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August 1, 2010

Which hoops power will bounce back best?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We had two questions this week, one Saturday and one today.

Today's question: Perennial powers UCLA, Connecticut, Arizona and North Carolina missed last season's NCAA tourney. With last season safely behind us and talk truly starting about next season, rank those teams, first through fourth, in terms of their NCAA chances in 2010-11.

David Fox's answer:
My order is North Carolina, Connecticut, Arizona and UCLA. The Tar Heels won't be down for long. Roy Williams recruits at too high a level, and the ACC appears to be wide open after Duke. The Tar Heels lose their top two scorers and need to find improved point guard play, but adding Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall gives them a chance to start fresh. The Big East is tough, but Connecticut should bounce back. Maybe the Huskies won't win the conference, but they should return to the tournament field behind Kemba Walker. However, I wonder how many great seasons Jim Calhoun has left at UConn. Arizona might be my pick to win the Pac-10. The Wildcats could have the league preseason player of the year in sophomore Derrick Williams. Despite the loss of Nic Wise and NCAA sanctions on recruiting, I believe in Sean Miller's ability to win with the pieces he has, especially in the lackluster Pac-10. UCLA has lost a ton of players to transfers or in unexpected jumps to the NBA. In the long run, the transfers probably will benefit UCLA. But not immediately. UCLA is rebuilding around Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt. That might be enough to get the Bruins to the NIT, but I'm not entirely optimistic for the NCAA tournament.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think North Carolina has the best chance, followed by Arizona, UConn and finally UCLA. I can't imagine the Heels -- with all their talent -- missing the NCAA field for the second season in a row. True freshman Harrison Barnes should provide a huge impact, and I think sophomore John Henson will be much more ready for the rigors of college basketball. And there's no way UNC's guard play can be that mediocre again. Arizona has a star player it can depend on in Derrick Williams, and the Wildcats also will benefit from the Pac-10 again being down. While I'm confident UNC and Arizona will make the NCAA field, I'm not so sure about UConn. The Huskies will be hurt by playing in the Big East and they also lost some key players, to the point where I'm not sure where their points are going to come from other than guard Kemba Walker. As for UCLA, while the Pac-10 again will be down, it won't be down enough for the Bruins to make the NCAA field. I think UCLA will have a winning record but not good enough for the NCAA field.

Jason King's answer:
In order: North Carolina, Arizona, Connecticut and UCLA. Things snow-balled last season on the Tar Heels, who weren't nearly as bad as their record indicated. John Henson was beginning to show flashes of brilliance in February and March, and having experienced players such as Larry Drew and Will Graves will help. Tyler Zeller could have a breakthrough season if he's healthy. And some folks think incoming freshman Harrison Barnes could be the No. 1 pick in next summer's NBA draft. At Arizona, Sean Miller did one of the best coaching jobs in the country last season, considering the terrible situation he inherited. Led by standout forward Derrick Williams, all of his key players are back except for point guard Nic Wise, who graduated. Losing Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards will hurt Connecticut's chances. But Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi are good enough to get the Huskies into the field. UCLA could be in trouble for the second consecutive season.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I'm guessing North Carolina has the best season of those four teams and is the one sure bet to reach the NCAA tournament. I'm counting on highly touted freshman Harrison Barnes to have a major impact and John Henson to perform better in his sophomore year. I went back and forth on who to pick second, but I finally decided Arizona's experience gave the Wildcats the edge over Connecticut. Arizona returns four starters, while Connecticut doesn't have much experience beyond star guard Kemba Walker. Connecticut could prove me wrong, particularly if former five-star prospect Ater Majok has a breakthrough season. UCLA fell so far last season that I'm guessing it might take a year or two for the Bruins to get back to where they're accustomed.

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