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.


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