Writer roundtable: Three big questions
Our writers go around the country to answer some of the biggest questions about the college basketball landscape.
1. A player is going to give up his scholarship to make room for Andre Drummond. Does this make you uncomfortable, or is it "just the way it is" with renewable scholarships?
Eamonn Brennan: Yes, that's the way it is, and yes, it makes me uncomfortable. Even if a player voluntarily gives up his scholarship -- and "voluntary" always depends on the situation -- it's still awfully unfair. Almost to a man, college hoops coaches decry the past decade's increase in the frequency of transfers. They claim the transfers are the products of fickle, spoiled kids caught in a grass-roots "me-first" culture. I've even heard a coach indict American society at large. But considering that college players must wait an entire year sitting on the sidelines if they want to transfer -- thereby losing a valuable year on their NBA draft clocks in the process -- those complaints sound downright hypocritical.
Andy Katz: If it were my son, it might be hard to digest, but I can see the overall merit of adding a player who might allow my son to experience a chance at a national championship. That's how much the addition of Drummond means to the Huskies. It's not fair. But it's the reality of the situation, and I'm sure every school in the country under the exact same restrictions would find a way to make it work to add a player the caliber of Drummond. Getting elite big men is extremely difficult, and to add one a few days before fall classes begin is unprecedented. You can't make a move like this for a marginal player. To do this, the player has to be a season-changer. Perhaps that doesn't make it right, but it'll make it easier to digest for all if the Huskies win big.
Diamond Leung: Given the APR penalties that have resulted in scholarship losses, it does make me uncomfortable that the addition of Drummond would come at the expense of another student-athlete who did nothing wrong. But if another player voluntarily gives up his scholarship in order for the team to make room for a more talented player, it wouldn't be wrong. UConn is well within the rules and wouldn't be the first team this offseason -- or any offseason -- to creatively find a way to juggle a roster with too many players and not enough scholarships.
Dana O'Neil: I'm hardly naive and know that what is happening at Connecticut goes on all the time. The mercenary in me even understands it. Coaches need to win and they need the best players to do that, which means people become expendable. But when the NCAA wonders why the moral fiber of its organization is being questioned, it need look no further than this. If the NCAA is "all about the student-athlete," then it should be all about every student-athlete, not just the one with the best jump shot. A promise of a full ride to college ought to have more commitment than a Hollywood marriage. So yes, this is just the way it is. It just isn't the way it ought to be.
2. With the addition of Drummond, most have North Carolina, Kentucky, UConn and Ohio State pegged as the Final Four favorites. Who would be your pick as the fifth-best team in the country?
Brennan: Right now, the leader in the clubhouse would seem to be Duke. The Blue Devils could have one of the best scorers in the country in Austin Rivers and should benefit from their recent exhibition trip to China and the UAE. Syracuse is another consensus contender, and Kansas could get there by the end of the season. But I'm especially intrigued by Vanderbilt. If Jeffery Taylor morphs into a star as a senior -- and he's almost there already -- the Commodores have the talent and experience to push Kentucky in the SEC and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Katz: Tough, tough call. I wouldn't be disappointed with a number of answers here. I originally had Syracuse at No. 4 before the UConn news. I'm now debating between Syracuse and Vanderbilt for No. 5. I had Duke at fifth, but I'm starting to like the Orange and Vandy a tad better. I reserve the right to change my mind again, but as of August I'm leaning toward Vandy due to the Commodores' experience with the big three of John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli. Expectations have never been higher in Nashville, and I happen to think it's justified.
Leung: Duke is the fifth-best team in the country. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins appear ready to make big jumps as juniors, and the team will be adding the nation's top shooting guard prospect in Austin Rivers to the backcourt. The Blue Devils hope Mason Plumlee can blossom into a consistent double-double guy, while Ryan Kelly was impressive during their preseason tour of Asia. While losing Kyrie Irving early to the draft means Duke won't be among the top-tier teams in the preseason poll, it's not a group that is far behind the Final Four favorites.
O'Neil: Though the consensus holds these top four in deserved high esteem, there is a pack of teams nipping very closely at their heels. You could put any of the following at No. 5 -- Duke, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, or perhaps even Memphis or Louisville. I'm going to lean (for now, with the right to change weekly) with Syracuse. The Orange have the perfect complement of solid, veteran returners in Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, plus instant-impact freshmen like Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas. If Christmas, with help from Fab Melo, can help fill the shoes of Rick Jackson (the lone void on the roster), Syracuse will be a beast in the East.
3. Can you remember the last season when so many teams had the potential to be truly great? Describe your excitement about the 2011-12 season.
Brennan: It's the sophomores. In the one-and-done era, we've come to expect every top freshman to leave school as soon as possible. This summer was a refreshing change from the norm. At least four potential top-five picks -- Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones -- all came back to play as sophomores. North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State are likely to be the three best teams in the country, and Baylor is one of the most versatile and athletic teams in the country. The stars have aligned -- both literally and figuratively -- for a vintage season in 2011-12. I can't wait.
Katz: UConn and Butler were surprise Final Four teams in Houston, but I'd be shocked if we have an unexpected pair playing for the national title in New Orleans in March. The depth at the top of the SEC, Big East, ACC and Big 12 is as strong as it's been, with each of the power leagues having at least two teams that could reach the Final Four. Last season wasn't bad by any means, but this regular season should provide us with much more intrigue in a lead-up to March.
Leung: The 2007-08 season saw four teams -- Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA -- that were identified as the nation's best in the preseason, and they all ended up top seeds in the NCAA tournament and all advanced to the Final Four. Greats like Tyler Hansbrough, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and a host of future NBA players for champ KU carried their teams. That's why this preseason has been filled with excitement. Big-name stars in Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones and Jared Sullinger all decided to return to their big-name teams, and defending champion Connecticut also has the personnel it needs for a legitimate chance at a repeat.
O'Neil: You have to love the cyclical nature of basketball. Just four months ago, people were bemoaning a lackluster Final Four, bereft of truly great teams. Now here we stand on the precipice of the 2011-12 season and the top 10 is stuffed. The game, to me, is best when it's wide, and wide-open, with really good teams. There is nothing more boring than the forced march of an obvious champion and nothing more muddling than mediocrity. This year is full of great name-brand programs -- programs with history, tradition and rabid fan bases. And even better, some of them are playing one another in the regular season. It should make for a thrilling season from first tip to final shining moment.