West Region Final Thoughts: What's in Store for 2011-12?

    
April 9th, 2011
The final region is the West, which is where Connecticut began their run to the national title. While some of the departures in this region will steal the majority of the ink there are a number of teams who should feel good about their prospects in 2011-12. Below is a quick breakdown of each of the 16 teams.

(1) Duke: lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16
The Blue Devils were able to win 32 games in a season that saw their most talented player (Kyrie Irving) play in just 11 games, and they had senior guard Nolan Smith to thank for that. Smith took his game to another level in Irving's absence and the Blue Devils were good enough to earn a one seed without the freshman phenom. But after two wins in Charlotte they ran into a buzz saw in the second half of the Sweet 16, getting blown out by an Arizona team that many may have underestimated going into the tournament. The good news for Mike Krzyzewski and his staff is that they've got one of the best recruiting classes coming in with Quinn Cook and Austin Rivers the heir apparent in the backcourt for Irving and Smith. As for replacing Kyle Singler keep an eye on freshman small forward Mike Gbinije, the lone member of the four-player class to not be named a McDonald's All-American. 2011-12 is a big year for Mason Plumlee, arguably the one member of the frontcourt with the ability to become a lottery pick at the next level.

(2) San Diego State: lost to Connecticut in the Sweet 16
Steve Fisher's Aztecs put together the best season in school history, winning 34 games and losing to no team other than BYU before the Sweet 16 loss to UConn. But 2011-12 is setting up to be a serious rebuilding year for SDSU, with key seniors Brian Carlwell, D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White all moving on. There's also the matter of what Kawhi Leonard may decide to do, and he's got quite the dilemma with a number of draft websites projecting him to be a first round pick (if not lottery). Should Leonard not return to school the keys to the Aztecs go to the likes of James Rahon and Chase Tapley not to mention Jamaal Franklin, who saw his playing time increase late in the season. Incoming recruits Deshawn Stephens and Kevin Young will likely be expected to contribute right away, but all signs point towards SDSU having a tough road back to the Big Dance in front of them.

(3) Connecticut: National Champions
Jim Calhoun's Huskies pulled off what many thought impossible, winning five games in five days to win the Big East Championship then moving on to claim the national title three weeks later. Guard Kemba Walker was the player of the month in all of college basketball, and with his number already added to the school's Ring of Honor and graduation on May 8th it's extremely difficult to expect the projected lottery pick to return. Seniors Donnell Beverly and Charles Okwandu move on as well, but there's a lot of talent remaining in Storrs for another run next season. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith should all be back, and other contributors (Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander being three) will have the chance to increase their production as well. Add in the electric guard Ryan Boatright and the Huskies will be pretty good in 2011-12.

(4) Texas: lost to Arizona in the third round
At one point this season Rick Barnes' team looked like a serious threat to win a national title, only to falter down the stretch and end up with a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns managed to beat Oakland in the second round but late-game issues (and a quick 5-second count) did them in against Arizona. Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson, two likely lottery picks, both announced that they're returning to the 40 Acres next season and the move makes Texas an early favorite in the Big 12 as well as nationally. Dogus Balbay and Gary Johnson are the major personnel losses for Texas, and the addition of one of the nation's best recruiting classes led by point guard Myck Kabongo and shooting guard Shedon McClellan should more than make up for the losses. Texas' talent won't be questioned, but that doesn't make up for late-game and strategic issues. Solve those and Texas could wind up in New Orleans.

(5) Arizona: lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight
Year two under Sean Miller paid major dividends for Arizona, as they won 30 games, a Pac-10 regular season title and finished one shot away from the Final Four. Arizona had just one senior (Jamelle Horne) this season but how highly they're ranked next season hinges on the decision of power forward Derrick Williams. Williams was one of the best players in America all season but may have been done in by the national reputation of the Pac-10 when it came to the All-America teams. But even if the California native chooses to go pro the Wildcats will be one of the contenders in the Pac-12 (Colorado and Utah join in July), with guards Kyle Fogg and MoMo Jones in addition to wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom all due back. Add in a recruiting class led by a pair of Oakland Soldiers (Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner) and it could be a very good year in Tucson. The most important newcomers, if Williams were to leave, become forwards Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson.

(6) Cincinnati: lost to Connecticut in the third round
After an undefeated run through their non-conference schedule and a solid beginning to Big East play Mick Cronin's Bearcats hit a rough patch heading into the month of February. But they turned things around, ultimately beating Missouri before falling to fellow Big East member and eventual national champ Connecticut in the third round. Cronin eventually received a six-year extension and while the Bearcats do have to replace six seniors (including Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, Dion Dixon and Ibrahima Thomas) this is a team whose best play may come in 2011-12. Yancy Gates finished the season very well, and guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright had solid campaigns as well. The returning group in addition to a recruiting class led by Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas should mean another NCAA Tournament for Cincinnati.

(7) Temple: lost to San Diego State in the third round
Fran Dunphy's Owls finally picked up that elusive NCAA Tournament victory, beating Penn State before giving San Diego State all they wanted in the third round. And considering the injuries in the frontcourt 26 wins was a very good output for this group, but Temple will have to figure out a way to account for the graduation of Lavoy Allen next season. The perimeter could end up being the best in the Atlantic 10 next season with Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt all returning and a solid freshman in Will Cummings joining the program. Up front Micheal Eric will need to build upon the progress he showed before getting hurt, and wings Rahlir Jefferson and Ramone Moore will both be called upon as well. Look for Temple to be one of the favorites in the A-10 and make a return trip to the Big Dance.

(8) Michigan: lost to Duke in the third round
John Beilein's Wolverines were a bit nervous on Selection Sunday but given their seed there wasn't much to worry about in Ann Arbor. Michigan blew out Tennessee in the second half of their matchup and if not for some issues down the stretch could have knocked off Duke for a trip to the Sweet 16. The good news for Michigan going into 2011-12: there wasn't one senior on the roster, meaning that everyone expected back will return. The hope is that Darius Morris returns as well, a possible the becomes more likely should he not hear what he wants from NBA executives. Morris, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan are three solid pieces to build around and with seven players playing at least 14 minutes per game the Wolverines will have a number of players with experience returning. Add in two very good perimeter recruits in Carlton Brundidge and Trey Burke, and tournament appearances may go back to being routine in Ann Arbor.

(9) Tennessee: lost on Michigan in the second round
There were questions about the direction of the Tennessee program leading up to their NCAA Tournament game, with AD Mike Hamilton being a little too forward in his comments about the future of head coach Bruce Pearl days before the contest. That all led to the Volunteers getting blown out, and while Michigan played well in the second half it didn't take a rocket science to see that the Vols did not bring it from an effort standpoint. Pearl was fired and in comes Cuonzo Martin, who led Missouri State to their first-ever MVC regular season title this season. Martin has heavy roster turnover to deal with as well, most notably the decisions of Tobias Harris (likely first round) and Scotty Hopson (projected second round) to turn pro. The most important job for Martin will be to shore up the roster, with Cameron Tatum being the returning leading scorer should Harris and Hopson remain in the draft. There's a strong possibility that the Volunteers are nowhere near the bubble come Selection Sunday in 2012.

(10) Penn State: lost to Temple in the second round
Ed DeChellis' Nittany Lions made things happen at just the right time, getting all the way to the Big Ten Tournament title game before falling to Ohio State. That earned them their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, where they lost to Temple in the final seconds. Now comes a major rebuilding job with Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones all graduating. Guard Tim Frazier will be the leading returning scorer, and the heavy losses underline the bigger impact of the Taran Buie suspension (he likely won't be back next year). Jermaine Marshall, Billy Oliver and Cammeron Woodyard will have the opportunity to earn minutes next season, as will four incoming recruits (led by wing Ross Travis, point guard Trey Lewis and center Pat Ackerman). Look for 2011-12 to be a tough season in Happy Valley.

(11) Missouri: lost to Cincinnati in the second round
The Tigers ended up with an 11-seed due to their Big 12 road woes, and things may become even tougher next season with Colorado and Nebraska leaving the league (Missouri didn't beat either of those teams on the road either). Add in Mike Anderson moving on to take the job at Arkansas and it could be a tough season for new head coach Frank Haith. The good news for Haith, whose hiring has been panned by many, is that the majority of this year's team will be back. Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon Jr. and Phil Pressey return while Laurence Bowers and Kim English have declared for the NBA Draft. Neither of those two have hired an agent and there's a strong likelihood they'll be back in Columbia as well. Add in forward Ricardo Ratliffe and Mizzou should be an NCAA Tournament team in 2011-12. How far they go will ultimately depend on the improvement shown in the rebounding department.

(12) Memphis: lost to Arizona in the second round
Josh Pastner's squad went through its fair share of growing pains, something that wasn't a total shock given the overall inexperience on the floor. The Tigers were able to get going at the right time and if not for the heroics of Derrick Williams Memphis could have won an NCAA Tournament game. Joe Jackson emerged as a leader at the point while Antonio Barton turned out to be a far better talent than many expected him to be. Add in an offseason for Will Barton and the rest of the freshmen to mature both physically and mentally, and Memphis should be the clear favorite to win Conference USA. The question mark: will Wesley Witherspoon step up and be the leader this group needs? If so Memphis can do an awful lot from a national aspect, with freshman Adonis Thomas bringing an awful lot to the table skill-wise. Keep an eye on the Tigers in 2011-12.

(13) Oakland: lost to Texas in the second round
Greg Kampe's experienced Golden Grizzlies won their second straight Summit League automatic bid but despite their talent could not slow down Texas in their matchup. While Oakland loses just three seniors what that trio brought to the table leaves a large hole in the roster. Keith Benson, Will Hudson and Larry Wright all move on with Benson being a likely first round draft pick, and Ledrick Eackles has decided to transfer. But there's still talent on campus with prolific guard Reggie Hamilton due back along with Travis Bader and Drew Valentine. Incoming freshman forward Dante Williams will have the opportunity to earn minutes on the wing as well shooting guard Matt Poches. Oakland may not be the favorite to win the Summit League in October, but the Golden Grizzlies will likely be a contender.

(14) Bucknell: lost to Connecticut in the second round
The Bison, winners of the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles, went into their matchup with Connecticut confident in their ability to slow down Kemba Walker and possibly pull off the upset. But they, as well as those who went far enough to pick the upset, received a heavy dose of reality in the 81-52 loss. But that shouldn't take away from what head coach Dave Paulsen and his team accomplished, as they won 25 games (13-1 league record) and had just three seniors on the roster. Replacing G.W. Boon and Darryl Shazier will be tough however, especially the leadership provided by Shazier at the point, but it can be done. Patriot League POY Mike Muscala returns as does guard Bryson Johnson, and overall five of Bucknell's top seven scores will be back. And if guards Steven Kasper and Joshea Singleton can contribute in their first year on campus Bucknell may repeat as Patriot League champ.

(15) Northern Colorado: lost to San Diego State in the second round
B.J. Hill's Bears made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season, winning the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles thanks in large part to conference Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. But their top three scorers were all seniors (Neal Kingman and Chris Kaba the others), and along with starter Taylor Montgomery Northern Colorado has four starter to replace going into 2011-12. The lone returning starter is Elliott Lloyd, who averaged 7.5 points per game this season. He, Emmanuel Addo and Mike Proctor will need to step up, as will a five-player recruiting class headlined by center Brendan Keane and JUCO wing Aaron Hawk-Harris. Don't look for Northern Colorado to go 13-3 in conference play again next season, but they should at the very least take part in the six-team conference tournament.

(16) Hampton: lost to Duke in the second round
Edward Joyner Jr.'s Pirates did not win the MEAC regular season title but they were able to win the conference tournament, and they didn't exactly roll over for Duke either. Two starters move on in Charles Funches and Brandon Tunnell but they were the lone seniors on a team dominated by the junior class. Kwame Morgan II and Darrion Pellum led the team in scoring and will be back, as will Christopher Tolson whose contributions came in the sixth man role this season. Danny Agbelese is the leading returning rebounder with an average of six boards per game, and if they can get him some help in dealing with the departure of Funches the Pirates likely become the preseason favorites in the MEAC. Hampton's got just one player signed right now but given the overall depth that's OK.