Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Look Back at March Madness All Season's 2006-2007 Season

During the course of a season, dozens of college basketball outlets make plenty of predictions and comments regarding a variety of topics. However, not many of them--if any at all--hold themselves accountable for what they say.

March Madness All Season is different, though. I went through every article, column, and prediction I made from the 2006-2007 season, and took some of the best and worst comments I made so you, my readers, know what to expect from me. Sure, you'll get a lot of times when I put my foot in my mouth with a wrong prediction, but no matter what, I won't hide behind what I say and will open myself up for criticism.

Looking back at the 2006-2007 season, the two things that jumped out at me were that: a) my love affair with VCU and USC the entire season worked out well for me in March; and b) saying Florida wouldn't win the National Championship simply because teams don't repeat anymore was absolutely absurd.

Hopefully, I provide more of the type-A prediction this season. Anyway, take a look back and prepare for Monday, October 1st, when March Madness All Season's 2007-2008 preview begins.

Preseason Preview of 2006-2007 Season

Preseason Top 25:
BAD: LSU #4, Arizona #9, Alabama #10, Syracuse #14, Connecticut #17, Washington #18, Wichita State #19
GOOD: UNC, Florida, and Kansas 1-2-3; Wisconsin, UCLA, and Georgetown 6-7-8

-Kevin Durant as the Freshman of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough Player of the Year

- Bad All-American picks: Ronald Steele, Glen Davis, Dominic James, Joseph Jones, Jermareo Davidson

- Bracket Breakdown: No Butler (7th in the Horizon); No Oregon or Maryland (both last four out); correctly had Massachusetts and New Mexico State second in their conferences (right on the bubble); had Arkansas, Missouri State, Mississippi State on the bubble; no Vanderbilt

37 of 65 teams overall

- Butler wasn’t even in my Top 25 non-BCS teams, neither was Davidson, UNLV, or Drexel

- Called Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, USC, and Oregon sleepers

- Wrote Clemson was a potential spoiler (it almost worked out); also called Purdue and Vanderbilt potential spoilers

- No Stephen Curry or Jeremy Wise on my impact freshmen list

November 12, 2006
“Michigan State is going to struggle offensively in a big way.”
“Arkansas could be a potential NCAA Tournament team.”

November 26, 2006

“Tennessee could be good later on, but they are not a postseason team right now.”
“Georgia Tech reminds me a lot of last year’s Memphis team…Tech could be very, very good.”
“Don’t sleep on Iowa State or Missouri.”
“Purdue is not an NCAA Tournament team.”
“Washington looks like a Pac-10 contender.”

December 3, 2006
“North Carolina State could get a few surprising wins in the ACC.”
“Is Wichita State a top ten team? They sure have played like one.”

VCU-related comments
December 1, 2006: “Virginia Commonwealth could surprise in a wide-open CAA.”
December 3, 2006: “VCU validated the fact that they could be a sleeper in the CAA this season…B.A. Walker and Eric Maynor form an excellent backcourt.”
January 26, 2007: “VCU is rolling along…they have an outstanding three-man backcourt in B.A. Walker, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and Eric Maynor.”
February 16, 2007: “VCU is a real sleeper for March.”
March 2, 2007: “Eric Maynor is a terrific point guard who can get into the lane on anyone.”

December 15, 2006
“Baylor is a potential sleeper to be a bubble team come March.”

December 26, 2006
“SMU could make a run at the #2 spot in Conference-USA behind Memphis.”

December 29, 2006
“Saint Louis is poised to be a favorite in the Atlantic-10.”
“Washington State will compete for an at-large bid.”

January 3, 2007
“Louisville is nowhere near an NCAA Tournament contender.”
“Can we please take Clemson for real now?”

January 5, 2007
“If Penn State pulls this off, they could start thinking about finishing in the upper division of the conference.”
“Both Wichita State and Missouri State should be in the NCAA Tournament come March.”

January 10, 2007

Wrote Florida State would be the bust in the ACC and Washington in the Pac-10; called USC a sleeper; said to watch Arkansas in the SEC Tournament

January 11, 2007
Named Daequan Cook the best sixth man in the country.

January 12, 2007
“Georgetown, while still a contender, is nowhere near Pittsburgh.”

January 16, 2007
Correctly predicted 14 of the 25 non-BCS conference champions
“Winthrop is a big-time sleeper come March.”
“Barring a complete collapse, Air Force is in.”
“Stephen Curry is the best freshman you haven’t heard of.”

January 19, 2007
“Keep an eye on Davidson freshman Stephen Curry—he can really light it up.”

January 23, 2007
Named Arizona and Marquette as teams that could get to the Final Four—but not Georgetown

January 30, 2007
Wrote not to trust Oklahoma State, Marquette, or Duke in March, but also said the same about Ohio State and Memphis
Wrote not to overlook USC or Southern Illinois in March

February 2, 2007
“UNLV is one of the best least-talked about teams in the country.”

February 22, 2007
Wrote that North Carolina would tie with Virginia for the ACC title

Championship Week
Correctly predicted 17 of the 30 conference tournament champions

Selection Sunday
63 of 65 teams correct; 24 teams seeded correctly; 50 seeded within one seed line

NCAA Tournament Preview

- None of my major conference sleepers made it past the second round
- Wisconsin, Washington State, and Duke all lost in the first weekend—called them “busts”
- VCU was my one Cinderella pick for the Tournament, of course
- “Winthrop is going to be this year’s sexy upset pick.”

Did not have a very successful NCAA Tournament bracket: only 22 first-round picks right, with 10 Sweet Sixteen teams correct, 7 Elite Eight teams correct, one Final Four team, no finalists

Went 43-20 in my game-by-game picks as the Tournament went on

Went 477-212 on the season, good for a 69% accuracy rate—falling short of my 70% goal

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Summer Thoughts and Observations, Vol. 3

Time for my last installment of random observations and comments on the happenings in the college basketball world, including lots of non-BCS talk and some predictions and opinions on the upcoming season (only two and a half weeks until Midnight Madness, folks)...

- Speaking of the upcoming season, before I get any further, I have to let everyone know that my 2007-2008 College Basketball Preview will begin on October 1st and end on November 5th. The conference previews will start on October 15th, with the 31st-ranked conference, the SWAC, kicking things off. Prior to that, several things will be looked at, including position rankings, impact transfers and freshmen, sleepers, conference rankings, and more. Article after article, prediction after prediction, March Madness All Season will be providing information on every team, player, and conference in the country. Here's a link to the 2006-2007 preview if you want a taste of what you get from MMAS.

- With schedules from various teams and conferences coming in everyday, I've taken a look at some of the intriguing games and key early-season tournaments. Everything gets kicked off with the 2K College Hoops Challenge, with Connecticut, Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma hosting the four regions. The Tigers are likely to face either UConn or UK in the finals at Madison Square Garden—a good test early for my preseason No. 1 team.

The CBE Classic could feature the best final of any tournament in the country—UCLA vs. Michigan State. The only teams that could really get in their way are Maryland and Missouri, the two other host teams. If the Bruins and Spartans do meet up, it will be a battle of two of the best guards in the country in UCLA’s Darren Collison and Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel.

The NIT Season Tip-Off is similar to the two aforementioned events in that it has four host teams and then a neutral site for the semifinals and finals. Texas A&M is the only team in my Top 25, but Washington, Ohio State, Syracuse are all big threats. Watch out for Atlantic-10 contender St. Joseph’s (more on them later).

Another sixteen-team tournament to watch is the Legends Classic, which takes place in Newark, New Jersey. Tennessee is the favorite, but a Texas team sans Kevin Durant will push them. We’ll also get our first look at the new Bob Huggins-led West Virginia Mountaineers.

The Puerto Rico Classic features several quality teams, namely SEC West favorite Arkansas, everyone’s favorite mid-major, Virginia Commonwealth, and two teams that will be on the NCAA bubble in Providence and Houston.

The Maui Invitational does not have the same caliber of teams that it had the past two seasons, but Duke and Marquette could make for a terrific final if they both reach it. The perimeter battles are going to be fun to watch.

In the Great Alaska Shootout, two of the best “non-BCS” teams in the country have a chance to meet up in Gonzaga and Butler. Don’t sleep on Western Kentucky, though.

Still not even at Thanksgiving, the Old Spice Classic could have up to four NCAA teams in its eight-team field. Kansas State and George Mason face-off in a very good quarterfinal match-up, while Villanova and North Carolina State are also in the bracket.

O.J. Mayo will be on center stage in Anaheim, California, at the Anaheim Classic, as USC leads a quality field that also has SEC West contender Mississippi State and Missouri Valley favorite Southern Illinois.

The Chicago Invitational Challenge has Indiana and Xavier, as well as several decent mid-major teams in UNC-Wilmington, Illinois State, and Kent State.

The Las Vegas Invitational could pit two of the top teams in the country against each other if Louisville can beat BYU, and North Carolina can topple Old Dominion. The Cardinals and Tar Heels would put on a show, with end-to-end action and plenty of scoring. I’m already excited for this one—if it happens.

In December, several double-header tournaments feature terrific match-ups. The Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge will have Connecticut play Gonzaga, while the Jimmy V Classic might have the most highly-anticipated individual match-up of the non-conference season when Memphis’ Derrick Rose matches up with USC’s O.J. Mayo. Both are two of the top freshmen in the country. Top-5 recruit Michael Beasley leads Kansas State against Notre Dame in the under card.

Other quality December tournaments in December include the Wooden Classic, where UCLA will face Davidson, and the Wooden Tradition, in which Purdue faces Louisville, and Florida State plays Butler.

The Big Ten-ACC Challenge doesn’t feature tons of great games, but Wisconsin at Duke and North Carolina State at Michigan State will be quality contests. North Carolina at Ohio State is a rematch of last year, while Indiana at Georgia Tech is also decent. The Big 12/Pac-10 Series has a few very good games, Texas at UCLA and Texas A&M at Arizona, as well as Oregon at Kansas State. Kansas also faces Arizona in a game that was scheduled outside of the event. The Big East/SEC Invitational only has four games, but one is Georgetown at Alabama—a game that looked much more attractive before Ronald Steele’s decision to redshirt.

- Oh, I almost forgot about all of the outstanding head-to-head match-ups between top teams that will occur outside of the tournament and event format. Memphis leads the way, playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country. In addition to the two tournaments I mentioned earlier, the Tigers have games against Top-10 Georgetown and Tennessee, as well as Gonzaga and Arizona. North Carolina, Indiana, and Louisville each play Kentucky, while Washington State, Tennessee, and Connecticut all play Gonzaga. Florida plays Ohio State in a title game rematch, while Davidson scheduled like an ACC team, facing North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State, in addition to the aforementioned UCLA game. Other marquee games include: Kansas at USC; and Texas vs. Michigan State. The mid-majors get into the action as well, as Southern Illinois faces Butler, while the Bulldogs also get a shot at Ohio State. VCU plays Maryland and Bradley, and the Braves also play Michigan State. St. Joseph’s (even more on them later) faces Gonzaga, Creighton, and Villanova.

- Alright, enough of the scheduling talk. Time for discussion of the non-BCS/mid-major/whatever you want to call them conferences. First of all, the Missouri Valley will not be the best conference outside of the “Big Six” leagues this year. That honor will go to either the Atlantic-10 or Conference-USA. The A-10 has a clear favorite in Xavier, which will get some Top 25 love in some publications, but plenty of competition in St. Joseph’s, which has a terrific frontcourt led by Ahmad Nivins; Rhode Island, led by Will Daniels and shooter Jimmy Baron; and the Rick Majerus-led Billikens of Saint Louis, which has one of the best duos in the conference in Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch. You also can’t forget about Bryant Dunston, Marcus Stout and Fordham, Maureece Rice and George Washington, and Brian Roberts and Dayton. This is one tough conference. Conference-USA has my preseason No. 1 team in Memphis, but it’s not going to be a one-trick pony this year. UAB brought in several transfers, including Robert Vaden of Indiana, to go with Paul Delaney and two other returning starters. Southern Miss returns nearly everyone from last year’s 20-win team, led by one of the best freshmen in the country last season, guard Jeremy Wise. Houston will also push for an NCAA berth, led by Robert McKiver and Dion Dowell, as well as point guard Lanny Smith, who returns from injury.

The Missouri Valley will have a down year, but they will still be a very solid conference. Southern Illinois is one of the best programs in the country, no matter what conference, and will again contend for Top 25 contention. The Salukis have a great frontcourt duo in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw. After SIU, though, it’s wide-open. Creighton, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State are all rebuilding this season, but don’t count any of them out. Bradley, with Jeremy Crouch and Daniel Ruffin in the backcourt, will look to return to the Big Dance, while the big sleeper could be Illinois State. Four starters are back, as well as sixth man Anthony Slack. The entire starting line-up will likely be seniors.

- Other than Gonzaga and Memphis, the honor of “Best Non-BCS team” is fairly wide-open. Davidson returns five starters, including star Stephen Curry, while Butler has the backcourt of A.J. Graves and Mike Green. VCU returns Eric Maynor, who became a national name overnight after his game-winning shot against Duke, and George Mason will also be a contender in the CAA. The Mountain West does not really have any marquee teams this year, but BYU leads a wide-open race. The WAC is in the same boat, although Nevada and New Mexico State will likely be the top two teams. If I had to make a Top 10 right now, it would go something like this—not including Memphis and Gonzaga; they’ve outgrown this status:
1. Davidson
2. Southern Illinois
3. Butler
4. Xavier
5. VCU
6. UAB
7. St. Joseph’s
8. Southern Miss
9. George Mason
10. New Mexico State
- Yes, there’s no second MVC team and no MWC team at all

- While we are on the top of making lists and rankings, and discussing mid-majors and “non-BCS”—that term doesn’t even make sense, since we aren’t talked about football—teams, I figured I’ll name my All-America team made up of players outside of the “Big Six.” It’s actually not a real All-America team, just a big list highlighting some of the top players that you might not have heard of—especially in the smaller conferences.

"Mid-Major" Division (A-10, CAA, C-USA, Horizon, MVC, MWC, West Coast, WAC)

Drew Lavender, Xavier
Ahmad Nivins, St. Joseph’s
Eric Maynor, VCU
Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
Robert McKiver, Houston
Derrick Rose, Memphis
Joey Dorsey, Memphis
A.J. Graves, Butler
Mike Green, Butler
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
Eric Coleman, Northern Iowa
Daniel Ruffin, Bradley
Trent Plaisted, BYU
Luke Nevill, Utah
Brandon Ewing, Wyoming
Brad Jones, Wyoming
Wink Adams, UNLV
Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga
Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga
Diamon Simpson, Saint Mary’s
Marcelus Kemp, Nevada
Justin Hawkins, New Mexico State
Jaycee Carroll, Utah State

“Other” Division (everyone else)

Mike Trimboli, Vermont
Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell
Courtney Pigram, East Tennessee State
James Florence, Mercer
Andrew Strait, Montana
Arizona Reid, High Point
Reggie Williams, VMI
Alex Harris, UC Santa Barbara
Scott Cutler, Cal State Fullerton
Gerald Brown, Loyola
Charron Fisher, Niagara
Jason Thompson, Rider
Giordan Watson, Central Michigan
Leon Williams, Ohio
Roy Bright, Delaware State
Stephen Curry, Davidson
Jason Richards, Davidson
Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
George Hill, IUPUI
Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky
Bo McCalebb, New Orleans
Adrian Banks, Arkansas State
Carlos Monroe, Florida Atlantic

- By the way, come back next week for a look back at all the predictions I made last season—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It will get you in the mood for the 2007-2008 season preview, just to see what sort of picks I have for you guys this season.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hey, Don't Forget These Guys

Division-1 transfers. The forgotten ones. Transfers are often overlooked when analyzing a team's prospects for the upcoming season. Everyone notices the new freshman recruits, but some people fail to remember about the transfers that had to sit out a season. However, prior to last season and the early-entry rule, transfers often had more of an immediate impact than freshmen as a result of the experience that they have.

Just look at last season. Andrew Lavender was a key factor in Xavier’s NCAA Tournament appearance last year. Don’t forget that he started at Oklahoma, though. What about Mike Cook? The starter for Pittsburgh’s Sweet Sixteen team originally came from East Carolina. The list goes on. Justin Hawkins, one of the best players in the WAC, transferred from Utah. Arkansas might not have made a late run to the NCAA Tournament if not for Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin. Don't forget about Gerald Brown of Loyola (Md.), either. The Providence transfer ranked 8th in the country in scoring last season. Massachusetts needed a big season from Gary Forbes to share the Atlantic-10 title. Jack McClinton was one of the best scorers in the ACC, but was previously filling up buckets for Siena. Antonio Kellogg did the same thing for San Francisco, but originally went to Connecticut. Patrick Ewing, Jr. (via Indiana) was a big reason Georgetown reached the Final Four. Dominic McGuire (California to Fresno State), Lawrence McKenzie (Oklahoma to Minnesota), Toney Douglas (Auburn to Florida State), and J.R. Giddens (Kansas to New Mexico) are a few other transfers who made key impacts last season.

This season, there will once again be an abundance of talented transfers ready to make people remember them.

Tyler Smith, Tennessee (from Iowa): This will be the transfer that has the biggest impact for a title contender. The Volunteers had a terrific perimeter last year, led by All-American Chris Lofton, and a couple of athletic frontcourt players, but Smith gives them a forward who can rebound and score in a variety of ways. He handles the ball well and is also a good passer. Smith has a nice mid-range jumper and is also solid inside. Arizona transfer J.P. Prince will help on the perimeter with his long wingspan and athleticism.

Robert Vaden (from Indiana); Walter Sharpe (from Mississippi State); Channing Toney (from Georgia), UAB: The Blazers are this year’s version of New Mexico State. NMSU had several D-I transfers help lead them to an NCAA Tournament appearance last year—and Mike Davis is banking on the same thing this season. Vaden followed Davis from Indiana, and will likely make the biggest impact of the trio. He can shoot the three with efficiency and can also score inside the arc. Sharpe was a good inside presence for Mississippi State, but only played six games for the Bulldogs. Toney is a decent scorer and an athletic wing who will help the Blazers on the perimeter.

Devan Downey (from Cincinnati); Zam Frederick (from Georgia Tech), South Carolina: Although the Gamecocks will struggle this season after losing three starters, their backcourt will be in good hands. Downey is a very quick point guard who can run an offense well, but also create his own shot if needed. Frederick is more of a scorer but played the point guard at Georgia Tech. He will play off-the-ball more this season with Downey at the point. Both guard will help ease the loss of All-SEC guard Tre Kelley.

C.J. Anderson, Xavier (from Manhattan): One of the top mid-major transfers in the country after the 2005-2006 season, Anderson will step immediately into the Musketeers’ lineup. He averaged almost 19 points per game at Manhattan two seasons ago, and will provide good scoring and solid rebounding from the forward position. He could be the wing scorer that Xavier needs to get to get a win in the NCAA Tournament.

Kojo Mensah (from Siena); Shawn James (from Northeastern), Duquesne: This could be the most underrated transfer duo in the country. Mensah, a 6-1 point guard from New York, was a very good all-around performer for Siena. He put up over 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game. If he can continue that type of production for the Dukes—but cut down on his turnovers and improve his shooting—it will be a big boost. James set an NCAA record at Northeastern by blocking 6.5 shots per game. He was an imposing presence inside who can score inside with efficiency and rebound very well.

DeMarre Carroll, Missouri (from Vanderbilt): The Tigers have a chance to be one of the more improved teams in the country this season, and Carroll is a big reason why. Coach Mike Anderson’s nephew, Carroll is exactly what Mizzou needs: a tough forward who will help the rebounding woes that they had last season. He is an athletic player who can score inside and around the basket.

Tim Morris, Washington (from Stanford): Coming off a disappointing season in which they didn’t even make the NIT, the Huskies return four starters, but will likely find room in the lineup for Morris. Coach Lorenzo Romar’s second cousin, Morris is the team’s best perimeter defender and was the second-leading scorer on the team’s trip to Greece this summer. He will also add leadership as one of only two seniors on the team.

Eric Boateng, Arizona State (from Duke): The Sun Devils return all five starters, but expect two newcomers to break into the line-up in five-star recruit James Harden and big man Boateng. The latter was a highly-regarded player out of high school, but never had a chance to showcase his skills in Durham. He is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder, and will team with Jeff Pendergraph to form one of the best inside duos in the league.

Jeff Xavier, Providence (from Manhattan): Another Manhattan transfer expected to make a major impact on his team. Xavier was a big-time scorer for the Jaspers, averaging almost 17 points and 6 rebounds per game as a 6-1 guard. He can score in a variety of ways, either driving to the basket or shooting from the perimeter. Furthermore, he is a terrific on-ball defender. For those who are not sure if he will produce the same at a higher level of play, just look at his 31-point performance against Maryland in the NIT two years ago.

C.J. Giles, Oregon State (from Kansas): Although the Beavers are not expected to be remotely good this year, Giles could transform OSU into a team that the top clubs can’t overlook every night out. He is a potential first-round—and possibly lottery—pick who was kicked off the Jayhawks for off-court problems. The 6-11 center is not eligible until December, but can be a force at both ends of the floor, especially in terms of blocked shots. Offensively, he can score inside and also step out and hit the mid-range jumper.

Abdulai Jalloh, James Madison (from St. Joseph’s): The Dukes have not had a winning season in eight seasons, but that could change this year if Jalloh makes the impact he is capable of. He was a good scorer at St. Joe’s, pouring in 15.5 points per game. He needs to cut down on his turnovers and some of the ill-advised shots he forced up two years ago, but he has the scoring ability to immediately turn JMU, who returns four starters, into a middle-of-the-pack team.

Here are some other transfers expected to make an immediate impact for their new teams:

Mike Williams, Cincinnati (from Texas): Will combine with John Williamson and fellow newcomers Adam Hrycaniuk and Anthony McClain in a big, talented frontcourt.

Josh Akognon, Cal State Fullerton (from Washington State):
Left WSU before the winning ways started, but will take his shooting and scoring to the Big West favorites.

Jamal Boykin, California (from Duke): The Golden Bears have a loaded frontcourt, but Boykin will provide depth to a team looking to make a move in the Pac-10.

Tasheed Carr, St. Joseph’s (from Iowa State): The Hawks have a chance to contend in the Atlantic-10, and Carr will provide nice balance to SJU’s very talented frontcourt.

Shawn Taggert, Memphis (from Iowa State): The Tigers are stocked at every position, but Taggert has athleticism and will back-up Joey Dorsey inside.

Maurice Acker, Marquette (from Ball State): The very quick Acker, despite being only 5-8, is a double-figure scorer and terrific ball-handler.

Bryan Harvey (from Louisville); Rekalin Sims (from Kentucky), Fresno State: This transfer duo from the Bluegrass State makes Fresno a contender in the WAC.

Torre Johnson, UW-Milwaukee (from Oklahoma State): Active sixth man for the Cowboys will put his off-court troubles aside and become a big scorer in the Horizon.

Brian Johnson, Mississippi State (from Louisville): The Bulldogs are primed to make a run in the SEC West, and Johnson provides good depth and strength inside.

Marques Johnson (from Tennessee); Farnold Degand (from Iowa State), North Carolina State: The Wolfpack need a point guard, and one of these two should step up and take the job.

Chad Millard, Creighton (from Louisville): Millard showed the ability to score under Rick Pitino, and will bring his versatile offensive game to a rebuilding Bluejays’ team.

Wnyton Witherspoon, George Washington (from Virginia Tech): Very athletic forward fits perfectly into GW’s fast-paced style, and will fight for a starting job right away.

Ryan Amoroso, San Diego State (from Marquette): Big body will help replace Mohamed Abukar, and could start immediately due to his size and versatile offensive game.

Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, Marshall (from Gonzaga): Former starter for the Zags will start immediately for a Thundering Herd team destined to make a move.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Great Leap Forward

What do Louisville, Oregon, Washington State, Virginia Tech, Butler, and VCU have in common?

How about Purdue, Maryland, UNLV, Virginia, USC, and Vanderbilt?

Still thinking…?

Well, here’s the answer: each of those ten teams won a game in the 2007 NCAA Tournament without making the Field of 65 in 2006. To take it a step further, seven of those teams (Oregon, Purdue, UNLV, Virginia Tech, VCU, Washington State, USC) did not even make the postseason in 2006.

What does this mean?

To put it simply: don’t count out any team when discussing potential title contenders in the preseason. Oregon was a #3 seed and reached the Elite Eight; Butler, Vanderbilt, USC, and UNLV all reached the Sweet Sixteen; and every team except VCU was a Top-7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This brings us to the 2007-2008 season. With all of the turnover in college basketball following the season, there is going to be a wide-open race for the national title. As a result of the parity, there are plenty of teams that failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or even the postseason that can expect to compete for a spot in the Top 25 throughout the year.

Here are six teams that will make the jump from NIT to NCAA and six teams that will go from no postseason to postseason contender:


North Carolina State:
To some, the Wolfpack are getting way too much hype considering they only went 5-11 in ACC play last season. However, Sidney Lowe has amassed enough talent in Raleigh to make a legitimate push at the NCAA Tournament after reaching the ACC Tournament title game a season ago. Brandon Costner is primed to make a name for himself on the national level after an outstanding freshman campaign, while Ben McCauley is a versatile forward who can do a variety of things on the court next to Costner. Gavin Grant is a long and athletic wing that can play multiple positions and produce in every category. Courtney Fells is another scorer on the wing. Throw in McDonald’s All-American J.J. Hickson up front, and the Wolfpack have what it takes to contend in the ACC and reach the Dance.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs made a late run at the NCAA Tournament last season, sharing the SEC West championship before falling short in the SEC Tournament. They lost several players to transfer, though, namely wings Reginald and Richard Delk. However, they return one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference in versatile perimeter player Jamont Gordon and big man Charles Rhodes. Barry Stewart should improve his numbers after a solid freshman season, and Ben Hansbrough is back to run the point should coach Rick Stansbury decide to use Gordon on the wing. Louisville transfer Brian Johnson and athletic Jarvis Varnado will help anchor the inside with Rhodes.

Alabama: Another SEC West squad that will definitely improve and get to the Big Dance this season. The Crimson Tide were extreme underachievers last season, going from preseason Top Ten team to an NIT team. Much of that could be attributed to point guard Ronald Steele’s nagging injuries that bothered him the entire season. If he is completely healthy this season, look out. Richard Hendrix is ready to dominate the SEC in the post, and wings Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley form a dynamite duo on the perimeter. That quartet is one of the best in the country, and should be enough to carry ‘Bama to the Field of 65.

Clemson: The Tigers looked like a sure bet for the NCAA Tournament last season after starting 17-0, but they went only 4-10 the rest of the season, finishing out of the bubble picture heading into Selection Sunday. They do lose starting point guard Vernon Hamilton, but should return enough to finally get over the hump into the Big Dance this season. Sixth man extraordinaire K.C. Rivers returns on the perimeter, while James Mays will continue to be a terror at both ends of the floor. Cliff Hammonds can do a little of everything and Trevor Booker is a productive rebounder and gets points around the rim. At the point, freshman Demontez Stitt will be expected to step in immediately to help replace Hamilton. If he runs the team efficiently, the Tigers will be tough.

Kansas State: The Wildcats amassed a very good resume heading into Selection Sunday last season, finishing the Big 12 Tournament at 22-11 and 10-6 in the conference. However, they did not make the Big Dance due to a weak schedule and the lack of key victories in their profile. This year, new coach Frank Martin has loads of talent and won’t have to sweat before the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced. Freshman phenom Michael Beasley immediately makes KSU a contender every night out, and redshirt frosh Bill Walker is finally healthy and ready to live up to his potential. David Hoskins is a match-up problem for defenders, and Clent Stewart and Blake Young should be able to handle the backcourt duties.

Syracuse: Many thought the Orange should have made the NCAA Tournament last season despite getting left out on Selection Sunday, but there should be no question this year. Jim Boeheim loses all three starting forwards to graduation as well as guard Andy Rautins to a recent ACL injury, but returns guard Eric Devendorf and forward Paul Harris to help lead the way. Further reason for excitement comes from the addition of McDonald’s All-Americans Donte Greene and Johnny Flynn. Greene is a versatile forward, while Flynn is an exciting point guard who will make an immediate impact. This team will be clicking on all cylinders come March.

No Postseason to Postseason Contender

Washington: The first of two Huskies on this list, U-Dub is ready to build off of last year’s 19-13 campaign to reach the Big Dance. Spencer Hawes left school early to become a lottery pick, but Lorenzo Romar has the guns to replace him. Double-double machine Jon Brockman returns down low, while sophomore Quincy Pondexter is primed to make a bigger impact in transition and on the wing. Ryan Appleby can really shoot the ball and Justin Dentmon is a solid point guard who needs to cut down on his turnovers. Freshmen Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday will make immediate impacts.

Connecticut: The other Huskies are coming off of an extremely disappointing season which saw them go from a team that was one shot from the Final Four to a team that struggled to reach the Big East Tournament. Jim Calhoun will not allow this team to miss the postseason for two straight seasons. Shooting guard Jerome Dyson is the next in a long line of terrific UConn scorers, while Jeff Adrien is a beast inside. A.J. Price needs to settle down at the point and run the team efficiently. Down low, 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet will have one more year of development under his belt and should be ready to dominate the Big East inside. If Price plays well at the point, and another wing scorer steps up, the Huskies will be back.

Missouri: The Tigers were sort of under the radar last season, but still managed to go 7-9 in the Big 12 and 18-12 overall. This year, Mike Anderson will have Mizzou primed and ready to go with his “40 Minutes of Hell” approach. It starts with Stefon Hannah at the point. He can score and distribute the ball well, but needs to cut down on his turnovers. Keon Lawrence is another solid scoring guard. Up front, returnees Matt Lawrence and Marshall Brown are double-figure scorers who can mismatches for opposing defenses. Vanderbilt transfer DeMarre Carroll adds athleticism and energy to the frontcourt.

Auburn: After Tennessee, the SEC is relatively wide-open next season, and the Tigers have as good of a shot as anyone at making a run at the postseason. They have plenty of talent and experience, which should translate to an increase in victories. Considering they finished one game out of the SEC West title last season, that could mean 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth. Josh Dollard and Kovortney Barber lead a group of athletic combo forwards that also includes Quan Prowell. Frank Tolbert and Rasheem Barrett are double-figure scorers on the wing, while Quantez Robertson can run the point with efficiency. If size does not continue to be a huge problem and the Tigers can improve their rebounding, Jeff Lebo’s team could end up in the Dance.

George Mason: Everyone’s favorite mid-major could return to the national scene again in 2007-2008. The Patriots return all five starters, including one of the best duos in the Colonial in forward Will Thomas, who dominated Connecticut two seasons ago, and do-it-all wing Folarin Campbell, who emerged as a go-to-guy last season. John Vaughan showed flashes of his scoring ability at times last season, while Dre Smith was solid on the perimeter. Darryl Monroe and Jordan Carter also return to the rotation. Mason made a run to the CAA title game last season despite a disappointing season overall, but they could get over the hump this year and get back to the NCAA Tournament.

UAB: This could be one of the nation’s most improved teams next season. The Blazers finished only 15-16 (and under .500 in conference play) last season, but could easily reach 20 wins this season and make the Big Dance with a chance to win a game. Mike Davis returns All-Conference-USA guard Paul Delaney III and emerging forward Lawrence Kinnard, but that is not the reason for all the excitement. The addition of three major-conference transfers has everyone in Birmingham looking forward to this season. Robert Vaden is a very good all-around wing from Indiana; Georgia transfer Channing Toney adds scoring to the perimeter; and Walter Sharpe of Mississippi State should be a solid performer down low. Freshman guard Terrence Roderick will make an immediate impact in the backcourt as well, while Reggie Huffman and Keenan Ellis are two more quality newcomers. If the fresh faces live up to their potential, Memphis make actually have a tough game or two in Conference-USA.