Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The rest of the Big Ten & updates

Here are the three remaining Big Ten Basketball teams that I think will not make it to any sort of postseason.

Big Ten Remainders:


What to like: The Hawkeyes made a great offseason coaching hire in Todd Lickliter, and return the most productive per-possession player at the point guard position in Tony Freeman.
Weaknesses: The lack of returning experience would beg the question of where the points will come from? The departed Adam Haluska & Tyler Smith did everything for this team.
Who to watch: Justin Johnson will be the first option on offense, as he shot 46% on threes, but a head-scratching 22% on two's. He doesn't seem good at creating his own shot, and most of the bigs don't seem great at back-to-basket work (with the possible exception of Cyrus Tate). Kurt Looby has NBA potential-athleticism, but little polish, while Seth Gorney is an up-and-coming center, & 6-7 frosh Jarryd Cole and transfer 6-9 David Palmer pack the paint. But starting unhyped, untested freshmen 6-5 Jake Kelly or 6-1 Jeff Peterson at the other wing spot? That's asking for trouble.


What to like: The best offseason hire in all of Division-I was UM's getting John Beilein. Also, a couple of promising frontcourt freshman now become sophomores.
Weaknesses: Beilein's approach might not fit this group's talents. The turnover rate was appalling last year, but then again, so was the 3-point FG shooting percentage.
Who to watch: 6-5 freshman wing Copperyale "Manny" Harris. Beilein needs him to play 30 minutes/game. If Harris can't shoulder the load, then Jevohn Shepard will have to step up, and he has showed neither offensive nor defensive ability. The above-mentioned turnovers will probably be a problem again, but the three least likely to turn it over were DeShawn Sims, Ekpe Udoh , and Ron Coleman, all of whom figure to join Harris and returning point guard Jerrett Smith in the starting five.


What to like: Kevin Coble is the top returning sophomore in the conference, and some of the new faces and redshirted forwards look poised to surprise foes.
Weaknesses: Uh, everything to do with offense? No rebounds, no outside shooting, and no playmaker or big man on hand. Coble also is out indefinitely. Yikes.
Who to watch: Redshirts 6-7 Nikola Baran and 6-8 Ivan Peljusic have been working hard by all accounts, and may take over starting duties in the paint while Coble is out. Also, 5-11 freshman Michael Thompson may surprise as a playmaking point guard, and could supplant the scrappy senior Jason Okrzesik, who sent Craig Moore to the bench. Moore gets pub off of a decent freshman season, but last year he couldn't hit his threes. Jeff Ryan has some ability on the wing, but I thought reserve Jeremy Nash should've been getting more time there.

Late updates: SEC takes a hit

Auburn (my #25) lost starters 6-8 Quan Prowell and 6-7 Josh Dollard for the beginning of the season. Dollard is out for the year with a medical redshirt, which hurts as he was the best interior defender on the team. Prowell is suspended for the fall semester due to athletics, but will have a chance to come back for most of the season and help to the postseason. I'm guessing that's what happens.

Georgia (my #39) dismissed star forward Takias Brown. This might send them into the NIT, but I think the team will pull together,play tough, and squeak their way into the NCAA's. The nice recruiting class of big men helps, but reserves 7-0 Rashaad Singleton, 6-10 Dave Bliss, and 6-8 Albert Jackson will have to do more as well. I think this also secures a starting place at the 3-spot for Terrance Woodbury, who was the team's best per-possession rebounder.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Catching up with IU sports

Basketball news:
It's all been bad for a while, from transfers to recruit Bud Mackey looking at jail time to the whole phone call bugaboo. But I agree with Mike DeCourcy that Indiana really blew this one by firing asst. coach Rob Senderoff. I don't know what they were thinking, maybe they're trying to get Kent Benson back as a fan? If it's Sampson's responsibility, then fire him. If it's Senderoff's fault for being the one that screwed up, you fine him, yell at him, send him to boring seminars for punishment, maybe you even suspend him for a bit, but firing him over his first secondary violations is undeserved.
If you think Sampson is responsible for gaming the system through Senderoff, then you fire him. But more and more it looks to me like it's AD Greenspan who's got to go.

Indiana looks poised to beat Ball State at home, which makes them the best team in the MAC and bowl-eligible. But, bowl-eligible is not bowl-getting, especially when you're not beating any Big Ten teams. If they had beaten Penn State, maybe they could've gotten to a bowl. I watched some of the PSU game, and James Hardy is impressive (and probably gone at the end of the season), but Kellen Lewis -tho quite gifted- is just not a mature QB yet. Sure, the Hoosiers had some bad luck, including the game-killing muffed punt reception at the end. And I like that the defense isn't a total joke. But Football just isn't one of Indiana's sports, and the Athletic Department should kick themselves every time someone points out that they forced Bill Mallory out early.

I watched the OT win over Notre Dame and having been following the last few games, and this young club has a lot of talent and some real toughness on defense. However, I'm having a hard time seeing this team getting back to the Final Four unless they start finishing chances on goal. These Hoosiers play smart, tough, and generate a lot of chances on offense, but like those mid-90's IU teams, they just don't rack up goals. Maybe they're saving the good luck for the tournaments, and I certainly hope that's the case.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Final NCAA 2008 Projections: 1-10

Ah, done! My thanks to Ken Pomeroy and Kyle Whelliston for their stat-crunching and compilation, and also to John Gasaway for his valuable observations and inspiration.

1.UCLA (Pac 10)

What to like: Coach Ben Howland has created a wicked defense, almost all of the players from last season's title contender return, and he has a great recruiting class to mix in.
Weaknesses: Replacing Aaron Afflalo, who shot 37.5% on threes and still hit 101 free-throws will be tough. Howland has to make the offense a little more efficient and balanced in order to win it all, but I think he will.
Who to watch: Michael Roll. Although everybody's crowing about Michael Westbrook's athleticism and Josh Shipp shifting back to the 2-spot, I think Roll's the best fit to replace Afflalo, and I think Howland will be smart enough to recognize that by the end of the season as well. Shipp is just not a guard, he doesn't have the mobility. Westbrook has a huge upside and his numbers should jump, but I think Roll's got the outside shooting, low-turnovers, and defensive rebounding that's going to blend well with the starting five. Super-freshman Kevin Love and Westbrook are going to have pundits raving about UCLA's bench, but the championship will depend on improved shooting from the Bruins. Any of the top five teams are a justifiable choice to go all the way, but I think the smart money's on UCLA.

2. Memphis (Conference USA)

What to like: Coach Calipari returns almost everybody from an incredible attacking team, and adds one the nation's top freshman, and Iowa State transfer 6-10 Shawn Taggart. They could have the pieces to go all the way.
Weaknesses: This team has very few weaknesses, but they could rebound better defensively, and they don't hit their free-throws. Low assists in a high-octane offense points to an individualistic offense, but it works.
Who to watch: Chris Douglas-Roberts deserve more media play. He's got the most complete game on the wing that you'll probably find in the nation. I'm not so hot on Joey Dorsey, but having Taggart on hand when Dorsey gets in foul trouble should help a lot. Robert Dozier has considerable talent, and will get his chances to shine this season. Reserve Doneal Mack might elbow his way into the starting five due to his stellar shooting. Watch the assists and turnovers as Derrick Rose replaces Jeremy Hunt. Will Rose create a more beautiful game in Memphis, or will his inexperience cost them a chance at the championship?

3. North Carolina (ACC)

What to like: The Tarheels were the best squad in the ACC by a long shot. Roy Williams is a fine coach and returns a good nucleus from a team great defense, and great offense.
Weaknesses: They didn't shoot from the arc very well, and that'll continue as they lost their best shooter, Reyshawn Terry. I think that without Brandan Wright, it'll be their inability to stop teams in the paint that'll undo them.
Who to watch: As the best team in ACC, UNC is going to get highlights, the headlines, and Tyler Hansbrough has an inside track to Player of the Year. And they will be good, and have a very good shot at the Final Four. But there's two reasons I think they don't win it all, and the first is that they don't have the shooters to spread the defense, and good teams will just pack it in against them. The second is that when Brandan Wright was out with foul trouble, the interior defense looked pretty weak. Sure, Hansbrough rebounds and the bench guys will step up, but there's no shot-blockers here.

4. Georgetown (Big East)

What to like: The Hoyas made a monster of team-stat machine look weak down the stretch when they thumped UNC in the Elite 8. Jeff Green will be missed, but everyone else returns to mount another title challenge.
Weaknesses: Georgetown turned the ball over way too much for a deliberately-paced team, and they were surprisingly bad at defensive rebounds, which probably won't get better without Green.
Who to watch: Who takes the place of Jeff Green up front? Roy Hibbert will dominate inside again, but Green's ability to handle the ball, run the offense, and create shots for himself and others will be hard to replicate. Both 6-8 DaJuan Summers and 6-9 Patrick Ewing Jr. can rebound, shoot, and pass, but Ewing shoots better from the three and turns the ball over a lot less. 6-9 Vernon Macklin has gotten a lot of hype, but so far hasn't shown that he'll earn more than role-player minutes. The backcourt returns intact, and picks up depth in hyped recruits Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Freeman may start if Coach Thompson needs more speed and ball-handling.

5. Tennessee (SEC)

What to like: Five returning starters add an instant sixth in Iowa transfer Tyler Smith. Bruce Pearl may be the least-popular coach in Division-I, but there's no denying his success.
Weaknesses: Defensive rebounding was a concern, and despite his size, Tyler Smith won't help. Pearl has to hope that a year of experience for his two big men will provide better interior defense.
Who to watch: Chris Lofton is a legitimate candidate for national player of the year on a team that can wrest the championship from any team ahead of them. The perimeter trio of Ramar Smith, JaJuan Smith, and Lofton will have to make room for Tyler Smith, although the transfer will probably see time at the 4-spot as well. Newcomers 6-6 Arizona transfer JP Prince and 6-5 frosh Cameron Tatum will carve out some minutes for themselves also, but the season probably hangs on the defensive improvement of sophomores 6-9 Wayne Chism and 6-7 Duke Crews. Crews has been suspended, but I'd guess he's back before long. I like this team a lot, but they have to make stops.

6. Louisville (Big East)

What to like: Rick Pitino has Louisville poised for one its best seasons of the last 20 years. This was a rather slow Pitino club, but that did seem to enable to cut down on turnovers.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals gave up a lot of free-throws, and the rebounding was sorta mediocre. Having Derrick Caracter for the whole season should help address any rebounding weaknesses, however.
Who to watch: Jerry Smith should get solid minutes now that steady hand Brandon Jenkins has moved on, and Smith can flat-out shoot it. With the right opportunities, he could pass Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa as the leading scorer. 6-8 guards Earl Clark and George Goode can both play four different spots, and could really add some teeth to any of Pitino presses.

7. Indiana (Big Ten)

What to like: A tough team returns elite center DJ White and adds arguably the nation's top recruiting class. Kelvin Sampson has the Hoosiers rising back to national prominence, if he can just stay off the phone.
Weaknesses: Chemistry. Will all the new talent coalesce into a team? Also, the defense wasn't that great last season... passable, but not championship caliber. Turnovers will bear watching with all of the new faces.
Who to watch: Eric Gordon ought to be amazing, but how Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis run the attack will determine the season, I think. Also, watch to see if the Sampson-phone drama starts to distract focus as the season rolls on. Otherwise, last-year's part-time starters Lance Stemler and Mike White might be shifted to the bench, with the Gordon and Ellis on the wing and Juco DeAndre Thomas maybe joining DJ White in the post.

8. Michigan State (Big Ten)

What to like: Tom Izzo just has a history of winning, and this veteran squad picked up exactly what it needed in the freshmen recruiting class: backcourt depth, speed, and instant offense off the bench.
Weaknesses: Offense. The turnovers last season were amazing in volume and as a spectacle, and in general the offense ran like a pick-up truck without an engine. I saw way too many 17-foot jump-shots by big men.
Who to watch: Drew Neitzel's the hero, but point guard Travis Walton is the question. Walton handled the point okay, but he seemed more like a guy who wrecks the other team's point than an offensive leader. Goran Suton often gave up minutes to Drew Naymick, but while both were solid enough at the high post, Izzo has to find a target in the paint besides small forward Raymar Morgan. Marquise Gray hasn't been able to give MSU what they need, but maybe redshirt freshman 7-0 Tom Herzog could surprise. The backcourt frosh trio of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Chris Allen may not start, but they should all help take the pressure off Neitzel.

9. Kansas (Big XII)

What to like: The per-possession production and defense was amazing. I really thought that this would be the team that could bump off Florida. Bill Self has built a winner here.
Weaknesses: When does Brandon Rush return and will he be completely recovered in time for the Big Dance? Does losing Julian Wright to the NBA gut the defense?
Who to watch: Darrell Arthur. If Kansas gets to the Final Four, it'll be on his back. Arthur wasn't as good on the defensive boards as Wright, but in everything else he was pretty comparable if not better. This'll be Arthur's last season at Lawrence. The guard crew is also pretty great (Robinson, Chalmers, and Collins) but unless Rodrick Stewart shows a lot of improvement, there's nobody who can guard opposing 3-spot forwards. Note to opposing Big 12 coaches- send your 3-man to the offensive glass when you play Kansas.

10. Butler (Horizon)

What to like: Four starters return from the a program that's becoming the Mid-Major standard-bearer. New coach Brad Stevens just has to let the vets run the show while blending the newcomers.
Weaknesses: The loss of Brandon Crone's unique combo of rugged inside play and outside shooting will be missed. With him and Brian Ligon gone, the new bigs must replace the production while
Who to watch: Transfer 6-8 Avery Jukes, Juco 6-9 Jermaine Raffington, and frosh 6-7 Matt Howard should step in provide exactly what Butler needs: better rebounding. Fifth-year senior Julian Betko should help give this veteran club some stability, but the stars are in the backcourt with AJ Graves and Mike Green. 6-7 Swingman Pete Campbell had an amazing shooting touch last season, but 6-7 Drew Streicher provides a little more all-around production. Reserve guard Willie Veasley looks ready for more minutes, and I think we'll see that freshman Matt Howard is one of the most under-rated freshman in the country.

Friday, October 26, 2007

2008 NCAA field of 65, teams 11-20

11. Washington State

What to like: Combine a wicked defense and team that refuses to cough up the ball, and you've got a recipe for success. They won't surprise anybody this season, they'll just win..
Weaknesses: They don't hit the offensive boards, but the outside shooting could improve a little. With Ivory Clark gone, the interior defense becomes a possible weakness as well.
Who to watch: Kyle Weaver's skill set should get some highlight love this season, but I think what to watch is if Aaron Barnes and Kyle Cowgill can play together in the paint for long stretches without getting in foul trouble. That would allow shooter Darven Hameling to shift to the 3 and Weaver and Low to play in the backcourt. I think it's the best combination, but a couple of quick fouls would put an end to that in any road game. 6-10 freshman Fabian Boeke could help a lot with depth at center if he's ready to play.

12. Texas A&M

What to like: This was one of the nation's toughest outs last season, and should be good again even with the loss of Coach Billy Gillespie and the heroic Acie Law.
Weaknesses: The Aggies didn't have many weaknesses last season. They gave up free-throws a little too often, but questions this season will be about replacing Law's playmaking.
Who to watch: 6-5 wing Josh Carter's going to be the first perimeter option, and how he responds to that will answer a lot of questions. Donald Sloan and Dominique Kirk will take over full-time backcourt duties, but replacing Law's shooting and production will be tough. 6-9 PF Joseph Jones may be the team's best player, but he'll probably be sharing the paint with blue-chip recruit 7-0 DeAndre Jordan. Jordan needs to be ready as A&M lost good depth in the paint to graduation as well.

13. Marquette

What to like: A surprise early, Marquette slumped a little down the stretch, but with all five starters back, coach Tom Crean ought to have another dangerous team this year.
Weaknesses: The ball control wasn't great, and the interior defense was the Big East's worst. The turnovers can be trimmed, but the deficiencies in the paint might be harder to address.
Who to watch: Dominic James nearly took his game to the NBA, but honestly he needs to show a little more shooting consistency before making the leap. 6-7 Trevor Mbakwe looks like the freshman who could help give the post a better rebounding presence. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are solid swingmen who do just about everything well except shoot threes. The best shooter on the team appears to be 6-9 Dan Fitzgerald, but if he or Ousmane Barro can show a little-back-to-the-basket game, these Eagles could be golden.

14. Southern Illinois

What to like: The defense, rebounding, & shot-selection of this club ought to be in coaching videos. The fundamentals of SIU make it a threat for the Sweet 16 seemingly every season.
Weaknesses: Turnovers. Somehow the Salukis don't hang onto the ball that well, and when you're one of the lowest posssession-per-game teams around, that really hurts.
Who to watch: Who's the playmaker on offense? Jamaal Tatum made big plays all last season, but he's gone now. I expected more out of swingman 6-3 Tyrone Green, and he'll certainly have opportunities to play that role, but otherwise minutes at the wing will fall to reserves Wesley Clemmons and Josh Bone. Matt Shaw and Randall Falker will do the job in the paint, and Bryan Mullins should run a steady offense. SIU recruited some height, but I wouldn't expect the freshmen to get much playing time this season.

15. Mississippi State

What to like: Jamont Gordon is a rare talent that plays point on offense and in the paint on defense. A good returning nucleus is poised to figure in the SEC race.
Weaknesses: The defense needs to be tightened up. The three-point FG defense wasn't fantastic last season, and they gave up too many offensive rebounds to foes.
Who to watch: Gordon's a special player, so watch him this year as he may not be around next season. The shot-blocking of Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnando will make opponents miserable in the lane. Barry Stewart is a solid scorer from the wing, but the guy everyone loves is Ben Hansbrough (brother of UNC's Tyler) who somehow dives and scraps and makes good things happen while he's on the floor.Louisville transfer 6-9 Brian Johnson will add depth and rebounding inside, and frosh 6-6 Ravern Johnson should add some O off the bench.

16. Clemson

What to like: An under-rated ACC squad last season should leapfrog from the NIT to second in the conference. Trevor Booker & James Mays are a nice 1-2 in the post.
Weaknesses: Shooting and rebounding. This is why this team fell into the NIT last season. The rebounding has to improve on both sides, and the FG% has got to tick up as well.
Who to watch: Cliff Hammonds' ability to play the point. If it weakens the Tiger's efficiency, freshman Demontez Stitt could help out a lot by taking over at lead guard. KC Rivers is set at one wing spot, and Sam Perry seems the most likely to start at the other if Hammonds is leading the attack. Don't be surprised if 6-2 frosh Terrence Oglesby contributes as well.

17. Gonzaga

What to like: Gonzaga in November of 2006. The Bulldogs started out 8-1 before losing 5 of the next 6. Maybe having more bigs available will get this year will create some consistency.
Weaknesses: GU turned it over a little much & the three-point defense wasn't fantastic, also gave up a few too many free-throws. See how they deal with the loss of star Derek Raivio.
Who to watch: Josh Heytvelt was a star on the rise until he stupidly got suspended for the year. With him and 6-9 transfer Theo Davis in for the whole season, Gonzaga should be able to play Micah Downs on the wing more and Abdulliah Kuso more as a role player. Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin are a pair of play-makers that are fun to watch, and the whole recruiting class is top-notch. 6-9 wing Austin Daye has the biggest upside, but don't be surprised in 6-4 Ira Brown makes a bigger impact this season.

18. Arkansas

What to like: No offseason losses, and despite some coach-hiring-drama, this is a sweet-16 capable club. If new coach John Pelphrey can tweak the offense while keeping the defense tight, look out!
Weaknesses: The turnovers troubles were very similar to Michigan State's problems, and perhaps a year of experience will get them to hold onto the ball. The three-point FG% could improve, too, but it's all about the giveaways.
Who to watch: All five starters are back as well as six seniors return to the rotation. 6-10 Darrian Townes might be the guy who gets more PT this season, but Sonny Weems is probably the guy who could have the biggest breakout season on the hightlight reels as the strategy shifts to "40 minutes of Pel."

19. Stanford

What to like: The Cardinal continue to climb back to the dominance they once had. The Lopez twins were the story, but 6-8 PF Larry Hill had an amazing year, and 6-4 Anthony Goods was pretty decent on the wing, too.
Weaknesses: This team isn't great at shooting, but that gets mitigated a little by good offensive rebounding. What kills this team and has to improve is turnovers, and the interior passing seems to be a big problem.
Who to watch: Freshman 6-8 Josh Owens will get a chance to prove himself while Brook Lopez tries to get eligible for the second semester. Watch Larry Hill to see if his dramatic improvement was a sign that he's going to be the next Tom Gugliotta, or if it was just a one-year aberration. Point guard play is probably the most lacking, and if Mitch Johnson can't be a threat, look for Kenny Brown take over.

20. Davidson

What to like: Davidson went 29-5 last season and returns their top ten players. Stephen Curry's 21.5ppg makes him the 4th-leading returning scorer in all of Division-I.
Weaknesses: Just the things that every coach tells every team: turn the ball over a little less, foul a little less, shoot a bit better. Only the number of foes' free-throws is really a concern.
Who to watch: This isn't just Curry and a bunch of shlubs. Three other players averaged double digit scoring last year, one of which was 6-2 point guard Jason Richards who also put 7.3 assists per game as well. The only starter who didn't average double figures was wing Max Paulhus Gosselin, who shot 40% on threes and 50% overall. 6-8 big men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno are solid inside, and there's good depth at every spot except at the point, which makes Curry slide over when Richards is sitting.

Monday, October 22, 2007

2008 NCAA field of 65, teams 21-30

21.Connecticut (Big East)

What to like: The Huskies return their top 11 players, and last season showed flashes of the dangerous team that you know Jim Calhoun's going to make them into.
Weaknesses: Well, they couldn't hang on to the ball and couldn't shoot it when they had it. When they got fouled, they only hit 61% as a team! Simple things that need improvement.
Who to watch: Stanley Robinson has an inside-outside game that you think is going to take him to the NBA, but he just disappeared sometimes. Look for more consistency this season. Also, Craig Austrie and Doug Wiggins maybe should be your starting backcourt as they don't turn the ball over and aren't embarassing from beyond the arc.

22. Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial)

What to like: The surprise of the first-round of the 2007 NCAA tourney loses a couple of contributors, but should return enough to capture the CAA crown & return to the Field of 65.
Weaknesses: The Rams lose two of their three top scorers, but defense was the concern last season. They weren't great at defending the three, and gave up a lot of free-throws, too.
Who to watch: Point guard Eric Maynor is the name here, so he's the one that'll be on the highlights, but wings Jamal Shuler and TJ Gwynn are going to have to replace the lost point production of the departed seniors. Freshmen 6-8 Kirill Pischalnikov, 6-6 Lance Kearse, and 6-9 Larry Sanders will be relied on (overly so?) for frontcourt depth.

23. Saint Joseph's (Atlantic Ten)

What to like: Phil Martelli tends to build up a St. Joe's team to A-10 dominance every two-three years. St. Joe's was 18-14 (9-7) last year, and is poised for a strong year.
Weaknesses: They need to tighten up the ball control, hit the defensive glass a little better, but mostly they just need to shoot better.
Who to watch: 6-9 Ahmad Nivins is one of the nation's premier post players. 6-10 Pat Calathes is a tough match-up, and Rob Ferguson fills out the frontcourt nicely. The backcourt needs to improve their assist/turnover ratio, particularly Dj Rivera. Unless Rivera improves his shooting, he may find his minutes dwindling in favor of Darren Govens and Garrett Williamson anyway. Also, 6-5 Iowa State transfer Tasheed Carr could bust his way into the starting line-up, too. True freshman 6-7 Idrias Hilliard may need a year to adjust, but keep an eye on him in the future.

24. Duke (ACC)

What to like: Well, honestly, I'm not that high on these guys, but they're Duke. This ranking is entirely due to my respect for Coach Krzyzewski. He'll keep this club afloat.
Weaknesses: The possessions killed the offense last season. Although they hit the defensive glass, the Devils then turned the ball over a lot, and didn't get offensive rebounds.
Who to watch: Although Kyle Singler is being ridiculously hailed as "already better" than McRoberts by the Cameron Crazies, he's a Mike Dunleavy-type who won't be able to bang inside like McRoberts did. The guy to watch should be center Bryan Zoubek, who at 7-1 could provide the paint presence that is sorely needed. Of course, if Greg Paulus can't get him the ball, then it won't matter anyway. Scorer DeMarcus Nelson should have a good year, but I was impressed with Jon Scheyer's heady play last year.

25. Auburn (SEC)

What to like: This is a team that actually returns everyone, and any club that manages to start running more while cutting down turnovers is one to fear.
Weaknesses: Last year Auburn didn't defend threes (or very much at all, but threes are the biggest problem) and they turned it over while not shooting two's very well either.
Who to watch: Well, everyone. Auburn returns five double-digit scorers, not counting their starting point guard's 8.3ppg/4.9apg. 7-1 frosh Bouboucar Sylla should give them some limited minutes off the bench, but if Korvortney Barber can start hitting free-throws (44% last season-ouch!), he might be a star inside (61% on FGs & 1.6bpg).

26. Illinois (Big Ten)

What to like: This was a team that had more bad luck than perhaps anybody in the nation last year hung tough & made it in the NCAA tourney. A little luck/health this year, & look out!
Weaknesses: The offense was dismal in-conference, as only Minnesota & Northwestern were worse. The shooting was bad, and their best scorer (Warren Carter) is now gone.
Who to watch: Despite losing the high-profile recruit Eric Gordon at the last minute, this incoming class is nothing to sneeze at. Guards Demetri McCamey and Quinton Watkins could add the pop off the bench that Bruce Weber has been looking for, and sophomore Richard Semrau should be starting at power forward. Multi-dimensional reserve Calvin Brock should probably be getting more minutes this season, but the health of Brian Randle will make or break this season for the Illini.

27. Kent State (MAC)

What to like: Last season, KSU was a MAC title contender, and gained enough in the offseason that it looks like they can make the jump to be a dangerous match-up in the NCAA's.
Weaknesses: Inside play was the bane of Kent St. last year, as they couldn't get inside and get free-throws, and couldn't hit them when they did. That needs to change.
Who to watch: If 7-0 juco Gabriel Garcia can handle starting minutes in the post, 6-7 Hamnin Quiantance can move back to the 3 or 4-spots where he can take better advantage of his athleticism against defenders. Juco's 6-6 Rashad Woods and 6-1 Korey Spates could step into starting roles, but there 's a whole lot of scrappers here. A darkhorse for the Sweet 16!

28. Ohio State (Big Ten)

What to like: The national runners-up lost the best players they had to the NBA, but the vets and recruits will be ably led by Thad Matta and his coach on the floor, Jamar Butler.
Weaknesses: This will be a different team without Mike Conley, Greg Oden, and Ron Lewis' heroics. Watch the turnovers this season,
Who to watch: Everyone's saying David Lighty and super-frosh Kosta Koufos are the stars, but don't be surprised if Matta makes hay with senior Othello Hunter. Hunter's per-possession production was great last season, and you should see a big jump in his numbers. Jamar Butler will bore you with his efficient running of the offense, but one of the 6-7 freshman wings (John Diebler, Evan Turner, Eric Wallace) needs to be able to hit the three-ball to give the offense some spacing.

29. Pittsburgh (Big East)

What to like: Jamie Dixon has kept the beat going & crafted a team mentality that claws for every point. Levance Fields, Mike Cook, and Ronald Ramon return as starters.
Weaknesses: There's not a lot of firepower left here after graduation has left more scrappers than shooters. Pitt's also kinda small in the paint now, and that could hurt them.
Who to watch: The reserves. Good backcourt depth returns, but a lot more will be asked of 6-2 Keith Benjamin, 6-6 Sam Young, and 6-8 Tyrell Biggs. Young and Biggs need to be productive starters in the post, but 6-10 frosh Cassin Diggs could be starting by the end of the year, and newcomers 6-7 Dejuan Blair and 6-10 Gary McGhee should add depth.

30. San Diego State (Mountain West)

What to like: Steve Fisher has made SDSU into a power in the MWC. Lorenzo Wade is a rising star, and has a nice combo of vets and recruits to help on another title run.
Weaknesses: Depth is certainly one concern, as is replacing the top three players on last years' squad. The offensive efficiency has got to improve.
Who to watch: Marquette transfer Ryan Amoroso and Juco Kelvin Davis. They should step into starting spots right away, and should be capable enough to let Wade shine offensively. Raw 6-0 freshman DJ Gay is the only depth in the backcourt, so that could be a problem in conference road games.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

2008 NCAA field of 65, teams 31-40

31. Florida (SEC)

What to like: Two-time NCAA champions managed to pull Billy Donovan back from the clutches of the NBA, and still put together one the nation's best recruiting classes.
Weaknesses: Obviously, we're not talking about the same teams as last season. Walter Hodge and Marreese Speights should start, but Hodge will probably do better as an off-guard.
Who to watch: Three freshman should probably start, and it'll be some combo of 6-6 Nick Calathes, 6-8 Alex Tyus, 6-8 Chandler Parsons, and 5-11 Jai Lucas. If Lucas can start, that'll probably help Hodge's offense, which will take pressure of the freshmen to execute. Adam Allen is the overlooked freshman who will contribute off the bench, but you can put money on Speights being the star.

32. Wisconsin (Big Ten)

What to like: Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in basketball, and he has most of last year's top-ten team to mold into another competitor. Brian Butch has to have a big year.
Weaknesses: Replacing Big Ten POY Alando Tucker will be really difficult, as he manufactured shots out of nowhere. The offensive rebounding wasn't great, and they didn't hit their free-throws last season.
Who to watch: Marcus Landry might see his numbers rise significantly, but Michael Flowers should be the motor that this team runs on. If Butch can't use his height, Greg Stiemsma will probably get the call inside. Redshirt 6-11 JP Gavinski may seem to come "out of nowhere" to surprise the talking heads, but I think the key to the Badgers' season will rest on the shooting of wings Joe Krabbenhoft and Jason Bohannon.

33. Virginia (ACC)

What to like: The Cavaliers had the second-best conference record in the ACC, and Sean Singletary's return should drive an experienced team back to the Field of 65.
Weaknesses: The Cavs had the easiest schedule, and were not as good as their record. Without scorer JR Reynolds, Virginia's going to have a harder time getting good shots, which was already a big problem last season.
Who to watch: Big things are expected of frosh wing 6-4 Jeff Jones, but fellow freshmen Mustapha Farrakhan and Sam Zeglinski are no slouches either. 6-9 reserves Jamil Tucker and Ryan Pettinella have a chance at replacing Jason Cain in the middle, and one of them develops a low-post game, that could help the offense a lot. Turnovers were a problem last season, and maybe a year of experience will help the whole squad cut down on those.

34. Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)

What to like: The Panthers were a decent team last season, and seem like they should be poised to nudge out Creighton and Missouri State for an at-large bid to the NCAA's.
Weaknesses: Grant Stout was a great defensive presence in the paint. Replacing that will be tough, but the offense needs to be tightened up. They can survive without being great on the boards, but not without better shooting.
Who to watch: Eric Coleman will be the motor of the offense, but NIU needs a playmaker to replace Brooks McKowen. There's good shooters returning (with the exception of Travis Brown- not sure why he's a starter), but Iowa transfer Carlton Reed might be the answer once he bounces back from a broken foot. In the meantime, watch reserve Kwadzo Ahelegbe's ability to run an offense. 7-1 Jordan Egsleder is poised for a breakout year, too.

35. Kansas State (Big XII)

What to like: A revitalized KSU went deep into the postseason NIT, and then added the McDonald's All-American game MVP Michael Beasley. If not now, when do the Wildcats make the Big Dance?
Weaknesses: The interior defense was not great, and the Wildcats' shooting was terrible. Coach Frank Martin has to be hoping the Beasley can change both of these for the better.
Who to watch: Bill Walker. A blue-chip recruit that was supposed to be eligibile this season, Walker graduated high school a semester early, but only played 7 games before getting hurt. A healthy Walker combined with Beasley and touted recruit 6-4 Dominique Sutton ought to make up for the loss of three starters. If Blake Young can step up to start alongside Clent Stewart and star David Hoskins, the perimeter attack would be steady again.

36. Providence (Big East)

What to like:A solid Friars squad should have enough to get to the NCAA tourney even with the loss of star center Herbert Hill. Of the second tier of Big East teams, I'm betting on Providence to be the most consistent.
Weaknesses: The three-point shooting has to improve, and even with Hill, Providence had terrible interior defense last season, and the FG% defense and defensive rebounding has to get better.
Who to watch: Weyinmi Efejuku is poised to make the Sportscenter highlights, but how transfer Jeff Xavier blends with point guards Sharraud Curry and Dwain Williams bears watching. Jonathan Kale will probably take Hill's starting spot, but if 6-11 Ray Hall could make a Hibbert-like improvement and contribute in the middle, Providence would a dangerous NCAA tournament team.

37. North Carolina State (ACC)

What to like: The Wolfpack was perhaps the surprise team of the ACC last season, and should be able to build on that success. Brandon Costner & Ben McCauley were a vicious 1-2 post presence.
Weaknesses: With the loss Engin Atsur, a steady hand to run the offense is badly needed. Efficiency was a problem (and that's a BIG red flag), as turnovers and a lack of rebounding at either end shackled this team.
Who to watch: Gavin Grant should now have the immigration problems behind him and should the go-to guy of the offense. With Blue-Chipper JJ Hickson giving depth to the frontcourt, skinny 6-9 shooter Dennis Horner ought be able to see more minutes on the wind. But the single position to watch is the point guard spot. Frosh 6-0 Javi Gonzalez, should see minutes, but I think transfer 6-3 Farnold Degand may be the starter.

38. Oregon (Pacific 10)

What to like: An elite-eight squad returns almost everyone and looks to gun their way to another succesful season. Malik Hairston has his last chance to convince NBA scouts he's worthy of a draft pick.
Weaknesses: This wasn't a particularly fast team, and Aaron Brooks was the go-to man in the clutch, and finding someone to fill that role is the top priority for coach Ernie Kent. The defense needs to tighten a little, too.
Who to watch: Both freshmen 6-7 Drew Viney and 6-2 Kamyron Brown will have chances to contribute from the start. Hairston and mighty mite 5-6 Tajuan Porter will be the top scorers, but wing Bryce Taylor should be watched as well. Marty Leunen should finally get some help inside as 6-6 Joevan Catron appears to be ready to step into the starting line-up.

39. Georgia (SEC)

What to like: Most everyone returns from a team that was on the edge of qualifying for an at-large NCAA bid, and they add a solid recruiting class. The Big Dance seems a certainty.
Weaknesses: The weaknesses on this team were very specific. They didn't defend the three very well, and they weren't good at shooting free-throws. Hopefully, the coaching staff can address these deficiencies.
Who to watch: Well, just about everyone go suspended to start the season. If they respond well to the challenge, this could be a really tough team. Or they could tank. Takias Brown is the star inside, and recruits Jeremy Price, Chris Barnes, and Jeremy Jacob should shore up the inside depth. Keep an eye on 7-footer Rashad Singleton's progress, but 6-6 wing Terrance Woodbury is the one who should get more minutes.

40. Notre Dame (Big East)

What to like: A good nucleus highlighted by three double-digit scorers return from one of the Big East's best teams last season. Having Kyle McAlarney for the fullseason ought to be a boost as well.
Weaknesses: This team did lose its top two scorers. Also, the defense wasn't great and for all the beef inside, ND was one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big East.
Who to watch: The wings. McAlarney can take one spot, but reserve Ryan Ayers or raw frosh Ty Proffit might be pressed into action before they're ready. The post will be the focal point of the offense, with Luke Harangody needing to step up to stardom. Forward Rob Kurz gets overlooked, but the man puts up points both inside and behind the arc.

Friday, October 19, 2007

2008 NCAA field of 65, teams 41-50

41. Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)

What to like: Five starters return from a 22-win club that should be enough of force in the Sun Belt to secure a NCAA berth even without winning the conference tourney.
Weaknesses: A few things weren't great. Defensive FG%, defensive rebounding, and too many turnovers. Experience can help with some of this, but the bigs need to step up the D.
Who to watch: Courtney Lee's health and fitness. The 6-5 forward either led or was in the top three of every major category for the Hilltoppers, so you never would have suspected that he wasn't in top form. If he's fully back as expected, look out Sun Belt! 6-9 sophomore Jeremy Evans could also help a lot if he's been refining his game over the summer.

42. Minnesota (Big Ten)

What to like: The major offseason coup was getting Tubby Smith on board. Smith has succeeded wherever he's gone, and this roster should be a good fit for his style of play.
Weaknesses: This was a pretty lousy team last season. Everything's got to improve, tho the defense wasn't horrible.
Who to watch: Center Spencer Tollackson was poised to become a premier center before injuries set him back last season. If he's recovered, Tubby should be able to use the talent on the roster to clear space for him to punish Big Ten foes. Forward Dan Coleman has a nice game, but I bet Brandon Smith get more minutes, surprising non-stat crunchers.

43. Missouri (Big XII)

What to like: Coach Mike Anderson arrived and revived this flailing club with his trapping defenses. Most of the roster returns, and should make the jump to the field of 65.
Weaknesses: The dismissal of Kalen Grimes will hurt their inside depth. He was the best rebounder (5.6rpg in 16.7mpg) on a club that had little inside defense.
Who to watch: Center Leo Lyons has got to improve on defense inside, and will probably be key to adding some stability. A little more panache could be seen this season as transfer 6-7 Demarre Carroll becomes eligible, and could make a Derrick Byars-like splash in the Big 12.

44. New Mexico State (Western Athletic)

What to like: Perhaps the Aggies' most talented team ever will take the floor. A great recruiting class is added to a solid team to create the most-talented 2008 WAC team.
Weaknesses: The loss of coach Reggie Theus and then star forward Tyrone Nelson was an auspicious 1-2 punch to the beginning of what had looked like a great year.
Who to watch: Freshmen Herb Pope and Troy Gillenwater will be crucial in supplying the needed presence at the 4-spot that missing with Nelson's dismissal, but what to watch carefully is the success of whoever takes over shooting guard. Reserve Jonathan Gibson and Juco Paris Carter are the prime candidates.

45. UAB (Conference-USA)

What to like: A solid returning nucleus is joined by one of Mike Davis' top recruiting classes. There's a lot of talent here, and they should be able to nab second-place in the C-USA.
Weaknesses: The outside shooting was dreadful last season, but every Davis offense seems to hang on to the ball too long, just getting unnecessarily bogged down.
Who to watch: Indiana transfer Rob Vaden was on his way to stardom in the Big Ten, & that should continue here. Chemistry's going to be a big question, and if Mike Davis doesn't take this club to the NCAA tournament this year, I don't think his stay at UAB will be a terribly successful or long one. Paul Delaney should be the most fun to watch, but the combo of Lawrence Kinnard and Walter Sharpe inside will in all likelihood be the biggest determinant of success.

46. Texas (Big XII)

What to like: Almost everyone except Kevin Durant returns from surprisingly strong 2006 campaign. And Coach Barnes nabbed a number of top recruits yet again.
Weaknesses: Weakness on the wing was already a concern before freshman Gary Johnson started having health problems. And the loss of Kevin Durant hurts.
Who to watch: Justin Mason. The 6-2 wing is the only proven option at small forward right now, and with DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams starting in the backcourt, the height average outside of the paint for the Longhorns starters will be UNDER six feet. While there's a ton of talented height, can anyone from the bench spell this outside trio?

47. George Mason (Colonial Athletic)

What to like: Several core players return from the amazing 2006 run to the Final Four, and there's enough old experience and new help to bounce back from last year's lackluster campaign.
Weaknesses: This team wasn't terrible at anything last season except shooting free-throws, and was even in the postseason discussion late.
Who to watch: Folarain Campbell and Will Thomas. These guys are winners, and should take advantage of the overall slide of the CAA. This club probably isn't tough enough to knock off VCU, but should rack up enough quality wins to earn an at-large nod. The newcomer to watch is Vlad Moldoveanu. Is he another underrated foreign big man?

48. Kentucky (Southeastern)

What to like: Billy Gillespie has whipped up the Kentucky fans into a frenzy of anticipation. The media has followed along, but I think the Wildcats are barely a NCAA tourney squad.
Weaknesses: Well, the only returning post player, Perry Stevenson is 6-9, 178 pounds, and averaged 2ppg. Patrick Patterson will probably see too many minutes and get very little help.
Who to watch: The backcourt. Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are fine players, but there aren't any great shooters here. If frosh wing Alex Legion shows a touch, he might bump Jodie Meeks from the starting five. Guard-forward Derrick Jasper's health is important to watch, as he might be pressed into action the 4-spot.

49. Arizona (Pacific Ten)

What to like: Chase Budinger and some top recruits will be harnessed by Lute Olson, and survive a quite tough PAC-10 conference enough to get into the Big Dance.
Weaknesses: Despite being a darling of computer ratings last season, the Wildcats went 5-4 at home in conference play. That's not toughness.
Who to watch: Budinger is electric, but super recruits Jarryd Bayless and Jamelle Horne might carve out starting spots, but the real questions marks are at center and point guard. Will 5-10 Nic Wise live up to predictions that he's ready to run the offense full-time ? Is 6-11 Kirk Walters healthy and able to boost the post defense again? If not, can the wiry Jordan Hill hold down the center spot? These are questions that matter.

50. South Alabama (Sun Belt)

What to like: This 2007 NIT club looks to make the jump to the NCAA 65, but may need to win the conference tourney to do so. This deep experienced club could make it at-large, tho.
Weaknesses: Interior defense. Especially for a low-tempo club, securing rebounds has got to improve. 6-7 Brandon Davis may get the starting spot to address this need.
Who to watch: Juco Dominique Tilford was once a highly-rated recruit, and should be able to help a lot in the backcourt. Otherwise, 6-9 Ernest Little is pretty good inside, and clears room for star player 6-5 Demetrius Bennett to go to work.

Hello, my name is Devin...

And I'm a college basketball addict. Other sports (Soccer, NBA, NFL) are fun to watch, but nothing really gets the wheels turning in my head like college basketball.

I've renamed the blog, and posted my thoughts why sportsbloggers should be writing, and should now introduce myself. My name is Devin, I work with information in an academic setting, I'm very happily married, and I'm also going to grad school at a Big Ten university (not Indiana, where I got my BA in History and love of the game).

I don't see as many games as Kyle Whelliston, but for stats I borrow heavily from him and Ken Pomeroy (trying to cite when I do), and the direction of the blog was originally to be a personal rundown of Hoosier sports, but then took a turn after reading John Gasaway's now-defunct "Big Ten Wonk." Gasaway is now working on a more ambitious project, but his good work is not forgotten.

Why did I rename this blog? Well, my wife was not a fan of the clunky name, and truthfully, neither was I. The address remains the same, the beat goes on, but hopefully the title is a little better. However, what the heck is a chronotope? Mikhail Bakhtin coined the term,and it means basically "time-space." I thought it was appropriate for sportswriting, as Bakhtin refers to the "intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature” So, an writer must create entire worlds and, in doing so, is forced to make use of the organizing categories of the real world. So, as we watch sports and write about them, we first have to interpret the way that things happen, and in writing, convey that logic and/or meaning of these sporting events to our audience.

Clear as mud?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

2007 NCAA teams 51-65

51. Xavier (Atlantic 10)

What to like: The sterling backcourt of Stanley Burrell and Drew Lavender gets a boost with Manhattan transfer CJ Anderson, which should snag the last at-large bid.
Weaknesses: Justin Doellman's loss may be crippling for the post defense. That guy, and departed forward Justin Cage, were scrappers.
Who to watch: Anderson, of course, but power forward Derrick Brown should step into a starting role. This guy can grab boards, and the only returnee who showed any ability at this center Brandon Cole. 6-6 BJ Raymond could see time at either forward spot, and 6-5 Dante Jackson could also contribute right away.

52. Weber State (Big Sky)

What to like: Last year's Big Sky champs should repeat thanks to a good returning nucleus and great recruiting class, headlined by Jucos Nate Brumfield and Johnny McLawhorn.
Weaknesses: David Patten is a tough loss. One of those guys who did a little of everything, he'll be missed by a team who's interior defense was already suspect.
Who to watch: The best of auto-bids, the conference tourney will still be paramount to Weber State's chances of a NCAA berth. Look for Brumfield & McLawhorn to shine in Big Sky play. Juan Pablo Silveira's playmaking will be the most fun to watch, but Dezmon Harris needs hang to the ball better.

53. Holy Cross (Patriot)

What to like: Tim Clifford will carry this club to the top, even as the whole of the Patriot League takes a downturn this season, & the Holy Cross-Bucknell oligarchy becomes shaky.
Weaknesses: Losing Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas will make life a lot harder on Clifford. Doherty should keep the backcourt steady, but the perimeter defense becomes a worry.
Who to watch: Alex Vanderbaan and Kyle Cruze. If they can handle minutes on the wing, the Crusaders will be fine. Otherwise, frosh guard 6-3 Andrew Beinart will be pressed into action, perhaps before he's ready.

54. California-Santa Barbara (Big West)

What to like: The Gauchos get almost everyone back and add IPFW transfer DJ Posley, who might be able to take over PG duties right away.
Weaknesses: This was a slow team last season, and was only okay on protecting the ball. A low-possession team that doesn't offensively rebound has got to protect the ball better.
Who to watch: The inside-outside game of Alex Harris & Chris Devine. Harris has the sort of 2-guard game that the NBA scouts love, and could shine in March.

55. Sacred Heart (NEC)

What to like: The return of 6-6 forward Ryon Howard should help nullify the loss of last year's top player (Jarrid Frye), and the balanced roster should dominate the NEC.
Weaknesses: Size would appear to be a weakness, but they've got 7-0 Liam Potter apparently ready for more minutes. The rebounding and FG% defense need to get better.
Who to watch: Howard & Potter for sure to see if they can improve an unimpressive defense, but also guard Drew Shubik has a nifty all-around game, & should be fun to watch.

56. Belmont (Atlantic Sun)

What to like: In what might be a bit of a down year for the A-Sun conference, Belmont's backcourt seems poised to direct them to the conference crown and a NCAA berth.
Weaknesses: Clubs don't often lose two 6-10 players from their rotation and remain in title contention. But ball control may be a bigger worry for the Bruins.
Who to watch: 6-3 Justin Hare could well capture A-Sun Player of the year honors, but the two players to watch are probably junior point guard Henry Harris and his assist/turnover ratio, and sophomore back-up post 6-9 Keaton Belcher. They've got to give Hare, wing Andy Wicke and center Matthew Dotson the support needed to win.

57. High Point (Big South)

What to like: The Panthers return almost everyone from the second-best Big South squad. With Winthrop's dominant nucleus finally graduated, the smart money is now on these guys.
Weaknesses: A pretty decent defense was only mediocre in the paint. If you're playing these guys, pound the ball inside and go after the offensive rebounds!
Who to watch: The undersized Arizona Reid may remind you of Alando Tucker, but the guy to watch might well be 6-11 sophomore Cruz Daniels, who's got upside written all over him.

58. Rider (MAAC)

What to like: Jason Thompson. This 6-10 senior averaged an amazing per game line last year (20ppg/10rpg/2apg/2bpg). NBA scouts will be at Rider games this year.
Weaknesses: Defense. As a team they didn't rebound very well, and their FG% defense was some of the worst in the MAAC. Losing a point guard always begets questions as well.
Who to watch: It'll be hard to watch anyone but Jason Thompson, but the team has to hit the boards and play better defense, if Rider's to live up to its potential. Soph Ryan Thompson does a little of everything, & could be a real threat. Also frosh 6-7 Mike Ringold & 6-1 Justin Robinson could put this team out of reach if they're ready for meaningful minutes.

59. IUPUI (Summit)

What to like: An average Mid-Continent team returns 2 starters that missed most of last season, and is posed to capture the inaugral Summit championship.
Weaknesses: It's pretty simple. The Jaguars need to shoot a little better, and get their opponents to shoot worse, especially from beyond the arc.
Who to watch: George Hill & Fred Kounkorgo. The team's best scorer and starting power forward missed almost all last year. If these guys are healthy, this is the conference's premier team.

60. Austin Peay (OVC)

What to like: By most measures, Austin Peay was the best OVC squad last season. Look for the Governors to be on a mission to get to the Big Dance this year.
Weaknesses: Defensive rebounding. The interior defense is perhaps the one major flaw, and defensive rebounding was the OVC's worst.
Who to watch: Pint-sized Derek Wright is a solid scorer and runs the offense while nabbing 2spg. Also, reserve Wes Channels will probably make the team better in his new starting role.

61. Columbia (Ivy)

What to like: Big Red brings back the nucleus of an efficient offense and strong defense, and adds a balanced group of newcomers. Louis Dale & Ryan Wittman are amazing 3-point sharpshooters.
Weaknesses: Losing Andrew Naeve could cause a drop in the interior defense, and losing point Graham Dow could cause problems in ball control.
Who to watch: 7-0 Jeff Foote. If he can fill the bill in the middle for Cornell, sophomores Dale and Wittman will run rampant in the Ivy league. Guard Colin Robinson could work into the starting five also.

62. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)

What to like: A deep experienced squad returns five starters, and adds the conference's best recruiting class. Josh Alexander & Matt Kingsley may be an unstoppable inside-outside 2-man game in the Southland.
Weaknesses: The Lumberjacks did lose the next three most productive players which will hurt the solid rotation. Also, the shooting overall needs to improve.
Who to watch: 6-9 Benson Akpan should make an instant splash in the Southland. If he can provide a back-to-basket presence, the field-goal defense should improve. A real play-maker is still lacking, so watch guards Will Johnson and Gerald Fonzie and their ability to create shots for others. If Johnson can improve on his 21% shooting from behind the arc, that might create more space for the offense to oeprate.

63. Vermont (America East)

What to like: The Catamounts dominated their league last season, and will be looking for revenge in the conference tourney this season on their closest competitor, Albany.
Weaknesses: I was a hair away from picking Albany as AmEast title fave. It should be another great battle for AmEast supremacy, even if the teams are a little less good this season.
Who to watch: 6-10 Freshman Pat Bergman could step in and help shore up the loss of center Chris Holm, but guard Mike Trimboli's the returning star and 6-8 Colin McIntosh is a rising star. This team's only weakness is that they turn the ball over too much. Well, that and that they're the best team in the America East.

64. Hampton (MEAC)

What to like: A solid MEAC club returns all of their starters and adds some recruits with good height this season. Rashad West, Mike Freeman, and Matthew Pilgrim are a great 1-2-3.
Weaknesses: Turnovers. The whole team was bad, and they really need their set-up man (Vincent Simpson) to cut down on them.
Who to watch: Rashad West is a great shooter and ought be a lot of fun to watch, but Freeman, Pilgrim, and Simpson could all make big jumps in productivity and efficiency in their sophomore seasons. It's doubtful that the 6-10 Milade Lola-Charles or Juco 6-9 Donte Harrison get into the starting five, but they could play really big off the bench.

65. Grambling State (SWAC)

What to like: A solid group of returnees from a 3rd-place SWAC club should have a good inside-outside balance and perhaps the conference's best point guard, Andre Ratliff.
Weaknesses: Well, for a club that ranked in the 300's in most RPI's, there's obviously a lot. But in-conference their opponents' high 2pt FG% was the killer, and needs to be addressed.
Who to watch: 6-7 Martez Stevens, who came off the bench to be the arguably best rebounder and shot-blocker on the team. However, 2.4ppg impresses noone. If Stevens can shake off his Rodman-like refusal to shoot and get close to 30mpg, GSU's interior defense could get a nice boost.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Way to kill a nice buzz, coach

Thanks Sampson, for killing a nice buzz about the upcoming Hoosier season.

What is it with this guy and phone calls? It's like a three-year-old who just won't get his hands out of his pants.

C'mon, man. Knock it off!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

NIT 2007, teams 17-32

Penn State (Big 10)

What to like: The Nittany Lions return their best 5 players and add perhaps the best recruiting they've ever scored.
Weakness: Defense. PSU isn't as bad a team as the Big Ten made them look last season, but that defense has got to improve.
Who to watch: Geary Claxton. A better player than Alando Tucker, he deserves a NCAA tourney appearance, but his support might not be enough. Watch the recruits, and also the redshirts 6-8 Andrew Jones and 6-6 David Jackson. Jackson especially posses the mindset and intangibles to improve this team's defense.

Purdue (Big 10)

What to like: A great group of freshmen will join scrappers Chris Kramer and Gordon Watt, and get more wins than they should.
Weakness: Not a whole lot returns from last season outside of Kramer and Watt, and the frosh will have to pick up defensive schemes in a hurry.
Who to watch: JaJuan Johnson and Etwuann Moore. These two will have to be starters right away, and will have to be able to play and not throw the ball away if the Boilers are to have any chance of a postseason.

Rhode Island (Atlantic 10)

What to like: A lot of old faces and a couple of quality adds should equal a strong push for a NCAA berth. Coach's son Jimmy Baron is a top point guard.
Weakness: The Ram were more mediocre than fantastic last season, and some of this will probably continue. The frontcourt needs to hang onto the ball better.
Who to watch: Newcomers 6-9 Juco Jason Francis and 6-6 transfer Ben Eaves could carve out a starting spot by the end of the year. Will Daniels is the star, though.

Saint Mary's (WCC)

What to like: 6-11 Omar Samhan is a rising star. A solid defensive team, the Gaels should be the second-best squad in the WCC.
Weakness: The offense wasn't impressive, and the WCC is not known for its defense. If Samhan continuse to improve, this could be solved.
Who to watch: Samhan and forward Diamon Simpson. If Simpson can improve a little outside, this could be a devastating 1-2 punch.

Southern California (Pacific 10)

What to like: Arguably the nation's top recruiting class and few valuable pieces from last year's NCAA team.
Weakness: Emphasis on the "few" in players from last season. Most folks left, and while the role players should be able to support the freshmen, there's no veteran leadership.
Who to watch: OJ Mayo, of course. Often considered the best player in the class, his stock dropped when people started talking about his selfishness. It's time to prove how good he is.

Southern Mississippi (Conference USA)

What to like: Everybody returns, and a solid recruiting class gives Larry Eustachy options to improve on a 20-win season.
Weakness: Last year's team was held back largely due to mediocre shooting and a lack of consistent post options.
Who to watch: Kevin Branch is the freshmen to watch, but the real key to the season will be bigs Demar Dotson, Gijo Bain, and Andre Stephens. If Bain can contribute anything other than blocked shots, the Golden Eagles can take a real step forward. Guard Jeremy Wise needs held, and Craig Craft has the shooting eye to take the heat off of him.

Syracuse (Big East)

What to like: A wicked recruiting class, some solid vets, and Jimmy Boeheim's own magic that keeps the Orange always in the postseason.
Weakness: There's a lack of reliable scoring or interior depth. Newcomers will have to fill the middle, and opponents will exploit that advantage.
Who to watch: Three freshman could be starters from the first game on (Johnny Flynn, Donte Green, Rick Jackson). Green has the NBA upside, but Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf do all the little things that will ensure another postseason .

Texas Tech (Big XII)

What to like: Coach Knight's system keeps Texas Tech competitive every year. This year Knight's got a returning point guard in Charlie Burgess and a star scorer in Martin Zeno.
Weakness: Three starters graduated, including go-to Jarrius Jackson. But it's the guys in the paint that really need replacements, and the defense wasn't very good last season.
Who to watch: Juco 6-11 Ricardo De Bem and 7-0 Esmer Rizvic will duke it out for the starting center spot. But freshman Dwalyn Roberts might be the guy to step into the starting five and surprise everyone.

Utah State (WAC)

What to like: Mega-scorer Jaycee Carroll returns from a flirtation with the NBA draft, and has 6-8 Stephen DuCharme inside to add some balance. Top-notch Juco Gary Wilkinson should make a splash as well.
Weakness: This was a fairly slow team, and the defense wasn't great on per-possession results. The defense has to drastically improve if this team is to have a shot at the WAC championship.
Who to watch: Ohio State transfer 6-9 Brayden Bell could help with interior depth, but small forward Nick Hammer is probably the biggest question mark in the starting line-up.

Valparaiso (HOR)

What to like: Four double-digit scorers and two capable point guards, plus a 7-1 center to bring off the bench. The Horizon has a new conference power.
Weakness: Strength inside. Outside of 6-8 Urule Igbavboa, there are no rebounders on this team, and even he isn't a shot-blocker.
Who to watch: 6-8 guard Samuel Haanpaa could be a real star, and while Zach Payton is the freshman to watch, if 7-1 Calum McLeod can play starter's minutes, Valpo could be worthy of a NCAA berth.

Vanderbilt (SEC)

What to like: The Commodores have become a perennial challenger for NCAA at-large bids, and should hang around again this season behind star wing Shan Foster.
Weakness: A lot was lost to graduation, but the most missed will be Derrick Byars. Byars did it all, a replacing such a productive and creative presence will be a tall order.
Who to watch: 6-10 newcomer Andrew Oglivy. Comparisons to fellow Aussie Andrew Bogut will be unfair, but will happen.

Villanova (Big East)

What to like: Scottie Reynolds became the freshman sensation of the Big East for a very good Wildcats club. Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher look to join Reynolds to create one of the most dangerous backcourts in America.
Weakness: With all of the hubbub about the backcourt, noone's talking about the loss of star Curtis Sumpter, who provided everything to last season's club. And Mike Nardi's steady leadership will also be missed.
Who to watch: Cassein Drummond and Shane Clark, who will be asked to help out Dante Cunningham inside. The 6-10 Drummond needs to be able to handle at least role player minutes, and 6-7, 195 Shane Clark will probably be pressed into play at the 4-spot. I imagine most sportswriters are overlooking the lack of interior players due to Jay Wright's success in playing 4-1 sets. But there ain't a 6-0 rebounder here like Kyle Lowry was then.

Washington (Pacific 10)

What to like: Jon Brockman, inch for inch, may be the best inside player in the country. A host of talented freshmen bigs join four-double-digit scorers,
Weakness: Who replaces Spencer Hawes? Do these Huskies have what it takes to improve and get to the NCAA's? And Brockman has a tendency to cough up the ball too much.
Who to watch: Certainly whoever fills the center spot will be important (redshirt 7-0 Joe Wolfinger?, frosh 6-10 Matt Bryan-Amaning? reserve 6-8 Artem Wallace?), but the guy to watch is probably 5-11 Justin Dentmon. Dentmon needs to shoot better, and turn the ball over a lot less.

West Virginia (Big East)

What to like: The defending NIT champions return four double-digit scorers, and welcome new coach Bob Huggins. Alex Roff and Joe Alexander are especially dangerous multi-dimensional players.
Weakness: Clash of styles? How does a group of kids used to playing zone defense and living by the three-pointer adjust Huggins' bruiser-ball style? Especially considering the lack of wide-bodies available.
Who to watch: 7-0 Jamie Smalligan, who averaged less than 15mpg last season, has to be able to take on a starting role. Freshman John Flowers also better be able to provide some rebounding, as the top two rebounders from last season's club graduated (Rob Summers and the heroic Frank Young) and it's hard to see any Huggins' club succeeding without rebounders.

Western Michigan (MAC)

What to like: No personnel losses of consequence, and promising 6-9 Jon Workman returns from an injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season.
Weakness: Size. Even with Workman back, there's still not a lot of size here. Also, the ball control wasn't exactly sterling. Center Joe Reitz does do everything, but he shouldn't be so proficient at turning over the ball.
Who to watch: Workman's health is probably the key to getting major improvement and MAC title contention. Freshman Juston Hairston could be a sleeper, too. Of all the teams in my projection, I felt the worst about leaving the Broncos out of the top 65. But, pragmatically, the MAC always gets hosed by not only NCAA selection committee, but the NIT as well.

Wyoming (MWC)

What to like: A dynamo backcourt of Brad Jones and Brandon Ewing combine for nearly 40ppg, 8.4rpg, 7.6apg, and 2.8spg! A deep bench and large recruiting class looks to fill in for offseason losses.
Weakness: The defense wasn't fantastic last season, and losing their only significant inside presence won't help. Also, the whole team was pretty bad at holding onto the ball last year.
Who to watch: Besides the amazing backcourt, Joseph Taylor is probably the guy to watch. Taylor showed a knack for shotblocking, but he needs to do a better job at well, at everything else. Also, although the loss of James Spencer is unfortunate, his back-up Eric Platt might be a better fit with Ewing and Jones.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hysteria begins, Preview starts!

College basketball is about to officially begin. Kicking off my preview is a quick run-down of teams I think will end up in the NIT. I'll split this in two posts, and then run down the NCAA teams from #65-#1 in much the same fashion. I'll examine the Big Ten a little later, but I'll leave the conference previews to the amazing John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy's brand-new and free Basketball Prospectus.

Without further ado, here's my projections for the 2008 NIT; A-M

Akron (MAC)

What to like: All but two players and a vicious defense returns from dominating 2007 MAC play.
Weakness: The two players were point Dru Joyce and forward Romeo Travis. Travis seems especially irreplacable, 15 pts & 6 rbs, sure- but also a steal and 2 blocks per game gone will make the defense much less scary inside. Travis was only 6-7, and there's little height on the roster.
Who to watch: Jeremiah Wood inside, Cedric Middleton outside, and if Nick Dials can take over the point duties, the Zips will be fine.

Air Force (MWC)

What to like: Year after year, a solid defense and precision Princeton offense carves up the competition.
Weakness: Just about everyone's gone from last season. Will the passing remain at the expected high proficiency?
Who to watch: Justin Henke and Tim Anderson. They're going have to be stars.

Alabama (SEC)

What to like: A solid frontcourt (Richard Hendrix & Mikal Riley) matched with a dynamo backcourt pair of freshmen.
Weakness: When Ron Steele got injured again and out for the year, the Crimson's tides hope for the NCAA Tourney pretty much went up in smoke.
Who to watch: Senario Hillman and Rico Pickett. This freshmen duo will be force-fed minutes, and will have to grow up quickly.

Brigham Young (MWC)

What to like: Last year's success, in which the Cougars proved they were a very tough team.
Weakness: Graduation took a lot of key players away. Is there still enough quality guys here to post a winning record?
Who to watch: Trent Plaisted & Lee Cummard's inside-outside game. Also, getting solid point guard will be crucial.

Central Florida (Conference USA)

What to like: An underrated club who was Memphis' closest competitor, and returns a fine guard crew.
Weakness: Interior play. Already a weakness, both starters are gone. 6-9 Transfer AJ Tyler may be able to help, though.
Who to watch: Mike O'Donnell. The senior point guard shot 43% on threes and an assist/turnover ratio of 2.4! (That's real good.)

Charleston (Southern)

What to like: Once dominant, now resurgent College of Charleston is led by Bobby Cremmins. Cremmins is getting recruits, so this could be a consistent SoCon power soon.
Weakness: Losing the top two players from last season hurts, and point guard play is going to be an issue.
Who to watch: Top-flight JuCo 6-8 Dustin Scott. Josh Jackson and Jermaine Johnson ought to give the interior help that Scott needs to dominate from the wing.

Creighton (MVC)

What to like: A good recruiting class paired with a some good returnees from last season's dangerous team.
Weakness: A lot of question marks here with not many proven options.
Who to watch: Josh Dotzler & 6-9 Kenny Lawson. Dotzler has to be healthy enough to be the unquestioned point guard, and the 6-9 Lawson has to show that he can use the potential he showed in the first two games of last season. If Lawson and Dotzler shine, and the recruits can put the ball in the basket, this club could even go to the NCAA tourney.

East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun)

What to like: Enough returns from a club that dominated last year's A-Sun to mount another conference championship run.
Weakness: ETSU only lost two starters, but they were pretty important defensively. They've got the personnel, they just need to maintain defensive focus.
Who to watch: Andrew Reed's low-post game. If he can become a scorer inside and improve his 1:2 assist/to ratio, then Mike Smith and Mike Pigram can run wild over the A-Sun opposition again.

Eastern Kentucky (OVC)

What to like: The Colonels return most of their firepower from last season's 21-win line-up and should be the second-best team in the OVC, behind Austin Peay.
Weakness: EKU's not terribly deep and doesn't have much height. Interior defense could be a big problem.
Who to watch: Bench guys Josh Taylor and Harrison Brown. The backcourt's solid, the frontcourt is okay, but EKU needs some pop off the bench so their offense doesn't dissolve when guards Mike Rose & Adam Leonard aren't getting it done.

Florida State (ACC)

What to like: A couple of very good recruits join four returning starters from a good RPI team. FSU always seems to be on the edge of breaking through to the Big Dance.
Weakness: FSU seems to have some inability to string wins together. The loss of 20ppg/7rpg Al Thornton leaves a big gap in the offense.
Who to watch: Freshmen 7-1 Solomon Alabi and 6-9 Julian Vaughn. If they can provide some defense and rebounding, FSU could conceivably move forward into a real challenger for an at-large NCAA bid.

Fordham (Atlantic Ten)

What to like: The Rams return everyone of consequence and look to be a player in the A-10 conference race.
Weakness: Their offense wasn't great last season, and there's no reason to think that the ball control and shooting will magically improve this year.
Who to watch: Last season's really good defense needs to be matched with improve offense. 6-8 Bryant Dunston is the man to watch, although the whole team needs to improve.

Georgia Tech (ACC)

What to like: A club on the rise added good recruits, and also returns high-octane scorer Lewis Clinch.
Weakness: The offseason decimated this club, with NBA early entry losses and starting center Ra'Sean Dickey getting suspended for the fall semester.
Who to watch: 6-9 junior Alade Aminu who has the tools to be a difference inside. But the real key to the season is whether frosh Maurice Miller or transfer Matt Causey can be an effective point guard right away.

Hofstra (CAA)

What to like: Although a contender for NCAA berth last year, everyone but two starters return to try again. Antoine Aquido put up 20ppg and still wasn't the top scorer.
Weakness: The top scorer (Loren Stokes) and the man who ran the offense (Carlos Rivera) are gone. Steady hands in the backcourt are needed.
Who to watch: 6-5 Zygis Sestokas didn't get a lot of touches last year, but has the ability to be that second option on the wing. New Juco Darren Townes should shore up the interior as well. However, will bit player Greg Johnson be able to play point full-time?

Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt)

What to like: An 18-14 squad returns everybody, including four double -digit scorers as well as guard Brandon Roberts 9.7ppg/4.7apg.
Weakness: Despite the 18 wins, this wasn't a very good team. They'll have to improve their efficiency & reduce opponents' FG% in order to challenge for the Sun Belt championship.
Who to watch: Bigs Afam Nweleke and Dalky Melendez. If these two can stay on the floor and contribute, the weaknesses mentioned above could be addressed.

Miami (OH) (MAC)

What to like: Defense. Charlie Coles' Redhawks always have a vicious defense, and he returns a good nucleus to keep the momentum rolling.
Weakness: The Redhawks only played in the NCAA's due to an amazing series of events that resulted in a banked buzzer-beater. They're good, but not dominant.
Who to watch: 6-6 Tim Pollitz is the best player, but watch if 6-1 Juco Kenny Hayes can work his way into the starting line-up.

Missouri State (MVC)

What to like: A surprisingly effective team that felt unfairly excluded from last year's NCAA tournament. Spencer Laurie'll keep running a show that'll cause problems again in the MVC.
Weakness: Three of the best players last season were seniors, and are now gone. Can a solid recruiting class replace their production?
Who to watch: 6-9 Juco Wade Knapp could step right in the starting five, as could 6-4 Juco guard Chris Cooks. Watch them and returnee Deven Mitchell to find the quality of this team.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Women's world Cup wrap-up

Now that I've finally watched it all, let's talk about what next.

First, Congrats to Germany on having an excellent gameplan (& also for the brilliant execution) to combat Brazil and exploit their weaknesses. Yes, Germany got lucky a little bit with Brazil's poor finishing (Marta's blown penalty, notably), but a lot of German chances seemed scarier than Brazil's to me. Also, goalkeeping was an issue- you can point to both German goals as perhaps stoppable by the Brazilian Keeper, but Nadine Angerer was flawless (literally!) throughout the tourney. It's a shame that the US didn't get face them. Brazil was the most fun to watch while on the attack, but it really seemed all of the top 3 teams in the WWC deserved their spots.

Looking back at the US-Brazil game, it really was just a confluence of bad events that resulted in the 4-0 spanking. Brazil had a great game, no doubt, and deserved the win. But the US not only experienced some bad luck on the first own goal, but also shot themselves in the foot by putting Brianna Scurry in the goal when Hope Solo was on a roll-o. Two of Brazil's goals the younger and longer Solo could've deflected (would have? we'll never know). Solo might've been able to communicate better with her players on the goal. Maybe not. It was clearly Brazil's day all around. But the real sickening nail in the coffin was when a Brazilian player tripped and basically tackled Shannon Boxx, and Boxx got ejected. Just an outstanding amazingly bad call, and killed the US's chances of getting back into it.

The US recovered back nicely against Norway, but play seemed to call Coach Greg Ryan's ability into question more than ever. So, here's my two cents (not that anyone cares): Coach Ryan's gotta go.

ESPN's Jen Chang has a good run-down of Ryan's failures, and how the final game but for me the clincher was reading this article which suggests sheer spitefulness on the part of the USSF in choosing Ryan in the first place. But if we want to make it even simpler, I suggest the USSF considers the following:

The US doesn't have many all-world players anymore (Wambach, Whitehill, maybe Chalupny & Osborne could continue on to greatness, but Boxx is getting too far on). Hope Solo could be the best keeper in the world in the next few years. The US needs Solo, and needs her and the team meshed by next Summer's Olympic games. The USSF would not be choosing Solo over Ryan (and Ryan will probably make sure that's the case), but everybody could probably use a fresh start, and frankly the easiest way to do this is going to be by getting a new face (or an old one, Tony D?) to lead the team forward.

But I also hated the way Ryan had the US playing. I can't see how Chang thought that Abby Wambach wasn't first-team all-WWC given the US's playing style. Out-possessed by almost everyone, the only reason the US was still a top-3 team was due to the scoring brilliance and work-rate of Abby. In fact, I'd take Abby any day of Birgit Prinz, as Abby can score as well as Birgit, but also is a better target. Prinz started a lot of Brazil's scariest counter-attacks (notably the possession that led to the PK) by not being able to trap long serves. Abby can do that. But she shouldn't have to chase long balls every single possession. Ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A DVR makes watching sports different

I've certainly appreciated the fall sports line-up, but for some reason the Women's World Cup really captured my attention. The surprising sub of Brianna Scurry, Hope Solo blowing up thanks in part to the US's PR guy, the utter thumping received at the feet of Marta and the Brazilians (Marta -wow! brilliant) and the US's strong bounce back against Norway. However, even at this late date, I don't know who won the final. I'll probably know tomorrow morning, but ever since I got a DVR, taping sports has meant that I really watch the whole game, studying it intently, instead of just catching a few minutes. I've not been watching much football, passing glimpses and the highlights are fine (and I'll get to all that in a minute), but games I love -soccer and basketball- I suspect I could just fill up my DVR and watch all day. If it takes me this long to watch a handful of soccer games, I'm going to be in real trouble when College basketball season starts.

Indiana soccer has bounced back nicely after back-to-back losses, just now downing UIC to raise their record to 6-3-1. It seems a lot like the 92-93 squad, which has a lot of talent, but just can't seem to generate good goal-scoring opportunities like they should be. I think they're as good as anybody, but I worry about this Hoosier squad's consistency.

Indiana football is 4-1, but once again believing in a bowl berth before getting into the backstretch of the schedule is setting oneself up for another broken heart. Is the performance against Iowa or the performance against Illinois the aberration? Neither one is a standard-bearer in the Big Ten, so I suppose it doesn't matter much.

The Colts are 4-0, but are starting to get banged up. Still, the Colts continue look like a title contender again. Still seems weird to say stuff like that, somehow.

Speaking of title contenders, the Bears are not looking anything like last season's team. And help isn't on the way. How about Griese throwing 3 INT's in a sad loss to Detroit, and still beating Rex's passing rating by 23.1? Yuk.

College ball is coming back. I've got my final predicted 65, I'll try to get my thoughts on what I like and don't about each team before the games begin. But I've got to finish the second half of Germany vs. Brazil.