COLUMNS

College basketball: the ultimate crapshoot

Kyle Riviere
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere

College basketball is one of the hardest sports to make preseason predictions for. You can end up looking like the sports equivalent to Nostradamus, or you can resemble a lackluster meteorologist trying to predict this constantly-changing Louisiana weather.

Rosters shift too dramatically in the offseason. You very seldom see a superstar player stay more than two years. In fact, most will leave school and go pro after just one great season.

So, you're left with a group of players that you've never heard of--players that are either true freshmen or were riding the pine last year.

And that leads to another variable: the guys Dick Vitale calls "diaper dandies." There is no other college sport where true freshmen have a bigger impact than in college hoops.

Guys can go from playing for their district titles one year to playing in the Final Four the next.

With all that said, I'll try my best to make my preseason pick. Hopefully, I'll look more like Nostradamus by the time the season comes to a close.

The preseason No. 1 and the team everyone is talking about is Indiana. Why not? The Hoosiers went 27-9 last year and made it to the Sweet 16 before losing a close one to eventual national champion Kentucky.

They return their top five scorers from a year ago--including the super sophomore forward Cody Zeller. He averaged 15 points and six rebounds a game last year as a true freshman.

I don't see the Hoosiers making the return to glory though. I think they're still a year off. They still have a lot of young guys that aren't used to success, and making the jump from Sweet 16 to national champions is a little much for one year.

Many are high on Louisville--a team that made it to the Final Four last year and played Kentucky down to the wire.

They return one of the top point guards in the country in Peyton Siva, but I'm concerned with their inexperience inside. Also, losing a pure scorer in Kyle Kuric, I'm wondering where the Cardinals will find offense at keys times.

Last year, they were at the bottom of the rankings in field goal percentage and points per game.

Defending national champs Kentucky lost their entire starting lineup. But like every year, they re-tooled and brought in a bunch of five-star recruits to fill in the gaps. They'll probably be great, but you never really know what their ceiling will be until they get on the court.

A team I think will make some serious noise and make a run will be N.C. State. They came out of nowhere last year and had a strong showing in the ACC Tournament and lost by a razor-thin margin to eventual national runner-up Kansas in the Sweet 16.

They look to be very balanced. They return Lorenzo Brown at guard. He averaged 13 points and six assists last year.

And they are strongest down low. They return Richard Howell who averaged 11 and nine and C.J. Leslie who average 15 and seven.

However, I think winning a national crown is a little much to ask. They struggled last year on the defensive side of the ball, and it's a bit of a stretch to think a team that lost 13 games last year will win it all this season.

This is where I go way out on a limb. I'm picking Florida as the team to win it all. Yes, Florida.

The Gators made it to the Elite 8 last year--where they blew an 11-point second-half lead in a loss to Louisville.

I think the loss will motivate Florida all year and with one of the best coaches in the game in Billy Donovan, he'll have them ready to roll come Tournament time.

Though they lose Bradley Beal, they return a very good guard in Kenny Boynton. Boynton averaged 16 points and three assists last year.

And the Gators will have one of the stronger front courts in the nation with Patric Young and Erik Murphy. Last season, Young averaged 10 and six while Murphy added 11 and five.

They will be solid defensively as every Donovan-coached team is, and they'll rebound well and shoot a good percentage.

They might lose five to eight games during the regular season, but by the time the NCAA Tournament starts, watch out for the Gators.