Ten ESPN experts agreed to make their predictions concerning the 2010-11 season. They kindly ask that you do not reference this page in March (unless they're right, of course).
Jay Bilas: Syracuse will win the Big East, even though the Orange lost Andy Rautins, Wesley Johnson and Arinze Onuaku. Jim Boeheim will not have the experience and savvy of those veterans, but he will have more talent. Fab Melo will dominate the interior of the zone, Dion Waiters has the ability to lead the team in scoring, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche form a terrific point guard tandem and Kris Joseph can blossom into a star. If Boeheim can get players to accept roles and play together, Syracuse has the chops to get to Houston.
This isn't the boldest of predictions, but I still think some people are underrating Ohio State. The Buckeyes deserve to be behind Michigan State and Duke to start the season, but by March, they could emerge as one of the two best teams in the country. Most importantly, they'll be a team better suited to the NCAA tournament. Thad Matta will be able to play three or four guards based on the matchup, his lineup will be deeper at every position and teams won't be able to effectively double-team freshman Jared Sullinger. Scary.
You folks on the Left Coast won't like this, but I say the Horizon League gets as many NCAA tournament bids as the Pac-10 this season. Two each.
I have a team that missed the NCAA tournament last season (Illinois) playing in the national championship game. Is that bold enough?
Murray State will be this season's Kent State or Davidson. The Racers, who return their top eight scorers, will be the thrill of March and the talk of the NCAA tournament. Murray won't reach the Final Four, but will be a second-weekend team, knocking off some blueblood program before falling just short of Houston. But coach Billy Kennedy will be this March's next "it" coach. And players like Isaiah Canaan and B.J. Jenkins will place themselves in NCAA lore with other one-hit wonders.
No Mountain West Conference team has ever reached the Elite Eight, but this will be the season. BYU's Jimmer Fredette and San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard give their teams that chance. Fredette can simply will the Cougars to wins with his scoring, and he got a taste of NCAA tournament stardom by scoring 37 points in a win against Florida last season. Leonard also got his feet wet, coming through with a double-double in a near-upset of Tennessee. One year older and wiser, these two can lead their teams to deep runs in the tournament.
More double-digit seeds will win early in the NCAA tournament than ever before and more will advance to the Sweet 16 than ever before. This is a by-product of tournament expansion, not parity. The three new at-large entries in the 68-team field will all be double-digit seeds, and all figure to be playing well heading into the tournament. The trickle-down effect of expansion will also make for stronger teams on the 13-, 14- and 15-seed lines. Taking it one step further, I predict we'll see a No. 16 beat a No. 1 seed for the first time in history.
I experienced a strange occurrence at Big East media day this year -- a happy Jim Boeheim. He likes his team and that speaks volumes to me. He said the same thing last year and no one believed him. That wound up being a big mistake and I'm not about to repeat it. Not with a team that has Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson back, plus fabulously talented freshman Fab Melo to replace Arinze Onuaku. Nope, I'm going to listen to the Hall of Famer this time and predict that a talented team still smarting from missing the Final Four last season will right that wrong and be on the court in Houston this year.
Northwestern will make it to the Big Dance for the first time in school history. That is a bold prediction when you look at how good the Big Ten is -- it's the best conference in America. But Bill Carmody has John Shurna, Michael Thompson and the confidence to compete with the creme de la creme of the league, and I think they will do just enough to get in. At long last, the Wildcats will experience the magic of March Madness!