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.


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