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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
At the Watercooler: Bracketology

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Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? I know it has been only a few days, but this occasion called for another Watercooler. Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology report is available for the people. And, well, let's just start with the most controversial element of it and the 2013-14 preseason: Kentucky is not just a No. 1 seed in Joe's bracket, it's also the No. 1 overall seed.

John Calipari
A new season should bring happier times for John Calipari and UK.

I agree with that decision. A lot of folks are going to come up with a lot of reasons to doubt the Wildcats and their slot, but Kentucky features five kids who are ranked in the top 11 of RecruitingNation's 2013 class rankings. Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and James Young could all turn pro in a year. Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein return. John Calipari has the most talented team in America, and even though Kentucky fell short of expectations last season, I believe this is a different squad.

I really don't have a problem with Kentucky earning the No. 1 overall spot in Joe's bracket, but I'm sure college basketball fans around the country will question Joe's choice. What do you think about that one, man?

Eamonn Brennan: Mid-April Bracketology! It is a special occasion, indeed. This time is especially, um, special, because not only does Joe get to hear from people who are positively scandalized that such an early Bracketology exists -- it's one of my favorite annual traditions -- but he gets to hear from people who will be outraged that a team that lost in the first round of the NIT last season is going to be ranked No. 1 overall in October.

Guess what, everyone: Deal with it.

Our own Dave Telep already thinks Calipari has the best recruiting class of all time, and UK is still desperately trying to get Andrew Wiggins on board. In my offseason storylines column, I made a crack about how if Wiggins goes to Kentucky, we should just cancel the season and save ourselves a lot of time. A couple of the commenters responded with just pure vitriol, about how talent guarantees nothing, and the Fab Five didn't win anything, and how quick we are to forget, and what a disgrace, etc.

To all of those folks: Deal with it, too.

Opposing fans can lash out all they want, but look at Calipari's career -- especially in the past decade, when his relationship with William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley helped him open every last door to prep talent. Before this past season, the last time he had a team ranked outside the top 15 in defensive efficiency was 2004-05, which was also, coincidentally, the last time he didn't have a team go to the NCAA tournament. His first three years at Kentucky -- with largely freshman-led teams -- he went to the Elite Eight, advanced to the Final Four and won the national title. Do you think last year is anything more than a blip? That something fundamental has changed? He has his greatest class ever, and Wiggins is still on the board.

Of course the national title isn't guaranteed. But are you really saying Kentucky isn't going to be really good? If so, just ... don't. Stop.

A better question, Myron, is what we think Joe's bracket says about early perceptions of the rest of the field. Your thoughts?

MM: I think the bracket says there are still a lot of unknowns about the 2013-14 season, because we're still two weeks away from the NBA's early entry deadline. I agree that Michigan State could be a No. 1 seed if Adreian Payne and Gary Harris return. Marquette as a No. 6 seed makes sense after Vander Blue declared for the draft. Ditto for North Carolina, which just lost Reggie Bullock. Michigan is definitely a No. 2 seed or higher if two members of the Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III group return. But plenty of question marks, right?

James Michael McAdoo
James Michael McAdoo's return is UNC's first win of the new season.

This bracket could undergo a few dramatic changes in the coming weeks with all of the pending decisions. Teams such as Iowa (No. 7 seed) and Iowa State (12) could move up, considering the talent they'll bring back. Florida (5), with Chris Walker and Kasey Hill entering the mix, could contend for a higher seed as well.

But some things never change. The Big Ten has seven tourney teams in Joe's bracket. There's still a good chance the league will earn "best conference in the nation" honors again. The ACC has added a bunch of talent. There are six ACC squads in Joe's bracket, and Wiggins could choose Florida State, his parents' alma mater.

The 2013 class has really added to the intrigue that precedes the 2013-14 campaign. Any surprises or questions about this early bracket?

EB: Yeah, even if we're just all guessing here (but it's fun to guess!). James Michael McAdoo announced late Tuesday night that he would be returning to UNC for his junior season, which strikes me not only as a good call by McAdoo -- yes, this year's draft is less stocked, but his value took a major hit during a thoroughly mediocre sophomore season -- but as obviously a boost to UNC, which we can count as one of the few schools with at least some obvious combination of NBA talent and starters' minutes returning. (This is another reason why Kentucky is worth that No. 1 spot -- who is bringing back enough to convince us they'll be better?)

Tons of question marks with Michigan, both on what its stars will decide to do and what it will look like next season with the roster John Beilein eventually brings back. Florida is really intriguing to me. Yes, it loses a great deal of offense, but Patric Young in a fully featured forward role for the first time in his career is an awfully interesting prospect.

Yes, the Big Ten is fascinating. As I wrote in the blog Tuesday, the league's top two returning scorers will be D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, both of whom played for ... wait for it ... 10-21 Penn State. The league looks like it will be just as competitive, if not as top-heavy and loaded with potential national title contenders, as it was this season. Iowa is undoubtedly part of that discussion.

I don't have any real questions at this point, but two of my favorite seeds:

1. Memphis as a No. 3: Not only because it correctly conveys expectations for the talented Tigers, but also because Memphis fans would surely love to get off the No. 8 line for once. The Tigers' past two tournament draws have been brutal.

2. Wisconsin as a No. 5: Because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and Wisconsin will be one of the three or four best teams in the Big Ten and about a No. 5 seed. I'm not sure anything sums up Badgers basketball quite so well as this seed. It is majestic.

MM: Memphis fans will certainly appreciate that. In 2012, the Tigers faced a stacked Saint Louis squad in the Big Dance. They had to play Saint Mary's and Michigan State last season. Josh Pastner has a lot of talent on his roster, especially with the recruiting class he signed. Losing Tarik Black (transfer) and Adonis Thomas (NBA) will hurt, but I agree that Memphis could be a No. 3 seed in 2013-14.

The Badgers will be the Badgers, so a No. 5 seed is certainly fitting. Watch out for Sam Dekker, America. He could be a star next season.

I like Tennessee as a No. 5 seed. Jeronne Maymon returns. Jarnell Stokes, I'm assuming, will be back, too. Robert Hubbs, the four-star recruit, joins the program. Jordan McRae is back. Good things ahead for the Vols.

I like Syracuse as a No. 2 seed. Yes, Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams are gone, but Jim Boeheim has the No. 7 recruiting class in the country, per RecruitingNation. I think Jerami Grant will be a star next year. C.J. Fair might return after a stellar effort in the NCAA tournament. It's early, but it's definitely exciting to consider the possibilities.

Marcus Smart
With Marcus Smart back, can OSU threaten Kansas' Big 12 reign?

Right now, Joe lists Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Arizona as his No. 1 seeds. What are the chances those four schools will actually earn No. 1 seeds on Selection Sunday? Who else will be in the mix?

EB: To answer your question, Myron, let's go behind the curtain. We wrote this on Tuesday night, when we exchanged emails over the course of a few hours. Since we've started, McAdoo returned to school and -- in the surprise of the draft decision period thus far, and maybe of the offseason in general -- Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart did the same.

It's one thing to see McAdoo return, because he had a pretty rough season. But Smart? He had a universally lauded freshman campaign and was a lock for the lottery, if not the top five; NBA scouts love his mix of strength, defense and intangibles at the point guard spot (and his biggest weakness, outside shooting, is the most easily remedied at the next level). But part of those intangibles has always been Smart's desire to win, and I'm sure that has plenty to do with this decision -- he wants to come back to school and compete for a national title.

So let's tentatively move Oklahoma State into that group. That right there highlights the weird nature of this time of year, when we're already thirsty for next season and we don't even know what the rosters are going to look like. Such are the perils of mid-April bracket projections, eh?

MM: The perils and the beauty of mid-April bracket projections, Eamonn. The unexpected developments and intrigue are why we love early Bracketology and college basketball's offseason. Dare I say that Smart's return jeopardizes Kansas' Big 12 title streak?

Well, we have seven months to discuss that idea. Until next time, my friend.