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USA TODAY’s 2015 Final Four includes a Big Ten team

[ 0 ] April 7, 2014 |

Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports

Predicting the top 25 teams for the 2014-15 season in April — a tired yet perfect tradition among college basketball writers — is seriously difficult for these two reasons. A.) It’s extremely challenging to determine how heralded recruits will be on their new respective teams. i.e. Kentucky this year. B.) Which players will leave for the NBA draft hasn’t been finalized yet (such as player of the year Doug McDermott last year).

So, choosing just four teams should be much easier, right?

Hardly. Especially when we’re trying to figure out the teams that will not just be good in November, but the ones that will be peaking in late March. For instance, Kentucky and Florida could have been picks last April, but Wisconsin and UConn weren’t in our minds at all.

This year is no different. We’ve provided bold predictions in the past. Here’s our boldest to date: The 2015 Final Four.

1. Duke: Whether Jabari Parker returns to Durham, the Blue Devils will be loaded. They’ll return veteran guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon as well as developing big man Amile Jefferson. Rodney Hood appears NBA draft-bound and, if Parker goes as expected that would take away Duke’s top two scorers. That’s OK. Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in a high-caliber recruiting class that includes the best recruit in the country in big man Jahil Okafor. He’s joined by fellow top 10 recruits Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Duke’s woes (hello, Mercer) almost are always because of a lack of an interior presence. Expect Okafor to change that in 2014-15.

2. Arizona: Will Sean Miller ever get to the Final Four? This year’s season-ending Elite Eight loss was devastating, but the Wildcats should be positioned well again in 2015. High-soaring freshman Aaron Gordon will likely leave for the NBA but if All-American guard Nick Johnson returns (he should) then Arizona will have championship potential. Point guard T.J. McConnell will be back, as will blossoming forwards Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and center Kaleb Tarczewski. And Miller brings in reinforcements too, namely top-10 recruit Stanley Johnson, who’s highly versatile and will be expected do it all for the Wildcats — playing any role Miller needs him to fill.

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers weren’t on anyone’s radar heading into 2013-14. That won’t be the case next season. Wisconsin loses starting guard Ben Brust but could return the rest of the key faces in its Final Four roster. That’s if 7-foot overnight celebrity Frank Kaminsky and top player Sam Dekker don’t decide to turn pro. Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser will be back and the Badgers will be back menacing Big Ten foes with a disciplined offense and suffocating defense.

4. Southern Methodist: This year’s biggest NCAA tournament snub will be a sleeper Final Four team next season in Larry Brown’s third year. The Mustangs bring back virtually their entire roster — which includes Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore — but most important will welcome a high-caliber point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay. SMU wasn’t expected to be that good this season so the NCAA tournament omission is deceiving. In 2014-15, however, the expectations should be much, much higher. Come March, this NIT runner-up team should be scary good.

Other teams receiving consideration: Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, Texas.

Category: Big Ten, Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

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