Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Summer Thoughts and Observations, Vol. 1

With the start of practice still over two 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 continue the column I began last summer, entitled “Rants and Ramblings.” However, I used the same title for my NBA Draft reaction article last month, so I’m going to change the title to the one seen at the top of this post. Every couple of weeks until the season starts, I will comment about the ongoings in the college basketball world. This edition discusses many of the things I noticed while perusing the rosters of every BCS-conference team last week, from potential line-up and roster problems to general conference patterns.

- The bottom part of the Big Ten is going to be awful. After the clear top five (MSU, Indiana, Wisconsin, OSU, Illinois) and Purdue, it does not look promising whatsoever for the conference. Michigan loses four starters and returns no one who averaged over 5.7 points per game; Penn State looks okay on paper, but they went 2-14 in the conference last season; Minnesota has a new coach in Tubby Smith and returns all but one starter—but they won nine games all of last season. As bad as that seems, the bottom two teams, Iowa and Northwestern, will be even worse—by far. When trying to figure out the line-ups for both teams, I couldn’t find a worthy starting five. That’s a microcosm of how bad the bottom of the Big Ten is.

- Even though Florida lost its top six players, including three top-ten draft picks, could Ohio State be in worse position than the Gators heading into next season? They return one starter (Jamar Butler) and three rotation players (David Lighty, Othello Hunter, and Matt Terwilliger). They also bring in a very good recruiting class, including five-star center Kosta Koufos. However, I don’t really see where the scoring is going to come from. Last year, Mike Conley could penetrate, Greg Oden could get points in the paint, Ron Lewis could create his own shot, and Ivan Harris hit timely threes. Even Daequan Cook could score. This year, I’m not seeing a lot offensively. Butler and Lighty aren’t creative offensive players, Hunter is not an offensive force, and Koufos is more of a European player who might have trouble in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. I think they’ll be fine, but I’m definitely worried about their offense.

- LSU could potentially have a very interesting line-up next season. If the Tigers go with their best five, 6-5 Garrett Temple would run the point, 6-6 Dameon Mason and 6-6 Terry Martin would man the wings, 6-7 Tasmin Mitchell would play one forward spot, and 6-10 freshman Anthony Randolph would round out the line-up. That’s basically four wings and a forward on the court. I’d love to see this group play together.

- Michigan State looks better and better every time I look at its roster. As long as Goran Suton contributes inside and Marquise Gray is solid at the other big spot, the Spartans have all the ingredients to make a deep run in March. Drew Neitzel leads a ridiculously deep perimeter group—this team could easily go four perimeter players and one big at times.

- While it might not be the best talent in the world, the depth that Illinois has is astounding. The Fighting Illini return three starters and six players who averaged at least 17.8 minutes per game last year. Then they also have a center who played in 26 games last year; a redshirt who was getting 15.3 minutes per game before taking a redshirt year; and two transfers, one who averaged 14.4 points per game at South Dakota State and one who was a key role player at Indiana State. Throw in four four-star recruits and another solid freshman power forward, and the Illini have fifteen players who could definitely see time this year. I want to see how it all sorts out.

- Cincinnati could have a fairly underrated frontcourt next season. The Bearcats return John Williamson and Marcus Sikes from last year, both starters who averaged 13.5 and 9.5 points per game, respectively. They add Texas transfer Mike Williams, who should make an immediate impact, as well as freshman Anthony McClain, one of the top center recruits in the country. If Cincy’s guards perform well, they could pick up some unexpected wins next winter.

- Staying on the Big East, Louisville-Georgetown is going to be the best “BCS” conference championship race in the country. There is no one else even close—nearly every conference has a clear No. 1 and a bunch of also-rans at No. 2 and No. 3. The Big Ten has Michigan State and Indiana at the top, which should make for a good race, but no other league comes within shouting distance. The ACC has North Carolina—and then a Duke team without any sort of post presence, or a North Carolina State team that won 5 ACC games last year. The Big 12 has Kansas leading the way, then a Texas A&M team sans All-American Acie Law and a Texas team sans Player of the Year Kevin Durant. UCLA leads the way in the Pac-10, and Washington State sitting behind them. Although WSU is going to be good, I don’t know if anyone can pick the Cougars to realistically give the Bruins a run at the title. The SEC might be the worst with this epidemic. Tennesee is a legit Final Four contender—and then there is a huge muddle of teams that have potential Sweet Sixteen aspirations. Of course this is just the preseason, and I can pretty much guarantee that at least four of the top six conferences (if the Southern Illinois-led MVC is in the top six, they count too) will have very good races to the top in early March.

- Notre Dame looks like a potential NCAA Tournament team again—if you just look at its starting five. With Kyle McAlarney returning from suspension, the Irish have a quick backcourt duo with him and Tory Jackson. Up front, Rob Kurz and Luke Harangody form a nice inside tandem that can do a variety of things. Zach Hillesland should emerge as a threat this season. However, the bench doesn’t look too impressive. Luke Zeller is a serviceable inside-outside option at center, but the rest of the reserves are either lightly-recruited freshmen or players who barely made the rotation last year. I still think the Irish are going to be a quality team, though.

- I really like Providence, and I think they could surprise some in the Big East and even make a run for an NCAA Tournament bid. Sure, they lost Herbert Hill, but they regain the services of Randall Hanke, who redshirted last season due to a personal problem. He was a very good center two years ago for the Friars, and I think he will be a fine replacement. Moreover, they still have do-it-all Geoff McDermott on the wing, and Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku in the backcourt. Dwain Williams was solid when he was Curry's replacement for a few games, and Jonathan Kale provided some solid production up front. Don't forget about Jeff Xavier, the 6-1 transfer from Manhattan. He averaged 16.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game two years ago, and should be a very good player in the rotation for the Friars.

- Syracuse has the perimeter talent to make a return to the Big Dance, but they are not going to have any sort of inside presence whatsoever. Johnny Flynn is going to be one of the best freshmen in the country next season, and Eric Devendorf is a good scorer on the wing. Paul Harris is a very good defender and do-it-all type at forward, while fellow frontcourt performer Donte Greene could be the Big East Freshman of the Year. Throw in Andy Rautins and Josh Wright, and the perimeter is stacked. But the inside has problems. Jim Boheim brings in a variety of post players in the new recruiting class, but none are battle-tested and could struggle in the Big East. Freshman Rich Jackson and redshirt Arinze Onuaku might be the best options, which is not saying much.

- In my first Top 25 of the offseason, which came out the week of the title game, West Virginia was No. 20. However, since then, John Beilein left to take the job at Michigan and Bob Huggins stepped in to replace him. While Huggins is a great coach, I’m not sure the Mountaineers’ personnel meshes well with him. WVU has good talent right now in guards Darris Nichols and Da’Sean Butler and forwards Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff, but it could have just been Beilein’s system that made them look impressive. I’m very interested how Huggins and the Beilein holdovers adapt to each other.

The second installment of my Summer Thoughts and Observations is coming early next week.


  1. Oh my god, could you talk about the Big East a little more, please? Jesus.

    Not trying to be rude, but spread the love a little.

  2. The first installment covered the Big Ten and Big East; the second will cover the SEC, Pac-10, Big 12, and ACC.

    I spread the love very often--you clearly don't read my blog often. Which is okay, but I think you should review all the articles before making statements like that.

    This was the first half of a summer notes article; I clearly said that in the opening and at the end.

  3. Will your third half cover mid majors?

    (Just busting your chops...gotta shoot for some MM love)

  4. Nice job on the Big East schools Jeff. I like Providence's prospects this year too. They have a very good nucleus of Curry, Efejuku, McDermott and Kale, with Hanke coming back and two rising freshmen who worked their way into the rotation last season. If they keep it together this season they should be able to improve their standing.

    Coach Brey's offense has always been outstanding, consistently near/at the top of the conference. The Irish just have not played very good defense...until last season. While the focus Harangody, Hillesland and Kurz have drawn has highlighted their offensive contributions, these three have put on enough defense to hold opponents at an arm's length. That "just enough" defense, and a quirky turnaround in their luck brought them back to the tournament last season. They had a terrible losing streak running through the 2005-06 season. Last season the breaks went their way and they took a few of those close games for a change.

    I agree with you about Cincinnati. The Bearcats should have a very good frontcourt -- I am curious to see how they do this year. Vaughn will have someone to pass to in the paint this season. He does have to learn how to bring those players into the game though.

    The trend since expanding to 16 teams has been that one team explodes (Notre Dame last season) while another implodes (Louisville in 2005-96, UConn last season). I wonder who those two will be this year...

  5. MGL--actually, I probably will do a third part covering mid-majors, but I gotta study up some more on them first.

    Expect that in two weeks or so--I don't want to leave out the mid-majors by any stretch.

  6. Seton Hall will be the surprise team of the Big East. They may challenge for an NCAA bid.

  7. In comparing the respective conference races, you indicate that MSU and Indiana are the teams the Big 10 race is going to come down to. You shouldn't overlook Ohio State. Thad Matta has proven to exceed expectations every year at OSU, and the Buckeyes have won the outright regular season conference title each of the past two years despite not being considered the favorite to win the conference by the majority of national analysts. Yes, OSU will rely on a lot of young talent, but that did not stop them last year.

    That you do not know where Ohio State's offense will come from does not mean that there will be a lack of offense. Kosta Koufos can score from the perimeter and does a lot of scoring from the paint, too. Jon Diebler, another incoming freshman, owns the Ohio high school scoring record. Jamar Butler averaged over 10 points a game as a Sophomore while playing the point (which he will move back to this year). The bottom line is that the Big 10 really has a three horse race for the conference title.

  8. If the Big ten proves to be a three horse race, the 3rd horse will be Wisconsin and not Ohio State. In fact, after seeing the schedules that were released today, Wisconsin doesn't play MSU in East Lansing and they don't play Ohio State. They also have a lot of veteran, front line talent and they have Bo Ryan.

    Ohio State wasn't coached very well last year, IMO. Sure, they made it to the title game, but if Ron Lewis doesn't hit a prayer they lose to Bowling Green in the second round. Secondly, Penn State took them to the buzzer both at Happy Valley and at Columbus. Coaches like Izzo, Sampson and others would never let guys just jack up 3 balls when you have Greg Oden on the inside. I think we will find out this year just how good of a coach Matta is and I think you are obviously an OSU fan, but you are in for a real wake up call.

    MSU, IU and Wisconsin will battle for the title and I like MSU's chances a lot.

  9. You talk about the Big east being a two team race but you forgot to mention the team that has the most returning talent in the big east. Marquette will be a big time player in the Big East Championship race this season. They return their top their top 8 or 9 players, depending on how you look at it, and add some quality depth that can contibute right away. They have plenty of guards this year so look for them to press and create havoc in the backcourt. Here is a look at how I think their depth chart will play out this year

    PG: Dominic James, Maurice Acker (transfer from Ball State who was MAC Freshman of the year, and played with McNeal in HS), David Cubillan

    SG: Jerel McNeal (returning Big East Defensive Player of the year), David Cubillan, Scott Christopherson

    SF: Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Lawrence Blackledge

    PF: Dan FItzgerald, Trevor Mbakwe, Pat Hazel

    C: Ousmane Barro, Dwight Burke, Trevor Mbakwe