— I'm still not over last season and don't want to start thinking about the top 25. I don't want to start breaking down who is going to be the best team. That doesn't even mention the early entry process and all the uncertainty surrounding it, which is magnified this season with the lock out looming.
What I do enjoy doing at the end of the year, however, is to take a look at the kids that I think will have breakout 2011-12 seasons. I had two lead-pipe locks prior to 2010-2011 -- Marcus Morris and Kris Joseph. I was 50 percent right.
Seth Curry, Jr., Duke
Kyrie Irving is going to the NBA. Combine that with Nolan Smith's graduation and there will be a gaping hole to fill alongside Austin Rivers in Duke's backcourt. Curry really came on late in the season to become a serious scoring threat along side Smith. I expect Steph's younger brother to continue that growth next season.
Tim Hardaway Jr., So., Michigan
The younger Hardaway has his father's name but a much different game. The talented 6-5 wing boasts a solid all-around perimeter game. He had a bit of an unassuming start to the season, but thrived down the stretch as Michigan made their NCAA tournament push. Hardaway reminds me of former John Beilein star Mike Gansey.
Joe Jackson, So., Memphis
Jackson's 2010-11 struggles weren't necessarily the result of a lack of talent. The Memphis native had loads of hype coming into the season, which brought pressure of being a local kid in a basketball-mad town like Memphis. It's understandable the pressure would get to him. But Jackson was terrific in the postseason, a good sign for next year.
Jeremy Lamb, So., UConn
Lamb thrived in March. Once he learned how to be aggressive offensively, he became a serious offensive weapon. He has terrific length, he's an excellent athlete, and he proved against Shelvin Mack in the title game that he's a good on-ball defender. Lamb has a smooth mid-range game and 3-point range. He needs to add some strength and could stand to improve his ball-handling, but he could score 17 points a game next year.
Khyle Marshall, So., Butler
Marshall may be the next great Butler player. An athletic, 6-7 forward, Marshall's offensive game is a bit raw, but he's aggressive going to the glass and should be able to slide into Matt Howard's role as a terrific compliment to bigger, slower Andrew Smith. If Marshall's offensive game develops, expect a big year.
Thomas Robinson, Jr., Kansas
Robinson has spent his career in Lawrence playing behind lottery picks, be it the Morrii or Cole Aldrich. He has a way to go before he's at that level, but he certainly should be expected to have a big season. Robinson is not overly skilled, but he is 6-9, strong, athletic and he plays hard. I wouldn't be surprised if Robinson ended up being a 15 and nine player next season.
Deshaun Thomas, So., Ohio State
Thomas is a 6-7 combo-forward that has the reputation of being instant-offense off the bench. With Ohio State losing four significant players, Thomas should move into the starting lineup where he will not only be a nice compliment to Jared Sullinger (if Sully does, in fact, return) but he will get quite a few more shots. That happens, I expect quite a few more performances like the one he had against Indiana, when he scored 22 points.
Hollis Thompson, Jr., Georgetown
Thompson has all the makings of a guy who can fill the void left by Austin Freeman on Georgetown's perimeter. He's taller and more athletic than Freeman, but he can knock down a 3 and get to the rim when needed. Thompson also happens to be a better rebounder and defender than Freeman. I wouldn't be surprised if Thompson became an all-Big East caliber player next season.
Tristan Thompson, So., Texas
Assuming that Thompson actually returns for his sophomore season, he will be in line for a huge year. An athletic, 6-9 post players, Thompson developed into a serious shot-blocking presence and a terrific rebounder for the Longhorns. I expect his post game to develop. If Jordan Hamilton does bolt to the NBA, there will be plenty of extra shots to go around.
Talib Zanna, So., and Dante Taylor, Jr., Pitt
Zanna and Taylor will fill the void left by Gary McGhee's graduation. It shouldn't be a stretch, either. Zanna and Taylor were the two best offensive rebounders last season on a team that thrived on their ability to get second-chance opportunities. Pitt's big men never put up huge numbers, but these two will be as valuable as anyone in the Big East next year.