Which teams can we expect to challenge for a spot in the 2010/2011 Final 4? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
After watching such a tremendous basketball game between Duke and Butler, my juices are already flowing for next season and the potential that perhaps Gonzaga could be competing at that level. While there are still many draft-decisions to be made before May 8th, here is a very early shot at Top 10 for the 2010/2011 season. I will be giving a quick explanation with each team, and I am also going to assume some people declaring for the NBA.
1) Duke: Even with the graduation of Jon Scheyer and the likely move of Kyle Singler to the NBA, the Blue Devils will be loaded next season. Kyrie Irving could very well start as a freshman alongside the underrated Nolan Smith. I also have very high expectations for Seth Curry, who is the younger brother of Stephen Curry. Andre Dawkins should improve, and it will be interesting to see how Mason and Miles Plumlee develop. If Duke can get some production in the frontcourt, they should be tremendous next season.
2) Purdue: I was incredibly tempted to have the Boilermakers at #1, but a lot of their success will depend on the health of Robbie Hummell. It's often said that it takes up to 18 months to be fully healed and comfortable after a serious knee injury, so it will be interesting to see how confident Hummell is able to play at the start of the season. However, with Hummell, E'Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson likely returning, Purdue could be great if they are healthy.
3) Michigan St.: It clearly will be very loaded at the top of the Big 10 next season. With Kalin Lucas expected to return to school because of his injury during the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans will have a loaded back court with Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen, and Korie Lucious all incredibly gifted guards. Draymond Green and Derrick Nix provide a nice presence in the front court, and if Delvon Roe can ever get fully healthy, he is a game-changing talent. Adreian Payne should provide some nice production as a freshman with his height and toughness.
4) Memphis: The Tigers will be the 2010 version of Kentucky, with a tremendous group of freshman looking to bring the program back to a high level. Josh Pastner has secured commitments from Jelan Kendrick, Will Barton, and Joe Jackson, who are all Top 15 prospects on the Rivals 150 list. When you factor in the return of Wesley Witherspoon and the likely return of Elliot Williams, the Tigers should be back among the elite next season.
5) Butler: This ranking could obviously change if Gordon Hayward decides to declare for the NBA draft, but for some reason I think he will be back for another try at a National Championship. If Hayward returns, then the Bulldogs will look very similar to this season, with Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, and Ronald Nored also expected to be back next season. I'm not convinced that Butler was the second best team in the country this season, but with their style of play, it's a very difficult team to match up with and beat.
6) Temple: This is a team that a lot more people would be paying attention to if it wasn't for one bad game. The Owls had a great season, winning the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament, but a loss to Cornell ended their season far too early. The Owls are set to return their top five scorers next season and Fran Dunphy is one of the best coaches in the country. Look for Temple to break through as a Top 10 program next season.
7) Missouri: It's hard to explain just how excited I am about this team next season. The Tigers will return their top five scorers and bring in Tony Mitchell and Phil Pressey, who are perfect fits for the high-tempo system that Mike Anderson loves to run. Missouri may also land Matt Pressey, who is the brother of Phil Pressey, and is also a JC guard that Gonzaga has started to show some serious interest in.
8) Pitt: Jamie Dixon has proven himself to be among the elite coaches in the country, and he should have one of his better teams in 2010/2011. The Panthers exceeded most expectations with their performance this season, and they return their top three scorers. Ashton Gibbs should be one of the elite guys in the Big East next season, and look for Isaiah Epps to step in and make an immediate impact next year.
9: Gonzaga: I'm not sure there is going to be any trio in the country I would take over Steven Gray, Elias Harris, and Rob Sacre. The key for the Zags next season is who will emerge at the PG position and at the PF spot. I expect to see Sam Dower start at the PF with Elias Harris moving out to the SF position. If Meech Goodson, GJ Vilarino, or perhaps a JC guy like Marquise Carter can take the PG position to the next level, this could be a great Zags team.
10) Illinois: Combine an elite level recruiting class with the return of Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and you have the makings of a very good Illinois team. Much will depend on the development of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson during the summer, but I think we should have a very fun game to watch at the Battle in Seattle this season.