Bet on Buckeyes
Picking participants in this season's NCAA tournament championship was a guessing game. Next season, there are more serious contenders. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville and Texas could all vie for the crown in 2012.
But the title game in New Orleans next season will feature Ohio State beating Kentucky for the championship.
Kentucky's hopes depend on whether many of its talented freshmen return. Ohio State's potential hinges on Jared Sullinger staying true to his word. If the big man returns for a sophomore season as he has vowed, the Buckeyes will be hard to stop. True, they lose sharp-shooters David Lighty and Jon Diebler. But they return a host of talent, including rising sophomore point guard Aaron Craft.
The Buckeyes should have gone all the way this season as a No. 1 seed in the tournament. They'll do it in 2012.
Carolina has the look
It's unclear how many teams will lose players to the NBA, but it is likely star players from 2011 Final Four teams Connecticut and Kentucky will jump at the chance to play at the next level.
A few high-profile coaches may not be back next season either. Amid all the uncertainty, North Carolina is one of the strongest contenders to win it all in 2012.
North Carolina standout forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson already have announced they will return next season, giving the Tar Heels great depth inside. Guard Kendall Marshall will be back leading the offense. North Carolina coach Roy Williams has praised his players for their work ethic and chemistry, key ingredients for a championship team.
Hot on the Heels
The 2011 national champions are expected to lose their heart and soul. Junior Kemba Walker, set to graduate from Connecticut in May, likely will opt for the NBA draft. So it makes sense to look elsewhere.
But if we're forced to choose one favorite for the 2012 title, let's hand the trophy to Roy Williams and North Carolina. The Tar Heels could lose significant talent to the NBA. Or they could return the best starting five in the country, if Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller elect to stay. Even if they lose just one, Carolina will be in good shape because there is a good recruiting class on the way, led by 6-foot-8 forward James McAdoo and 6-6 swingman P.J. Hairston.
Stick with champs
Los Angeles Times
Whichever top-flight team is the least decimated by early NBA departures — and that team … won't be known for a while.
But today, it's the Connecticut Huskies, whose magical finish to this season will carry over into the next one. Here's why:
Coach Jim Calhoun, a basketball lifer, won't retire; neither of UConn's dynamic guards, Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, will likely go pro; and the team loses only three seniors — the most important of whom averaged only 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds.
Ohio State could threaten. Kansas could too. Even George Mason might make a run. Really.
But right now, with the landscape hazy, the best team built to win it all is the one that just did.