Road to the dance

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

Just as college football heats up and readies itself for the big inaugural playoff push, college hoops is set to begin its journey to the "Big Dance."

Like every year, many stars have flown the coop to live out their NBA dreams, and many top recruits are now ready to emerge as the future of college basketball.

It has caused many rosters to get shifted around but the one question remains: which team will be cutting down the nets come April?

It was the UConn Huskies that had the magical run last year. They went from getting annihilated by Louisville late in the year to getting white-hot and claiming yet another national title.

I don't see it happening this season. Point guard Shabazz Napier carried the Huskies throughout the tournament, and he's gone.

Along with Napier, DeAndre Daniels is also in the NBA. That only leaves Ryan Boatright. Boatright is a tremendous player, but he can't do it all on his own.

Many people are high on Arizona heading into the season. The Cats have a talented squad, but I think they might have trouble scoring in key situations.

They lost both leading scorer Nick Johnson and super freshman Aaron Gordon. They do bring back guard T.J. McConnell, forward Kaleb Tarczewski and top recruit Stanley Johnson, but I don't know if that will be enough to put them over the top.

Duke has people excited because of the influx of so much young talent.

They lost their two leading scorers in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but they return two productive guards in Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Amile Jefferson.

Along with those players, they'll showcase the top recruit in the nation in center Jahlil Okafor and the fourth-ranked prospect in guard Tyus Jones.

Though talented, I think their youth and inexperience will be their downfall. Even their veteran players don't have a ton of deep tournament experience to fall back on; the Blue Devils were dropped in the second round just last year.

Kansas brings in the fourth-ranked prospect in forward Cliff Alexander, and they feature experienced guard Wayne Selden Jr. along with forward Perry Ellis.

However, they'll be trying to recover from losing their two best players in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks didn't look very good in last year's tournament when Embiid was out with an injury.

Two teams that I think can make some noise are Texas and Iowa State.

The Longhorns ventured to the third round of last year's tournament, and they return two great guards that both scored in the double-digits last year in Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix. They also return forward Jonathan Holmes--who averaged 13 points and seven rebounds.

Center Cameron Ridely returns, and they bring in second-ranked recruit Myles Turner--a 7-footer.

I also like the Cyclones. No doubt, they'll miss their two leading scorers, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre "Big Daddy" Kane, but they still have a talented roster.

Iowa State made it to the Sweet 16 last year before losing by five to eventual national champion UConn, and that was without one of their best players.

Georges Niang--who averaged 17 points and five rebounds last season--returns with fellow-forward Dustin Hogue. He averaged 12 and eight.

Naz Long will be back to give the Cyclones some experience at guard.

Of course, you have to like the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

They lost Julius Randle down low, but they bring back the Harrison twins--Aaron and Andrew--who averaged 25 points between them last year.

They should be very strong down low with Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson. Poythress and Johnson were quiet during last year's regular season but both came up huge in the tournament.

Still, my favorite heading into the season is Wisconsin.

The Badgers made an inspired run all the way to the Final Four last year. It was there that they came just short of the title game--losing a 74-73 classic to Kentucky.

They bring back one of the best players in college basketball in Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky. The big man averaged 14 points and six rebounds per game a year ago and was huge come tournament time.

Along with Kaminsky, they bring back a double-digit scorer in Sam Dekker and guard Traevon Jackson--who averaged 11 points and four assists last year.

Under head coach Bo Ryan, you know they're going to play tenacious defense, and they're not going to make a lot of mistakes. Their hard-nosed style always seems to give other teams trouble during the tournament.