1. Cal's best 'Cats?
No matter where he coaches, John Calipari will regularly put together remarkable recruiting classes, but the sentiment around college basketball is that next year's bunch at Kentucky could be Calipari's best ever. Four McDonald's All-Americans arrive in Lexington, led by bruising point-forward Michael Gilchrist and lightning quick lead guard Marquis Teague.
Those two will be joined by a Marcus Camby-lite -- 6-foot-9 big man Anthony Davis, along with sharp-shooting wing Kyle Wiltjer, a skilled forward who eerily resembles former NBA star Detlef Schrempf. This quartet, with the potential return of off-guard Doron Lamb combined with veterans Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller give Calipari perhaps his most lethal team since he stepped foot in the Commonwealth.
|Michael Gilchrist will be yet another of John Calipari's fab freshmen. (US Presswire)|
Staying in the SEC, Kentucky might face its stiffest challenge next season from Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt. Should small forward Jeffery Taylor opt to return to school for his junior season, the Commodores should have all the pieces to remain a top-ten team for the entire season. Sweet shooting guard John Jenkins should be a major candidate for SEC Player of the Year and big man Festus Ezeli should make a major jump with a productive off-season. Look for Vanderbilt to use incoming freshman guard Dai-Jon Parker in a specialized scoring role off the bench.
3. JUCO and jive
When you recruit pros, they tend to leave early. When they leave early, you have to adjust and that's just what Ben Howland has done at UCLA. The Bruins might have the best power forward-center combination in the ountry next season in Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith, but the losses of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt to the NBA leave UCLA somewhat inexperienced on the perimeter. To offset that, Howland and the Bruins will welcome a junior college player to Westwood for the second year in a row in 6-foot-5 combination guard De'End Parker. Parker should add quality depth in the UCLA backcourt alongside last year's JUCO addition Lazeric Jones, who started last season at point guard.
4. Rice could have Rebels rollin'
Newly minted UNLV coach Dave Rice could have a chance to make a major impact in the Mountain West Conference next season. With BYU and San Diego State expected to have a major drop in the standings, the door is open for the Runnin' Rebels to challenge for a league title. Oscar Bellfield is back for UNLV as a quality floor general and Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall will provide quality scoring on the wing. Look for 6-foot-11 big man Carlos Lopez to make a major jump in the pivot as a sophomore.
5. All eyes on Klay
Of all the teams waiting to see if their best player returns to school instead of entering the NBA Draft, the unit with the biggest upside might be Washington State. If sharpshooting two-guard Klay Thompson opts to return to the Cougars, Ken Bone's squad should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament and could challenge for a conference championship. The 6-foot-5 Thompson is a better built Andy Rautins and could form one of the nation's top scoring perimeters along with fellow wing Faisal Aden.
This and that
• Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said that forward Allan Chaney will undergo an MRI on April 20th that will determine whether or not he can play next season for the Hokies. The 6-foot-9 Chaney sat out last year with a heart ailment. Should he be cleared to play Virginia Tech could be the third best team in the ACC behind Duke and North Carolina.
• The more and more I watch incoming Florida freshman Bradley Beal, the more and more I think he could wind up being the best overall first-year guard next season. Smooth as silk and a tremendous creator, Beal really resembles former NBA star Steve Smith.
• Speaking of the Gators, they added two tremendous people to their staff in Norm Roberts and John Pelphrey. Roberts is one of the better people I've met in this business and will do wonders for Billy Donovan in Gainesville.
• It is going to be an absolute nuisance next season for teams to attempt to run their offense against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will have two tenacious defenders in the backcourt next season as Aaron Craft will be joined by pesky freshman Shannon Scott. Like Craft, the 6-foot-2 Scott isn't afraid to be physical and frequently uses his defense to create offense.
• Steve Alford should have a tremendous chance to again return to the NCAA tournament next season at New Mexico. Along with UNLV, the Lobos figure to be the team to beat in the Mountain West. Alford has two solid guards returning in Kendall Williams and Philip McDonald along with potentially the MWC Player of the Year in forward Drew Gordon.
• Don't be surprised if Arizona uses MoMo Jones off the ball more next season. The ball-dominant Jones will be aided by the arrival of freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Turner, a true floor general, will keep Sean Miller's team at the top of the soon to be PAC-12.
• Really feel Michigan State's incoming freshman wing Branden Dawson resembles former Spartans star Alan Anderson.
• St. Peter's might be able to stay in the top half of the MAAC next season thanks to St. Joseph's transfer Chris Prescott. The 6-foot-2 Prescott can really shoot it and made 13 starts during his career in the Atlantic-10.
• Many people in the New York circuit have told me that future Fordham guard Jeff Short really resembles a bigger version of former St. John's guard Dwight Hardy.