St. Petersburg Times staff writer Brian Landman previews the men's season
1. Kyle Singler, Sr., F, Duke
Singler, the most outstanding player of the Final Four when he averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds, eschewed the NBA draft to return for a shot at a repeat. He was the top vote-getter in the AP preseason All-America list and a favorite to be the national player of the year.
2. Jimmer Fredette, Sr., G, BYU
Fredette did it all for BYU — just ask the Gators, who couldn't slow him down in the NCAA Tournament; he had 37 in the Cougars' double-overtime win. For the year, he averaged 22.1 points, hitting 45.8 percent of his 3-pointers, and 4.7 assists.
3. JaJuan Johnson, Sr., F/C, Purdue
Johnson averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks for the Boilermakers and, even after F Robbie Hummel went out shortly before the NCAA Tournament with a torn ACL, he carried his team to the region semifinals where it lost to Duke.
4. Malcolm Delaney, Sr., G, Virginia Tech
Delaney might be the best-kept secret in the country, but then the Hokies haven't made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2007. But former USF coach Seth Greenberg's star can flat-out score (20.2 ppg) and is especially adept at drawing fouls.
5. Jacob Pullen, Sr., G, Kansas State
Pullen benefited from having Denis Clemente in the backcourt with him. But he's already in the school's Top 10 in 12 career categories, and there's no reason he won't be a national player of the year candidate.
5 favorite teams to watch
1. Duke: It's hard not to like the Blue Devils' chances to make it to the Final Four in Houston, if not repeat as NCAA champion. Senior F Kyle Singler and senior G Nolan Smith are proven scorers, the Plumlee boys, Miles and Mason, can rebound and defend down low and G Andre Dawkins and two newcomers, PG Kyrie Irving and G Seth Curry (a transfer and Stephen's little brother), bring quickness and more scoring punch. And coach Mike Krzyzewski might just be the best around.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans seem to be a perennial Final Four team, but then getting there last year for the sixth time in 12 years will create that kind of impression. Coach Tom Izzo, who flirted with leaving for the NBA and the Cavaliers, has plenty of talent back from last year, beginning with PG Kalin Lucas, G Durrell Summers and F Draymond Green.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats won 29 games last year, reaching the region final where they narrowly lost to the quintessential Cinderella, Butler. Yes, G Denis Clemente (a transfer from Miami) is gone, but coach Frank Martin has plenty back and an All-America caliber guard in Jacob Pullen. A question is how this group will handle its unusual position as a trendy pick to reach the Final Four.
4. North Carolina: Did the Tar Heels really follow a national title with a 20-17 record that would have been sub-.500 were it not for a run to the NIT final? Coach Roy Williams has a young team again, but one that looks like it can restore order as the folks in Chapel Hill see it. Freshman F Harrison Barnes is a preseason first-team All-America pick, freshman G Reggie Bullock can shoot it from anywhere and sophomore F John Henson (Sickles High) showed marked improvement down the stretch.
5. Washington: The Pac-10 had a down year last season, but the Huskies won the league tournament then reached the Sweet 16. That ain't bad, and they have a diminutive yet dynamic guard in junior Isaiah Thomas to lead coach Lorenzo Romar's veteran group that includes senior F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, senior G Venoy Overton and senior F Justin Holiday.