SPORTS

No sure thing

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

The NCAA basketball season is finally upon us, so I will give it the old college try and make my championship prediction.

Like most years, many rosters have been gutted by the NBA draft, making many starting lineups unrecognizable. That might throw a monkey wrench into my whole prognostication but oh well; here goes nothing.

I don't see Louisville winning a second straight title. They've lost too many key pieces from last year's team.

Even though they return one of the best players in the nation in Russ Smith and last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock, they lost their point guard in Peyton Siva.

They also lost a great rebounder and defender down low in Gorgui Dieng. With Dieng gone, Chane Behanan--who had a big Final Four--was supposed to step up in his place, but he has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.

I don't see the team that lost to Louisville in the championship game making a return either.

Michigan does return some key pieces. They bring back Glenn Robinson III, two sharp-shooters in Spike Albrecht and Nik Stauskas and an emerging superstar down low in Mitch McGary.

However, they lost their MVP in point guard Trey Burke. They were a completely different team last year when he wasn't on the court. He used to demand so much attention, create so much offense and any time they needed a big shot, he hit it.

Kentucky is the No. 1 team to start the season, but I just don't see them ending that way because let's face it, we know nothing about them. Maybe all these new faces are championship caliber; maybe they're not.

They were supposed to be title-bound last year, and look what happened. They lost in the opening round of the NIT.

There are just too many unknowns to pick them to win it all. They have 16 players on their roster, and nine of them are freshmen.

They may be talented, but you just don't see many teams that young win titles. Kentucky pulled it off two years back, but that's the only team I've ever seen do it. Even the legendary "Fab Five" never won a championship.

That youth factor is why I won't be picking Kansas. They will be led by the No. 1 recruit in the country in Andrew Wiggins, but he is going to have so much inexperience around him.

Kansas lost their most dynamic player in Ben McLemore, their force inside in Jeff Withey and a great veteran leader in Travis Releford.

Ohio State is a team I really like. They have one of the best coaches in the game with Thad Matta, and they always seem to take their game to the next level come tournament time.

Aaron Craft is back at point guard. It seems like he has been in Colombus since the Filmore administration.

Along with Craft, an emerging star in LaQuinton Ross returns. He really broke out during the Buckeyes' run to the Elite 8 last year.

However, I won't pick Ohio State to win it all because with the loss of DeShaun Thomas, they are losing a lot of offense. Thomas averaged 20 a game last year.

For my national championship pick, I'm going with a team that returns the most proven roster, Michigan State.

The Spartans are always a threat with Tom Izzo leading the charge, they always play great defense, are near the top when it comes to rebounding and they always have a knack for going to the Final Four. They've been there six times under Izzo.

I think they'll be hungry this year after falling to Duke in the Sweet 16 last season and in the minefield that was the Big 10, they lost five games to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan by only 16 combined points.

I think they're ready to get over that hump this year, and the conference just isn't as treacherous this season with Indiana's roster getting gutted, Burke gone from Michigan and Thomas gone from Ohio State.

Michigan State will feature one of the best back-courts in the nation with point guard Keith Appling and two-guard Gary Harris. Both guys averaged 13 points a game last season.

And down low, they have a force in Adreian Payne--a guy that went for 11 points, eight rebounds and more than one block per contest a year ago.

For dark horses, watch out for the P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo-led North Carolina Tarheels and an Oklahoma State team with the trio of Marcus Smart, Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown.