No. 9: These Are The 4 Seeds
Our Bold Prediction No. 9 is a breakdown of the four teams that will be on the four line in our Preseason bracket.
Most of the preseason buzz in the Big East has been on the conference’s two-headed monster – Louisville and Georgetown. That’s probably fine with Marquette coach Tom Crean, but unfortunately, the Golden Eagles’ anonymity won’t last very long. Marquette is at worst the third best team in the Big East, and at best could contend for a conference title thanks to the loaded backcourt trio of Dominic James (maybe the most underrated PG in the country), Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. The team’s big question mark is down low, where Marquette lacks experience and scoring ability. If they can just get one or two unproven forwards to contribute at all to the offense, the result may be a deep run in March. If not, James and Co. is a pretty solid back-up option.
Oregon enters the season as the Marquette of the Pac-10. No one thinks the Ducks will win the national title (that honor goes to rival UCLA), and they don’t have the celebrated recruits of some other conference mates (see USC). But Oregon does have two things that should excite everyone in Eugene: senior leadership and superb guard play. Gone is Aaron Brooks, but guards Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor and Tajuan Porter should be able to fill the void quite nicely. They’ll be in charge of keeping Oregon’s high octane, high speed offense running smoothly, and if last year is any indication, that won’t be a problem. The ultimate key, though, to another Elite 8 run will be the play of Porter at the point. He was called on to be a shooter as a freshman last season and averaged just two assists per game. If he can get that up to five or six per game, Oregon fans will be quacking deep into the NCAA tourney.
Yup, we’ve already bought in to the hype machine that is O.J. Mayo. The heralded freshman hasn’t played a minute of college ball, and he already has experts predicting a Carmelo-like Hollywood ending for the Trojans this season. We won’t go that far (USC did lose Nick Young and its top three scorers), but we love what we hear about the kid’s playmaking ability and desire to bring a national title to L.A. We also love the guys he might occasionally pass the ball to. Taj Gibson is a force inside and he’ll have help from RouSean Cromwell and freshman Davon Jefferson. USC might takes some hits early as Mayo gets up to speed and learns the offense, but if the kid is a tenth as good as everyone (including Mayo himself) says he is, he’ll be just fine once conference play starts. Overall, the Trojans have enough pieces to be the third or fourth best team in the Pac-10, which this season earns them a spot on the four line.
North Carolina State
We admitted our preseason love affair with N.C. State in our ACC preview, and rewarded the Wolfpack with a four seed. We’ll temper our expectations more than some prognosticators have, but it is hard to ignore all of the talent and experience that N.C. State returns. The only hole on its roster – and it’s a gaping one – is at the point guard spot. Engin Atsur ran the show nicely last season, but he’s gone. Someone has to feed the ball to Brandon Costner, Brandon McCauley, and newcomer J.J. Hickson inside and to Gavin Grant on the wing. That duty might go to a freshman, which is not only dangerous but a reason that the Wolfpack might struggle early. By February, though, they’ll have gelled and will be the third best team in the deep ACC. That kind of season deserves a top-four seed.