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.


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