Quick notes 2009-2010 cbb teams 1-10
1. Kansas- I'm sorry, you expected someone else? Sherron Collins is the best point guard in the country and should get his second ring, barring a dose of extremely bad luck and timing. There's just way too much depth here overall, but I'll be watching frosh Xavier Henry's impact- he could well be a starter on day one. It'd be hard to foresee anyone getting the better of Cole Aldrich in the paint, and Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed, and Brady Morningstar are efficiency offensive forces at the wings. Marcus Morris starts at the power forward slot (and records a nice steal % there), but brother Markeiff is ready step in at any time too. Freshman 6-8 Thomas Robinson will probably only see spot minutes on this club, although point guard 6-2 Elijah Johnson may get significant minutes as Collins' back-up. Mario Little and Travis Releford both add depth to the wings, although neither looks particularly adept at distancing shooting (3 for 8 is good, but only 8 threes attempted apiece for the whole year? And 58% combined on free-throws?). However, the defense was fantastic again last year despite having tons of new players, and looks to be even better this year. It wasn't like Roy Williams was doing a bad job, but Bill Self has taken Kansas to a very elite level in a very short amount of time.
2. Villanova- The loss of Dante Cunningham will hurt, but there's enough talent here to do even better than last season. Instant impacts will be felt as freshmen 6-9 Mouphtaou Yarou and 6-6 Dominic Cheek step into the rotation. Frosh 6-0 Maalik Wayns should back up Corey Fisher, and 6-8 Isaiah Armwood should be able to supply some minutes up front. Getting the NBA-ready Scottie Reynolds back for this year was a coup, but Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Reggie Redding all saw starting minutes as well. Antonio Pena will also start, and should team with Yarou to provide the interior defense, but Duke transfer Taylor King is an option as well for one of the forward spots, and should provide a significant offensive boost. Jay Wright has proved himself to be one of the best in the coaching business regardless of personnel, and I think the Wildcats may be the nation's best bet to keep Kansas from yet another title. This club does give up free-throws, but overall there aren't many weaknesses here. Losing Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark from the frontcourt will cause some hitches, but Wright brought in the talent to shore it up, and it should be another happy March for 'Nova.
3. Tennessee- Bruce Pearl has assembled so much talent here. Even though last season could be seen as a bit of an underachievement, it could also be seen as a necessary period of adjustment to new talent and especially, a new point guard. Now five starters return and four of them are seniors. Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism aren't going to have to hold down the paint by themselves anymore, as 6-10 junior Brian Williams showed significant growth at the end of last season, and is joined by the powerful frosh 6-9 Kenny Hall, who should help immediately. 5-11 Juco point Melvin Goins also joins, which should help coach Pearl on nights when Bobby Maze is off. Michael Prince and Scotty Hopson provide multi-faceted games and long-armed agility to the Volunteer press. Some are expecting bigger things out of forward Renardo Woolridge, but his shooting really needs to improve. Josh Tabb and Cameron Tatum provide experienced depth from the wings, but Tabb was a pretty interesting shooter statistically last year as he went 13-28 on free throws (terrible!) and 14-33 on threes (great!). Previous years suggest that three-point shooting was a fluke, but Pearl could use a solid shooter off the bench. Outside of Hopson, the three-point shooting isn't great here, and also, once teams break the press, they tend to shoot well against Tennessee. Hall & an improved Williams might help, but I think Pearl's teams will always give up some twos in order to make foes play the game the way that Pearl wants to play it. If he doesn't get to the NCAA's final weekend with this squad, I don't know that he ever will.
4. Michigan State- Izzo could well start another Final Four streak, but I doubt he'll win the Big Ten regular season title with this team. Izzo teams tend to drop a few head-scratchers (Iowa '08, NU at home last season) before building steam in the final month, and I think Purdue's just going to be more consistent. But MSU has more talent and eventually in 2010 will have the better team. Let me start off with a couple of negatives before getting to the positives: 1) losing Goran Suton & Travis Walton is going to hurt. Essentially MSU is losing is best two defenders, as well as the most effective player in the conference (Suton). 2) I'm not as high on Kalin Lucas as most folks- sure, he got Big 10 POY last season and there was certainly a defensible logic behind that decision- he's an offensive threat and records an lot of assists with significantly less turnovers- but Lucas doesn't do much else and shoots really poorly on twos, and the killer is that he shoots them way too often. If Izzo can adjust Lucas' shot selection, I'll agree he's the best point guard in the conference. On to the positives! Raymar Morgan, when healthy, is a star performer and together with Delvon Roe should deliver a 1-2 punch in the frontcourt. Draymar Green is super-sub as well, and solid recruits 6-10 Garrick Sherman and 6-9 Derrick Nix should tag team with Tom Herzog to fill Suton's minutes. Korie Lucious backs up Lucas well, and Chris Allen and Durrell Summers look ready to start on the wing, particularly if Allen can find his 2008 3-point stroke.
5. Kentucky- This may be the second-most talented team in the nation, heck- maybe the most-talented, period. But the lack of reliable outside-shooting is going to haunt them. Patrick Patterson is a NBA-talent, as are freshmen 6-3 John Wall and 6-9 Demarcus Cousins. This trio will take the Wildcats far. The rest of '09 class are no slouches either with 6-10 Daniel Orton, 6-6 Jon Hood, 6-0 Eric Bledsoe, and Juco 6-7 Darnell Dodson also joining the fold. However, most of these guys will probably be getting back-up minutes unless Hood or Bledsoe can play the off-guard spot, as Darius Miller probably is set at the small forward. DeAndre Liggins and Perry Stevenson will also be fighting for starting spots, but they both will have to cut down on their turnovers, which was a pretty big problem last season. Although Kentucky to some extent was just unlucky not to make the NCAA tournament, new coach Jon Calipari will almost certainly make sure that the defense takes a notable step forward. Combined with his knack for snagging the very best talent, UK will almost certainly get back to the final four in the very near future, even if they have to vacate it soon thereafter. I just think that unless they find reliable outside shooters, they're going to have trouble putting teams away in the tourney, which could well cost this title-level-talent of a team.
6. Purdue- Probably the best team in the Big Ten, but come tourney time, I see the lack of experienced interior depth really hurting their chances at a Final Four. Of the freshmen class, only DJ Byrd seems like he has to the tools to step into a starting role, which may be needed if Keaton Grant can't shake himself out of last year's funk. The others 6-10 Sandi Marcius, 6-5 Kelsey Barlow, and 6-8 Patrick Bade will provide depth at least. The backcourt is solid with the trio of Chris Kramer, E'twuann Moore, and Lewis Jackson, and center Jajuan Johnson will probably be playing for pay next season. However, as everyone is saying, the key to this team is Robbie Hummel. With him, the Boilers are very good, but without him, there just isn't anyone on the roster who can hit the glass or is above average at three-point shooting. Matt Painter has a good shot a taking Purdue to its first final four in almost 30 years.
7. Washington- They'll have a slightly better season than last year, but I can't see them being a top title contender without the departed Jon Brockman. But stars 5-8 Isiah Thomas & 6-6 Quincy Pontdexter will give them a puncher's chance against anybody. Freshman 6-7 Clarence Trent will get plenty of chances to fill the gap left by Brockman, as well the redshirt freshman 6-7 Tyreese Breshers. But the real treasure in this class is 6-3 Abdul Gaddy. Gaddy will step right into the hole left by Justin Dentmon, who was an effective scorer but not really a true point. Venoy Overton & Elston Turner will provide perimeter depth. The center spot is a bit of a question as 7-0 Joe Wolfinger took a step back last season, 6-9 Matthew Bryan-Amaning hasn't shown anything special, and 6-8 Darnell Gant shot a horrid 36.6% from the field. Gant did shoot 70% on free-throws, and seems to be the likely fifth starter. Still, even with better overall talent, it's hard to see UW making the move to the final four without Brockman. His rebounding and interior toughness was so far off the chart that only his absence will reveal its true importance.
8. West Virginia- Huggins' recruits are starting to replace Beilien's roster. They'll be quite good thanks to Ebanks,et al, but I don't quite see a Final Four. The loss of Alex Ruoff is going to be hard to replace, and the offensive balance will suffer as a result of the lack of outside shooting (the Mountaineers already weren't great at three-point shooting even with him). But, Hugs did boost the interior depth finally with a very nice class that includes 6-9 Deniz Kilicli and 6-8 Dan Jennings, as well as wings 6-5 Dalton Pepper and Juco 6-4 Casey Mitchell. I don't know that Mitchell or Pepper or especially suited to the shooting guard, but one of them had better be, because otherwise WVU will have to have point guards Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla logging heavy minutes side-by-side in the backcourt. This isn't a bad thing , necessarily, but chemistry may be an issue, and perimeter shooting & depth are definitely the weak links. The strength of this team is in starting forwards DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks. These two stars will cause a lot of problems for opponents, and now that Kevin Jones and Wellington Smith don't have shoulder the sole burden of matching up against centers, they and the freshmen should be able to attack the glass with freer hands. Like his old Cincinnati teams, this club gives up a few too many free-throws. Still, having Mazzulla for a full season should allow WVU to take a significant step forward.
9. Wake Forest- Al-Farouq Aminu should lead the Deacons to the top of the ACC, which unfortunately is quite a bit less than the championship guarantee this year. Although the Demon Deacons beat both Duke & UNC, their best non-conference win was probably BYU, and they really fell flat in both the ACC & NCAA tourneys. Jeff Teague & James Johnson both jumped to the NBA, and Aminu will probably follow this year. But this year, he returns with a competent supporting cast that should allow him to star, and I expect Aminu to have a better year than Johnson did in 08-09. Freshman 6-7 Ari Stewart will probably start alongside him and capable senior Chas McFarland up front, and LD Williams and Israel Smith should hold down the backcourt unless frosh point 6-2 CJ Harris or 6-4 Juco Konner Tucker can crack the line-up. There's a ton of height to bring off the bench with 6-11 Tony Woods and 6-11 David Weaver, and 6-4 Gary Clark adds depth. There's a wicked defense and still a lot of firepower left here, but the lack of outside shooting will cripple the Deacs' chances at title contention, and might allow Duke to slip by them for the conference crown.
10. Butler- That's right. I think the Bulldogs will be back at a top-10 level again this year. Matt Howard's ability to anchor the paint is the key to hanging with the big boys, but this program will be fun to watch for years to come. Howard's great, but Gordon Hayward might be better. Hayward and Shelvin Mack were surprisingly good freshmen, and came in completely under the recruiting radar. This year, Hayward and Howard should get a little help inside from 6-10 freshmen Andrew Smith. Speaking of inside play, I don't understand why 6-8 Avery Jukes got such little playing time, and why 6-0 Ronald Nored got so much. Don't get me wrong, Butler won 26 games last season, but the numbers don't make sense: Jukes would provide a rebounding boost with effective scoring while not turning the ball over, and Nored coughs the ball up while shooting just terribly, even from the free-throw line (albeit providing assists). I understand needing perimeter depth, but it doesn't make sense to me that Nored gets starting minutes. Senior wing Willie Veasley turns the ball over a little, too, but also is a very effective scorer when not shooting threes. This is a solid Bulldog squad that loses no one and should be a terror all year.