With so many sophomores returning to campuses this year and an exciting incoming freshman class that has as many blue chippers as any in recent years, we may be overlooking a deep and talented senior class that has stuck around for a variety of reasons. While Kentucky was able to make a Final Four run with youngsters last year, and UConn had a ton of underclassmen helping Kemba Walker win the title, let us not overlook the value of age, experience and talent with this year's seniors.
Tyler Zeller Lost in the return of Harrison Barnes is the return of Zeller at the 5 spot. Zeller runs the floor better than any center in college basketball and looks to be a legit 6-foot-11, maybe even 7 feet tall. With a solid, go-to right-hand jump hook and a decent face-up game, Zeller carried the Heels until Barnes and fellow frosh Kendall Marshall came into their own. Zeller is a good shot blocker, quality outlet passer and the only low-post scorer on their roster. He will excel this year.
Ashton Gibbs Though Pitt struggled to score from behind the arc at other positions on the floor last year, Gibbs has always provided the Panthers with a floor-stretching element. The gunner has improved his off-the-bounce game over the past three years. Maybe most impressive is how Gibbs managed to run the team and still find his points within the offense when Travon Woodall was not on the floor. Gibbs is a 2 who loves the corner 3-pointer coming off a down screen or the free throw line extended 3 from NBA range. Last year Gibbs showed an improved step-back jumper going left. If he has added to his game this year and others can take some of the pressure off him to score, Gibbs should once again be in the running for Big East Player of the Year.
Tu HollowayLast year's A-10 POY is back and should continue to put up huge numbers in the Queen City. Holloway needs to improve as a 3-point shooter, but that almost seems like nit-picking after he personally carried Xavier to yet another A-10 title last year.
Jordan TaylorTaylor is so good off ball screens that Bo Ryan essentially ditched the "swing" offense in the second half of most big games to emphasize his best player's strength. Though Taylor prefers to shoot while going left, he can go right and get to the free throw line.
Draymond GreenThe Dancing Bear is an elite all-around player who has yet to consistently take over games late. With Kalin Lucas gone and a ton of young talent, this is Green's team. Green has to improve his conditioning, his late game free throw shooting and establish some go-to scoring moves that will open up opportunities for his fantastic ballhandling and passing for a man his size.
Drew Gordon Gordon is a freak athlete who had only half a season with the Lobos last year, but he started to explode late in the year. While his desire to be a face-up player in a transition style led to him leaving Westwood (UCLA), Gordon has never been fundamentally sound enough or healthy long enough to be the type of player he wants to be. The time off due to transfer helped, as will another offseason under Steve Alford and staff. With UNLV remaking its style and San Diego State losing all five starters, New Mexico should load up on Gordon after losing Dairese Gary.
Jorge GutierrezThe Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Gutierrez gets under every opponent's skin with his physical defensive style. While Cal lost all five starters and surprisingly played onto the bubble late in the season, Gutierrez and stud frosh Allen Crabbe were a dynamic one-two punch scoring on the wings. With Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs set to start at the point and former walk-on Brandon Smith assuming more of a sixth-man role, Gutierrez doesn't need to concentrate on running a team, which suits him best. His shooting needs to improve, but Cobbs should open up the floor and allow the Bears to play in transition more, which is where Gutierrez is an elite player.
Kris Joseph A super-talented Canadian who was a little disappointing last year with his shooting and decision-making, Joseph is surrounded by elite talent, quality depth and the ability to play the 2, 3 or 4. Joseph was spectacular as a mismatch two years ago, when defenses concentrated more on Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, but last year Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche took a big chunk of the important possession shots. The time is now for Joseph to take over, but he must become a more consistent 3-point threat to do so. The next four months need to be spent in the Melo Center getting up 1,000 shots a day. If his jumper is wet, look out.
Tim Abromaitis Ben Hansbrough may have won Big East Player of the Year, but Abromaitis finding his jumper midyear was what made Notre Dame a viable threat in the deepest league in the country. Mike Brey lost Hansbrough to expired eligibility and potential one-two punch threat Carleton Scott to a bizarre NBA early entry decision, but Scott Martin is back. So too is Eric Atkins, who should improve his shooting in Year 2 in South Bend. Abromaitis averaged 18 ppg in conference. Look for that number to be around 20 ppg this year.
Robbie Hummel A redshirt senior, Hummel's two knee injuries might have kept the Boilermakers from a Final Four run both of the past two years, but he is back and should be healthy. At full strength, there has not been a better all-around 6-foot-9 forward in the college game.
Marcus DenmonKim English was supposed to be the go-to guy last year for the Tigers, but Denmon's shooting (50 percent from the field) and transition scoring carried the Tigers through an up-and-down year.
Jeffery Taylor A tremendous athlete who has improved his shooting in his time in Nashville, Taylor could improve his shooting even more, but Vandy's lack of point guard play hurts that. Taylor helps the Dores at both ends and on the boards and is their go-to scorer as John Jenkins is more of a shooter. Look for Taylor to have a huge year.