NCAA basketball predictions: The road to March madness

By Charlie Stanton

As many of you might know, the NCAA college bas­ketball season has begun. The 2012-2013 season will not be any less exciting than past ones, but it is already easy to tell that the quality of play will be lower than last year’s. After last year’s incredibly deep NBA draft, there appears to be a lack of legitimate pro prospects this year. Consequently, the NCAA tournament has a good chance of being very competi­tive this year, as there’s no Kentucky-like team with six NBA draft picks. Here’s a preview of the six major conferences… Atlantic Coast Conference: The ACC has the big three and then there is everyone else. #6 North Carolina State, #9 Duke and #11 North Carolina are all Final Four threats and shoo-ins for the tourney. Duke has some serious experience with leaders Seth Curry and big man Mason Plumlee. The Blue Devils upset #3 Kentucky 75-68 on Tuesday. North Carolina has probably one of the most talented big men in the confer­ence in James Michael McAdoo, although they’ll likely miss the contributions of small forward Harrison Barnes, who was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of this summer’s NBA draft. NC State has one of the strongest in­coming freshmen classes in the country. These freshmen will join C.J Leslie to create one of the best teams in the country. Florida State is clearly the fourth best team in the conference and after that, it is up for grabs. Maryland will also most like­ly make the tournament, but the top four teams will dominate this conference. Pick to win conference: NC State Big East: Before Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt bolt from the Big East, we will get to enjoy one more season of the most competitive conference in the country. Louisville, led by their point guard, Peyton Siva, is the favorite to win the conference this year. Similar to their squad last year, stifling defense and efficient scoring will be the staple of the team. Syracuse is also coming back with loads of talent and experience. Pick to win conference: Louisville Big Ten: The Big Ten is far and away the best conference in the nation. #1 Indiana is the preseason favorite to win the conference, as they should be. Cody Zeller, a future NBA lot­tery pick, leads a group of returnees who led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen last year. #4 Ohio State is led by De­shaun Thomas, a forward who averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds for last year’s Final Four team, and point guard Aaron Craft, who dropped 20 points in the Buckeyes’ sea­son opening win against Albany. #5 Michigan is inches away from Indiana’s heels for the title of best team in the Big Ten. Three high profile freshmen, led by Glenn Robinson III, join guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to round off one of the deepest teams in the nation. #21 Michigan State, led by point guard Keith Appling, is a potential Top-5 finisher in the country. Minnesota, Wisconsin (per usual) and Northwestern are also schools that have a good chance of making the tour­ney. Minnesota has Trevor M’bakwe back from injury and he should keep them close with the best of the conference. Pick to win conference: Michigan Big-12: This conference is led by #7 Kansas. After losing For­ward Thomas Robinson to the NBA draft, Kansas lost a heart­breaker against Michigan State on Tuesday, 67-64. They’ve got a lot of talent, and freshman Ben McLemore should be one of the best newcomers in college basketball. Center Jeff Withey was recently named to the 2012-2013 Naismith Early Season Watch List, which means that he’s expected to be one of the 50 best players in the country this year. # 16 Baylor should be pretty good this year, although it’s doubtful they’ll be better than Kansas. The rest of the conference is pretty mediocre, although Texas, Kansas State, and West Virginia all received votes in the latest AP poll. Pick to win conference: Kansas Pac-12: Finally, the West Coast is beginning to get good at basketball again. #12 Arizona has disappeared as of late but will also be carried by freshmen this year. Their future looks bright. #13 UCLA has been awful over the past couple of years but should finish in the Top-20 this year thanks to a great recruiting class and handy transfers. Unfortunately, the NCAA has declared Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s top re­cruit last year, to be ineligible for accepting free travel for un­official visits to schools that were recruiting him. If he’s able to win his appeal and become reinstated, the Bruins could run away with the conference. Both Arizona and UCLA have a chance to win the conference. Cal and Stanford both have tournament potential, but it’s likely that neither will win the Pac-12. Washington and Colorado are both not very good, but have some upset potential. My surprise pick to make the NCAA Tournament? Oregon State. Yeah, that’s right. Coach Craig Robinson (brother-in-law of President Obama) and the Beavers have been rebuilding for a few years now and might finally have the personnel to make the tournament. This should be a very fun conference to watch, mainly because it looks to be vastly improved from the past three years. Pick to win conference: UCLA SEC: For many teams, losing four first round draft picks would be a death sentence. However. this doesn’t apply to #3 Kentucky. After another amazing year of recruiting by Coach John Calipari, last year’s national champion features three freshmen in its starting lineup. Against Duke, freshmen scored 56 of the team’s 68 points. That said, I still expect #10 Florida to win the conference. The Gators blew out #22 Wisconsin 74-56 on Wednesday and are led by seniors Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy. Guard Boynton averaged 15.9 points per game last year, and forward/center Murphy has one of the sweetest looking shooting strokes amongst big men in the country. Pick to win conference: Florida Final Four Picks (Ihate doing this so early): Indiana, Michigan, Syracuse, Duke (painful to write). Indiana and Michigan are the two I feel most confident in. Best non-major conference team: Gonzaga Possible Cinderella: South Dakota State. refresh –>