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Familiar names expected to rule hoops landscape

Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are strong preseason contenders to reach the 2010 Final Four.

November 10, 2009|Shannon Ryan

The outlook on the college basketball season promises some quality time with familiar former champions.

While in past seasons relatively unheralded teams such as Oklahoma, Memphis, Florida and Ohio State were popular preseason picks, this season's contenders are basketball blue bloods.

Kentucky could return to glory and raise its eighth national championship banner. Or North Carolina could go for consecutive titles and a sixth championship. Or Kansas, the Associated Press' preseason No. 1, could win its second title in three seasons.

While Texas looks strong enough to see its first "one shining moment" after three Final Fours, Michigan State hopes to avenge last season's runner-up finish by earning its third national title.

Don't be surprised if feelings of deja vu arise with so many tradition-rich teams in the hunt to repeat history.

Final Four picks

* Kansas: The Jayhawks know what it's like to win a championship and this season's team is a complete one. With center Cole Aldrich (11.1 rebounds per game last season) and point guard Sherron Collins (18.9 points per game) leading the way, Kansas is primed to win the championship -- as long as players can avoid more off-the-court trouble.

* Kentucky: Few go from the National Invitation Tournament to the national title hunt. But expectations are high again for the Wildcats, who have NBA-ready talent and a buzz-worthy coach in John Calipari. With power forward Patrick Patterson (17.9 points per game) leading the way, they'll chase their first Final Four since the 1998 championship.

* North Carolina: Without Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, the road looks tougher for the Tar Heels. But an impressive frontcourt should carry them. Sophomore forwards Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller will supplement senior Deon Thompson.

* Texas: With Damion James returning for his senior season, improved center Dexter Pittman and talented freshmen guards, Texas' depth could push Kansas for the Big 12 Conference -- and national -- titles. The Longhorns need to find a reliable point guard.

Five players to watch

* Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, sophomore, 6-9, forward. Ebanks blossomed during the Big East Conference tournament to win conference rookie-of-the-year honors. In adding 30 pounds of muscle to his frame during the off-season, Ebanks stated renewed focus to build on his averages of 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.

* Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, senior, 6-8, forward. Harangody tore it up among the giants of last season's Big East, averaging 23.3 points and 11.8 rebounds to become the only player to rank in the top 10 nationally in both categories. Imagine what this season holds in a weakened conference.

* Kalin Lucas, Michigan State, junior, 6-1, guard. When Coach Tom Izzo compares you to Mateen Cleaves, you know he likes you. That's the case with Lucas, whose leadership will be vital for the Spartans to return to the Final Four.

* Willie Warren, Oklahoma, sophomore, 6-4, guard. Despite Blake Griffin's departure, the Sooners still have one of the nation's top players. Warren averaged 14.6 points as a freshman and shined when Griffin was injured last season. Now the stage is his.

* Kyle Singler, Duke, junior, 6-8, forward. Singler is free to play on the perimeter where he fits more naturally as the focal point of the Blue Devils' offense. Last season he averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds and shot 38.3% on three-point tries.

Five freshmen to watch

* Avery Bradley, Texas, 6-2, guard. Scout.com's No. 1 incoming shooting guard, Bradley will help fill a backcourt void left by A.J. Abrams.

* Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech, 6-10, forward. Rated as the nation's top freshman, Favors' big body will be an immediate defensive force.

* Xavier Henry, Kansas, 6-6, guard. Originally a Memphis commit, Henry averaged 28.3 points and shot 55% as a high school senior.

* Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati, 6-5, guard-forward. Big recruits out of New York face heavy expectations, but Stephenson seems to have the talent to handle it.

* John Wall, Kentucky, 6-4, guard. He has been called the next Derrick Rose and makes Kentucky a title contender.

Five coaches to watch

* John Calipari, Kentucky: After coaching at Massachusetts and Memphis, he's in the big time even more so now.

* Bill Carmody, Northwestern: Could this finally be the season the Wildcats make the tournament?

* Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech: He led the Yellow Jackets to the title game in 2004, but won only two Atlantic Coast Conference games last season.

* Jerry Wainwright, DePaul: After a winless Big East regular season, the Blue Demons must show significant improvement.

* Doug Wojcik, Tulsa: Can he unseat Memphis as king of Conference USA?

--

sryan@tribune.com

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