Saturday, September 30, 2006

Conference Rankings


1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Big East
4. Pac-10
5. Big Ten
6. Big 12
7. Missouri Valley
8. Mountain West
9. Atlantic-10
10. Colonial
11. WAC
12. Conference-USA
13. Mid-American
14. West Coast
15. Big West
16. Horizon
17. MAAC
18. Sun Belt
19. Southern
20. Big South
21. Mid-Continent
22. Ivy
23. Ohio Valley
24. Patriot
25. Big Sky
26. America East
27. Southland
28. Northeast
29. Atlantic Sun
30. MEAC
31. SWAC

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Major Conference Sleepers


Everyone thinks of sleepers as the mid-major teams that have great seasons and have huge amounts of hype going into the NCAA Tournament. That may be true, but sleepers come in all shapes and sizes. Another category for sleepers is the major conference sleepers. Going into the season, they are teams that didn't make the Field of 65 the season before, and aren't considered locks to make it this season. Major conference sleepers can be broken down into three groups.

There is the main group of teams that are being touted as NCAA Tournament teams and can win a game or two if they get there. Moreover, these are basically teams that didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season but should this year and can make noise if they do.

There are also the teams that are not expected to make the Big Dance and seem to be a few players away from contending. However, these teams can also make some moves in their conference if they get a few breaks here and there.

Lastly, there are the deep sleepers. These are teams that can contend for a bid if everything, and I mean everything, goes right.

Top-Tier Sleepers (Georgia Tech and Louisville are too good to be considered sleepers, even though they fulfill the criteria)

Virginia: After the top four in the ACC (UNC, Duke, Georgia Tech, Boston College), the race for the fifth spot is wide-open. Right now, there doesn't seem like a better candidate than the Cavaliers. They return the best backcourt duo in the country in Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. Singletary is a driving point guard that is strong going to the basket, while Reynolds has an excellent offensive game and is difficult to stop when he is hot. Adrian Joseph also returns on the wing, while Jason Cain and Laurynas Mikaluaskas will again man the interior. Several newcomers will make an impact, including forwards Jamil Tucker and Will Harris. This team could really make some noise if a go-to-guy emerges in the frontcourt.

Virginia Tech: Like most of the teams on this list, the Hokies had an awful season—finishing 4-12 in the ACC and losing six of their last seven. However, Virginia Tech was supposed to be a potential NCAA Tournament team last season. Maybe the predictions were a year off, because the Hokies have the goods to make a run at a bid this season. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form one of the most versatile backcourts in the country, as both players are good scorers, rebounders, defenders, and passers. Coleman Collins is one of the most underrated big men in the country, but he is somewhat inconsistent. Deron Washington is a very athletic forward who is a good all-around player. If the Hokies play together as a team, expect them to be in the thick of things come March.

Maryland: The Terrapins have underachieved for the past couple of years and have missed the NCAA Tournament back-to-back seasons but have been on the bubble each time. This year, they have enough talent and balance to make the return to the Big Dance. One of the main reasons is the fact that they now have a pure point guard to run the show in freshman Eric Hayes. He should be able to handle a starting job, and also will allow wing D.J. Strawberry to play his natural position. Mike Jones is a very good scorer. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist form an athletic inside duo. Gary Williams should be able to get back to the Tournament with this group.

Florida State: The Seminoles were on the bubble this past season, but should be in the Big Dance this year. The loss of Alexander Johnson to the NBA Draft hurts, but Leonard Hamilton should have this team ready to go. Al Thornton is one of the conference's toughest match-ups and can carry FSU. Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann also return as starters in the backcourt. Add Auburn transfer Toney Douglas to a deep perimeter group and the Seminoles should have the goods to make a run in the ACC. The only thing stopping them from contending for a top-3 finish in the conference is their lack of a go-to post player. But no one is going to want to play this team late in the season.

DePaul: After a positive non-conference campaign last season, in which the Blue Demons went 7-4 and beat teams like California, Creighton, and UAB, they struggled in the Big East en route to a 5-11 conference record. However, with the return of their top 13 players and 99.1% of their total minutes played a year ago, fans can expect more results like the ones they had in the non-conference season. Sammy Mejia is an excellent wing that can do-it-all, while Draelon Burns is one of the best sixth men in the country. Inside, Wilson Chandler and Karron Clarke are formidable options at both ends of the floor. The Blue Demons also bring in point guard recruit Will Walker, who could make an immediate impact in the backcourt. Don’t be shocked to see DePaul making a case for an NCAA bid.

Michigan: While the NIT runner-up loses four players that started at least six games, the Wolverines should be able to avoid a third consecutive late-season collapse and finally make the jump to the NCAA Tournament. The loss of Daniel Horton is going to make a huge impact, but incoming freshman Deshawn Sims should contribute immediately on the wing. Returning big man Courtney Sims is one of the best post players in the country at times, while the athletic Brent Petway can rebound and block shots on the interior. The perimeter should be loaded. Dion Harris and Lester Abram form an excellent duo, while Ron Coleman has potential. If Jerret Smith can replace Horton at the point, Michigan will be in the Field of 65.

Kansas State: This pick is more about the coach than the players. The biggest change in the coaching world this offseason was the Wildcats picking up former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins. If he instills the same principles he used with the Bearcats, this team will improve immediately. However, all-conference performer Cartier Martin was suspended indefinitely but he should be back by the start of the season. They need him to return if they want to receive an NCAA bid. Even without him, though, KSU is going to be tough. David Hoskins and Lance Harris are solid players on the wing, while Akeem Wright and Clent Stewart also contribute on the perimeter. Throw in recruits Blake Young and Jason Bennett, and Huggins has a team that can compete with anyone.

Oklahoma State: While the Cowboys struggled last season in what was a rebuilding last year, they are going to be loaded this season. The top ten scorers return for new coach Sean Sutton, and OSU also brings in McDonald’s All-American Obi Muonelo. He and JamesOn Curry should form a very good scoring combo on the wing. Mario Boggan is a beast on the interior. Marcus Dove is a lock-down defender, while David Monds is a productive forward. If they can get consistent point guard play from Byron Eaton and Jamaal Brown, the Pokes could compete for a Top-3 finish in the Big 12.

USC: After an encouraging 17-13 season (in which the Trojans were inexplicably left out of the NIT), USC took some hits in the offseason with some unfortunate news. First, starting point guard Ryan Francis was shot and killed in May. Next, star guard Gabe Pruitt was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. However, the Trojans could be a tough team to beat come March. Nick Young is one of the most talented players in the country, and could develop into a household name this season, while Pruitt is an all-conference guard. Lodrick Stewart is also very solid on the perimeter. Up front, incoming forwards Taj Gibson, and Kevin Galloway are expected to combine with returnees RouSean Crowell and Abdoulaye Ndiaye to comprise a formidable frontcourt. If they can find someone to replace Francis at the point, look out for them in the postseason.

Oregon: The Ducks need to get to the NCAA Tournament this season. It's that simple. They have had the talent the past two seasons but have not lived up to expectations either season. That should end this year. Malik Hairston is one of the best all-around players in the Pac-10, while Aaron Brooks needs to develop some consistency at the point. Wings Bryce Taylor and Chamberlain Oguchi provide scoring and shooting. The problem they have is their lack of interior play. Maarty Leunen and a host of other post players will have to step up down low or the Ducks may disappoint again. Coach Ernie Kent can't have that.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs could be one of the true sleepers/surprises in the SEC this season. They only managed 5 wins in the conference a year ago, but return some very solid players and also bring in a couple of players capable of contributing right away. Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes form one of the best inside-outside combos in the country. Gordon is extremely versatile and can do it all on the country, while Rhodes is developing into the one of the best big men around. Guards Reginald and Richard Delk also return, as does wing Dietric Slater (although he is suspended for the first semester). Freshman Jarvis Varnado can be a solid player up front, while classmate Ben Hansbrough could start at the point eventually. Look out for Mississippi State.

Potential Spoilers

Clemson: How many people know that Clemson went 19-13 overall and 7-9 in the ACC last season? Anyone? When looking at that, it's completely justified to see the Tigers has a potential threat in the second division of the ACC. They have a very athletic team, led by guards Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds. While they are not very good shooters, they can get to the basket on offense and force turnovers on defense. James Mays is the anchor down low, but forwards Sam Perry and Julius Powell are solid up front. Look out for freshman Trevor Booker. If the Tigers can improve their shooting, look out for them this season.

St. John's: Although they only won 12 games last season and didn't even make the Big East Tournament, this could be the year coach Norm Roberts takes the next step and gets the Red Storm to the postseason--whether it be the NCAA or NIT. Lamont Hamilton is one of the most underrated big men in the country, while wing Anthony Mason, Jr. has a lot of potential on the offensive end. Guards Darryl Hill and Eugene Lawrence are small, tough-minded guards that can create on offense. The incoming newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact. Derwin Kitchen and Avery Patterson add shooting and scoring on the perimeter, while forward Qa'rraan Calhoun could start at some point this season. This team has enough depth and talent to be competitive this season.

Providence: The Friars could really make some noise this season in the Big East if all the pieces come together. They had the same exact record as St. John's last season, but could improve even more than the Red Storm. It starts up front with Randall Hanke and Herbert Hill down low. Both are good shot-blockers and rebounders, while Hanke is a very efficient offensive player. Forward Geoff McDermott is a match-up nightmare for most 3s. He is an exceptional rebounder for his position (2nd in the Big East last season) and could have a huge year. Sharaud Curry is a good scoring point guard and steadily improved as the season went on a year ago. If a perimeter option steps up and shows the ability to hit shots from outside, the Friars are not going to be a team anyone wants to play.

Purdue: One of the top candidates for biggest improvement from last season to this season. That is mainly due to the addition and return of several big-time players. It starts with big man Carl Landry, who is one of the top power forwards in the country. He only played in 5 games last year due to injury, but he is back to dominate for the Boilermakers. David Teague and Tarrance Crump will start in the backcourt after redshirting last year. Moreover, Boston College Gordon Watt is expected to make an impact up front. Guards Chris Lutz and Marcus Green will also contribute in the backcourt. If the injured players return to their pre-injury form, this team could be a load to deal with in the Big Ten.

Penn State: The Big Ten is not overly impressive this season outside of Wisconsin and Ohio State. After those two and maybe Michigan and Illinois, there is a group of several teams looking to separate themselves from each other. One of those teams is the Nittany Lions, who could really surprise some people this year. They have one of the best forward tandems you've never heard of in Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley. Claxton is one of the best small forwards in the country, while Cornley was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. Ben Luber and David Jackson form a solid backcourt tandem, while Mike Walker also contributes on the perimeter. If a center emerges, Penn State will be a solid group to watch.

Baylor: Yes, Baylor. Yes, the team that went 4-13 last season. Mark it down: No one is going to want to play Baylor late in the Big 12 season. The Bears have one of the deepest backcourts in the country, led by Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells. Both are combo guards who are studs at both ends of the floor. Patrick Fields and Henry Dugat also contribute on the perimter, as will McDonald's All-American Tweety Carter. Tim Bush and Kevin Rogers are solid forwards, while Mamadou Diene provides rebounding and defense down low. This team has a lot of quality players, but they do need to develop a go-to-guy up front in order to make a serious bid for an NCAA Tournament spot.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders came into last season with fairly high expectations. They were supposed to return to the NCAA Tournament after making it two seasons ago. However, their frontcourt never developed and Tech disappointed with a below-.500 season. They should turn that around this season, especially with Bobby Knight only needing 11 wins to become the winningest coach in college basketball history. One of the top backcourts in the country returns in Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno. Jackson is an outstanding scorer and three-point shooter who can carry Tech to several wins. Zeno is a very good scorer and a solid rebounder. Darryl Dora and Jon Plefka return up front. Several newcomers are going to have to step up, though, including JC transfers Charlie Burgess and Roderick Craig.

Georgia: Even though the Bulldogs lost seven of their last eight games to end the season, they could be a team to watch this season. Eleven of their top twelve scorers return, including one of the most underrated perimeter groups in the country. Levi Stukes and Sundiata Gaines form an excellent combo, while Channing Toney also starts. Mike Mercer and Billy Humphrey, both sophomores-to-be, were two of the best bench contributors in the SEC. Dave Bliss and Steve Newman are going to have provide solid rebounding and defense down low. While their stable of guards is deep and talented, if the Bulldogs don’t get enough inside production, they won’t be able to reach their full potential. All of that adds up to what could be a sleeper team in the conference.

Vanderbilt: It seems that the Commodores find a way to make it on the bubble every season, and this year doesn't look any different. Vandy has one of the best wing duos in the country in Derrick Byars and Shan Foster. Both could be All-SEC performers this season. At the point, Alex Gordon and freshman Jermaine Beal will fight for the starting spot. LSU transfer Ross Neltner is expected to make an immmediate impact up front, while Alan Metcalfe is poised for a big year down low, as well. Heading into the season, the Commodores seem to have a few holes but they have players on the roster capable of stepping up and filling those gaps. This could be a good club.

Deep Sleepers

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were known as an unlucky team last season, and ended up going only 6-10 in the Big East. This season, the expectations are not very high for Notre Dame as they lose their best players in guard Chris Quinn, the team's leading scorer, and big man Torin Francis, a double-double threat every night. However, this team could beat some teams it shouldn't this season. Russell Carter and Colin Falls form a very good wing combo as Carter is an excellent athlete, while Falls is an outstanding long-range shooter. Rob Kurz and Luke Zeller are solid big men, while freshman Luke Harangody will also see time down low. Notre Dame may be depleted, but I wouldn't overlook this team.

Auburn: The Tigers are usually not considered much of a contender in the SEC, and they aren't going to be this season, either. However, they aren't going to be a pushover this year. Jeff Lebo has the team ready to compete every night out. Furman transfer Quan Prowell is going to make an immediate impact down low. He is a match-up problem and can score both inside and outside. He is joined up front by returnees Josh Dollard and Korvotney Barner, two solid forwards. In the backcourt, Quantez Robertson is an underrated point guard and a solid distributor. Rasheem Barrett is the team's leading scorer, while Frank Tolbert and Daniel Hayles also are solid scorers on the perimeter. This team has a lot of the pieces necessary to be a solid squad, and could pull a few upsets this year.

Iowa: The only team on this list that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the Hawkeyes are being overlooked this season and are predicted to drop to #9 in the Big Ten after coming within a game of the conference title last season. They lose three starters, but will still field a competitive team. Adam Haluska is an excellent all-around scorer who could be poised for a huge year this season. Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman also return on the perimeter. Henderson is an outstanding defender. Freshman Tyler Smith is expected to have an immediate impact at the forward spot, while JC transfer Cyrus Tate will also likely start right away. I see this team making the postseason.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Non-BCS Top 25


Last year, I did a "Mid-Major Top 25", and I planned on doing the same thing this year. It was going to include all the teams outside the Big Six conferences. However, after all the controversy surrounding which teams are mid-majors and which ones aren't, it made me re-think that idea. People in the Atlantic-10 and the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West don't want to be included in a ranking of "mid-major" teams. Therefore, I decided to avoid any sort of backlash and just call it the "Non-BCS Top 25". The easy way out? Sure. But there was no easy way to rank the Top 25 teams outside the Big Six conferences.

1. Memphis
2. Creighton
3. Wichita State
4. Southern Illinois
5. Hofstra
6. Xavier
7. Gonzaga
8. Nevada
9. San Diego State
10. Winthrop
11. Air Force
12. BYU
13. Missouri State
14. Houston
15. Massachusetts
16. George Mason
17. Akron
18. Marist
19. George Washington
20. Bucknell
21. New Mexico State
22. Northern Iowa
23. Pennsylvania
24. Toledo
25. New Mexico

Others Considered: Oral Roberts, Charlotte, Drexel, Western Kentucky, Niagara, Loyola Marymount, San Franscisco, Saint Louis, Long Beach State, Northern Arizona, Loyola (Chicago)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Non-Conference Games to Watch


This season is full of great non-conference games. Many would be surprised to see so many contests between Top 10-15 teams. However, there is not a fan out there that would complain about the amount of high-quality games on this season's slate. Moreover, there are also dozens of games between potential NCAA Tournament teams and quality mid-major squads. Nearly every night, you can sit down and watch a game between NCAA-caliber clubs.

Week of November 6-November 12
Arizona at Virginia (Sunday)

Week of November 13-November 19
BYU at UCLA (Wednesday)
Wichita State at George Mason (Saturday)

Week of November 20-26
Florida State at Pittsburgh (Friday)
Florida vs. Kansas--in Las Vegas (Saturday)
Wichita State at LSU (Saturday)
George Mason at Creighton (Saturday)

Week of November 27-December 3
Florida State at Wisconsin (Tuesday)
Maryland at Illinois (Tuesday)
Indiana at Duke (Tuesday)
Ohio State at North Carolina (Wednesday)
Michigan State at Boston College (Wednesday)
Oregon at Georgetown (Wednesday)
Kansas State at California (Wednesday)
Georgetown at Duke (Saturday)
Illinois at Arizona (Saturday)
Kentucky at North Carolina (Saturday)
Texas vs. Gonzaga--in Phoenix (Saturday)
Wichita State at Syracuse (Saturday)
Kansas at DePaul (Saturday)
Nevada at California (Saturday)
Florida at Florida State (Sunday)

Week of December 4-December 10
Winthrop at Wisconsin (Monday)
Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse--in New York City (Tuesday)
Louisville vs. Arizona--in New York City (Tuesday)
Texas A&M at LSU (Tuesday)
Memphis at Tennessee (Wednesday)
UCLA at Texas A&M--in Anaheim (Saturday)
Xavier at Creighton (Saturday)
Wisconsin at Marquette (Saturday)
Arizona at San Diego State (Saturday)
Kentucky at Indiana (Saturday)
LSU at Texas (Sunday)

Week of December 11-December 17
Pittsburgh at Wisconsin (Saturday)
Kentucky at Louisville (Saturday)
Houston at Arizona (Sunday)
Southern Illinois at Indiana (Sunday)

Week of December 18-December 24
LSU at Washington (Wednesday)
Memphis at Arizona (Wednesday)
Gonzaga vs. Duke--in New York City (Thursday)
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Thursday)
Hofstra at Syracuse (Friday)
Georgia Tech at Georgia (Friday)
Ohio State at Florida (Saturday)
Boston College at Kansas (Saturday)
Michigan at UCLA (Saturday)
Texas at Tennessee (Saturday)
California at DePaul (Saturday)

Week of December 25-December 31
Illinois at Xavier (Friday)
Georgetown at Michigan (Saturday)
Wisconsin at Georgia (Sunday)

Week of January 1-January 7
Gonzaga at Virginia (Wednesday)
Kansas State at Xavier (Wednesday)
Connecticut at LSU (Saturday)

Week of January 8-January 14
Tennessee at Ohio State (Saturday)

Week of January 15-January 21
Texas at Villanova (Saturday)
Indiana at Connecticut (Saturday)

Week of January 22-January 28
North Carolina at Arizona (Saturday)

Week of January 29-February 4

Week of February 5-February 11
Connecticut at Georgia Tech (Sunday)

Week of February 12-February 18
Washington at Pittsburgh (Saturday)
Memphis at Gonzaga (Saturday)


2K Sports College Hoops Classic (Teams of Interest: Michigan State, Maryland, St. John's, Texas)
Preseason NIT (Teams of Interest: Indiana, Tennessee, Winthrop, North Carolina, Gonzaga)
Paradise Jam (Teams of Interest: Alabama, Xavier, Villanova)
CBE Classic (Teams of Interest: Stanford, Duke, Marquette, Texas Tech, Akron, Air Force)
Maui Invitational (Teams of Interest: Memphis, Georgia Tech, DePaul, Kentucky, UCLA)
ESPNU Classic (Teams of Interest: Arkansas, Marist, Southern Illinois, Virginia Tech)

Biggest Shoes to Fill


Players leave their teams after every season, whether it be that his eligibility ran out or he took the early-entry route. It's the way that college basketball is. However, some missing players' impact on their old teams is bigger than others. This year, there is an obvious absence of several of the best players from the last few years. Who will replace them?

J.J. Redick, G, Duke; Replacement: DeMarcus Nelson
Shelden Williams, C, Duke; Replacement: Josh McRoberts
David Noel, F, North Carolina; Replacement: Brandan Wright
Craig Smith, F, Boston College; Replacement: Akida McClain
Alexander Johnson, C, Florida State; Replacement: Uche Echefu
Guillermo Diaz/Robert Hite, G, Miami (Fl.); Replacements: Jack McClinton, Denis Clemente
Curtis Withers, F, Charlotte; Replacement: E.J. Drayton
Brian Thornton, F, Xavier; Replacement: Josh Duncan
Steven Smith, F, LaSalle; Replacement: DaSean White
Mardy Collins, G, Temple; Replacement: Chris Clark
Carl Krauser, G, Pittsburgh; Replacement: Levance Fields
Gerry McNamara, G, Syracuse; Replacement: Paul Harris
Steve Novak, F, Marquette; Replacement: Dan Fitzgerald
Taquan Dean, G, Louisville; Replacement: Edgar Sosa
Randy Foye/Kyle Lowry/Allan Ray, G, Villanova; Replacements: Scottie Reynolds, Mike Nardi
Marcus Williams, G, Connecticut; Replacement: A.J. Price
Rudy Gay, F, Connecticut; Replacement: Stanley Robinson
Eric Hicks, F, Cincinnati; Replacement: Hernol Hall
Chris Quinn, G, Notre Dame; Replacement: Kyle McAlarney
Quincy Douby, G, Rutgers; Replacement: Courtney Nelson
Kevin Pittsnogle, F, West Virginia; Replacement: Jamie Smalligan
Mike Gansey, G, West Virginia; Replacement: Darris Nichols
P.J. Tucker, F, Texas; Replacement: Kevin Durant
LaMarcus Aldridge, C, Texas; Replacement: Matt Hill/Connor Atchley
Curtis Stinson/Will Blalock, G, Iowa State; Replacements: Corey McIntosh, Michael Taylor
Terence Dials, C, Ohio State; Replacement: Greg Oden
Dee Brown, G, Illinois; Replacement: Chester Frazier
James Augustine, F, Illinois; Replacement: Shaun Pruitt
Marco Kilingsworth, F, Indiana; Replacement: Mike White
Greg Brunner, F, Iowa; Replacement: Cyrus Tate
Daniel Horton, G, Michigan; Replacement: Jerret Smith
Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, G, Michigan State; Replacements: Drew Neitzel, Raymar Morgan
Paul Davis, C, Michigan State; Replacement: Goran Suton/Drew Naymick/Tom Herzog
Vedran Vukusic, F, Northwestern; Replacement: Kevin Coble
Rodney Carney, F, Memphis; Replacement: Chris Douglas-Roberts
Shawne Williams, F, Memphis; Replacement: Robert Dozier
John Tofi, F, UTEP; Replacement: Victor Ramalho
Squeaky Johnson, G, UAB; Replacement: Andre White
Paul Miller, C, Wichita State; Replacement: Phillip Thomasson
Patrick O'Bryant, C, Bradley; Replacement: Zach Andrews
Ben Jacobson, G, Northern Iowa; Replacement: Travis Brown
Marcus Slaughter, F, San Diego State; Replacement: Jerome Habel
Justin Williams, C, Wyoming; Replacement: Daaron Brown
Louis Admundson, F, UNLV; Replacement: Joel Anthony
Hassan Adams, F, Arizona; Replacement: Chase Budinger
Jordan Farmar, G, UCLA; Replacement: Darren Collison
Brandon Roy, G, Washington; Replacement: Adrian Oliver/Ryan Appleby
Leon Powe, F, Michigan; Replacement: Ryan Anderson
Chris Hernandez, G, Stanford; Replacement: Mitch Johnson
Matt Haryasz, F, Stanford; Replacement: Brook Lopez
C.J. Watson, G, Tennessee; Replacement: Ramar Smith
Tyrus Thomas, F, LSU; Replacement: Magnum Rolle/Darnell Lazare
Darrell Mitchell, G, LSU; Replacement: Tack Minor
Rajon Rondo, G, Kentucky; Replacement: Ramel Bradley
Ronnie Brewer, G/F, Arkansas; Replacement: Sonny Weems
Paul Millsap, F, Louisiana Tech; Replacement: Chad McKenzie
Adam Morrison, F, Gonzaga; Replacement: Micah Downs
J.P. Batista, F/C, Gonzaga; Replacement: Josh Heytvelt
Keydren Clark, G, St. Peter's; Replacement: Kaimondre Owes
Brandon Polk, F, Butler; Replacement: Brian Ligon
Jai Lewis, F, George Mason; Replacement: Louis Birdsong
Christian Maraker, C, Pacific; Replacement: Anthony Brown
Kenny Adeleke, F, Hartford; Replacement: Alex Zimnickas
Andre Collins, G, Loyola (Md.); Replacement: Marquis Sullivan
Steve Burtt/Ricky Soliver, G, Iona; Replacements: Steve Hailey, Andre Tarver
Brion Rush, G, Grambling State; Replacement: Emmanuel Calloway
Alan Daniels, F, Lamar; Replacement: Blake Whittle
Yemi Nicholson, C, Denver; Replacement: Adam Tanner
Harding Nana, F, Delaware; Replacement: Rapheal Madera
Jose Juan Barea, G, Northeastern; Replacement: Adrian Martinez

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Fifty Impact Freshmen


Ever since Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a National Championship in 2003, every freshman has looked to "Carmelo-ize" a team or program. This season's crop of newcomers is loaded with players that are going to have step in immediately and have an impact. It is likely, however, that someone not on this list is going to have a huge effect on his new team. That's just how it is; you can't predict what freshmen are going to do.

Point Guard
Tywon Lawson, North Carolina: Quick, athletic PG will start immediately for national title contender.
Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech: Provides Yellow Jackets with scoring point guard.
D.J. Augustin, Texas: One of the reasons Daniel Gibson decided to go pro. Will start.
Willie Kemp, Memphis: Pass-first floor leader is a winner who could start right away.
Sherron Collins, Kansas: Athletic scorer will see plenty of minutes off the bench.
Ramar Smith, Tennessee: Combo guard will start next to Chris Lofton to help replace C.J. Watson.
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: Can play both guard spots, and will help replace last year's group.
Mike Conley, Ohio State: Greg Oden's sidekick will come off the bench this season, but is the PG of the future.
Edgar Sosa, Louisville: Could start immediately in the backcourt with unexpected loss of Brandon Jenkins.
Eric Hayes, Maryland: Will provide Terrapins with the pure PG they have sorely missed lately.

Shooting Guard
Paul Harris, Syracuse: Versatile perimeter play may be best all-around freshman in country.
Daequan Cook, Ohio State: Big-time scorer could make more of an impact than Greg Oden.
Wayne Ellington, North Carolina: Excellent shooter could start for Tar Heels. Top-ranked SG recruit.
Gerald Henderson, Duke: Will swing to the frontcourt for Blue Devils. Does most of his work inside the arc.
Obi Muonelo, Oklahoma State: Good scorer when slashing to the basket. Will see lots of playing time for Cowboys.
Jerome Dyson, Connecticut: Big-time scorer and solid defender could lead the Huskies in scoring.
Jason Bohannon, Wisconsin: Excellent scorer and shooter gives Badgers perimeter depth.
Patrick Beverly, Arkansas: Late signee could start for Razorbacks, who need a guard to step up.
Jon Scheyer, Duke: Outstanding shooter is inevitably--or unfairly--going to be compared to J.J. Redick.
Jodie Meeks/Derrick Jasper, Kentucky: Tandem of guards will form backcourt of the future for the Wildcats.

Small Forward
Kevin Durant, Texas: My choice for National Freshman of the Year will make huge impact for Longhorns.
Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech: Offensive standout can score inside and outside and will start immediately.
Chase Budinger, Arizona: Lute Olson called him the most talented recruit ever at Arizona. Who am I to disagree?
Earl Clark, Louisville: Versatile wing has well-rounded offensive game and will see plenty of minutes.
Stanley Robinson, Connecticut: Another UConn newcomer with a chance to start. Could be next Husky star.
Tyler Smith, Iowa: Good inside-outside player who is expected to combine with Adam Haluska for solid wing combo.
Quincy Pondexter, Washington: Athletic wing is excellent in open court and will fit in well with Huskies.
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State: Has a chance to come in and lead depleted Spartans in scoring.
Mike Jones, Syracuse: Overshadowed by Paul Harris, but will provide quality depth with his versatility.
David Lighty, Ohio State: Less-heralded than some of his classmates, but he's very athletic and will see time.

Power Forward
Brandan Wright, North Carolina: Yet another top-ranked recruit for the Tar Heels that could start immediately.
Duke Crews, Tennessee: Will provide inside help for Vols, who desperately need post production.
Lance Thomas, Duke: Late signee is an athletic inside-outside forward who will likely start for Coach K.
Damion James, Texas: Combo forward will start next to Kevin Durant, but will be a star in his own right.
Darrell Arthur, Kansas: Inside force who is extremely athletic and will see plenty of minutes.
DeShawn Sims, Michigan: Very good all-around offensive player is difficult to defend around the basket.
Derrick Caracter, Louisville: Extremely talented big man needs to focus on basketball to reach potential.
Vernon Macklin/DaJuan Summers, Georgetown: One of these two needs to step up up front for the Hoyas.
James Keefe, UCLA: Very good rebounder has non-stop motor and will be solid offensive player for Bruins.
Curtis Kelly, Connecticut: Very good inside player has variety of post moves and will push Jeff Adrien for starting spot.

Greg Oden, Ohio State: Best center prospect in decades won't be able to make impact until January.
Spencer Hawes, Washington: Immediately one of the best centers in the West. Has excellent offensive game.
Haseem Thabeet, Connecticut: Yes, another Husky signee. Great defensive prospect will start right away.
Brook Lopez/Robin Lopez, Stanford: Twins will both start inside for Cardinal. Will make immediate impact up front.
Brian Carlwell, Illinois: Solid player on both sides of the ball will see plenty of minutes off the bench.
Jason Bennett, Kansas State: 7-2 big man is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder who will start.
Tom Herzog, Michigan State: Good shot-blocker will attempt to replace Paul Davis for the Spartans.
Brian Zoubek, Duke: Tough to stop on the interior due to his size and variety of post moves. Will see minutes.
Alex Stepheson/Deon Thompson, North Carolina: Solid big man duo will combine to back-up Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright.
Pierre Niles, Memphis: Is a bull on the interior thanks to his varied offensive game and will see minutes.

Impact Transfers


Transfers are often overlooked when analyzing a team's prospects for the upcoming season. Everyone notices the new freshman recruits, but some people forget about the transfers that had to sit out a season. However, transfers often have more of an immediate impact than freshmen as a result of the experience that they have. This season, there is an abundance of talented transfers ready to make people remember them.

For more on this topic, check out this offseason
article I wrote on transfers.

J.R. Giddens, G/F, New Mexico (from Kansas): Disappointment at Kansas; is extremely athletic and can get hot from behind the arc.
Drew Lavender, G, Xavier (from Oklahoma): Diminutive point guard proves stability for the Atlantic-10 favorites. Will start immediately.
Aaron Johnson, F, New Mexico (from Penn State): Will be the go-to-guy on the interior for the Lobos. Led Big Ten in rebounding.
Mike Cook, G, Pittsburgh (from East Carolina): The Panthers get a scoring wing who loves to get into the lane with his size and strength.
Toney Douglas, G, Florida State (from Auburn): Leonard Hamilton is lucky to have his services. Scoring guard will do-it-all for the Seminoles.
Gary Forbes, G/F, Massachusetts (from Virginia): He is an outstanding scorer who can fill it up from both inside and outside the arc.
Dameon Mason, G/F, LSU (from Marquette): Very athletic wing who is at his best when going to the basket for easy finishes in the open floor.
Gary Ervin, G, Arkansas (from Mississippi State): One of the fastest players in the country with the ball in his hands. Will be interesting fit.
Justin Cerasoli, G, Mississippi (from Seton Hall): Showed flashes of potential during his days with the Pirates. Could have a break-out year.
Cheyenne Moore, G/F, George Washington (from Clemson): Outstanding athlete who can finish with the best of them in transition.
Micah Downs, G/F, Gonzaga (from Kansas): Disappointed at Kansas. Very good shooter and scorer who could put up big numbers in the WCC.
Dion Dowell, F, Houston (from Texas): Athletic swingman who is a very good defender. Will be a huge help for the Cougars in the frontcourt.
Kevin Kruger, G, UNLV (from Arizona State): Took advantage of new transfer rule to play for his dad. Excellent shooter who has great stamina.
Trent Meachem, G, Illinois (from Dayton): Excellent outside shooter will contribute at the point, giving Illini another solid all-around player.
Justin Hawkins, G/F (from Utah); Martin Iti, C (from Charlotte); Fred Peete, G (from Kansas State), New Mexico State: Trio of immediate contributors for the Aggies.

Junior College Transfers

Sonny Weems, F, Arkansas: Big-time scorer and excellent defender will start right away on the wing.

Hernol Hall, C, Cincinnati: Gives Bearcats post player who can score both inside and outside.
Blake Young, G, Kansas State: Excellent shooter with good strength could start immediately.
Carlos Williams, G, Charlotte: Top-ranked JC point guard will give 49ers passer they've been looking for.
Avery Patterson, G, St. John's: Will provide Red Storm with three-point shooting they lacked a year ago.
Roy Bright, F, Delaware State: Former Cincinnati recruit will form outstanding forward duo with Jahshaa Bluntt.
Lance Stemler/Mike White, F, Indiana: Pair of forwards provide contrasting styles, but will fight for starting job.
Othello Hunter, F, Ohio State: Will have opportunity to put up solid numbers starting next to Greg Oden.
Jerome Habel, C, San Diego State: Replacement for Marcus Slaughter was one of the top big men in the JC ranks.
Charles Burgess, G, Texas Tech: Will join Martin Zeno and Jarrius Jackson in one of the top backcourts in the country.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rankings: Wing Duos


An inside-outside combo and a solid trio are necessary to win a national championship, but having wings that can score are important as well. Two perimeter players that can create their own shots and take pressure off the point guard and the post players make a team that much more dangerous. Here are the top wing duos in the country heading into the season:

1. USC: Gabe Pruitt, Nick Young
2. Kansas: Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush
3. UCLA: Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp
4. North Carolina: Wayne Ellington, Reyshawn Terry
5. Hofstra: Antoine Agudio, Loren Stokes
6. Syracuse: Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols
7. Georgia Tech: Anthony Morrow, Thaddeus Young
8. Ohio State: Daequan Cook, Ron Lewis
9. LSU: Dameon Mason, Tasmin Mitchell
10. Vanderbilt: Shan Foster, Derrick Byars

Rankings: Trios


In addition to a solid inside-outside combo, which many teams have, the thing that sets apart the elite from the also-rans is that third option. Opponents can set up a game plan to shut down the top two players, but it is nearly impossible to contain a solid troika. When teams that have three outstanding players are hitting on all cylinders, they usually don't lose. Here are the top trios heading into the season (Note: I only took groups that had a mix of inside and outside--hence why Hofstra and Marquette don't make the list):

1. Florida: Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah
2. Alabama: Ronald Steele, Richard Hendrix, Jermareo Davidson
3. North Carolina: Tywon Lawson, Reyshawn Terry/Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough
4. Ohio State: Jamar Butler, Daequan Cook, Greg Oden
5. UCLA: Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
6. Arizona: Mustafa Shakur, Chase Budinger, Marcus Williams
7. Wisconsin: Kammron Taylor, Alando Tucker, Brian Butch
8. Georgia Tech: Javaris Crittenton, Thaddeus Young, Ra'Sean Dickey
9. Kansas: Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Julian Wright
10. Virginia Tech: Jamon Gordon, Zabian Dowdell, Coleman Collins

Five More to Watch:
Pittsburgh: Levance Fields, Sam Young, Aaron Gray
Washington: Justin Dentmon, Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes
LSU: Dameon Mason, Tasmin Mitchell, Glen Davis
Syracuse: Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols
Memphis: Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey/Robert Dozier

Rankings: Inside-Outside Combos


Balance is key in college basketball. Even if you are stacked in the backcourt, you may be weak on the interior. Conversely, a team may be loaded in the paint, but not very potent on the perimeter. To make noise in the NCAA Tournament, production from both inside and outside are necessary. Here are the top inside-outside duos:

1. Texas A&M: Acie Law, Joseph Jones
2. Florida: Corey Brewer/Taurean Green, Joakim Noah
3. Alabama: Ronald Steele, Jermareo Davidson
4. UCLA: Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
5. Ohio State: Jamar Butler/Daequan Cook, Greg Oden

6. North Carolina: Tywon Lawson/Reyshawn Terry, Tyler Hansbrough
7. Pittsburgh: Levance Fields, Aaron Gray
8. Mississippi State: Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes
9. Nevada: Mercelus Kemp, Nick Fazekas
10. Virginia Tech: Jamon Gordon/Zabian Dowdell, Coleman Collins

11. LSU: Dameon Mason, Glen Davis
12. Duke: Greg Paulus, Josh McRoberts
13. Georgia Tech: Javaris Crittenton/Anthony Morrow, Ra'Sean Dickey
14. Wisconsin: Kammron Taylor, Brian Butch
15. DePaul: Sammy Mejia, Wilson Chandler

Others to Watch:
Oklahoma State
Fresno State

Florida State

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Best Frontcourts


In order to win a championship, everyone thinks guard play is necessary. That is true, but a team won't win without a solid frontcourt. If you have a post player that will get you a basket with the clock winding down, it gives you an advantage over smaller, guard-laden clubs. Rebounding and defensive stops down low will come easier if you have a good group of players in the paint. The best backcourts in the country will falter early in March without a solid duo or trio on the baseline. Who has the best frontcourts headed into the season? Starters in italics

1. Florida (Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard, Dan Werner): The defending National Champions have one of the best frontcourts in recent memory—the three starters are potential lottery picks—and could make it back to the title game if this group plays as well as it did during the NCAA Tournament. All three starters are ranked in the top-5 at their respective positions. Corey Brewer is one of the most versatile players in the country and is a very good defender. He is athletic and is adept and getting into the lane and finishing. Joakim Noah had a breakout NCAA Tournament, and has appeared on several All-American teams. He is a difficult match-up due to his athleticism, size, and speed. He is an outstanding defender with his shot-blocking ability and quick hands. Al Horford goes unnoticed at times lining up next to the passionate Noah. However, he is a terrific rebounder and a very good defender. Off the bench, Chris Richard provides excellent low-post scoring and rebounding. Dan Werner will contribute as a freshman.

2. North Carolina (Tyler Hansbrough, Reyshawn Terry, Alex Stepheson, Brandan Wright, Deon Thompson, Danny Green): More depth and talent for the Tar Heels. Similarly to their backcourt, Roy Williams’ biggest problem is going to be finding minutes for everyone. Tyler Hansbrough leads the group. The All-American is very efficient down low and could have an even better year this season with more help in the low post. Some considered him North Carolina’s best freshman ever. Reyshawn Terry was vastly underrated on a national level last season, but is poised to make a name for himself. He is very good at driving to the basket and getting points inside the arc. Danny Green will see minutes behind Terry again. He is above-average on the defensive end and can also make threes. Brandan Wright, the #1-ranked PF recruit, could start immediately. He is a big-time scorer and can create match-up problems up front. Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson will provide depth in the paint, giving the Tar Heels rebounding and defense.

3. Alabama (Jermareo Davidson, Richard Hendrix, Alonzo Gee, Yamene Coleman, Demetrius Jameson): If not for Florida, this group would have the best frontcourt in the SEC—no easy task. Even with the Gators, the Crimson Tide frontline can match-up with anyone in the country. Jermareo Davidson is a match-up problem at the center spot. He is very athletic down low and is also an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder. Richard Hendrix is ready for a huge season as a sophomore. He is an outstanding rebounder but needs to work on his offensive game in order to fulfill his potential. Alonzo Gee is solid on the wing with his driving ability. Redshirt Yamene Coleman and freshman Demetrius Jemison are two more big bodies in the paint.

4. Georgetown (Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Vernon Macklin, DaJuan Summers, Pat Ewing, Jr.): Georgetown is ready to return to their “Hoya Paranoia” days with this group leading the way. The size and rebounding ability of this quintet is out of this world. Jeff Green is one of the best all-around players in the country, and might be the best power forward in the country. He will play some small forward this year for the Hoyas, and will be a match-up nightmare with his inside-outside game. 7-2 Roy Hibbert is getting a lot of hype this season, and he has the ability to live up to the expectations. He had a huge NCAA Tournament, which could be the springboard for a big junior season. The newcomers are going to round out the frontline. Indiana transfer Patrick Ewing, Jr. is athletic, while freshmen Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers will also be in the running for the available starting forward spot.

5. Pittsburgh (Aaron Gray, Sam Young, Levon Kendall, Tyrell Biggs): An experienced and solid group. Size, athleticism, versatility, defense, rebounding, depth—it’s all here. Aaron Gray is one of the best centers in the country and is a potential All-American. The double-double machine is dominant, but struggled down the stretch at times last season. However, his defense and rebounding ability make him a force to be reckoned with every night out. Sam Young and Levon Kendall form a dynamite power forward duo. Young is poised for a breakout season with his athleticism and all-around game. Kendall is a good defender and rebounder who also has an underrated, well-rounded offensive game. Tyrell Biggs is a beast on the inside who will improve his numbers with more playing time.

6. Kansas (Brandon Rush, Julian Wright, Sasha Kaun, C.J. Giles, Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur): This group could easily be in the top-3 by the end of the season. There is a phenomenal amount of talent here, but it is relatively unproven for the most part. If each of the players lives up to their potential, this frontline is going to be unstoppable. Brandon Rush has the ability to be a star. He can create his own shot and is a very good scorer. However, he was too unselfish last season and deferred to his teammates too often. Julian Wright is one of the more versatile players in the Big 12. He can play nearly every position on the floor. He is athletic and can finish in the lane. The three-headed monster of Sasha Kaun, C.J. Giles, and Darnell Jackson down low provides the Jayhawks with ample scoring, rebounding, and defense. Kaun leads the way with his underrated all-around game. Giles has great potential and is a very good shot-blocker, while Jackson is a load inside. Freshman Darrell Arthur can play anywhere on the frontline and will have an immediate impact.

7. LSU (Glen Davis, Magnum Rolle, Tasmin Mitchell, Darnell Lazare): Even without #2 overall pick Tyrus Thomas, the Tigers’ frontcourt is going to be outstanding. The SEC is loaded in the frontcourt, and LSU matches up very well. Glen Davis is a sure-fire All-American and might have a better year than last season. He lost weight during the offseason to improve his athleticism and stamina, which will only add to his ability to dominate his opponents in the paint. Tasmin Mitchell is a candidate for a break-out season. He demonstrated some of his myriad talents last season, starting every game and playing very well down the stretch. Magnum Rolle and Darnell Lazare will try to replace Thomas. Rolle is a carbon copy of Thomas, with his length and athleticism. He is a good shot-blocker and can run the floor. Lazare is a big body who will be a nice complement to Davis.

8. Louisville (David Padgett, Terrence Williams, Derrick Caracter, Earl Clark, Juan Palacios, Terrance Farley): The Cardinals’ quest to return to the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing campaign a year ago depends on their frontcourt. This group is deep and talented, but it needs to play to its potential in order for Louisville to be a contender. David Padgett is a very good inside-outside player who has the ability to be one of the better big men in the Big East—if he stays healthy. He is injury-prone and missed ten game season due to injuries. Juan Palacios is also injury-prone but he should be healthy and ready to go this season. He has a versatile game and is a match-up problem due to his ability to get to the basket as well as pass and shoot. Terrence Williams is extremely athletic but needs to improve his decision-making and shot selection. Terrance Farley is a good shot-blocker off the bench. Freshmen Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter could both start eventually. Clark is versatile and is also very good on the offensive end, while Caracter is talented but has character issues.

9. Georgia Tech (Thaddeus Young, Jeremis Smith, Ra’Sean Dickey, Mouhammed Faye, Zach Peacock, Alade Aminu): The Yellow Jackets’ frontcourt is relatively unproven right now, but it is definitely talented and has the potential to be one of the top five in the country. A lot of that depends on the arrival of Thaddeus Young. He can score from the perimeter and is also adept at driving to the basket and finishing. He is going to be a star—if only for a year. Ra’Sean Dickey was known for inconsistency for much of his first two seasons, but he broke out in the latter part of last season and looks primed for a big year. The underrated Jeremis Smith is an excellent rebounder and a solid defender next to Dickey down low. Mouhammed Faye will likely be the first big man off the bench, while Zach Peacock and Alade Aminu will also see minutes.

10. Syracuse (Terrence Roberts, Darryl Watkins, Demetris Nichols, Matt Gorman, Mike Jones, Arinze Onuaka): Is this the year that the Orange’s vaunted senior class finally lives up to the hype they had when they arrived on campus four years ago? The fourth Big East team on this list needs a big year from their frontcourt if they are going to compete in the conference. Demetris Nichols is an excellent shooter from behind the arc, but needs to attack the basket more often as to not become one-dimensional. Terrence Roberts has shown flashes of his potential throughout his career, but has never been consistent enough to be a star. He is very athletic and aggressive and also runs the floor well. Darryl Watkins is a good rebounder and shot-blocker who played well down the stretch. Freshman Mike Jones is a terrific leaper who can also shoot the ball from three. Returnees Matt Goman and Arinze Onuaka provide depth.

Honorable Mention

Wisconsin (Alando Tucker, Brian Butch, Marcus Landry, Jason Chappell, Greg Stiemsma, Joe Krabbenhoft): The Badgers are relying heavily on this group to stay healthy (and eligible, in the case of Marcus Landry) in order for them to be a contender in March. Alando Tucker is one of the best players in the country, and is very difficult to stop on the offensive end. He is completely healthy this season and has also improved his jumpshot. Brian Butch is a top-25 center nationally who can score and rebound well. Marcus Landry was academically ineligible for the second half of last year, but has the potential to be a big-time performer this season. Jason Chappell and Greg Stiemsma are both solid big men who play defense and rebound. Joe Krabbenhoft is a shooter.

Kansas State (Cartier Martin, David Hoskins, Jason Bennett, Luis Colon): Bobby Huggins has a nice frontcourt group to build upon. Cartier Martin might be the best player in the Big 12. He is an outstanding scorer and also a very solid rebounder. David Hoskins creates match-up problems on the wing with his size and inside ability. Martin and Hoskins form one of the best forward tandems around. 7-3 freshman Jason Bennett will start right away and will make an impact with his shot-blocking and rebounding ability. Fellow freshman Luis Colon will also contribute.

UCLA (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp, Lorenzo Mata, James Keefe, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright): The Bruins’ quest to return to the Final Four will have a lot to do with the development of the frontline. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is an all-conference performer who is excellent on the boards and has an emerging offensive game. He could be a star. Josh Shipp returns from injury. He is a very good scorer who will help on the wing. James Keefe is a McDonald’s All-American who will make an impact with his size and shooting ability. Lorenza Mata, Alfred Aboya, and Ryan Wright will compete for the starting job at center. Mata and Aboya could combine for a nice two-headed big man.

Washington (Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman, Joe Wolfinger, Hans Gasser, Artem Wallace): If this group didn’t rely so much on freshmen, they would be much higher on the list. Center Spencer Hawes is one of the best big man prospects in years (outside of Greg Oden, of course). He has a developed inside-outside offensive game and is going to be a star. Quincy Pondexter is extremely athletic on the wing who will provide excitement and finishing ability for the Huskies. Returnee Jon Brockman is a banger on the interior who can score and rebound well. Redshirt Joe Wolfinger, Hans Gasser, and Artem Wallace will come off the bench to provide depth.

Duke (Josh McRoberts, Gerald Henderson, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, David McClure, Jamal Boykin): Like Washington, this group depends on the play of several freshmen. However, sophomore Josh McRoberts leads the way. He was a role player last season, but has the ability to be an All-American. He is very athletic, can block shots and rebound, and is also a good scorer. Freshmen Gerald Henderson and Lance Thomas will likely start at the forward spots. Henderson has an excellent mid-range game and can get to the basket at will, while Thomas is a versatile player with very good all-around ability. Brian Zoubek was a McDonald’s All-American but is not ready to be a star yet. David McClure and Jamal Boykin will see minutes off the bench.

Others to Watch

Arkansas: JC transfer Sonny Weems will play right away, while Charlie Thomas, Steve Hill, and Darian Townes are tough inside.
Penn State: Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley form one of the best forward tandems in the country—and most haven’t heard of them.
Providence: Very underrated. Randall Hanke and Herbert Hill are solid inside, while Geoff McDermott is a bull on the wing.
Xavier: Versatile and talented. Josh Duncan will break-out, while Justin Doellmann and Justin Cage form solid tandem.
Texas A&M: Joseph Jones is a loaded to handle in the post. Marlon Pompey, Bryan Davis, and Antanas Kavaliausakas contribute.
Michigan: Courtney Sims has great potential. Lester Abram is a solid wing. DaShawn Sims and Brent Petway are athletic forwards.
Maryland: Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist form athletic inside duo. D.J. Strawberry will play to his potential now that he’s on the wing.
Massachusetts: Rashaun Freeman and Stephane Lasme form imposing duo down low. UVA Transfer Gary Forbes is a big-time scorer.
Arizona: Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger have the ability to become stars. Ivan Radenovic is an underrated all-around player.
New Mexico: Transfers J.R. Giddens and Aaron Johnson will make immediate impact. Kellen Walter is solid.

Connecticut: Jeff Adrien is an emerging star. Freshmen Stanley Robinson and Haseem Thabeet could start right away.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Best Backcourts


The most integral part of a team is their backcourt. In order to be a threat to win the national championship, a good perimeter group is necessary. Without superior guard play, you can kiss a Final Four appearance goodbye. A team can have the best forwards in the country, but if they don't have a perimeter that can knock down shots and handle the ball, they are ripe for an upset in the early rounds. Who has the best backcourts in the country? Starters in italics

1. Virginia (Sean Singletary, J.R. Reynolds): If the Cavaliers end their drought and return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because of their backcourt duo. PG Sean Singletary and SG J.R. Reynolds are both top-10 players at their respective positions and have the potential to carry UVA to a win. Singletary is an excellent penetrator and nearly always finds a way to get to the basket. He is constantly attacking the rim and either finishing himself or kicking it out to a teammate. Reynolds is a very good three-point shooter and has developed a more well-rounded offensive game. He can get to the basket and also has a solid mid-range game. Both Singletary and Reynolds are also decent defenders. They do need to develop some depth, though.

2. Kansas (Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins): This group could be the best in the country if you add swingman Brandon Rush, but the trio of Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and Sherron Collins is good enough by itself. All three have the ability to play the point, and are also comfortable off the ball. Chalmers developed as the season went on and could be due for a breakout season. He led the Big 12 in steals and is also a good scorer. Robinson is the best defender in the conference and is also an underrated point guard on a national level. He keeps everyone happy but is also able to create for himself if necessary. Collins is a highly touted newcomer who is very athletic and is expected to make an impact immediately.

3. North Carolina (Bobby Frasor, Quentin Thomas, Wes Miller, Tywon Lawson, Marcus Ginyard, Wayne Ellington): Wow, the depth. Really, wow. This might be the deepest group of perimeter players in recent history. The Tar Heels return both starters (Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller) and their backups (Quentin Thomas and Marcus Ginyard). Oh, they also bring in the top-ranked recruit at both positions (Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington). The biggest problem is going to be finding minutes for everyone. Lawson is an explosive guard that loves to push the ball in the open court. He is also a good defender. Ellington is an excellent shooter who can fill it up. Frasor is a solid point guard who will provide depth if Lawson gets the starting job over him. Thomas is quick but turnover-prone; he might be the odd man out at the point. The athletic Ginyard is the team's lock-down defender, while Miller is efficient from long-range.

4. Hofstra (Carlos Rivera, Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, Greg Johnson): Yes, Hofstra. The Pride have the country's best three-guard lineup and should get a chance to display it on a national level this season. Loren Stokes is the team's go-to player and is one of the best all-around two-guards in America. He is excellent at getting into the lane for baskets and is also a solid defender. Antoine Agudio is an outstanding shooter, from outside the arc as well as the mid-range. When he is hot, he can dominate a game. Carlos Rivera is the forgotten member of the trio, but he is a good scorer and distributor. Moreover, he does not turn the ball over often and is an above-average rebounder for his size. Greg Johnson provides depth.

5. Marquette (Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, David Cubillan, Wesley Matthews): A close second to Hofstra in terms of three-guard lineups, the Golden Eagles have a chance to be a national player this season due to this group. Dominic James is one of the top point guards in the country and can be a dominant peformer due to his all-around ability and athleticism. He is strong in traffic once he gets past defenders with his quickness. Jerel McNeal is an excellent defender and is also solid on the offensive end. If he cuts down on his turnovers, he could have a breakout season. Wesley Matthews has a very good all-around game. He can score, rebound, defend, and shoot the ball. Newcomer David Cubillan will give James temporary breathers.

6. Ohio State (Jamar Butler, Mike Conley, Ron Lewis, Daequan Cook, David Lighty): This group could be in the top 3 by the end of the season. Greg Oden might get all the shine for the Buckeyes, but it's the perimeter that will be the team's strength this year. Jamar Butler is the best PG in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. He is a good distributor and is a solid all-around player. Ron Lewis is a good scorer who can put up points driving to the basket and shooting the three. Daequan Cook may have more of an impact than Oden this season. He is an outstanding scorer on the wing and will play a major role for OSU. Mike Conley is a solid point guard prospect that might have been somewhat overrated coming out of high school. However, he is a good passer and will see plenty of minutes. David Lighty is a versatile performer on the wing.

7. Pittsburgh (Ronald Ramon, Levance Fields, Keith Benjamin, Mike Cook, Antonio Graves, Gilbert Brown): The Panthers have Final Four potential this season, and how far they go depends largely on this group. While no player is a star, there are several solid players who provide more than enough production for Jamie Dixon. Levance Fields has the best chance to break-out. He is a crafty guard who can play both spots. Ronald Ramon is a very good three-point shooter who also takes care of the ball. Keith Benjamin is athletic and is also a stalwart defender. East Carolina transfer Mike Cook adds scoring, while Antonio Graves is a veteran influence. Gilbert Brown adds depth and athleticism on the wing.

8. Memphis (Andre Allen, Antonio Anderson, Willie Kemp, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Doneal Mack, Tre'Von Willis): This group is almost as deep as North Carolina's. Imagine if Darius Washington had stayed instead of entering his name into the NBA Draft? Either way, the Tigers won't really miss him. Andre Allen and freshman Willie Kemp will split the point guard duties. Allen takes care of the ball and is also a solid distributor. Kemp is expected to make an immediate impact due to his passing ability. Antonio Anderson led the team in minutes played last season, and is a very good shooter. Chris Douglas-Roberts might have the most potential of any player in this group. He can do everything well and is a difficult match-up. Jeremy Hunt is coming off a suspension but is a good defender and shooter. Freshmen Doneal Mack and Tre'Von Willis will provide depth.

9. Georgia Tech (Javaris Crittenton, Lewis Clinch, Anthony Morrow, Mario West): The Yellow Jackets' perimeter group will not get much attention on a national level, but they have all the ingredients needed for a good backcourt. Javaris Crittenton is a highly touted point guard prospect and should cure some of the Tech's turnover problems. He is an excellent scorer and will make an immediate impact. Anthony Morrow is a very good shooter from three-point range and can stretch the defense. He needs to add to his offensive package, though. Lewis Clinch can score from anywhere on the court. He can shoot the three but can also get points from inside the arc. Mario West is an excellent defender who can also provide offense.

10. Texas Tech (Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno, Charles Burgess): The Red Raiders disappointed last season, but could bounce back this season on the backs of this perimeter group. The three-guard look is led by the outstanding duo of Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno. Both are top-25 at their respective positions, with Jackson as a top-5 point guard. He can single-handedly takeover a game due to his offensive ability. He is an excellent long-range shooter and can also get into the lane to finish. Moreover, Jackson is a solid passer. Zeno is a good scorer but is not much of a shooter. He gets most of his points from inside the arc, driving to the basket and finishing in the paint. He also led Tech in rebounding. Newcomer Charles Burgess should make an immediate impact. He is a solid scorer and passer.

Honorable Mention

Virginia Tech (Jamon Gordon, Zabian Dowdell, Nigel Munson, Markus Sailes): The Hokies have an excellent duo in Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell. Both are top-25 performers at their respective positions. Gordon has a solid all-around game. He can score and pass the ball well, and is also one of the best rebounding guards in the country. Dowdell is a very good scorer but needs to work on his three-point shooting. Freshman Nigel Munson and swingman Markus Sailes provide depth.

Florida (Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Walter Hodge): Didn't think I would leave out the National Champs, did you? Taurean Green improved as the season went on, and developed into one of the top PGs in the country. He can score and pass very well. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding shooter from behind the arc. He can break games open with his long-range shooting. Walter Hodge is a solid combo guard who is quick and talented.

Georgia (Levi Stukes, Billy Humphrey, Mike Mercer, Sundiata Gaines, Channing Toney): One of the deepest groups in the country. Sundiata Gaines is an underrated performer, as he is a very good all-around player who contributes in all aspects of the game. Levi Stukes is a scorer and he could be ready for a big season in that department. Mike Mercer had an excellent freshman season and he is very tough to stop going to the basket. Billy Humphrey and Channing Toney also see plenty of minutes on the perimeter, providing scoring and depth.

Xavier (Drew Lavender, Stanley Burrell, Johnny Wolf, Adrion Graves, B.J. Raymond): An underrated group on a national level. The addition of Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender gives the Musketeers the floor leader they've needed. Stanley Burrell is a very good shooter and scorer who could have a break-out season this year. Johnny Wolf started at the point last season down the stretch and will provide depth, along with Adrion Graves and B.J. Raymond.

George Washington (Carl Elliot, Maureece Rice): Not a lot of depth, but the starters are very good. Carl Elliot is a tough-minded point guard who can do it all on the court. He is an excellent defender who can force turnovers. Offensively, he is a good shooter and can also get into the lane with his size. Maureece Rice is an excellent scorer. He came off the bench last season, but should see his numbers increase this year with a starting job.

Others to Watch
USC- Once Gabe Pruitt comes back, he and Lodrick Stewart form a good scoring combo. They need a true PG, though.
Clemson- Although they are poor shooters, Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds are athletic and quick in the full-court. K.C. Rivers is solid.
Oregon- Aaron Brooks is inconsistent but talented, while Chamberlain Oguchi and Bryce Taylor are good scorers on the wings.
Baylor- The Bears are deep on the perimeter, led by the duo of Curtis Jerrells and Aaron Bruce. Tweety Carter should make an impact.
Florida State- Deep, athletic group. Transfer Toney Douglas runs the show, while Isaiah Swann and Jason Rich are solid on the wings.
Texas A&M- Excellent defensive backcourt, led by All-American Acie Law. Josh Carter and Dominique Kirk round out the perimeter.
Houston- Point guard Lanny Harris is underrated on a national level, while Oliver Lafayette is a decent all-around contributor.
LSU- Tack Minor returns from suspension and the Tigers also bring in transfers Dameon Mason and Terry Martin. Starter Garrett Temple also returns.
DePaul- Deep group, led by all-conference Sammy Mejia. Sixth man Draelon Burns is a scorer, while Jabari Currie and Will Walker contribute.
Wisconsin- Kammron Taylor and Michael Flowers are interchangeable parts, while newcomer Jason Bohannon is expected to make an impact.
Marist- Jared Jordan is one of the best point guards in the country, in any conference, while Will Whittington is an oustanding shooter.