Twenty questions (cont.)
Michigan State: Was Draymond Green right?
Coach Tom Izzo hadn't even had a chance to address his beleaguered troops after they were blitzed by North Carolina in the NCAA championship game when Green, then a 6-6 freshman, asked if he could say something. When Izzo said yes, Green reminded the Spartans that those same Tar Heels had been embarrassed the previous year at the Final Four by Kansas, yet they all came back improved and determined to make amends. Next year, Green said, it will be our turn.
We'll soon find out if Green was prescient or a little delusional. North Carolina might have returned many of the same crew from the team that lost to Kansas, but they were a much different team because each of their key players improved significantly in the off-season. If Michigan State is going to win the title, their main guys will have to do the same. Junior point guard Kalin Lucas will have to be a better leader, wings Chris Allen and Durell Summers will have to be more consistent, and forwards Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe will have to play harder and stay healthy. If all those things happen, the Spartans have an excellent chance to be this year's North Carolina. If not, they'll just be last year's Michigan State.
Mississippi State: Will Renardo Sidney be eligible?
This question is obvious. The answer is not. Nobody in Starkville seems to have any inkling whether the NCAA will declare Renardo Sidney, a 6-10 swingman, eligible, or even when that decision will be handed down. (The NCAA is trying to determine whether Sidney or members of his family received improper benefits while living in southern California.) Without Sidney, Mississippi State still has enough talent to win the SEC West and make the NCAA tournament. With him, they are a legit Final Four sleeper.
For all the attention on Sidney and his potential frontcourtmates, 6-9 senior Jarvis Varnardo and 7-foot freshman John Riek, the Bulldogs are also well-stocked on the perimeter. The best of guards is Dee Bost, a 6-2 sophomore point guard who showed promise as a freshman but needs to improve his shooting. And keep your eye on Ravern Johnson, a spindly 6-7 swingman who shoots threes and jumps out of the gym.
One of the problems Mississippi State had last season was a lack of offensive balance. During 16 conference games, it shot 427 threes, the most of any team in the SEC and 54 more than second-place Florida. Sidney's presence would go a long way toward restoring that balance. The Bulldogs need to have him if they are going to be great.
North Carolina: Is Larry Drew a top-flight point guard?
Losing four starters is a small price to pay for winning the national championship. Even so, nobody expects the Tar Heels to drop off the precipice. They are absolutely loaded, albeit inexperienced, in the frontcourt, where returnees Ed Davis and Deon Thompson will be joined by freshmen studs John Henson and the Wear Twins (David and Travis), in addition to freakishly talented Tyler Zeller, a 7-foot sophomore who played a minimal role last season after returning from a wrist injury in February. North Carolina also has some pretty good shooters, but at this point the Tar Heels' best offense might be to have their guards hoist up errant shots and let the long, spring-legged forwards kill opponents on the offensive glass.
There is, however, one glaring weakness on this roster, and it's a doozy: There is only one point guard. And that player, 6-1 sophomore Larry Drew, does not exactly look like the second coming of Ty Lawson. He was not all that heralded coming out of high school (Rivals ranked him 77th in the Class of '08), and though it's understandable that his minutes would be limited as a freshman playing behind Lawson, when he was in the game, Drew looked unsteady. (He had 23 turnovers to 19 assists in conference games.) North Carolina's point guard situation will be better next year with the arrival of Kendall Marshall, a 6-3 stud from Virginia, and if Williams can keep the rest of the roster reasonably intact, the Tar Heels could be a preseason No. 1. But the folks in Chapel Hill don't like to wait 'til next year. The Tar Heels's hopes of playing for another title this year rest largely in Drew's unproven hands.
Ohio State: Will David Lighty be better than before?
A 6-5 junior power forward, David Lighty was the Buckeyes' most experienced player coming into last season, and he got off to a great start before breaking his foot after the seventh game. After taking a medical redshirt, Lighty returns to a team that has a little more overall experience but is suspect at the two most important positions, point guard and center. If Ohio State is going to be a factor in March, it will need Lighty to be a force at both ends.
The good news is that Ohio State is full of talented wing players, led by 6-7 junior swingman Evan Turner, who will play more minutes at the point after leading the Buckeyes in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. The team has so many wings that 6-5 sophomore William Buford, who may well end up being the best pro on this team, could come off the bench. Thad Matta had to spend so much time teaching his kids how to play offense last season that he played a lot of zone defense.
Now, Matta hopes to get back to the man-to-man that has been a staple of so many of his teams, but he needs a strong, experienced, athletic (if undersized) power forward to make it all work. Lighty should be that that guy, if he is fully recovered from his injury.
Purdue: Who will back up JaJuan Johnson at center?
The fact that I've selected this as Purdue's most nagging question is a great sign, for two reasons. First, it means their starting five and perimeter reserves are solid. Second, and most important, it means that Robbie Hummel's health is no longer a major concern. Hummel missed five games last season with a fractured vertebrae that never quite healed. But after a summer competing for USA Basketball at the World University Games, Hummel is now pain-free and is no longer wearing a brace. If he stays healthy, he could be the best all-around player in college basketball.
Still, though the 6-10 Johnson was much-improved last season (13.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, up from 5.4 and 3.1 as a freshman), he is still unpolished on offense and is a rail-thin 215 pounds. Foul trouble and lack of strength remain issues. Last year's backup, Nemanja Calasan, added some perimeter shooting, but he is gone and neither of the freshmen who are candidates to spell Johnson, Patrick Bade and Sandi Marcius, provide that dimension. If those two newbies can combine to give the Boilermakers 15-20 quality minutes per game in the frontcourt, then this otherwise experienced squad has the chops to win the Big Ten and go far in March.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors