Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer Rants and Ramblings, Part One

With the start of practice still two and a half months away, college basketball is still not at the front of most people's minds. However, the summer has not been without college hoops action and discussion. Opinions and predictions for next season are starting to form and high school ball was all the talk in July. With that in mind, I have decided to start a new column, entitled "Rants and Ramblings". Every month (or more often, depending when it's necessary), I will comment about the ongoings in the college basketball world. The inaugural column discusses the NBA Draft, predictions for next season, O.J. Mayo, and much more.

- Am I the only one that is tired of all the O.J. Mayo talk? First of all, his grasp on the #1 spot in his class has been slipping for quite some time, and Kevin Love may have overtaken Mayo at the top by now. All the reports from the summer camps have mentioned how Mayo does not look like the top player in the class. On top of that, it was reported that Mayo was going to commit to USC, then a few days later, people from Mayo's camp said that he had still not decided. There's also a possibility that he--and his teammate Bill Walker-- might not even play college basketball at all. Until something concrete comes out about where he will play his future basketball, I have had enough of O.J. Mayo.

- While on the topic of high school basketball, how come Kevin Love's decision to attend UCLA did not receive more attention? Mayo's "announcement" that he was heading to USC received lots of hype and coverage by ESPN, etc., but Love just got a little news blurb. With Love's commitment to the Bruins, that immediately propels UCLA into the short list of Final Four favorites for 2008. Combine him with James Keefe and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the inside, and Ben Howland will have a dominant post group in a couple of years.

- I know the NBA Draft was a month ago, but I have not really discussed it that much. First of all, I had a problem with plenty of the first-round picks that were made. The obvious one was Renaldo Balkman. A hustle guy that did not stand out for South Carolina going in the first round? Really? His performance in the NIT was impressive, but it wasn't anthing that should have erased everything else he did (or didn't?) previously at South Carolina...How about Quincy Douby? Does Sacramento have some sort of thing for scoring guards that can't play the point? The past three years, they have drafted Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, and now Douby. Instead of attempting to upgrade at power forward, the Kings decided to get a player that will be stuck on the bench for a couple of years. By the way, the Kings just signed guard John Salmons, a Garcia clone. Smart move...Similarly, the Sonics seem to have a thing for centers that are long-term projects. Johan Petro, Robert Swift, and now Saer Sene? Instead of going with someone who is proven on the college level, they went with a player that averaged 4 points per game in Belgium. Yes, Belgium...Why the huge drop by Marcus Williams? His weight? Character issues? He looked the same way he did while he played at UConn, and I don't think he is going to be stealing any more laptops. The Nets got a big-time steal with Williams at 22...However, their next pick of Josh Boone was not as impressive. He's lazy, doesn't really have an offensive game, and gets into foul trouble too often. They could have done better after that Williams pick...Only four early-entries did not get drafted: Marcus Slaughter, Darius Washington, Curtis Stinson, and Thomas Gardner. To be honest, none of those players going undrafted surprised me. Stinson is too inconsistent, Gardner is too one-dimensional, Washington just hasn't shown a lot at Memphis yet, and Slaughter made a mistake by entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season as well. They all could have used another year in college...Other than Sene going at #10, two lottery picks boggled my mind: Shelden Williams at #5 and Patrick O'Bryant at #9. Shelden Williams at #5? To the Hawks? Atlanta needed a point guard, or at least another guard that could handle the ball--and they decided to go with Shelden Williams. Scouts compare him--favorably, mind you--to Dale Davis. If my #5 pick turns out to be like Dale Davis, I'd be fairly disappointed. As for O'Bryant, it seems as if that one great game against Aaron Gray in the NCAA Tournament boosted his stock tremendously. He was not that productive throughout his college career, and he is too inconsistent, in my opinion...And, finally, what's with all the excitement about Rodney Carney? I can't see him being a very good pro. He will probably win a dunk contest, but that's about it. He can't really create his own shot and he is not an overly effective halfcourt player. If he had gone to the Suns, it would be a different story, but he's going to Philadelphia. I'm not really expecting too much from Carney in Philly.

- Back to college basketball...College Hoops Net asked me a few weeks ago to compile and send in my rankings of the Top 50 players in college basketball. The main criteria was: what player would you rather have in your program going into the upcoming season? That way, freshmen would be included as well. However, I didn't like including freshmen. I have no way of knowing if Thaddeus Young is going to be better than Morris Almond next season. Obviously, players currently in college will improve, but I've seen them play against college competition. It's different for high schoolers--no one has seen them play against college competition yet. Moreover, I had trouble picking my #1 player. I didn't feel overly comfortable picking Joakim Noah as my #1 player in college basketball, so I went with Tyler Hansbrough. Still, I'm not really sure Tyler Hansbrough is the player I would most want in my program heading into next season. After the top few players, it's wide-open as well. That is mainly because it is hard to rank some of the players, in comparison to each other. For example, what do I do with Josh McRoberts? He wasn't very impressive last season, and COULD have a break-out season this year, but it is tough to judge that. Furthermore, what do I do with mid-major players? How am I supposed to compare Quin Humphrey of Youngstown State to Georgetown's Jeff Green? Everyone has different criteria. However, despite all of the problems, it was an interesting task, and I hope you all enjoy it when it is released over on

- Looking to next year, a couple of preseason rankings have been released, and one thing I have noticed is that there is no clear-cut #4, or fourth Final Four team. North Carolina, Florida, and Kansas are found in the Top 3 or 4 of nearly every preseason ranking, but the 4th spot is up for grabs. I've seen Pittsburgh, I've seen LSU, I've seen Ohio State, UCLA, and the list goes on. Even Wisconsin and Georgetown are getting a lot of attention. None of the six teams I just mentioned seem to be built for a Final Four run, but each has enough to make noise in March. Pittsburgh has Aaron Gray and a lot of depth, but they struggled to score at times last season, and they lose the heart and soul of their team in Carl Krauser. LSU is loaded up front with Glen Davis and Tasmin Mitchell and lots of talent returns on the perimeter, but Tyrus Thomas and Darrel Mitchell will be tough to place. Ohio State is very, very young right now. The freshmen class is going to have to come in and contribute immediately, even with Greg Oden out until at least December. UCLA has Arron Afflalo, as well as Joe Shipp back from injury. However, All-America Jordan Farmar needs to be replaced and a consistent post presence besides Luc Richard Mbah a Moute needs to be found. Wisconsin has All-American Alando Tucker, but the Badgers never seem to have the firepower to make it over the hump, while Georgetown needs to find some backcourt scorers if they want to make a run at the title--even with the frontcourt of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. In other words, it's going to be a wide-open college basketball season.

- Who are the main candidates to be this year's North Carolina? The first two are obvious--Connecticut and Texas. UConn loses four first-round draft picks in Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, and Josh Boone, in addition to seniors Denham Brown, Ed Nelson, and Rashad Anderson. However, one of the top recruiting classes in the country will help Jim Calhoun's squad reload. 7-3 Haseem Thabeet is being touted as a 2007 lottery pick, while Stnaley Robinson and Curtis Kelly are expected to make major impacts in the frontcourt. Jerome Dyson is a big-time scorer in the backcourt, and Calhoun thinks A.J. Price, who has sat out the past two seasons, is the best player on the team. Don't forget about returnees Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie, and Marcus Johnson, who could be primed for break-out seaons in 2006-2007. As for Texas, six of their top seven players are gone, including LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, and Daniel Gibson. Kenton Paulino and Brad Buckman ran out of eligibility, and Mike Williams transferred, leaving Rick Barnes with A.J. Abrams as the lone returning player who made a significant impact last season. Don't cry for the Longhorns, though. Kevin Durant is my pick for National Freshman of the Year, while fellow McDonald's All-American D.J. Augustin will start next to Abrams in the backcourt. Damion James, another Top-20 recruit, will also be in the lineup come November. In addition, two Top-20 centers are also going to be in the fold for Texas, not to mention returnee Connor Atchley. These two teams won't rebuild next season; they will just reload.

- Looking at next year's preseason rankings, there are some teams that caught my eye as being underrated or overrated. The teams that I expect to exceed expectations are: USC, Purdue, Indiana, Boston College, and Syracuse. USC returns Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young, one of the top perimeter duos in the country, in addition to two other returning starters. The Trojans also bring in a very solid recruiting class. Purdue will start four players who missed all or some of the 2005-2006 season. Carl Landry and David Teague missed nearly all of last season with injuries, but both are back. Landry is an All-American candidate. Nate Minnoy played in only 13 games, while Tarrance Crump was suspended for last season after being a JC All-American two seasons ago. Indiana, with Kelvin Sampson at the helm, could surprise some people in the Big Ten. D.J. White returns from injury, and a plethora of perimeter players also return, including Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway. Boston College always plays better than their personnel would suggest, as Al Skinner gets the most out of his players. Jared Dudley is an All-America, while Sean Williams seems ready for a break-out season. Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall make up a very good backcourt. Syracuse seems to be getting overlooked in many rankings. They only lose Gerry McNamara, and Paul Harris should step right in for him. If Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins play to their potential, the Orange could be a Big East contender. As for the other side of the coin, the teams that are getting a little too much hype in the preseason look to be: Villanova, Oregon, Illinois, California, and Michigan State. 'Nova loses three starters from last season, but bring back All-America Curtis Sumpter from injury. However, they might not have enough firepower to compete with many of the Big East contenders. Oregon is again a chic pick to be a sleeper in the Pac-10. Unless a legit post presence emerges and the Ducks learn to play together as a team, they will likely disappoint again. California was not very good last season, and without do-everything Leon Powe, the Golden Bears won't have enough to make a run at the Pac-10 title. As for the Big Ten squads, both the Spartans and the Fighting Illini lose too much to be considered viable contenders for a Top-3 finish in the Big Ten. Illinois needs several role players to step up in order for them to compete, while Michigan State is in far worse shape than the Illini. Drew Neitzel returns at the point, but that's about it. Goran Suton and Marquise Gray are going to have to develop into go-to-players quickly. It will be interesting to see if any of these ten teams surprise or disappoint by the time March rolls around.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Post NBA Draft Top 25

With the NBA Draft and early-entry speculation finally out of the way, we can now turn our heads towards the 2006-2007 college basketball season. We no longer have to hear, "Well, if so and so stays, they will be tough to beat, but if he goes, it's going to be a rough year." Other than late-signing recruits and last-minute transfers, the rosters are basically set for the season. With that in mind, check out the latest preseason Top 25 and look who's a surprise #1. Of course, this is subject to change before March Madness All Season's official Top 25 is released in early November.

1. North Carolina- I might be the only one that has the Tar Heels #1, but no one repeats nowadays in college basketball, and I think UNC is going to take the title.
2. Florida- Probably the best team in the country, but the road is only going to get tougher as every team is going to give the Gators their best shot this season.
3. Kansas- Might be the only other true title contender at this point. Could have have the deepest, most talented group of players in the country.
4. LSU- Even with the losses of Tyrus Thomas and Darrell Mitchell, Glen Davis is ready to lead the Tigers back to the promised land. Tasmin Mitchell will help pick up the slack.
5. Pittsburgh- When Aaron Gray announced he was returning, the Panthers' hopes immediately jumped a few notches. Guards Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields will be key.
6. UCLA- They lose three starters, but return Arron Afflalo and several role players from their national runner-up team. Joe Shipp also returns from injury.
7. Wisconsin- With Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor leading the way, coach Bo Ryan has the goods to knock off Greg Oden and Ohio State.
8. Ohio State- Greg Oden leads a heralded recruiting class that will combine with the returning backcourt of Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis to make the Buckeyes tough to beat.
9. Alabama- Ronald Steele is one of the best point guards in the country, while Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix are a load down low.
10. Georgetown- The Hoyas are going to be led by one of the best frontcourt duos in the country in Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. Consistent guard play will be the key, though.
11. Arizona- This team may have more perimeter talent than anyone in the country, led by Marcus Williams and Mustafa Shakur. Jawan McLellan also returns from injury.
12. Texas A&M- The Aggies return one of the top inside-outside combos in the country in guard Acie Law and post man Joseph Jones. A third scorer needs to be found, though.
13. Duke- The Blue Devils lose All-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, but Coach K brings in an excellent recruiting class, while Josh McRoberts should develop into a star.
14. Memphis- They may lose a lot of talent, but there is no shortage of players for the Tigers. Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts need to become go-to scorers.
15. Connecticut- The Huskies are being overlooked by some, but they still have loads of talent. Newcomers Stanley Robinson and Haseem Thabeet could become stars.
16. Villanova- With the return from injury of Curtis Sumpter, the Wildcats have the type of player that can carry them deep into March. Mike Nardi anchors the backcourt.
17. Washington- The loss of Brandon Roy is huge, but newcomer Spencer Hawes and returnees Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman will keep the Huskies competitive.
18. Louisville- The Cardinals should bounce back from a down year with the additions of star recruits Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter. Terrence Williams could take the next step.
19. Wichita State- The Shockers return four starters from last year's Sweet 16 team, and add the best recruiting class in Mark Turgeon's tenure.
20. Boston College- Jared Dudley could become an All-American, while Sean Williams is developing into a go-to-guy down low. Tyrese Rice could be the key in the backcourt.
21. Georgia Tech- Leading candidate for the nation's most improved team. Newcomers Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young are going to be stars.
22. Marquette- Dominic James is one of the nation's top point guards, while Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews also return on the perimeter. Replacing Steve Novak won't be easy.
23. Texas- Only return one key player from a season ago in sixth man A.J. Abrams. Freshmen Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, and Damion James will contribute right away.
24. Southern Illinois- All five starters return for the defensive-minded Salukis, including the backcourt of Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young.
25. Syracuse- Jim Boheim always has the Orange in the hunt. Freshman Paul Harris is going to make an immediate impact, while Eric Devendorf leads the returnees.

Ten Other Teams to Watch:
Florida State- If they can find a quality big man, look out for the Seminoles.
Michigan- Is this the year the NIT champs stop underachieving?
Oklahoma State- Very young team will be tough in Sean Sutton's first year.
Creighton- The return from injury of Nate Funk makes this team a threat.
Hofstra- The best backcourt you haven't heard of returns for the Pride.
Tennessee- Shooter Chris Lofton and a top-10 recruiting class make the Vols tough.
Kentucky- The Wildcats will be better if they can replace Rajon Rondo.
Gonzaga- Mark Few will find a way to win, even without Adam Morrison.
Nevada- Nick Fazekas can single-handedly lead the Wolfpack to the Big Dance.
Xavier- Nearly everyone returns for the Musketeers, plus they add Andrew Lavender.