By Jon Rothstein
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1. CAN LOUISVILLE REPEAT?
Without question. The Cardinals lost Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, but there’s still more than enough left over to cut down the nets in Dallas next April. Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan, and Montrezl Harrell all played major minutes last season and Stephan Van Treese should be in line for an enhanced role in the pivot. Newcomers Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will both have immediate impacts on the perimeter, and Wayne Blackshear should also have more a role than he did a year ago. Rick Pitino nearly won back-to-back national titles as head coach of Kentucky in the mid 1990’s and it says here he’ll have another opportunity to accomplish just that this season.
2. WHO WILL LEAD KENTUCKY?
TBD. This is one of the many questions surrounding the Wildcats, and it’s something that will be extremely critical to their overall success. When John Calipari led Kentucky to a National Championship in 2012, he had three players — Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones — that had all played in the Final Four the year prior. This year’s veterans — Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — don’t have one minute of NCAA Tournament experience under their belt. Early word out of Lexington is that Wildcats’ freshman Julius Randle has already set a tone with his motor, and he’ll need to do that on a daily basis just as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did two seasons ago. The addition of Andrew and Aaron Harrison ensures that this program will again have two of the more talented freshmen guards in the country — but will they sacrifice individual accolades for team success? Kentucky will have a roster that is beyond talented, but we still have yet to identify who other than Calipari will lead this team.
3. HOW MANY TEAMS WILL THE ACC HAVE IN THE 2014 NCAA TOURNAMENT?
At least six. Coaches in the league will probably say that the ACC has become the old Big East and the conference will receive eight to nine bids to the field of 68 on an annual basis. I don’t know if that’s always going to be the case. With the American Athletic Conference beginning this season, it creates another league with the potential to get multiple bids. The AAC, Atlantic 10, and new Big East should all have the potential for four to five bids to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis but the extra teams that go to the field of 68 in those three conferences could ultimately take away from an extra team to two heading to the bracket from the ACC, Big Ten, or PAC-12.
4. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM ANDREW WIGGINS?
To be Kansas’ best player by the start of the Big 12 season. The expectations surrounding Wiggins will be through the roof and for good reason. The talented small forward is the best collegiate prospect since LeBron James was in high school and is all but a lock to be the number one pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Will Wiggins hit the ground running for the Jayhawks? If he does, it will be against top-notch competition. Kansas plays neutral site games against Duke and New Mexico, hosts Georgetown, San Diego State, Iona, and Towson, travels to Colorado and Florida, and plays in the prestigious Battle For Atlantis as part of its non-conference schedule.
5. WHO IS THIS YEAR’S WICHITA STATE?
Harvard. It would be easy to say VCU or New Mexico but we’re going with the Crimson. Harvard could very well be the best team in the history of the Ivy League and will have five players that could all earn all-conference honors. Sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers was a bit of a revelation last year as a freshman, and he will join a potentially loaded perimeter along with Wesley Saunders and Brandyn Curry. Curry missed last season along with teammate Kyle Casey and the return of those two should make Tommy Amaker’s team capable of matching up with any program in America. 6-5 senior Laurent Rivard made 80 three-point shots last season and returns as a stretch power forward while veteran Steve Moundou-Missi and freshman Zena Edosomwan will add depth on the baseline.
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