No. 1: MARYLAND TERRAPINS
Last Season: 28-7, 14-4 Big Ten
Eighteen months ago, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was coming off a 17-15 season and five-transfer summer that had even the most die-hard Terrapins fans -- OK, especially the die-hard Terrapins fans -- wondering where things could possibly go from there.
Why, straight to No. 1, of course.
It has been a remarkable -- and remarkably fast -- turnaround for Turgeon and his Terps, whose already stunning ascent to 28 wins and a No. 4 seed a season ago was followed by an offseason chock-full of good news, future lottery pick center Diamond Stone and graduate transfers.
Suddenly, in a season without an overwhelming preseason favorite, Maryland has the nation's most talented and most balanced roster. When your program flips the script so quickly, why play the shrinking violet?
"I like the No. 1 better than anything else, to be honest with you," Mark Turgeon told ESPN's Andy Katz in September. "It's really helped us. People look at us differently. And we've really embraced it." -- Eamonn Brennan
Best Case: The Terps are as good as they have been since the first decade of this new century. Maryland won 28 games last season, the most since Gary Williams cut the nets down in Atlanta in 2002. If the Terps defend with a purpose, Maryland has the talent to get back to the Final Four. The past season, Maryland had the best defense in the Big Ten and held opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting from the floor. Last year, Melo Trimble was one of five freshmen with six or more win shares for his team, along with Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones (all first-round NBA draft picks). With Trimble being fouled (Maryland had the fourth-best free throw rate in the nation) and Jake Layman hitting shots and making aggressive plays, bolstered by quality transfers and an impact freshman in Diamond Stone, coach Mark Turgeon could climb the ladder Williams did.
Worst Case: Maryland is now the hunted, which is a different mentality altogether. Will the Terps be hungry to face that challenge and spotlight every day? Will Maryland continue to win the close ones? The Terps were 12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, with the only loss coming to Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. If Maryland doesn't have enough gas in the tank, mentally and physically, at the end of the season, it could see an early exit from the NCAA tournament.
"They have incredible depth. It's a good problem to have, but there's a concern whether Turgeon can keep everyone happy. Jake Layman came back to be a first-round pick. Diamond Stone is a big-time recruit who many think will and should be a one-and-done guy. It's going to be interesting. Melo Trimble also needs to become a leader with Dez Wells gone -- and these guys aren't creeping up on anyone. There's a lot of pressure on them."