The Second Tier and the Sleepers
Below his top four, Bilas lumps together a handful of teams, split between established powers and relative upstarts. He believes Vanderbilt will benefit from the experience gained during its 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 campaigns; likes Louisville’s mix of newbies and players returning from injury (Rakeem Buckles, Jared Swopshire); and he respects Duke’s size and incoming talent, especially freshman Austin Rivers (son of Boston Celtics coach Doc), even as he questions the team’s ability to defend. (Bilas played for Duke from 1982–1986 and graduated from its law school in 1992.) His next tier includes Wisconsin (“I’m not sure there’s a coach in America who would turn down the chance for Jordan Taylor to run his team”), Michigan State (“They’ll have a different kind of energy this year; they’ll be more blue-collar”), Florida (“They’re not going to be as good inside, but they’ve got guards on top of guards”) and Michigan (“But they’ll miss Darius Morris”).
As for the proverbial sleepers, look for Texas A&M to surge on the strength of its shooters, especially Khris Middleton; perennial ?underdog Xavier to emerge as more than a midmajor afterthought; and Santa Clara to be strong despite losing forward Marc Trasolini to a season-ending knee injury. But Bilas views Baylor as the real sleeping giant, owing to the surprise return of Perry Jones — a player whose one-and-out status was so taken for granted that The New York Times Magazine chronicled it in a cover story. “He was good as a freshman, but he didn’t really put it all together,” Bilas notes.
Players to Watch
The discussion of Perry Jones prompts Bilas to reach back into his own college-hoops past for a comparison. “[Former Maryland star] Len Bias came out of high school when I did. We were both ranked in the top 40 [recruits], and I found out pretty quickly that he was better than I was,” Bilas recalls. “He didn’t take off in his freshman year — but then as a sophomore he exploded, just exploded. Players mature at different rates. Perry [Jones] is one of the guys who could do that this year.” The others? Florida sophomore forward/center Patric Young, Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson, Connecticut sophomore swingman Jeremy Lamb and Syracuse junior guard Brandon Triche. Lamb and Perry Jones join North Carolina’s Barnes, Ohio State’s Sullinger and Kentucky’s Terrence Jones on Bilas’ list of candidates for the Naismith Award.