Posted: Fri November 8, 2013 4:23PM; Updated: Fri November 8, 2013 4:54PM

SI.com's 2013-14 college basketball Crystal Ball

SI.com staff

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SI.com's 2013-14 Crystal Ball
SI.com's Seth Davis, Luke Winn, Kelli Anderson and David Gardner offer their predictions for the 2013-14 season.
Final Four (Plus One Darkhorse)
Seth Davis
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
Luke Winn
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
Kelli Anderson
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
David Gardner
Final Four Final Four Final Four Final Four Darkhorse
National Champion
Davis
Michigan State: I suppose I'm being a contrarian by not going with Kentucky as my pick here, or even as one of my Final Four. I'm happy to be proven wrong (again), but I just have too many reservations about such a young team. Michigan State not only has championship-level talent (including a pair of potential lottery picks in Gary Harris and Adreian Payne), but it also has the requisite experience. It also has Tom Izzo, who knows a thing or two about winning big games in March.
Winn
Louisville: In a season where there's no clear No. 1, I'm taking the team with the best defensive reputation. Rick Pitino's teams have ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency for six of the past seven years, and there's no reason to believe this one can't lead the nation in that category. Plus, it brings back the best player from the first two weeks of last year's NCAA tournament (Russ Smith) and the Final Four M.O.P. (Luke Hancock). Defense + talent + experience is an attractive formula.
Anderson
Kentucky: Extravagantly talented though they are, the Wildcats won't go 40-0; in fact, they may stumble more than once early on, especially with a pre-conference lineup that includes Louisville at home and Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina away from it. If they can overcome a lack of upperclassman leadership—no small thing—they'll be clicking by March and on their way to their second title in three years.
Gardner
Michigan State: While his Spartans may not be the most talented team in the country, Tom Izzo's team may be the best he's ever assembled. Adreian Payne's experience can create matchup problems for other top teams they might run into in the tournament. Hopefully Payne can pass off some of his consistency to his classmate Keith Appling, who should improve in his third season as the team's ball handler. I don't believe there's a better blend of coaching, talent and experience in the country.
Surprise Team
Davis
Tennessee: I'm listing the Vols because they were unranked in both preseason polls, but real basketball fans will not be surprised if they contend for an SEC crown. They have a potential SEC POY in Jordan McRae, they are bringing back Jeronne Maymon after being hurt all last year, and they have made a huge upgrade at the point by bringing in Memphis transfer Antonio Barton.
Winn
Creighton: I'm struggling to understand how the Bluejays were left out of the AP and coaches' polls. They're going to contend for the Big East title, they have the most skilled scorer in the nation in Doug McDermott, and they're also the best three-point shooting team in the nation. They should be able to earn a higher NCAA seed than they did last year coming out of the Missouri Valley -- something as high as a No. 4 or 5 -- and finally break through to the Sweet 16.
Anderson
Boston College: The Eagles bring back more than 90 percent of their points, minutes, rebounds, steals, and assists from a team that included one-point losses to Miami and Duke among nine defeats by 10 points or less. Sophomore point guard Olivier Hanlan and junior forward Ryan Anderson have the juice to get BC back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2009.
Gardner
Boise State: The Broncos return their entire starting roster from a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year. They should be a lock to take the Mountain West this season. Anthony Drmic scored 18.8 points a game last season, and he and the rest of the team should improve with a more seasoned leader in Derrick Marks at the point.
Flop Team
Davis
Florida: If you're ranked in the top 10 or 15, you can't be considered a flop, so I'm going with the Gators because they have so many personnel issues to start the season. They are beginning with almost their entire starting five unavailable. Florida should be a factor in the SEC if freshman forward Chris Walker becomes eligible, but I predict the Gators will stumble out of the gate.
Winn
Florida: The Gators will have a deep, talented frontcourt rotation. But the way they're opening the season -- with three players, including senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, on indefinite suspensions, as well as having to wait until December for top freshman Chris Walker to enroll -- is troubling. It could take a while for them to formulate an offensive identity.
Anderson
UNC: It's not a good sign when you're top returning scorer is suspended indefinitely in July and the length of that suspension is still unknown in early November. (Worse is when an academic advisor quits in protest because that suspension wasn't a straight out expulsion.) Without P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels have a big hole to fill on the wing. And that's not their only issue: Last year's team was mediocre on the boards (+1.6 margin) and struggled to make hay at the free throw line, where there is sure to be a lot of action this season.
Gardner
Michigan: With the huge losses of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan needs Mitch McGary to put the team on his back ... Unfortunately, his back is injured. Their next-best players, Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, would hardly create headaches for opposing coaches in March. If McGary is 100 percent, Michigan is a threat; if he can't play, they're a flop.
Best Mid-Major Team
Davis
Harvard: I promise I will stop pimping the Crimson at some point, but this team has high-level talent and an inordinate amount of depth. The only question is how returning senior point guard Brandyn Curry meshes in the backcourt with sophomore Siyani Chambers, but that is a high-class problem to have.
Winn
Gonzaga: There are three legitimate options here in Gonzaga, VCU and Wichita State. I give the Zags a slight edge due to their strong frontcourt replacements for Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. Sophomore center Przemek Karnowski is one of my breakout picks and Sam Dower has been a strong off-the-bench forward for two years. The impact of the losses of Darius Theus (at VCU) and Carl Hall (at Wichita State) is being underestimated.
Anderson
VCU: Point guard Briante Weber, a relentless defender with improved offensive chops, has the energy to keep the Rams' havoc defense at full throttle. The addition of graduate transfer Terrance Shannon and two players who were ineligible last year, Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess, will gave the Rams a physicality they were lacking when they got bounced by Michigan in the third round of the NCAAs.
Gardner
Wichita State: The losses of Demetric Williams, Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead cannot be understated, but Wichita State still has plenty of talent. Fred VanVleet will assume point guard duties, and Ron Baker and Tekelle return to form a solid backcourt. Cleanthony Early, a solid NBA prospect, will be the star of this year's team. At 6-foot-8, he can both drive to the basket and hit from beyond the three-point line.
National Player of the Year
Doug McDermott | Photo: David E. Klutho/SI
Davis
Doug McDermott, Creighton: The Dougie was still a little off the radar last season while toiling in the Missouri Valley, but now that Creighton has moved to the Big East, he's going to have a lot more eyeballs on him. Folks are going to like what they see.

Winn
McDermott: Big East defenses will put more heat on McDermott than he faced in the Missouri Valley, but Creighton's playmakers (Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman) are skilled at setting him up all over the court, and he'll likely lead the nation in scoring. If the Bluejays make a run at the league title and stay in the top 15 of the polls, he should be able to edge out Louisville's Russ Smith, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Kentucky's Julius Randle for the award.

Anderson
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Last year's Big 12 Player of the Year and would-be lottery lock averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assist, 3.0 steals a game; but look for him to improve a few things, including his 1.3-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio, his 29% three-point rate and the Cowboys' season, which ended with a thudding loss to 12-seed Oregon in their NCAA opener.

Gardner
Smart: The only downside of selecting Smart for this award is that it's much lower on his list of priorities than a deep postseason run. Smart knew that returning to college would cost him draft status, but he did anyway, and he'll be motivated to improve on his already outstanding numbers.
Impact Freshman
Julius Randle | Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty
Davis
Julius Randle, Kentucky: He could very well be not just the best freshman in America, but also the best player. He has more power and athleticism than Jabari Parker and a better competitive motor than Andrew Wiggins. It has been a long time since I have seen a player come into college basketball with so much size and skill.

Winn
Randle: He has a remarkably polished perimeter game for a kid who's 6-9; and on the interior, he's already one of the most physical players in the country. The Wildcats are loaded with NBA talent, but it's clear that Randle will be their featured scorer and alpha-dog. He seems more ready to carry a team in Year 1 than Kansas' Andrew Wiggins or Duke's Jabari Parker, and he could very well overtake those two and become the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Anderson
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: The Canadian has all the tools imaginable -- size, mobility, crazy athleticism, passing savvy, passion and ability to defend, coachability -- but his biggest impact may come from absorbing defensive attention so teammates like Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis can score.

Gardner
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: East coast fans may not have the pleasure of seeing Gordon play too often. But if you miss his games, don't worry -- you'll be sure to catch up on SportsCenter's Top 10 throughout the season. The two-time Mr. Basketball in California has insane athleticism that allows him to drive to the basket -- and finish at the rim -- with ease. His outside shot hasn't developed yet, but he more than makes up for it with his defensive ability. Mixed in with a strong Arizona team, Gordon has the ability to help take his team deep in the tournament this season.
Breakout Star (Non-Freshman)
Rodney Hood | Photo: Lance King/Getty Images
Davis
LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross started breaking out in the NCAA tournament last year (he hit the game-winning three against Arizona), but I believe he will shine from day one. He has been too deferential in the past to players like Deshaun Thomas, but if Ross plays to his potential this season, he could end up being the POY in the Big Ten.

Winn
Rodney Hood, Duke: Hood was just a role player -- a very good one, but a role player nonetheless -- in his one season at Mississippi State in 2011-12, but he seems ready to make the leap to stardom after sitting out a transfer year at Duke. In the Blue Devils' exhibition games, he (efficiently) used a bigger portion of their offensive possessions than superfrosh Jabari Parker. He will be extremely difficult to contain from the wing in their small-ball lineup.

Anderson
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: After averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in limited minutes behind Gorgui Dieng as a freshman last year, Harrell will unleash his raw power and 7-4 wingspan as the Cardinals' go-to guy in the paint. Staying out of foul trouble will be critical.

Gardner
Hood: All the atention in Durham is on freshman star Jabari Parker, but he is not an offensive juggernaut. As a pass-first player, he'll be looking to Hood often to lighten the load. We didn't get to see too much of Hood at Mississippi State, but you'll be seeing him often on this Blue Devils team.

Best Under-The-Radar Player
Anthony Drmic | Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty
Davis
Treveon Graham, VCU: His package of size and skill is reminiscent of former Villanova guard Randy Foye. This is going to be the best team that Shaka Smart has coached at VCU, and Graham is the biggest reason why.

Winn
Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Boise State is one of the best under-the-radar teams, period, and should give New Mexico a real run for the Mountain West title. Drmic, a skilled 6-6 junior from Australia, does his best work as a catch-and-shoot guy on the perimeter, and could very well lead the MWC in scoring for a second straight season.

Anderson
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: A high-scoring sophomore point guard who hails from Quebec, Canada, Hanlan averaged 15.4 points on 45.7 percent shooting (39.4 from the three) on his way to earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors. A sophomore slump is possible but unlikely: Hanlan spent the summer attending skill camps -- of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, LeBron James -- and learning to love weight-room squats.

Gardner
Juvonte Reddic, VCU: Reddic was already excellent last season, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds each game. Terrance Shannon will help to take the pressure of Reddic in the paint, giving VCU the potential to have one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

Player Who Won't Live Up To The Hype
Mitch McGary | Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty
Davis
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: I make this choice not because Wiggins isn't good, but because it is virtually impossible for him to live up to the hype. He could end up first team All-America and have people still saying he wasn't good enough. Jadeveon Clowney, anyone?

Winn
Mitch McGary, Michigan: I only say this because his incredible NCAA tournament -- in which he played near the level of Kevin Love or Jared Sullinger's freshman-year production -- may have created unreasonable expectations for McGary's sophomore season. A back injury has kept him out of two months of practice, meaning he could get a slow start to 2013-14. The loss of point guard Trey Burke, with whom McGary was excellent as a pick-and-roll man, could mean he'll get fewer easy scoring chances around the rim.

Anderson
Kyle Anderson, UCLA: The hype, created in part by Kyle's dad, Kyle, Sr., is that he'll be ready for the NBA at the end of the season ... or so Senior indicated to ESPN's Jeff Goodman in September, even while acknowledging Junior's "lack of strength, quickness, and explosion, and inconsistent shooting." It was hard for Ben Howland to fully tap the potential of Anderson's unusual blend of size and skills, and it may not be any easier for Steve Alford, especially since Alford's son, Bryce, plays Anderson's preferred position, point guard.

Gardner
Wiggins: It would be almost impossible for Wiggins to live up to his hype. He's been compared to Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James, and he hasn't even been consistently challenged until this point in his career. Look at it this way: If Wiggins becomes a solid role player on an NBA team for 10 years, he would be considered a huge bust. How could anyone live up to his hype?
Biggest, Baddest Conference
Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski | Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty
Davis
ACC: This is clearly the best and deepest league in the country -- and this is before Louisville joins the fray next year. Don't be surprised if 10 of the 15 teams make the NCAA tournament.

Winn
ACC: Expansion brought this league back to No. 1. It has a title contender (Duke), three more top 15 quality teams (Syracuse, North Carolina and sleeper Virginia), and a third tier of NCAA tournament-bid contenders (Notre Dame, Boston College, Maryland and Pittsburgh). The Big Ten is the only other conference with as much quality depth.

Anderson
ACC: Now that former Big East heavyweights Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame have joined the scrum, I have to give the ACC the nod, if only for sheer, sprawling nastiness. The Big Ten still has a better chance of winning the national title.

Gardner
ACC: The Big Ten and the ACC could each send as many as nine teams to the tourney, but Duke has a higher caliber of teams within that rank. We won't know the answer to this question until the conferences' annual clash in December at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Coach On The Hottest Seat
Rick Barnes | Photo: Peter G. Aiken/Getty
Davis
Rick Barnes, Texas: This is the obvious answer, but it's obvious for a reason. The Longhorns were terrible last year, and they lost many of their key players to the NBA draft as well as transfers. There is no sign that Barnes is bringing in the type of recruits to turn this thing around. Many coaches will tell you that this is one of the top five jobs in the country, but you wouldn't know it by the lack of talent currently assembled in Austin.

Winn
Barnes: The Longhorns are switching athletic directors and are likely to have new football and basketball coaches in 2014. Barring a miraculous turnaround -- and Barnes doesn't have the personnel to pull it off after a mass exodus of transfers and players turned pro -- his 16-year run at Texas will come to an end. Is it fair, given that he made 14 trips to the NCAA tournament? No, but neither was Ben Howland's ouster at UCLA last season, and he had a much better year than Barnes' 16-18.

Anderson
Barnes: Barnes has had a good run in Austin, leading the Longhorns to 14 straight NCAA tournaments, including the 2003 Final Four. But despite a herd of elite recruits, the 'Horns have won just two NCAA games in the last five years. Last year Barnes had his first losing season with Texas, and his prospects are no better this year as four of the top underclassmen from last season, including point guard Myck Kabongo and promising 6-8 forward Ioannis Papapetrou, have declined to return.

Gardner
Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest: Since everyone else went with the best answer, Rick Barnes, I'll throw a slight curve ball by picking Bzdelik. If you live around Winston Salem, this choice will be no surprise to you. Demon Deacons fans took out an ad in the paper to call for Bzdelik's dismissal. Although Wake has improved in his tenure, he's facing his biggest challenge this year in an improved ACC.

A Bold Prediction
Joe Harris | Photo: Lance King/Getty
Davis
What, not picking Kentucky to go to the Final Four wasn't bold enough? Okay, I'll predict that once again, a midmajor school will reach the Final Four, but none of the top midmajor coaches (Mark Few, Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall, etc.) will leave their jobs. Good salary and long-term security is hard to come by in this business, but these guys have found it.

Winn
Virginia will be a surprise contender (and top-three finisher) in Year 1 of the expanded ACC. The Cavs have been an afterthought in league-title discussions, but they have a Player of the Year candidate in Joe Harris, a highly underrated power forward in Akil Mitchell and consistently play some of the best defense in the nation.

Anderson
This is the year the Pac-12 finally flexes some muscle in the pre-conference and gets half the league into the NCAAs with respectable seeds. They'll eradicate the lingering stench of the last two years, when the regular-season champ, Washington, wasn't worthy (2012) and the tournament champ, Oregon, got a 12-seed (2013.)

Gardner
Jabari Parker will return to Duke for his sophomore season. I don't think Duke will win the national title this year, and Parker's competitiveness -- and a stocked draft class -- may compell him to stick around for one more season.

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