With college basketball schedules slowly being released, it is time to start looking ahead to the NCAA season. While every team from reigning national champion Duke to D-1 newcomers like Seattle U feels they have something to prove each year, these are five teams that have the most to prove this season:
5. GEORGIA TECH
The players don’t have as much to prove as the coach does. Paul Hewitt has consistently had NBA-caliber players at his disposal during his time at Tech, like Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal, Anthony Morrow and Javaris Crittenton, yet his teams have generally been underachieving. The Yellow Jacket fans have been getting restless with Hewitt at the helm and for good reason. While he may get a pass by some this year because Lawal and Favors are now in the League, Hewitt still needs to prove he deserves his job at the ACC school. He can’t live off the ’04 national title game appearance for too much longer.
Butler was the Cinderella, feel-good story of last season. Led by baby-faced Gordon Hayward, the Bulldogs shocked the NCAA world by making the title game and losing a heartbreaker to Duke. While the Bulldogs have been a mid-major power for the past few years, Butler has an opportunity to show it can hang with the big boys permanently this season. If Butler makes another deep run they can transform themselves from lovable underdogs to perennial contenders, and dispel any one-year wonder notions.
Illinois has faltered since reaching the NCAA Finals in 2005. They have struggled in the Big Ten and been surpassed by Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State atop the conference. They failed to make the Tournament last year, and this year is sort of a make-or-break season for the Illini if they’re going to continue being considered an elite program. They have rising seniors Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis to rally behind, young guys like DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul, and a solid recruiting class. They have all the pieces to return to prominence, and can’t have another disappointment this season.
After winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, the Gators have fallen from the elite of college basketball. Billy Donovan‘s team failed to make the NCAAs (’08 and ’09), and this past season lost in the first round of the Big Dance. But the one thing that helped Florida enjoy so much success during the Joakim Noah era was chemistry and cohesiveness, and this year’s UF squad has its entire starting five returning plus a deep freshman class led by All-American C/PF Patric Young. If Florida wants to prove they still belong in the conversation as a top-tier basketball program, this has to be the year they do it.
1. NORTH CAROLINA
Coming off a national title in ’09, the Tar Heels were probably last year’s biggest disappointment. They not only couldn’t overcome the loss of stars Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, but the highly touted players tapped to replace them looked completely overmatched at times. Guys like Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew failed to live up to expectations, and the Heels couldn’t play defense to save their lives. With Harrison Barnes now in the program, and other high profile freshmen Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall, UNC needs to prove it is still one of the ACC’s top dogs and that last season was an aberration. If they don’t, people may worry that the team may be in a deeper funk than originally believed.