Editor's note: It's the offseason edition of The Watercooler. Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf talk NBA draft decisions, the preseason's No. 1 team, UCLA's upside and more.
Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? Feels like we left New Orleans months ago. Not sure how I'm going to handle the upcoming months without games. Withdrawal is setting in. But, it's already time to look forward to next season. How about Indiana? Three Big Ten wins two seasons ago. The Hoosiers will enter next season as a top-three team for sure. Cody Zeller is coming back. Wow, huh?
Eamonn Brennan: My buddy's little brother attends Indiana, and his mom brought back a shirt they're selling on campus that simply says "We're Back." Needless to say, IU fans would be loving this renaissance if they merely had a top-20 team. To go from where they were two and three years ago -- I mean, they were 12-20 in 2010-11; that literally just happened! -- to No. 1 in our very early preseason poll … well, it's remarkable, when you think about it. Such a dramatic turnaround.
MM: Very remarkable. And Zeller is back. I know I mentioned that earlier. But he's a lottery pick if he leaves. I know the NBA draft entry deadline was Sunday, and many storylines were connected to it. But Zeller's decision to stay away from the draft is bigger than any of them in my opinion.
EB: My reaction to Zeller coming back trends far more toward the "meh" side of things. It's not because he's not a great player, an immediate POY candidate and hugely important to the Hoosiers' chances, because obviously he is all those things. But I never thought there was any real threat Zeller would leave for the draft. Even as he jumped up to potential top-10 pick status, the way he's openly enjoyed his first season on campus, the patience his brother displayed at UNC, and the fact that Tyler will be a pro -- there's no rush, in other words -- made it clear that Zeller would be back as a sophomore. Some IU fans are hoping he'll stay all four years. That might be asking too much, but he's back for his sophomore season, and he has an awfully talented team around him.
Let's talk draft. Any decisions that really surprised you?
MM: A few. Maalik Wayns … OK. He's a junior who carried the load for a bad Villanova squad. But he's a projected late second-rounder, and will possibly be undrafted. His teammate, Dominic Cheek, drank the Kool-Aid, too. The whole 'If I jumped off a bridge, would you do it?' is sometimes true. But the biggest surprise is Quincy Miller. He made the right decision to return a few weeks ago. Then he changed his mind. He should be a first-rounder. But with another year, he could be top 10. He's a great example of a young player who would gain a lot by coming back for his sophomore season.
Who surprised you?
EB: Yeah, I thought Miller made the right call initially, because (a) without Perry Jones III there, he would have been the featured scorer on a good Baylor team, (b) he could take on college competition (and not fully grown men) while beefing up that lanky frame in the weight room, and (c) this draft already has how many talented tweener forwards set to go in the first round? Twenty? Thirty?
But when you're projected as a first-round pick, particularly when you're closer to the lottery end of things than the fringe, it never feels like a particularly bad decision to go.
That's kind of the deal with Moe Harkless. I thought Harkless could probably use another year in school for a St. John's team that really had time to congeal, but he looks like he could go in the first round. So you can't fault him for leaving now.
I thought Khris Middleton was one of the real surprises. He could have been a first-rounder last year but stayed. Then he got hurt all season and A&M struggled in its first year under Billy Kennedy. Now Middleton is in the draft, but isn't a likely first-round choice anymore. It will be interesting to see how he tests out and what scouts think if he can get healthy in pre-draft camps, because he's an awfully polished and athletic forward when he's at full speed. He could be a steal. (Which probably means the Spurs will draft him in the second round. Figures.)
MM: True. The Spurs would nurse Middleton back to 100 percent, then use him to fuel some epic playoff run next season. You have to look at the powerhouses, too. Kentucky lost everyone. And yet, Calipari inks a top-two class again. And Anthony Bennett is still available. North Carolina is in a different boat. Still a very talented team, but a major shift from the veteran core the Tar Heels employed last season. On Kentucky … and I know this is a tough thing to assess right now … but should the Wildcats be preseason No. 1 with the talented freshmen who are headed to Lexington next season?
Also, what's the over/under on me adopting the Nerlens Noel box cut?
EB: Oh, you should totally do it. I would put the odds at just slightly more favorable than a UK national title.
I am torn on the Indiana-Kentucky preseason No. 1 thing, because it's easy to forget the talent Indiana has arriving in Yogi Ferrell (a true athletic point guard who is exactly what they need) and even Hanner Perea, who comes with ready-made NBA athleticism (another thing the Hoosiers really need) at the 4 spot.
But Kentucky is reloading, no question, and if there's one thing we know about John Calipari, it's that he's the best in the country at getting new, young teams to come together as actual teams very early in the process. But this is not the 2012 Wildcats. Nerlens Noel is going to be a beast, but he's not Anthony Davis. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the heart and soul of that national title team, is nowhere to be found next season. I will be fascinated to see what this team looks like in November and December.
I have Louisville at No. 3 -- I think Chane Behanan is going to have a star-making breakout sophomore season.
MM: Oh man … I mean, I'm trying to erase memories of last season. That "talent." That preseason ranking … That collapse. But if we're going to give Kentucky No. 1 status (potential) based solely on the status of its recruiting class, I think you have to give UCLA the same consideration. Tony Parker helped the Bruins grab a No. 1 class ranking on ESPN.com. We know talented freshmen can win national titles.
So I say they're top 10. Can't go top five yet because the returning guys were so inconsistent. Since we're talking about teams that are hard to assess … Thoughts on Ohio State? Is that a top-five squad with Deshaun Thomas leading the way now?
EB: It's hard to know what to do with UCLA, because unlike Kentucky, we've yet to see Ben Howland take a star-studded recruiting class and turn it into a contender. In fact, last time he had a great class, things pretty much fell apart.
And yeah, I like Thomas as the star scorer. I think that's his perfect role. The question is whether he can be a leader on both ends of the floor, whether he'll devote himself to a total game, rather than being happy scoring a ton of points every night. Because he will shoot -- and score -- a lot.
The biggest question re: OSU is Amir Williams. I thought he was going to get a lot more run as a freshman, so Jared Sullinger could do his whole "hey, I'm a versatile, skinny power forward now, check out this 15-foot jumper!" routine in 2012. Instead, Sullinger gained all that weight back by the end of the season; he was basically playing the exact same position he played as a freshman, and Williams spent most of his time on the bench.
He has to take over in the middle right away, and Shannon Scott needs to have a big sophomore season as a combo 2-guard alongside Aaron Craft. If Craft and Scott can figure it out, I think that's OSU's most talented and dynamic lineup, and an awfully good one.
MM: The bottom line is that we have a lot to look forward to next season. Many question marks remain, but I like the intrigue. Plus, some talented players are back. C.J. Leslie could make NC State a top-10 team. Jeff Withey was the most dominant interior defender in the NCAA tourney. He's back. The Big Ten is stacked. The Pac-12 might matter again.
I know it's early, but I'm pumped about the 2012-13 campaign. Not sure how I'll last until November without it. Maybe I'll watch this LeBron guy in the NBA playoffs.
EB: My two-point is as follows:
1. Watch as much of the NBA playoffs as humanly possible (I love the NBA playoffs).
2. Watch the new Rihanna video as much as possible. No, RiRi, where have you been all my life?
MM: Rihanna and the NBA playoffs … the perfect elixir. Good times as always, Eamonn. Until next time … or the next big development.
EB: We'll talk that talk. Until then, Myron.