Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More thoughts on IU-Duke match-up

Since I'm here and obsessing.
Duke has looked vulnerable this season. Now, without Demarcus Nelson, they look especially ripe for upset and they have almost zero depth. The story of this game may well be who gets in foul trouble first; Shelden Williams or Marco Killingsworth. Given Marco's penchant for the Matador defense, I would guess Williams will be first, after doing considerable damage inside.

But check out these numbers.
After 3 games, IU leads the nation in total offense (100.3ppg), 3pt. FG% (58.3%), and is 2nd in FG%. (57.6%).
Granted the competition has been weak, but there's like 329 Division-I teams? Plenty of other teams have had just as weak schedules. IU has five double-figure scorers for the first time since, I dunno, 1993? Errek Suhr is unlikely to keep up this pace, but remember that all of this has been sans DJ White and AJ Ratliff.

I don't know how this game will go, and I totally would've picked Indiana if DJ was healthy, but Duke plays well in the Challenge. Of course, IU generally has as well. Duke has JJ Reddick, Williams, and Coach K. Every other position advantage and/or intangible belongs to the Hoosiers.

I like this Hoosier club, the balance, the sweet shooting, and the passing. The defense needs to be tightened up, but I like these guys, and I've waited since 2002 ended to have a team to feel good about supporting.

But against Duke, soooo close. Too close to call, but IU has a legit shot, just a shot, but still.

I say,

Go IU!

Night 2 ACC-Big Ten Challenge: D'oh!

Cue Napoleon Dynamite:
"Dang it! "

Forgot that Wisconsin almost always lets me down in the Challenge. Otherwise, everything is proceeding as thought. I was hoping PSU could pull it out over Clemson, but I didn't expect them.

Watched a bit of the Illinois-UNC game, and despite UNC getting every conceivable call down the stretch, Illinois still held on due largely to late defensive stops and offensive rebounds.

Michigan-Miami was ugly. Neither played well, and I don't think it was due to 2 great defenses. Miami needs their point guard back, but I don't feel good about Michigan's chances on the road in the Big 10.

But for my 6-5 Big Ten win prediction to stand up, I need either Inidana to trump Duke tonight or Northwestern to beat Virginia. *crossing fingers*

November Thoughts on other teams

Auto-Bid Winners

America East: Albany (NY)
1-4 with a win over Oakland and losses at Fla., at SDSU, Sacred Heart, and now at UCLA. The UCLA game was close and more what I expect out of this team, But Lucius Jordan; WTF with the >4ppg? Boston U was looking like a strong challenger until they proved that all they do is lose close games with their third and fourth straight losses at Rider and at home to Rhode Island.

Atlantic Sun: Gardner-Webb

Moral vicotry in loss at UNC followed by wins at ECU and Minnesota. Blowout to Auburn just a bad day?

Big Sky: Montana State
I don't what's going on but these guys are sucking. The loss to UIC and at Lamar wouldn't be all bad, but losing to Alaska-Fairbanks?

Big South: Winthrop
Injury to Torell Martin dampens 3-0 record. 71-64 victory over Marquette looking better and better. Still, Winthrop should be a lock for a ticket to field of 65.

Big West: UC Irvine
Weird team. Road losses to Pepperdine and George Mason become head-scratching when looking at road win at Stanford. Home wins over MVSU and Santa Clara are nice, but either Stanford's going to be really terrible or consistency is lacking. Late breaking news; UC-Irvine loses to Stanislaus State. What…the…heck?

Ivy: Penn
2-1 with a nice W over Drexel.Ibrahim Jaaber looks awesome, and 6-8 Steve Danley's putting up good numbers too. Drubbing at home by Colorado shows weakness that will probably be remembered when tourney seeding is announced in March. Ouch.

MAAC: Manhattan
0-2, but losses at Seton Hall and to surprising George Mason team don't look too bad. But starting 0-4 does, and with road games at Syracuse and at Rhode Island, that'll be hard to avoid.

MEAC: Hampton
Losing at UNC-Greensboro and to William & Mary at home is no way to avoid that #16 seed, guys. Also scoring 40 points in the opening loss at Richmond, not impressive.

Mid-Continent: Oral Roberts
Narrow losses to Utah State and Marquette outwiegh wins over USC and Monmouth. Getting a couple of profile wins would've helped if ORU bounced out of the MidCon tourney again this season.

Northeast: Farleigh Dickinson
Bad road losses to Maryland and Wofford hurt, but FDUas good as any to win the NEC. Victory over Quinnipiac moves them to 3-2 overall.

Ohio Valley: Murray State
1-1, but the loss, at Cincinnati in Overtime is impressive even though I think Cincy is a NIT squad this year. The guards look good, if only they had some size to play well.... When does Brandon Robinson become eligible?

Southern: Davidson
Impressive wins over UMass and St. Joe's, but they were at home and the road game to Duke was a slaughter.We'll see how bad the A-10 will be with their trip to Charlotte next up. Or maybe how good Davidson is?

Southwestern: Alabama A&M
They've been looking not great against non-division I competition, especially with Obie Trotter looking quite human. A loss to Paul Quinn to open the season does not bode well.

Southland: Northwestern St.
The loss at Missouri was totally understandable, but the win at Mississippi State may get them out the #16 slot this year. And Tyronn Mitchell would be a Southland Superstar if he could hit at better than 28.6% on FGs.

Sun Belt: South Alabama
A lopsided loss at Purdue should be built on and learned from, and if the road win at Loyola-Marymount is any indication, the Jaguars just may be doing that. Looking fine at 3-1.

National Invitational Tournament teams:

Air Force
5-1, with the only loss at Washington. A win over Miami at home is proof of the best start Jeff Bzdelik could ask for with Nick Welch out for the year.

Solitary game played was a home win over Youngstwon state. A little early to tell much of anything, but Romeo Travis had a nice first game with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, & a block.

2-0, and won at DePaul, which Northwestern couldn’t do. Senior point Tony Bennett is playing well and just wait until they get center Pat O’Bryant back from his 8-game suspension.

Cal State-Fullerton
Got a decent win over Pepperdine, but I wouldn’t pencil them in as Big West winners just yet. Jamaal and Bobby Brown racking up good stats, and 6-4 frosh guard Jerad Moret is grabbing 7 boards a game!

Central Florida
Doing what they need to do right now, which beating the bad teams. 4-0 so far, but nothing to brag about yet. On Dec. 3rd they’ve got a shot to take over-rated Florida on the road.

Offseason issues continue to dog this club with assistant Keith LeGree resigning due to a DUI. And the Bearcats are 3-1, and wins over Murray State and Holy Cross won’t hurt the RPI. James White and Eric Hicks look pretty decent, and 5-10 freshman guard Devan Downey should be UC’s lead guard for the next four years. Last night’s loss to Dayton puts them squarely in NIT territory, ‘tho.

73-54 wins over St. Mary's and UNC-Wilmington are all well and good, but a one-point loss at Colorado State wasn't good. Big win at Penn shows maybe the CSU loss was a fluke?

The Flyers weren’t doing that great until their win over Cincy. A 91-90 loss to Creighton is one that they’ll regret down the road, and getting spanked at Miami (OH) won’t do anything for their RPI. But with winning at Cincinnati, they’re right back in it. On the plus side, where the heck did Brian Roberts come from? The 6-2 soph is averaging 20ppg!

Denver stands at 3-1 with a decent win at UIC, and a loss at home to Colorado State. Their win over Southern Mississippi looked like an incredibly entertaining football game (44-30).

Brandon Cotton has led, but maybe he misses having James Thues to play off of. 3-3 with losses at Drake, Ok. St., and Buffalo. At least they picked up a W over Eastern Michigan, but this does not seem like the team that I thought would challenge Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the Horizon.

Eastern Kentucky
Witt 2-3, Narrow losses at Wisconsin, and to Georgia at home are nothing to worry about. Blowout loss to Tennessee may be cause for concern, but still very early.

Still not a fan, even after their nice 6-0 start. Not to say that I don’t want them to do well, because although I think Billy Donovan’s a bit of a tool, I like to watch his teams run-and-gun, and was very happy to watch his Gators beat Kentucky for the SEC Tourney championship last spring. But I think that time will reflect that they haven’t played a hard schedule, as Wake Forest is borderline NCAA team at best, and Syracuse is little better. A road game at Miami (12/22) may be their toughest test until they travel to South Carolina on January 25th.

George Mason
Lost to Creighton and barely at Wake Forest, but wins over Manhattan and UC Irvine. To split this tough early schedule and look decent doing it must have the Patriots jumping for joy. They'll be in the mix for an at-large bid, but 3 bids for the CAA?

4-0 with a win at Holy Cross, and the Ivy doesn’t look particularly strong this year. Harvard could actually threaten Penn for the conference title. Guard Jim Goffredo playing well alongside expected stars Matt Stehle and Brian Cusworth. Watch on Dec. 22nd as they travel to Boston College.

The best opening that Rainbows could ask for in an attention-getting drubbing of Michigan State. That’s one that the NCAA selection committee will remember. Hopefully they’ll forget the following loss at UNLV.

Lost at Notre Dame, but walloping St. John's helps give them an interesting profile. The Flying Dutchmen want to make a statement to the NCAA tourney Selection committee, and this was a good place to start.

Holy Cross
Perhaps a longshot; currently 2-3. Losses at Cincy, Vt., and at home to Harvard are not distinguishing. But HC still may have an inside track to the automatic bid as they host the Patriot conference tournament.

3-0 after a convincing win at Iowa State. Folks who ranked Iowa State in the preseason? You were wrong. Me, looking smart on this one. Steve Burtt Jr. and Ricky Soliver are looking amazing, and if they take two of the three road games versus Kentucky, Seton Hall, and Fresno State, they could be looking at an at-large bid into the NCAA's, even if they don't take Manhattan out for the MAAC tourney title.

Iowa State
Not looking impressive. And where's the vaunted Theo Davis? They need to recover in December with home games against Iowa, and Ohio State if they want to make any noise on Selection Sunday. Last night’s win over Northern Iowa was a good start.

Kent State
Losses to Delaware State and Rutgers makes this team seem pretty weak. 2-2 isn't bad, but perhaps this is not at NIT-level after all. DeAndre Haynes is not having the all-conference year I expected thus far.

Louisiana State
I might be wrong about these guys. They got a 3-point road win over West Virginia that’ll look good come March But WVU is in a tailspin after an uneserved loss to Texas, so maybe this one isn’t that tellin yet, either. Hosting Northern Iowa and travelling to Cincinnati and Ohio State should really give us a better idea of whether these Tigers should be ranked or in the NCAA race at all. Frosh forwards Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell look great. Breaking news; Houston just beat LSU at Baton Rouge: I wasn’t wrong.

Too early to tell. 4-0 is great, but Butler and Boston made it close, and they probably shouldn’t have been able to. The match-up with Miami should have made things more clear. But Miami seemed every bit if not more disjointed than the Wolverines. The goods news is that Lester Abram appears to be back, but the freshmen class seems less able to help than hoped.

From bad to worse when Vincent Grier went out for 6 weeks with injury. 2-1 after a loss at home to Gardnber-Webb, and a spanking awaits at Maryland. Until Grier returns, it’s going to be very rough going for Dan Monson’s club.

Mississippi State
Loss to Northwestern State wouldn't have been so bad except for that it came at home. Following that up with another home loss, this time to SE Louisiana? Unforgivable. Gotta defend your own floor. Jamont Gordon appears to be SEC Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, but outside of that, none of the other newcomers are stepping up. They’ll be lucky to make the NIT at this rate.

Missouri State
Really thumped Northern Illinois, 87-51, and then Arkansas State on the road, 97-80. Dec. 7th’s game at Oral Roberts should be pretty interesting. Guard Blake Ahearn is scoring 23 with 5apg.

North Carolina
Also probably too early to tell. A good opening win over Gardner-Webb, a loss at home to Illinois, but all that we can see about these Tarheels is that at least 3 freshmen will start every game. That, and 6-9 frosh Tyler Hansbrough may be in the NBA draft next spring.

North Carolina-Greensboro
Bad losses to Wisconsin-Green Bay and at Vanderbilt show that this is certainly no title contender, but a win over Hampton may help this 3-2 club get it turned around. 6-6 Kyle Hines is putting up great stats, but the Spartans need some more help besides Hines and Ricky Hickman.

North Carolina State
Wolfpack weren’t much at 4-0, but then they spanked Notre Dame 61-48 on the road. Cedric Simmons has really stepped up inside. They’ll definitely contend for a NCAA berth.

Notre Dame
The Irish got a good win over Hofstra and then choked a home against NCSU. I see more questions here than answers, and the vaunted recruiting class is providing any help right now.

Oklahoma State
4-1 with a narrow loss to Boston College is pretty good. I totally expect this club to be in the NIT this season, but the only other real preconference test is at Gonzaga on Dec. 10th. The returnees are shouldering most of the burden right now, but expect the freshmen to do more as the season rolls on. Byron Eaton's already looking special, in a good way.

The Ducks are 4-0, but the two wins over Savannah State shouldn’t even count. We’ll see how different this club is from last year’s version when they visit Vanderbilt tomorrow night. Juco Ivan Johnson may be the answer inside, ‘though, and Malik Hairston has really yet to show off the reasons for his preseason hype.

Oregon State
When you get spanked at Tennessee Tech and your only win is over Prairie View A&M, you can’t be optimistic if you are a Beavers fan. The only bright spot is the play of center Sasha Cuic. Nick DeWitz has got to wake up, and soon.

Rhode Island
The Rams are looking tepid without Dawan Robinson, and Jim Baron has got to be counting the days until he gets Robinson back at the level he was at in 2003-2004. On the other hand, his son Jim Baron Jr. is leading the team in scoring and assists, so there’s still plenty of future here.

St. John’s
Red Storm haven’t played anybody, despite being 3-1, and haven’t proven anything. Loss to Hofstra would suggest the NIT. Trips to Virginia Tech and Duke in December should be more illuminating. Anthony Mason Jr. has earned some plying time already, so keep an eye on him as the season progresses.

Nice win over Miami, even if they were without their point guard. That one will look even better in March. A loss at UCLA is nothing to worry about, but only scoring 47 points is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team at the NIT Final Four.

Texas A&M
The Aggies have one of the easiest preconference schedules that I've ever seen, but spanking Tulane on the road does look pretty good. May well be a club that gets only 5 or 6 in conference play but goes to the NIT due to their undefeated non-conference record.

Wins over Wright State, at SMU, loss at South Carolina. Pretty much as expected. The Rockets could really use Allen Pinson and Haris Charalambous contributing in the future, 'tho'.

Getting spanked by Texas A&M at home looks bad, and last year’s star, Quincy Davis, averaging 5.5 points and 4 boards looks worse. The Green Wave need to “turn the tide” real quick if they’re going to get to any postseason.

Utah State
The Aggies followed a good road win over Oral Roberts with a tough loss at Middle Tennessee State. They’ve got a chance to redeem themselves when they host MTSU on Dec. 5th. Jaycee Carroll is lighting it up, and Nate Harris & Cass Mattheus are also playing well in the paint, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all to USU make a run for the WAC title.

Special Mention:

I think I picked them 5th in the CAA, behind Northeastern, Old Dominion, George Mason, and Hofstra. It’s still hard to see them jump-frogging anyone, but a tie for 3rd, or perhaps with the right breaks, 2nd, doesn’t seem unreasonable at this point.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Challenge begins; MNFooseball

Most of my night was spent watching season 1 of "Lost." But I caught a little of bit sports here and there and then Sportscenter highlights this morning.

Big Ten leads the ACC-Big 10 challenge 1-0. More important games to come.
Correctly predicted Ohio State over Virginia Tech, but who didn't?
Ohio State, I'm just not impressed. Terrance Dials is a nice player, but with him they have a 1995 Houston Rockets-style offense which frankly is not very fun to watch, but without him, guys just circle around again and again calling for the ball until one of the guards either drives or jacks a three. They've got some talent, but I just don't see them piling up Big Ten road wins with that style.

Monday Night Football:
Colts rock 'n' shock the Steelers. You don't expect guys like Marvin Harrison come out and hit you in the mouth, but that's exactly what happened to Pittsburgh right after he & Peyton hooked up to embarass their defense.
These Colts have to be title favorites. Tony Dungy has now built the sort of great defense that he had in Tamba Bay, but he's got Peyton Manning rather than Shaun King at QB, so I would be surprised if they don't win the title. Anything less than a Superbowl victory will be an enormous failure at this point. On the other hand, the Colts just have to stay healthy. A key injury on defense can mean worlds of difference, as they found out a couple of years ago when the veteran Bennett when down late in the season, and also the Bears found out last year that Uhrlacher needs help, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Indiana at 3-0; Colts on MNF

Not much new, IU takes apart an inferior opponent on the road (Western Illinois: 102-79), and it is nice to see them dispose of team that they only beat at home by 4 points last season. But I didn't really learn much. I was slightly worried when I found out that Sean Kline was sitting along with DJ White and AJ Ratliff. That left IU with Killingsworth inside, and the foreign 6-10 freshmen inside. Allen and Dinc got a few minutes, but Vaden and Rod Wilmont filled in grabbing rebounds. But mostly, Western Illinois wasn't very good. They'll win some games in the Mid-Continent Conference, because they're dangerous with the run-and-gun and there's a couple of decent forwards in Fred Oguns and Marlon Mahorn, but when IU got up early, they just lost control.

The Hoosiers are better than they were last year. They share the ball, the best player beats up guys in the paint instead of chucking threes, and Marshall Strickland is way more impressive and confident at the 2-spot than he ever was at point. This also is be the best team at catching the ball since the 2002 national runners-up. Marco especially has some nice hands inside.I did see Calloway for the time, and while he's quick and managed not to turn over the ball a lot, he doesn't strike me as a particularly great upgrade over Donald Perry (who I do not miss). And Calloway needs to be able to knock down shots (especially lay-ups) as he has the physical attributes to defend in the Big Ten, which Errek Suhr, a better point guard and unbelievable shooter, just does not. Still, Suhr is clearly the number two point guard right now behind Lewis Monroe, if for no other reason than he can't miss from behind the arc.

Vaden continues to impress as well (22 pts, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 steals), and Ben Allen has all the tools to play with the big boys. But the question with MK, Strickland, Monroe, and all the rest of the IU ballers is how will they fare against good teams? Well, there's no one better than Duke, consensus #1, and they're coming to Bloomington on Wednesday for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It's gonna be tough to take them even at home. If IU had DJ White available to hold off Shelden Williams, I would say that the Hoosiers would have a really good chance, but I have a hard time seeing them contain Williams otherwise without giving Duke's shooters open looks. It ought to be a learning experience for the team, that they can hopefully use in March, but it's a longshot to beat the hated Dookies.

Colts-Steelers tonight.

Colts do well in the bright lights of Monday night. But on the other hand, football is terrible when there's only one game on to watch, and no other sports to switch to. See, unlike basketball or soccer, which are

games of near-constant flowing motion, football is about 10% action, 30% replays, say 10% penalties, replays, and contested calls, and 50% clock-killing, largely in the name of play-calling. So it's fine as long as there about three other football games to watch or one really good basketball game to switch to for most of it.

November thoughts on teams 10-1

10. UCLA

Er, they look alright, I suppose. A loss to Memphis is nothing to fret about this early, but narrow wins over Temple and Drexel aren't proving much. They need Josh Shipp back and healthy, and also for centers Michael Fey & Ryan Hollins to quit teasing with their potential and start being grown-up Bigs in the paint. The trouble Bruins have had in just scoring also points to an imbalance on the offense. I don't think Cedric Bozeman is going to have the year that Dijon Thompson did last year, and unless Shipp, Fey, and Hollins are around and playing well, I'm not confident that this is a top 25 team at all.

9. Gonzaga
Wow, totally deserving of top ten and maybe top 5. Adam Morrison is great, and has some solid support, but completely surprising is Derek Raivio. Brilliant win over Michigan State followed by a tough loss to UConn, but after 3 overtimes against MSU, how much can you have left in the tank the very next day? Wins over Maryland and Idaho fill out their 3-1 record thus far. Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt are earning time as freshmen, which Heytvelt I expected to do, but Pargo appears to have enough game to bump Nathan Doudney from the rotation.
edit: I guess Heytvelt is done for the year due to a broken ankle. Frontcourt depth takes a hit.

8. Louisville
Nothing to see here, as the Cardinals have only played one game (v. Tenn-Martin) but injuries cause worry. Juan Palacios looks fine now, but center David Padgett is still out, and depth behind Palacios and Brian Johnson will scare no one. It's still really early, but this may not be the typically deep and athletic Pinito ballclub that I thought it was.

7. Boston College
Who has BC played? They got a decent win over Oklahoma State last night, after just slipping past Drake. So they're 5-0 after playing maybe 2 teams that get to the NIT, and what's scarier is the 7-man rotation. And I don't mean 7 players averaging 30 minutes and 3 averaging 10, I mean 7 players have played 976 out of 1000 possible minutes. That sort of "depth" looks like a big target come ACC road games. But BC's goal has to be to just hold on until Sean Williams gets himself eligible again.

6. Michigan State
Actually looking pretty good, despite the thumping by a clearly inferior Hawaii team and subsequent loss to Gonzaga in what may have the preconference game of the year. That games *head shakes* ...just amazing. Despite the 2-2 record versus D-1 foes, a lot of questions have been answered positively. Ager and Davis are playing like superstars, Goran Suton is the answer to the who-else-besides-Davis-is-inside question that's been plaguing Izzo for 3 years. Also, frosh Marquise Gray and Travis Walton are nice bench players, and Drew Nietzel is earning his starter's spot at the point.

5. Arizona
Arizona looked kinda weak in the first half when I saw them playing against Virginia, of all teams. I guess they pulled away to win by 30, but losses to UConn and Michigan State are not offset by the UV win and a 61-49 victory over Kansas. The guard corps looks elite, but inside a lot of questions remain. Ivan Radenovic is a good player, but not a great scorer or rebounder and what's alongside of him? Isaiah Fox and Mohamed Tangara have been disappointing so far, and that's really bad news for Lute Olson.

4. Oklahoma
Uh, has Oklahoma played anyone? Surveys says: Samford, Binghamton, and Belmont = no. Mike Neal is coming off the bench and is the leading scorer right now, Nate Carter is less of the impact player I'd thought he'd be, but is in the rotation. Keep an eye on freshman forward Taylor Griffin who's posting a very respectable 6.3 rebounds/game in just 13 minutes per outing.

3. Villanova
Curtis Sumpter's injured, which doesn't inspire confidence in what has been the weakest link of the Wildcats in recent years, their health. 2-0 against Lehigh and Stony Brook have proved nothing, December 3rd's game against Oklahoma should prove a lot for both clubs. Jason Fraser has been unimpressive inside, and if 6-9 frosh Dante Cunningham hadn't been playing capably, the only other option would be enigmatic Will Sheridan who's averaging 8 rbs but only 1.5 points. The perimeter crew, of course, looks awesome.

2. Connecticut
Still many questions, and Rudy Gay is unsurprisingly not the next Michael Jordan. Denham Brown has been playing well, and hit the last-second shot to beat Gonzaga. Good wins over Arkansas and Arizona do place this squad solidly as a top-5 team, and frosh Craig Austrie has been nearly heroic in filling in at point, so there's really nothing to complain about. But, I dunno, they've just not been impressive, and I'm not sure that the Huskies are a Final Four team without Marcus Williams.

1. Duke
Beat a hot Memphis team, but have not really been impressive otherwise. This doesn't look like the championshop squad everyone was predicting. They win the NIT, but it used to be that no team that ever won the Preseason NIT had gone on to win the National Championship, but I think that someone ruined that recently. Playing Indiana Wednesday at Assembly Hall should be a good chance for Coach K to get a real assessment of his team's character. But the Blue Devils always play pretty well in the Big-ACC challenge, so it unfortunately looks like the betting money should be on hated Duke on Wednesday.

Teams 5-1

5. Arizona [Pacific 10]: C 6-10 Kirk Walters, PF 6-10 Ivan Radenovic, SF 6-4 Hassan Adams, SG 6-3 Chris Rogers, PG 6-3 Mustafa Shakur:

Bench: 6-9 Isaiah Fox, 6-9 Mohammed Tangara~, 6-6 J.P. Prince*, 6-5 Jawan McClellan(?), 6-4 Jesus Verdejo, 6-7 Fendi Onobun*, 6-6 Marcus Williams*, 6-4 Daniel Dillon~, 6-6 Bret Brielmaier~

Coach: Lute Olson

Indiana Fan’s take:

The Wildcats were oh-so-close to the Final Four last year, crumbling at the end of the semifinal game with Illinois that they had dominated. But they acquitted themselves well as a true title contender. Unfortunately for coach Lute Olson, he has lost both his best perimeter player and interior player to graduation. Fortunately, he has a ton of talent to call on to hold onto the top slot in the Pacific Ten conference. Hassan Adams is just one of the multi-dimensional weapons in Olson’s arsenal, and look for more scoring this season from Chris Rodgers and Ivan Radenovic. Jawan McClellan is likely out for the year due to academic issues, but freshman J.P. Prince ought to pick up his minutes without skipping a beat. Probably the Wildcats won’t get to the Final Four this year either, but they’ll be closer than most experts are giving them credit for.

Newcomer to watch: J.P. Prince is the top of the newcomers, and will get minutes even with the absurd amount of perimeter talent Olson possesses this year.

Top returning players: Adams (12.7ppg/6rpg/2.8apg/1.9spg), Radenovic (8.6ppg/5.5rpg/1.6apg), Shakur (8.1ppg/3.6rpg/4.5apg), McCellan (5.8ppg/3rpg)

Major Losses: Salim Stoudamire (18.4ppg/2.3rpg/2.2apg), Channing Frye (15.8ppg/7.6rpg/ 1.9apg/2.3bpg)

4. Oklahoma [Big 12]: C 6-9 Taj Gray, PF 6-8 Kevin Bookout, SF 6-7 Nate Carter**, SG 6-5 David Godbold, PG 6-4 Terell Everett:

Bench: 6-10 Longar Longar, 6-7 Taylor Griffin*, 6-4 Mike Neal*, 6-3 Austin Johnson*, 6-3 Chris Walker*, 6-0 Scott Reynolds*, 6-1 Kellen Sampson~, 6-4 Michael Ott~, 6-4 Aaron Foster~, 6-5 Tony Crocker**, 6-8 Damion Jones*

Coach: Kelvin Sampson

Indiana Fan’s take:

Big, strong, deep, and with seemingly limitless potential, Kelvin Sampson has put together a team that has a good shot of taking home all of the marbles. Taj Gray is a legitimate player of the year candidate, and Terrell Everett has turned into one of the best all-around guards in America, to boot. Lots of experts love the Longhorns, and I think perhaps they were spooked by the departure of former starters Lawrence McKenzie & Drew Lavender, but Everett had already taken over the point slot, and transfers Nate Carter and Mike Neal were probably going to grab at least one other wing spot. Bookout & Gray are a great combo inside, and if Longar Longar develops, the Sooners may leave no doubt in a March to the Final Four.

Newcomer to watch: Transfers Nate Carter and Mike Neal will get a lot more shots and playing time than they probably thought when they committed. But it’s Kelvin Sampson who should be happy when they provide the perimeter Tongs to Gray & Bookout’s Hammer.

Top returning players: Gray (14.6ppg/8.2rpg/1.5apg/1.2spg/1.8bpg), Bookout (11.5ppg/6.6rpg), Everett (12.5ppg/4.8rpg/5apg)

Major Losses: Lavender (9.7ppg/1.5rpg/3.2apg), McKenzie (9.5ppg/1.6rpg/1.2apg)

3. Villanova [Big East]: C 6-10 Jason Fraser, PF 6-7 Curtis Sumpter, SF 6-3 Randy Foye, SG 6-2 Allan Ray, PG 6-0 Michael Nardi:

Bench: 7-0 Chris Charles~, 6-9 Will Sheridan, 6-7 Dante Cunningham*, 6-5 Baker Dunleavy~, 6-5 Dwayne Anderson*, 6-2 Michael Claxton~, 6-0 Kyle Lowry, 5-11 Ross Condon~, 7-0 Robbie Jackson*, 6-8 Frank Tchuisi*, 6-5 Bilal Benn*

Coach: Jay Wright

Indiana Fan’s take:

These Wildcats are built much like a typical UConn team. Amazingly talented wings, savvy points getting the fast break offense rolling, and athletic big men who can run are ingredients that make for a Jim Calhoun-esque team. But they could drop very quickly if Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser are still in poor health this season. Loads of athleticism and talent, but this senior class has been plagued by injuries and weird stuff all along. But, if the wheels don't come off, they should finally bring Villanova back to the basketball's finest weekend for the first time in over 20 years. Look for one of the roads to the Final Four to run directly through this team.

Newcomer to watch: Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson could add some size to the small wings. It’s a great position for a newcomer to be in, to be able to get some minutes and experience on a National Title contender, yet without a real pressure to produce.

Top returning players: Sumpter (15.3ppg/7.2rpg/1apg), Foye (15.5ppg/5rpg/3.1apg/2.1spg), Ray (16.2ppg/2.8rpg/1.8apg), Nardi (8.2ppg/2.1rpg/3.6apg), Fraser (6.4ppg/6.7rpg/2.4bpg)

Major Losses: none of significance

2. Connecticut [Big East]: C 7-0 Josh Boone, PF 6-8 Ed Nelson, SF 6-8 Rudy Gay, SG 6-4 Rashad Anderson, PG 6-2 Marcus Williams:

Bench: 6-9 Hilton Armstrong, 6-6 Jeff Adrien*, 6-5 Denham Brown, 6-3 Craig Austrie*, 6-1 AJ Price** (?), 6-1 Robert Garrison*, 6-0 Martin Gagne**, 5-11 Leeshan Reid**, 6-6 Marcus Johnson*, 6-6 Ryan Thompson~, 6-4 Nick Forostoski~

Coach: Jim Calhoun

Indiana Fan’s take:

Jim Calhoun has his Huskies positioned very well for a third ring. I don’t think he’ll get it, even though this may be one of his most talented teams. I think he needs a steady senior to come up huge (a la Rip Hamilton or Emeka Okafor) in the National title game. And I think other clubs are going to be better prepared for his relentless attacking style, and to some extent, the other top clubs are just due some luck and/or calls in crucial situations. If point guard questions continue (currently Marcus Williams & AJ Price are suspended) the Huskies could fall into another season of rebuilding rather than dominance. But I’m guessing Williams just gets suspended for the first semester, at most, and quarterbacks this club to another Final Four. Josh Boone and Rudy Gay have no lack of athleticism, and Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown are solid wings, to boot. But so much of this just comes down to the simple question of who will be the Huskies’ point guard in March?

Newcomer to watch: Craig Austrie and Jeff Adrien should both get a spot in the rotation, but Austrie and Robert Garrison could be thrown into the fire if both Williams & Price are suspended for the whole season.

Top returning players: Boone (12.4ppg/8.4rpg/1.2apg/3bpg), Gay (11.8ppg/5.4rpg/1.5apg/2bpg), Anderson (12ppg/3.4rpg/1.1apg), Brown (10.4ppg/4rpg/1.5apg), Williams (9.6ppg/3.8rpg/7.8apg)

Major Losses: Charlie Villanueva (13.6ppg/8.3rpg/1.3apg/1.8bpg)

1. Duke [Atlantic Coast]: C 6-9 Shelden Williams, PF 6-10 Josh McRoberts*, SF 6-6 Lee Melchionni, SG 6-4 J.J. Reddick, PG 6-2 Sean Dockery:

Bench:7-0 Eric Boateng*, 6-6 Jamal Boykin*, 6-5 Martinas Pocius*, 6-3 DeMarcus Nelson, 6-1 Greg Paulus*, 6-9 Patrick Johnson~, 6-2 Joe Pagliuca~, 6-1 Patrick Davidson~

Coach: Mike Krzyzsewski

Indiana Fan’s take:

Duke was supposed to be rebuilding last year, and all they did was snag a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney due to their winning the nation’s toughest conference tournament. All they were going to lose for this year was senior wingman Daniel Ewing, but then Shavlik Randolph lost his mind and went pro. Randolph’s loss doesn’t hurt a lot offensively, but he was a solid lost-post defender who’s depth will be missed as only freshmen are available to fill the gap. Nonetheless, Shelden Williams is a wicked interior defender. The nationally top-rated recruiting class should help with the personnel losses, as both Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus should be ready to start. But the unfairly maligned Sean Dockery may not be ready to give up his spot in the line-up so easily. Depth will be a concern, especially with the redshirting of sophomore forward David McClure. But with the new recruits, Coach Krzyzsewski still has more depth than he did last season, and that’s enough to ensure a pole position that’ll probably last all year long.

Newcomer to watch: Josh McRoberts. You will be sick, sick, sick of hearing of this guy by the end of the season. Greg Paulus, Jamal Boykin, and Eric Boateng will play less than one might guess hearing with all of the hype they’ll receive throughout the year.

Top returning players: Reddick (21.8ppg/3.6rpg/2.5apg), Williams (15.5ppg/11.2rpg/ 1.3spg/3.7bpg), Dockery (6.2ppg/2.8rpg/2.3apg), Nelson (6.2/4.5)

Major Losses: Daniel Ewing (15.3ppg/3.2rpg/4apg/2spg), Shavlik Randolph (4.4ppg/4.3rpg/1spg/1bpg)

Teams 10-6

10. UCLA [Pac-10]: C 6-11 Michael Fey, PF 6-9 Lorenzo Mata, SF 6-5 Josh Shipp, SG 6-5 Arron Afflalo, PG 6-2 Jordan Farmar:

Bench: 6-10 Ryan Hollins, 6-8 Ryan Wright*, 6-5 DeAndre Robinson**, 6-6 Cedric Bozeman**, 6-0 Darren Collison*, 6-8 Alfred Aboya*, 6-7 Luc Richard Mbaha Moute*, 6-5 Michael Roll*, 6-1 Joey Ellis**, 5-10 Kelvin Kim*~, 5-10 Nican Robinson*~

Coach: Ben Howland

Indiana Fan’s take:

Ben Howland moves into his third season as UCLA coach, and the pieces are there for actual title contention. After an 18-11 season which heavily featured freshmen, then adding another great frosh class and welcoming back redshirt senior Cedric Bozeman ought to add up to a significant leap up the national standings. However, all of this will probably not move the Bruins past Arizona for the Pac-10 title, as the Wildcats return a lot of seasoned talent as well, while Howland’s kids are still quite inexperienced.

Newcomer to watch: Either Ryan Wright or Alfred Aboya are the most likely of this talented class to get a place in the starting line-up, although Collison could carve a small niche in the rotation as well.

Top returning players: Farmar (13.2ppg/3.5rpg/5.3apg/1.4spg), Affalo (10.8ppg/3.3rpg/2.2apg), Shipp (9.3ppg/5.2rpg/1.8apg), Fey (8.6ppg/4.8rpg), Hollins (4.5ppg/3.4rpg)

Major Losses: Dijon Thompson (18.4ppg/7.9rpg/2.3apg), Brian Morrison (7.4ppg/2rpg/1.6apg)

9. Gonzaga [West Coast]: C 6-8 J. P. Batista, PF 6-8 Sean Mallon, SF 6-8 Adam Morrison, SG 6-6 Erroll Knight, PG 6-1 Derek Raivio:

Bench: 7-1 Calum MacLeod~, 6-9 Marnery Diallo*, 6-6 David Pendergraft, 6-4 Nathan Doudney, 6-1 Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes, 6-2 Jeremy Pargo*, 6-5 Larry Gurganious, 6-11 Josh Heytvelt**, 6-2 Colin Floyd~, 6-1 Stephen Gentry~

Coach: Mark Few

Indiana Fan’s take:

Gonzaga is no longer a novelty mid-major team that’s trendy to pick in March as a bracket-buster. Adam Morrison is going to draw all kinds of Larry Bird comparisons, with his shooting, rebounding, and passing (and oh yeah, being a 6-8 white dude), but Bird could break guys down off the dribble, and I haven't seen that ability from Morrison. The return of medical-redshirt shooter Nathan Doudney makes this club even more dangerous than it was last year. The Zags should be Top Ten all year long.

Newcomer to watch: Between the returnees and redshirts, the freshmen aren’t going to play much, but if Diallo’s good enough, he’ll get his shot at the rotation.

Top returning players: Morrison (19ppg/5.5rpg/2.8apg), Raivio (13ppg/2.6rpg/4.8apg), Batista (12.4ppg/6.2rpg), Mallon (7.6ppg/4.2rpg/1.2apg), Knight (6.9ppg/4.6rpg/1.2apg)

Major Losses: Turiaf (15.9ppg/9.5rpg/1.5apg/1.9bpg)

8. Louisville [Big East]: C 6-11 David Padgett**, PF 6-8 Juan Tello Palacios, SF 6-5 Terrence Williams*, SG 6-3 Brandon Jenkins, PG 6-2 Taquan Dean:

Bench: 6-9 Brian Johnson**, 6-8 Chad Millard*, 6-7 Lamar Roberson*, 6-5 Brian Harvey*, 5-10 Andre McGee*, 7-0 Jonathan Huffman*, 6-4 Perrin Johnson~, 6-10 Terrence Farley~, 6-1 Brad Gianiny~, 6-4 Chris Current~, 6-4 Maurice Grinter*~, 5-11 JuJuan Spillman*~

Coach: Rick Pitino

Indiana Fan’s take:

This club will probably not get back to the Final Four this year, but prospects are pretty good for next year. Freshmen and Sophomores will dominate the rotation, but senior Taquan Dean will be the unquestioned leader. The Cardinals should be pretty good, but nothing like last year's club. Taquan Dean will score in bunches, and Kansas transfer David Padgett will open eyes with his ability. The Cardinals have tubs of talent and size and athleticism, but this doesn't seem like the sort of cohesive and experienced defensive club that is the usual Rick Pitino-title threat. Look for this team to be a national title contender in 2006-2007.

Newcomer to watch: Any of this amazing freshman class could earn a spot in the starting five next to Taquan Dean & Juan Tello Palacios, the only guaranteed starters from last year. But the bet here for an impact is on Kansas transfer David Padgett.

Top returning players: Dean (14.4ppg/4rpg/2.4apg), Palacios (9.7ppg/6.5rpg/1apg), Jenkins (5.2ppg/2.2rpg/1.4apg)

Major Losses: Francisco Garcia (15.7ppg/4.2rpg/3.9apg/1.7spg/1.5bpg), Larry O’Bannon (15.2ppg/3.5rpg/2apg), Ellis Myles (10.4ppg/9.2rpg/3.4apg)

7. Boston College [ACC]: C 6-9 Sean Williams, PF 6-8 Craig Smith, SF 6-7 Jared Dudley, SG 6-5 Sean Marshall, PG 6-3 Louis Hinnant:

Bench: 6-10 John Oats~, 6-7 Akida McClain, 6-3 Marquez Haynes*, 6-7 Evan Neisler*, 6-0 Tyrese Rice*, 6-3 Ted Dunlap~, 6-3 Tyler Neville~, [6-11 Tyrelle Blair**]

Coach: Al Skinner

Indiana Fan’s take:

Boston College would’ve been in pretty good shape for their inaugural ACC season had center Sean Williams not gotten himself suspended for the first semester. Now, if he’s in shape and sync with his teammates when the ACC schedule begins, the Golden Eagles will be competing with Duke for the conference crown. The starting five will be that good. Craig Smith is the best power forward in America, and Jared Dudley plays a great Scottie Pippen. Wing Sean Marshall is a solid shooter and Louis Hinnant has been through the Big East trials at point and will not shrink in the ACC. Only interior depth could hold them back.

Newcomer to watch: Evan Neisler could end up starting quite a bit if Craig Smith has play center and Jared Dudley ends up spending all of his time at Power Forward. Marquez Haynes is probably a more talented recruit, ‘though.

Top returning players: Smith (18ppg/8.5rpg/1.7apg), Dudley (16.5ppg/7.5rpg/3.2apg), Marshall (11.8ppg/2.7rpg/1.8apg), Hinnant (5.3ppg/2.3rpg/4.8apg), Williams (4.1ppg/3.5rpg/2.3bpg)

Major Losses: Jermaine Watson (9.6ppg/3.3rpg/1.5apg), Nate Dooornekamp (5ppg/5rpg/2.3apg)

6. Michigan State [Big Ten] C 6-10 Paul Davis, PF 6-7 Matt Trannon, SF 6-5 Maurice Ager, SG 6-3 Shannon Brown, PG 6-0 Drew Nietzel:

Bench: 6-10 Drew Naymick, 6-8 Delco Rowley, 6-8 Marquise Gray**, 6-4 Maurice Joseph*, 6-2 Travis Walton*, 6-10 Goran Sutic**, 6-9 Justin Ockerman~, 6-11 Adki Adong*, 6-2 Anthony Hamo~, 6-6 Jason Aerts~

Coach: Tom Izzo

Indiana Fan’s take:

Four starters return from a Final Four team, and yet one has to really look for any mention of the Spartans in the top 25. When speaking of the Big Ten, everyone’s excited about Illinois (who loses 3 starters and 5 of their top 7 players), Ohio State (um, their big recruiting class is eligible in 2007?), Iowa (the worst team in the 2005 NCAA’s?), and Wisconsin (Who lost 5 seniors and return no proven inside players or point guards). That’s all probably fine with Coach Izzo, who’ll beat the “no respect” drum until he’s got yet another Big Ten Championship trophy. The prospects for a repeat Final are probably 50-50, as four starters return, and even though Drew Nietzel often sat in favor of lost senior Chris Hill, and also departed Alan Anderson often initiated the offense, Nietzel was brilliant in transition and one of the best passers in the conference. His sophomore year should be substantially more productive than his freshman one. Redshirt freshman Marquise Gray was perhaps the Spartans’ best recruit last year, but has droipped off most experts’ radar. Look for him to possibly earn starter’s minutes at forward, lessening the loss of Anderson.

Newcomer to watch: Travis Walton will probably get a place in the rotation as a back-up lead guard, but redshirt frosh Marquise Gray could end up as one of the starters.

Top returning players: Davis (12ppg/7.1rpg/1.5apg/1.2s), Ager (13.7ppg/3.9rpg/2apg), Brown (11ppg/3.2rpg/1.8apg/1.4s)

Major Losses: Alan Anderson (12.1ppg/5.1rpg), Chris Hill (10.1ppg/1.6/rpg/4.4apg), Kelvin Torbert (9.7ppg/2.9rpg/1.3apg)

Friday, November 25, 2005

November thoughts on teams 20-11

20. Memphis
The Tigers looked very strong in the finishing off Alabama and UCLA, and also just smacking what I think is an under-rated Wisconsin-Milwaukee club. But Memphis has played well in November before, and come back with an absolute wasting of the talent available. I suspect this will be perhaps Coach Calipari's best team yet in Memphis, but I'll need more convincing before I pencil them in the Sweet Sixteen or higher.

19. Iowa
The Hawkeyes have looked thoroughly decent in November, dumping Kentucky and hanging with Texas. But wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Colgate were no more impressive than you might suspect, and beating Kentucky sans Randolph Morris won't mean anything if those two clubs meet again in March. The loss to Texas (who I'm not very high on at all, thank you very much) just showed their lack of depth more than anything else. Alford's team deserves to be ranked, but that's about it.

18. Washington
Washington may be 5-0, but they haven't really faced anyone of consequence outside of Air Force, who they beat solidly 85-74. Perhaps the only pre-conference tests for the Huskies will be home games against Gonzaga on Dec. 4th, followed by New Mexico on Dec. 10th. The Gonzaga game should speak volumes about the mental state of UW. Frosh Jon Brockman is quite the stud in the paint, but can he hold up at 6-7 against power conference foes?

17. Stanford
Stanford beat San Francisco solidly, but the opening game thumping at the hands of UC-Irvine is cause for concern. I picked UC-Irvine to take the Big West, but they had just gotten killed by George Mason when they faced the Cardinal. Guards Dan Hernandez and Tim Morris need to do a better job of knocking down outside shots and someone has to be able to bang inside next to Matt Hayarsz, or it'll be a long, unhappy season.

16. Nevada
I was right to remember Marcellus Kemp's return from a redshirt year, giving the Wolfpack a legit wing presence and outside shooting to go along with a solid guard crew and the nation's best center; Nick Fazekas. The wolfpack is looking decent at 2-0, but wins over Sacramento State and Vermont are nothing to write home about. Mo Charlo and Chad Bell are giving Fazekas a lot of support down low, and that's good news for Nevada fans.

15. Indiana
IU hasn't played anyone yet, so it's hard to tell, but I do like the new hurry-up offense and the depth the newcomers have brought. The loss of a guy like DJ White would've crippled this team year ago, but there may be more talent on this roster than when the Hoosiers made their 2002 title-game run.

14. Kentucky
The Wildcats miss Randolph Morris bad, and he only averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds last year. That's how bad their desperation for a player in the paint is. Right now, Tubby Smith has a three-headed monstrosity of barely-mobile 21 feet and 5 inches stiff at center, and a decent power forward in Juco Rekalin Sims. The best rebounder is 6-1 Rajon Rondo who's 12 boards a game is nearly twice Sims' average, and 3-4 times better than that of the rest of the team. Until Morris gets back, UK could absorb some losses. But they had a nice bounce-back against West Virginia, getting hot early and holding off the Mountaineers down the stretch.

13. George Washington
Pops Mensah-Bonsu is sitting out a few games due to his NBA draft experimentation, but wasn't needed for the dismantling of Kennesaw in the Colonials only game to date. Watch for the December 5th game against Maryland for better measure of this team.

12. Texas
I just don't think much of Texas, and if the Adamite refs hadn't swallowed their whistles at the end of the game, my ranking of WVU as one-notch better than the 'Horns would've been upheld.
That said, Lamarcus Aldridge has worked hard to become the real deal inside, and Daniel Gibson has a lovely distance stroke with a killer instinct. But this club just looks like an early NCAA upset waiting to happen, just like Lute Olson's old Arizona teams.

11. West Virginia
Again, I think WVU would be in a whole other place if the foul had been called on Aldridge in the final second of the Texas game. Mike Gansey would've sunk those free-throws, and WVU would've taken down Iowa. Instead, the Mountaineers got an angry Kentucky team smarting from a stupid loss to the Hawkeyes. Patrick Sparks was hot early, and WVU never was quite able to come back despite a game effort. But I think as the season goes on and Pittsnogle continues to balance his inside and outside attack, we'll see that West Virginia is a quality club not be underestimated.

Teams 15-11

15. Indiana [Big Ten]: C 6-9 D.J. White, PF 6-8 Marco Killingsworth**, SF 6-6 Robert Vaden, SG 6-2 A.J. Ratliff, PG 6-2 Marshall Strickland:

Bench: 6-10 Ben Allen*, 6-8 Sean Kline, 6-6 Joey Shaw*, 6-4 Roderick Wilmont, 6-5 Lewis Monroe**, 6-3 Earl Calloway**, 6-10 Cem Dinc*, 6-7 James Hardy~

Coach: Mike Davis

Indiana Fan’s take:

Will IU return to competiveness, or will this be Mike Davis’ last year as head coach? Well, I’m thinking both. The Hoosiers have a good combo of experience and youth, and added a couple of instant starters that transferred from Auburn, while also managing to snag a couple of diamonds in the rough with Joey Shaw and Ben Allen. Nothing should be expected of the true freshmen this year except some energy off the bench, but I’m betting they’re going to be pretty good a year or two down the line. Also, Earl Calloway, formerly a back-up point for New Mexico was acquired, but I’m thinking he’s only on so that Davis has an experienced point on the roster at the start of next season. Davis, however, will probably not be around next season as he failed to land the recruits (specifically the Oden & Conley duo out of Indianapolis), and unless he gets to the Final Four again, he’s out and the next hot coach will get a fat contract and IU can start getting recruits again. Davis is a fine coach and good recruiter, but Hoosiers expect a consistent top-5 presence, and he just is not supplying it.

Newcomer to watch: Joey Shaw was a late riser in the recruiting ranks, and Lewis Monroe may finally be the answer to the post-Tom Coverdale question. But the newcomer to watch is Marco Killingsworth, who’s high-post game ought to mesh well with White, and will be a good go-to guy when White’s out of the game. Foreign bigs Ben Allen and Cem Dinc should show some sparks, but probably not consistency.

Top returning players: White (13.4ppg/5.1rpg/2.3bpg), Vaden (10.6ppg/4.4rpg/2apg/1.4s), Strickland (7.2ppg/3.4rpg/3.3apg)

Major Losses: Bracey Wright (18.4ppg/4.9rpg/2.6apg), Patrick Ewing (4.1ppg/3.9rpg)

14. Kentucky [Southeastern]: C 7-3 Shagari Alleyne, PF 6-7 Bobby Perry, SF 6-4 Joe Crawford, SG 6-1 Rajon Rondo, PG 6-0 Patrick Straight:

Bench: 6-10 Randolph Morris (?), 7-2 Lukasz Orbzut~, 6-8 Rekalin Sims*, 6-4 Adam Williams*, 6-3 Ramel Bradley, 6-2 Ravi Moss, 6-8 Sheray Thomas~, 5-9 Brandon Stockton~, 6-2 Preston LeMaster~, 7-1 Jarted Carter*

Coach: Tubby Smith

Indiana Fan’s take:

If Randolph Morris qualifies, and if he is a model citizen that shows some desire to use his god-given size and talent, then KU is a top ten team. I’d split the difference, guessing that Morris gets eligible but still underachieves. Tubby’s coaching, the team defense, and guard depth ought to offset the loss of their two best players. Look for Rajon Rondo to be a household name by the end of the season with his offensive game on display to complement his wicked defense. Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas will try to fill some of the minutes opened up by Chuck Hayes’ graduation, but the best bet for a season-end starter is Juco Rekalin Sims. Hayes didn’t pile up huge stats, but he just got the job done. It’ll be much harder for Smith to replace the kind of leadership that Hayes brought than the simple athleticism that Kelenna Azubuike failed to take to the NBA.

Newcomer to watch: Rekalin Sims will be asked to produce as the loss of Chuck Hayes will create a huge hole mentally and physically that must be filled.

Top returning players: Straight (11ppg/2.1rpg/3.6apg), Rondo (8.1ppg/2.9rpg/3.5apg/2.5spg), Morris (8.8ppg/4.2rpg)

Major Losses: Azubuike (14.7ppg/4.7rpg/1.5apg), Hayes (10.9ppg/7.7rpg/2.3apg)

13. George Washington [Atlantic 10]: C 6-9 Omar Williams, PF 6-8 Pops Mensah-Bonsu, SF 6-7 Mike Hall, SG 6-5 J.R. Pinnock, PG 6-4 Carl Elliott:

Bench: 6-11 Alexander Kireev, 6-9 Dokun Akinbade~, 6-8 Regis Koundija**, 6-3 Noel Wilmore*, 5-11 Maureece Rice, 6-4 Pat Joyce~, 6-8 Jaz Cowan~, 6-10 Jaaron Greene~, 6-8 Robert Diggs*, 6-7 Montrel McDonald*

Coach: Karl Hobbs

Indiana Fan’s take:

Karl Hobbs is a lucky man. With all of the lame-brained decisions being made in the NBA draft process, he got both Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall making the right call to return. Also, guards JR Pinnock and Carl Elliott are both all-conference candidates. The loss of T.J. Thompson may slow down the end-to-end transition game, but Hobbs’ starting five is so talented and versatile that it is hard to imagine this club not getting better anyway. Throw in LSU transfer Regis Koundija, who could be presence for this team like Jack Ingram was for Illinois last season, and coach Karl Hobbs should be dancing in the Sweet Sixteen this spring.

Newcomer to watch: LSU transfer Regis Koundija offers both size and shooting, and could be presence for this team like Jack Ingram was for Illinois last season.

Top returning players: J.R. Pinnock (13.4ppg/5.1rpg/2.1apg/1.6spg), Mensah-Bonsu (12.6ppg/6.6rpg/1.5bpg), Hall (10.6ppg/8rpg/2apg), Elliot (8.2ppg/3.8rpg/4.6apg)

Major Losses: TJ. Thomson (13.6ppg/2rpg/2.9apg)

12. Texas [Big 12] C 6-11 LaMarcus Aldridge, PF 6-8 Brad Buckman, SF 6-5 P.J. Tucker, SG 6-2 Ken Paulino, PG 6-0 Daniel Gipson:

Bench: 6-9 Connor Atchley**, 6-8 Mike Williams, 6-6 Dion Dowell, 5-10 AJ Abrams*, 6-3 JD Lewis*, 6-2 Craig Winder*, 6-6 Chris Price~

Coach: Rick Barnes

Indiana Fan’s take:

The ‘Horns welcome back leading scorer P.J. Tucker who didn’t play in the second half of last season due to academics, and sophomores Gipson, Williams, and Aldridge should be even better with a year of experience under their belts. Still, this looks to be one of the most over-rated teams all year long. The Longhorns will have a talented rotation and will get a lot of wins, but I don’t see them being a legitimate Final Four contender. Outside shooting will be too much of a question, as the strength of Rick Barnes’ offense will be either fast-break points or the missed shot (offensive rebounding). In the later rounds of March Madness, execution always beats athleticism, and there isn’t enough experience or balance here to expect great success.

Newcomer to watch: With the loss of C.J. Miles to the NBA, the pressure is on AJ Abrams to produce in the backcourt. Late pick-ups JD Lewis and Craig Winder should fill some minutes, but I wouldn’t expect a breakout season from any of the newcomers.

Top returning players: Tucker (13.7ppg/8rpg/2.2apg), Gibson (14.2ppg/3.6rpg/3.9apg), Buckman (12.5ppg/8.3rpg/1apg), Aldridge (9.9ppg/5.9rpg/1.1spg/1.5bpg)

Major Losses: Klotz (11.2ppg/5.8rpg/1apg), Taylor (10.6ppg/3.8rpg/2.6apg)

11. West Virginia [Big East]: C 6-10 Kevin Pittsnogle, PF 6-6 Johannes Herber, SF 6-4 Patrick Beilein, SG 6-4 Mike Gansey, PG 5-10 J.D. Collins:

Bench: 6-10 Rob Summers**, 6-7 Alex Ruoff*, 6-7 Joe Alexander*, 6-5 Franklin Young, 6-1 Darius Nichols

Coach: Gale Catlett

Indiana Fan’s take:

The Mountaineers return a lot, and will be very good, but it’s unlikely that they progress to the Final Four. They still have lots of shooters, and Penn State transfer Rob Summers should help hold down the middle, but much-vaunted Kevin Pittsnogle, while a very good 3-pt. shooter, grabbed only 3.7 boards a game last year. How can you be 6-11 and get less than 5 boards a game, much less only 3.7? I still like them, though, as they're all about the zone defense and the run-and-shoot offense, which helps hide their athletic and interior deficiencies.

Newcomer to watch: Can Penn State transfer Rob Summers play the same role that D’Or Fischer did last year? If he can, the party may not be winding down after all.

Top returning players: Pittsnogle (11.9ppg/3.7rpg), Gansey (12ppg/5.1rpg/2.9apg/1.6spg), Herber (8.6ppg/4.3rpg/3.1apg/1.6spg), Beilein (8.3ppg/1.9rpg/1.7apg)

Major Losses: Tyrone Salley (12.2ppg/3.8rpg/1.9apg), Fischer (7.8ppg/4.3rpg/1.9bpg)