By Dennis Berry
Now that practices have started across the nation, the 2011-12 college basketball season is underway. Even though it is very early in the season, I thought I would take a look at some teams that have a shot to win the NCAA National Championship. Here are the Top 10 teams who have a shot to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
10. Wisconsin Badgers (2010-11 record: 25-9)
Replacing Jon Leuer will be the key to if Wisconsin can make a serious run. Jordan Taylor should take over as the primary scorer. The thing about the Badgers is to play tough defense. Last season they only gave up 58.6 points a game. If they do the same and can find some more scoring, the Badgers will be a tough match up for any team.
9. Vanderbilt Commodores (2010-11 record: 23-11)
The Commodores have one of the best returning scorers in the country. All five starters return. The best of the group being John Jenkins who led the SEC in scoring last season at 19.8 points a game. If this team will just find a way to play defense (ranked 167 in the nation in scoring defense last season) that would help get them out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers (2010-11 record: 28-6)
When Ashton Gibbs decided to return for his senior season, the Panthers remained near the top of the Big East. It may be a rough start for Pitt at the start of the year, as they will be have to replace Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown, but the Panthers do have a strong freshmen class coming in led by Khem Birch.
7. Arizona Wildcats (2010-11 record: 30-8)
Sure the Wildcats have lost Derrick Williams to the NBA, but they have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation coming in this season. The best being guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. Williams' productivity should be replaced by freshmen Sidiki Johnson. Arizona looks posed for another deep NCAA Tournament run.
6. Duke Blue Devils (2010-11 record: 32-5)
Duke will enter this season having to replace their one-two punch of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. They also lost Kyrie Irving to the NBA, but he only played a handful of games for them last season. Luckily for Duke they have another top five recruiting class coming in. The headliner is Austin Rivers, who was considered by many the best prospect coming in this year.
5. Connecticut Huskies (2010-11 record: 32-9 NCAA Champions)
Last season the Huskies won their third National Championship. Kemba Walker was the man who led them to that title. Walker may be gone, but the late addition of Andre Drummond to go along with DeAndre Daniels gives the Huskies one of the best classes in the country. With most of the title team returning, including Jeremy Lamb, there is talk of a Connecticut Repeat in Storrs.
4. Syracuse Orange (2010-11 record: 27-8)
There is plenty of talent on this year's Syracuse squad. The Orange will be led by senior Kris Joseph. They also return Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche in the backcourt. Look for Fab Melo to improve on his freshman numbers. Rakeem Christmas will help in the front court and Michael Carter-Williams could become the starting point guard. If this group wants to make a deep run in March, they will have to make better decisions down the stretch.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (2010-11 record: 34-3)
After Ohio State lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Sweet 16 last season freshman standout big man Jared Sullinger declared he would return for his sophomore season. Along with Sullinger, swingman Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas are back. Another Top 10 recruiting class is set to join them led LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams.
2. Kentucky Wildcats (2010-11 record: 29-9)
For the third straight year the top recruiting class in the country is headed to Lexington. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marques Teague, & Kyle Wiltjer may be the best class brought in yet. This time though they will not be expected to carry the full load. The Wildcats will be lead by senior Darius Miller and sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels (2010-11 record: 29-8)
With the return of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes the Tar Heels have to start the year as the top team. They return the core of last year's Elite Eight team. Add that with the addition of P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo and North Carolina is posed for a run to New Orleans in April.
Right now the top two teams appear to be Kentucky and North Carolina. Thankfully we do not have to hope the two meet in the NCAA Tournament. The two will play in December at Rupp Arena.
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