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.


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