurate range from deep. Keep an eye on freshman combo guard Melvin Johnson, an efficient scorer when given extended minutes.
Who else? Pick your No. 6 in the comments below!