College basketball teams, players to watch for 2011-12

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Greg Auman previews the men's season:

5 players to watch

1. Harrison Barnes, UNC

Best of a great class of sophomores who — this sounds strange — defied convention by returning to college basketball. Thank you, NBA lockout, for another season of Barnes, who bloomed late in his freshman year, getting 40 points in an ACC Tournament win against Clemson. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward was ACC rookie of the year and will chase national player of year honors.

2. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

Sullinger averaged a double double last season, getting 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds while piling up 45,000 followers on Twitter. At 6-9, 280, he's what they call a big.

3. Terrence Jones, Kentucky

Another freshman phenom at Kentucky, Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds last year and will only have a stronger supporting cast this season. Expect more big games on the glass like his 15-rebound game against UConn in the Final Four.

4. Perry Jones III, Baylor

Power forward will miss the first five games of the season, but look out for the 6-11, 235-pound sophomore, who averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.

5. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin

Nice to have a senior on here, and who better to lead a team than an experienced point guard, especially one who had a nation-leading 3.83-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers last season. He also scored 18.1 points per game and got more than 20 in Big Ten play.

5 teams to watch

1. North Carolina: Roy Williams has a nearly consensus No. 1 entering the season, with four elite players back from last year's team, led by would-be lottery pick Harrison Barnes. The Tar Heels took off after Tyler Zeller stepped in at point guard, and Tampa's John Henson looks poised for a breakout season as a junior. With solid freshmen bolstering a returning nucleus, Williams has a shot at his third national title in eight years.

2. Kentucky: John Calipari has again reeled in the nation's top recruiting class, with top freshmen such as Michael Gilchrist joining a returning cast led by Terrence Jones. The challenge for Calipari is the same he had two years ago with John Wall's class — how much chemistry can be forged in a single season before the talent takes the one-and-done route to the NBA?

3. Connecticut: The defending champion loses clutch shooter Kemba Walker, but it'll be a better start-to-finish team after finishing ninth in the Big East last season. Jeremy Lamb takes over as an elite scorer, Shabazz Napier steps in at point, and freshman Andre Drummond will join senior Alex Oriakhi in the post, giving Jim Calhoun another potential national title.

4. Duke: Mike Krzyzewski has seen the ACC change its look around him — four more new coaches this year, after three last season — but Krzyzewski remains the best challenger to UNC for ACC supremacy. That's true again despite losing Kyrie Irving as the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Watch out for freshman Austin Rivers, Doc's son and an Orlando standout rated as the nation's top shooting guard prospect.

5. Ohio State: College basketball has a strong group of contenders thanks to sophomores such as big man Jared Sullinger, who opted to come back with a talented group of playmakers that includes PG Aaron Craft and F William Buford. So much of the focus is in the ACC and Big East, but Ohio State is back as the Big Ten's best contender for March.

College basketball teams, players to watch for 2011-12 11/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 7:49pm]

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