How They'll Finish
How They'll Finish
1. NORTH CAROLINA
Bruising power forward Tyler Hansbrough and electric point guard Ty Lawson give the Tar Heels the country's best inside-outside combination, and they've got more depth than they know what to do with. After wasting a late-second half lead to Georgetown last year in the region finals, nothing less than a Final Four will be acceptable in Chapel Hill.
2. N.C. STATE
Forward Gavin Grant put pressure on Coach Sidney Lowe at the team's media day when he predicted four losses and a Final Four appearance. If the slick-passing, sharpshooting Wolfpack, which imported a shipment of talented freshmen, can replace point guard Engin Atsur, we just may see Lowe's resplendent red jacket in San Antonio come April.
Sophomore guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes may form the best back court in the ACC. Though young, Vasquez and Hayes are experienced after sharing turns at the point last season. James Gist will provide scoring in the post, and Bambale Osby will provide the muscle. Defense will be a question early, but guard play will make the Terrapins a contender.
Duke-hating fans should savor the flavor from last season. After 1996, the last time the Blue Devils lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, they were a No. 1 or No. 2 NCAA seed in eight of the next nine seasons. DeMarcus Nelson will lead them, and pundits have compared freshman Kyle Singler to former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison.
There may be no better player in the nation than senior point guard Sean Singletary. The Cavaliers may not have the star power to replace the scoring of J.R. Reynolds, but they have the depth. Freshman slasher Jeff Jones and veteran wing players Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph will remove some of the scoring burden from Singletary.
The good news: Clemson returns four starters from a team that started 17-0. The bad news: Clemson returns four starters from a team that tanked so badly after starting 17-0, it didn't make the NCAA tournament. They may break through this season thanks to perhaps the peskiest defense in the league.