For this A’s and 49ers fan, college basketball season cannot come soon enough…by Trevor Freeman
College Basketball Season is creeping up on us and it cannot come soon enough for me. Since my 49ers are not looking great and my Oakland Athletics missed the playoffs. College Basketball may have to be my salvation. BTW, get ready for more college basketball on ESPN than you ever imagined. With the NHL locked out, how else do you think the ESPN networks are going to fill that additional six hours a week? You guessed it. Not only will we getting every meaningful game, but I guarantee you some smaller schools sneak themselves more national coverage. Let’s just hope ESPN has the foresight to bring us a game from the Rose Hill Gym on the campus of Fordham University this winter.
Since I see Street & Smith’s, Lindy’s and Blue Ribbon have all come out with Preseason Top 25 rankings, it is time for me to do a Preseason Top 25 for sportscolumn.com and east2westsports.com. Without further adieu, here is one man’s try at breaking down the top 25 teams in the nation.
Preseason Top 25
1. Wake Forest
This team is loaded to the hilt and it all begins with the best point guard in the country in sophomore Chris Paul. You want to know how good he is. He was Michael Jordan’s workout partner in the off-season. Would have gone in the top five had he returned to school, he goes #1 after this season.
Returning alongside Paul are backcourt mates Taron Downey and Justin Gray giving the Demon Deacons the best backcourt in the country in my opinion. The frontcourt is also deep and experienced as Vytas Danelius, Eric Williams, and Jamaal Levy all return. Danelius is supposedly looking real good right now. Many Wake observers think he might have a bust-out season.
Finally, Skip Prosser is a very good coach and should have these guys ready to roll. Prosser may never coach a better team in his lifetime. In my opinion this Wake Forest team is that good.
2. North Carolina
Roy Williams has the Tar Heels back where they are supposed to be. This team has everybody returning and should be in the thick of things all season long. Last year they had some depth issues. However, I think the addition of two freshman recruits will help that out. Everybody knows about Marvin Williams (from Bremerton, WA) as he was the best high school player (consensus top 3-5 in the nation) to opt for college. The Tar Heels also brought in 6’6″ PG Quintin Thomas from Oakland, CA. There are a lot of observers who felt Thomas is better than Sebastian Telfair and that if Quintin was from New York City he would have been the guy entering the draft with hype.
The Tar Heels have the best starting five in the country with Ray Felton, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Sean May. Felton is one of the top five point guards in the country and a future lottery pick. McCants is an explosive scorer and Sean May is Elton Brand waiting to happen.
3. Oklahoma State
A common theme is developing in this article and that is the high quality of point guard play at the top of the college level. The man who will lead the Cowboys is senior John Lucas III. If you really like watching a point guard who can run an offense and just makes great decisions on the court look no further than Lucas. You can tell that John Lucas III is a coach’s son just by the way he plays.
Eddie Sutton has a full deck to play with this year and it would not shock me to see them make a repeat Final Four visit. You knew Sutton had high expectations for this team when he had them stay last year after their Final Four defeat to Georgia Tech and watch the National Title game. Joey Graham is back and he will be a star this season. Ivan McFarlin and Daniel Bobik are also key returnees from last year’s squad.
4. Georgia Tech
Three ACC teams in the top four. That’s how loaded this conference is. Georgia Tech has just about all their horses back from last year’s run to the National Title game. Leading the charge is the junior Jarrett Jack and seniors Will Bynum, Luke Schenscher, B.J. Elder and Ismail Muhammad.
Jack sometimes tries to do too much from the point guard spot but his talent is undeniable. He has gotten better each year he has been in school. Bynum, Elder, and Muhammad are also all very dynamic along the perimeter. Elder is a scorer and can also flat out drill the trifecta. Bynum can break anybody he wants down on the dribble. Muhammad excels in transition and is the best dunker in all of basketball. The key to this team might be Luke Schenscher. He is the only semblance of an inside game that Tech has. It was his development throughout the year that brought the Ramblin’ Wreck to the next level. He was ranked on many NBA draft boards and would have gone had he declared.
Do not sleep on the Cuse. Jim Boeheim has got this team ready to roll. This team is led by sharpshooting junior point guard Gerry McNamara and senior Hakim Warrick. Warrick would have been a first round pick had he declared. In terms of pure athletic talent, there are not many who have much more than Hakim Warrick. Warrick is like a long-armed pogo stick. McNamara just does his job day in and day out. Runs the team efficiently and drills open jumpers.
Other mainstays on this ballclub are Josh Pace and Craig Forth. In my opinion you cannot count on Billy Edelin. His transgressions have made him just a question mark in general. If the sophomore class of Demetris Nichols, Louie McCroskey, Daryl Watkins, and Terrence Roberts can be what they were recruited to be then this team has a chance to do big things this season.
Another team and another good point guard. Doesn’t it seem like Aaron Miles has been playing college basketball forever. Miles is a great quarterback and is the guy that makes Jayhawks go on offense. The star of this team though is power forward Wayne Simien. Bill Self has to be happy Simien stayed in school, as he is a National Player of the Year Candidate. The other member of this senior trio is Keith Langford. Langford possesses a deadly threeball and is also an excellent perimeter defender.
I think this team could have some depth problems. They claim to be in good form after David Padgett’s abrupt transfer to Louisville, but we shall see. J.R. Giddens is a guy to watch, as he possesses some explosive athleticism. Michael Lee should give the Jayhawks some quality minutes, as he is a scapper.
I really like this team and think they could do some damage in March. They will be led by the dangerous backcourt pairing of Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Dee Brown is the fastest guard in the country and its not even close. Easily one of the best ten point guards in the country, he needs to work on his decision making more than anything else. Deron Williams can flat out shoot the ball and is the perfect complement to Brown.
The player who I really like on this team and who will have to be their X-factor is James Augustine. If he can continue to improve down low then this team will be tough. Luther Head, Roger Powell and Nick Smith are both very effective as well in the frontcourt. I think Bruce Weber is an excellent coach. I’ve thought this going back to his days at Southern Illinois and I love this team to win the Big 10 and be a factor in March.
The Blue Devils got the most important man in basketball to stay in school last year and that is Coach K. A lot of people think that Duke will be down this year. Count me as somebody who thinks that this opinion is wrong.
Many think the loss of Luol Deng was devastating. In my opinion, his loss does not hurt the Blue Devils at all. Deng was not their best player despite the fact he went 7th in the NBA Draft. J.J. Redick was and he will return. There is not a better shooter in all of basketball. He must be face-guarded the entire game. Duke also returns senior Daniel Ewing who has been one of the most consistent performers on the college level for the past three seasons. The frontcourt should be fine with Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph. The key here will be junior Sean Dockery at the point guard spot. He needs to improve on what he has done the past two years. Dockery does not have to be great, he just has to be solid and not turn the ball over. Watch out for freshman DeMarcus Williams from Vallejo, CA. He is a lethal scorer.
9. Mississippi State
This is a team that has all the ingredients to make a deep run come March. They return the SEC Player of the Year in Lawrence Roberts, a good point guard in Gary Ervin and a great pure shooter in Shane Power.
Roberts is a guy who was a low first round pick had he stayed in the draft. He made an excellent decision to come back to Starkville and will be a contender for National Player of the Year. If Ervin can evolve from good point guard into “star” then this team can evolve into a Final Four squad.
Lute Olson may find himself in another Final Four at the end of this season. After a disappointing campaign by Arizona standards, the Cats will rebound this season. Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire are both seniors and ready to roll. Frye especially has a ton of potential. I look at him and wonder why he is not out there dominating every single night. Two years ago against Gonzaga in what was one of the best games I ever saw, Frye was arguably the best player on the court. Stoudamire can really shoot it and combines with junior Hassan Adams to give the Cats two formidable perimeter threats.
The difference between this team being great or very good is the development of sophomore Mustafa Shakur. Many analysts regarded Shakur as the best point guard coming out of high school two years ago.
The Wildcats will receive a stern challenge in the Pac-10 from the extremely athletic Washington Huskies.
This team might have the best frontcourt in the nation. Sophomore Josh Boone is a load underneath. Boone can already bang with the best of them and is some consistent back to the basket moves away from being a star. Sophomore Charlie Villanueva was not as good as most observers thought he would be last year, but could be primed for a breakout campaign. I think they will use Charlie more at the 3 this year. Transfer Ed Nelson from Georgia Tech was once thought of as being on of the top freshmen in the ACC.
The backcourt on the other hand is a little questionable. Can Marcus Williams take over for Taliek Brown at the point? Will Denham Brown live up to expectations? Keep an eye on Rudy Gay. Rudy (I’m going to do him a favor and not call him Gay) was one of the top ten high school players in the nation last year.
12. Michigan State
Tom Izzo has everybody back from last year. The Spartans were a disappointment so you can bet that they will not be twice.
The backcourt is strength of this ballclub. Chris Hill is the leader of this backcourt. Hill is just a mature player who can really stroke it from downtown. Shannon Brown is easily their most exciting player and will make some highlight reels next year. Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert are both steady upperclassmen that can contribute.
Junior Paul Davis who has improved every season will anchor the frontcourt. Davis was one of the top five players in the country when he came out of high school. If he can be a star this season then the Spartans could be a Final Four team.
I do not know why more people are not talking about this Louisville team. I think Rick Pitino’s group could be a very dangerous squad come March. Francisco Garcia returns for his junior season and will challenge for All-American honors. Garcia is one of the most versatile players on the collegiate level. I can see him evolving into a Tayshaun Prince type player on the NBA level. Taquan Dean has star potential and Ellis Myles is a solid frontcourt player.
The problem with this Louisville team and it is a big one will be their lack of quality depth. In Pitino’s system you need bodies.
I think Billy Donovan is a great recruiter and he has really brought this Florida program to prominence. However I have doubts about his ability as a game coach and that is why the Gators are not ranked higher. How many people had no doubt in their mind Manhattan would beat Florida in the Dance last year? There’s a problem when that happens.
Anthony Roberson is one of the better point guards in the country. Roberson styles himself as a scoring point guard, but can also distribute the ball when necessary. Matt Walsh is a very good player as well, however he has not improved at all since his freshman year. David Lee might be the most talented player in the SEC, and needs to start playing every game like that. Donovan brought in another highly touted recruiting class led by Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah (Yannick Noah’s son).
This Gonzaga team will be better than some people are prognosticating. While they will never truly operate from under the radar again, this team could be as dynamic as last year’s was. This is because of arguably the best set of forwards in the college game. At the 4 stands Ronny Turiaf. Turiaf would have almost certainly been drafted somewhere in the first round had he entered the NBA Draft. Turiaf is an excellent rebounder with explosive athleticism. His back to the basket game has developed over the three years he has been in Spokane and should continue to get better this season. However the guy on this team whose name will be known by every observer of hoops come March is Adam Morrison. Dubbed before he even played a game last year by Dick Vitale as the next “Larry Bird”, I see Morrison having a huge impact this season. While I hate to hear about a young kid being compared to Larry Legend, one can see why analysts love him. The release of his shot (which is deadly), his quicker than you might think first step, the smooth way he can get just about anything he wants. The game comes easy to Morrison. The other players who should see regular time in the frontcourt are Sean Mallon, highly touted Juco transfer J.P. Batista, and top 100 recruit Josh Heytvelt (the reason why UW assistant Cameron Dollar got in some trouble).
In the backcourt, the athletic Erroll Knight should handle the 2. Last year was Knight’s first in Mark Few’s system and I think this is the year he really breaks through for the Zags. Backing him up will be Texas Tech transfer Nathan Doudney. I have read good things about Doudney’s slick shooting ability. The one question mark on this team is at the most important position. Derek Raivio played limited minutes at the point for the Zags last season. To this observer it seemed Raivio had a problem with overdribbling and looking fancy. Raivio was also very slight in build (although I have heard he has been working diligently in the weight room). If Raivio can do a competent job at the point a deep run in March should be made. A new addition to the backcourt is Pierre-Marie Cespedes or P-Mac. From what I have heard this guy is jet quick.
One game that I cannot wait to see is the rivalry that is picking up steam in the Northwest between these Zags and ………..
This is the best Washington Huskies team in years. If the front of their uniforms said “Kansas” they would enter the season ranked in the top ten. Nate “The Skate” Robinson might be my favorite college basketball player to watch. Robinson is listed at 5’9″ but does not look anywhere near it. Robinson at his size can get his head over the rim without any problem. Combine with that with one of the best handles in college hoops and a developing jumper and you got one scary ballplayer. In terms of overall athleticism, I do not think there are five teams in the country that have more than this team.
Nate Robinson and Will Conroy are the most underrated backcourt in all of college basketball. Senior Tre Simmons is an extremely competent guard off the bench. Out on the wing is junior Brandon Roy who possesses startling athleticism. I have been waiting for this guy to blow up and dominate games. This could be the time he does that. At the 4 and 5 are Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen. While these guys are not the biggest guys they compensate with good athleticism. Watch out for New Mexico transfer Jamaal Williams. He can really play.
For the first time I think Washington history, the students will have to look forward to the hoops team providing the athletic excitement.
They lost a lot in Pittsburgh but they still have two guys who can really make a difference and lead this team. They are Carl “Black Magic” Krauser who is one of the flashiest point guards in the country. Krauser can take over games when he wants to. Some may recognize his nickname from reading about his exploits at Rucker Park. Krauser is a street legend that has given it to Indiana Pacers starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley amongst others.
The other difference maker on this team is Chris Taft. A big year out of Taft and he could go with the first overall pick. Taft possesses all the talent in the world on a 6’11″ frame. Should dominate some games for the Panthers this season.
My friend Max will be proud of me for this one. A lot of people are counting the Badgers out because Devin Harris left school and that is fair. Let the record show that most thought they would have been a Final Four team had he stayed. I think this team even without Harris will contend for the Big 10 title.
Boo Wade, Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley and Alando Tucker are all very experienced in the Bo Ryan “swing” offense. Plus they have top ten high school recruit Brian Butch coming off redshirting to provide some bulk down low. Watch out for guard Sharif Chambliss who transferred in from Penn State. He can put the ball in the basket.
The Terps have nearly everyone back and should not be taken lightly in the rugged ACC. Gary Williams is a good coach who will have them peaking come the end of the season just like last year.
The stars of this team will be point guard John Gilchrist and small forward Nik Caner-Medley. Gilchrist has gotten better each season and I am expecting an All-ACC campaign in his junior year. Caner-Medley is like a left-handed Matt Harpring.
20. North Carolina State
Is the first year that I have not heard the “Will this be Herb Sendek’s last year in Raleigh”? State returns first-team all-American guard Julius Hodge for his senior campaign. Hodge is one of the most versatile players in the country and will keep the Wolf Pack contending in the ACC.
Illian Evtimov needs to be right, as he is NC State’s best second option. They also get in Tony Bethel from Georgetown and he will contribute.
A lot of people are sleeping on Tom Crean’s crew and they should not do it. Last season the team had problems replacing the points that Miami Heat Dwyane Wade had provided. However this team was better than its record would indicate. If they can be more consistent, the Golden Eagles will get to March and be tough when they arrive.
Travis Diener is one of my favorite players in college basketball. He had a good year last season, but I think really will flourish, as the players around him get better. The guy who needs to step up is Dameon Mason. Marquette is counting on him to really put some points on the board. Mason has the talent. Steve Novak is one of the best three point shooters in basketball.
If Ashley Judd had returned my phone calls they would have been ranked in the top five………in all seriousness this Kentucky team is young. Tubby Smith will have to depend on Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike to lead this team.
Smith did bring in his best recruiting class to date as he snatched up Center Randolph Morris and guards Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford. If these guys can play great the moment they arrive in Lexington, Kentucky could be better than expected. What you do know about the Kentucky Wildcats is that Tubby Smith will have them playing defense from the opening whistle.
John Calipari’s crew has almost everybody returning and should be dangerous come tournament time. Sophomore Sean Banks will lead the Tigers. Banks was one of the top freshmen in the country last year and has a real nice all-around game. Rodney Carney is just a great athlete.
The guy who will determine whether this team is great is freshman Darius Washington. Washington is an explosive talent. The strength in his game is his excellent handle and high rises. Darius is known for talking a little junk on the floor as evidenced by his ABCD encounters with Sebastian Telfair.
24. Notre Dame
The Irish will be a team to watch in the Big East. What they do this season all comes down to Senior point guard Chris Thomas. Nobody killed his draft stock more last year than Thomas. Thomas will need to bounce back this year and be the all-around point guard who could score that he was his sophomore year. Chris (no relation to Brady) Quinn had a stellar campaign last year and they will hope he can continue to provide steady backcourt play.
Torin Francis is coming off some injuries, but is a beast down low. He will get some help down in the trenches from Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore.
Call me crazy but I think Ben Howland gets this team into the top 25 in his second season. UCLA has now had a full year to learn his system and will be ready to roll. The Bruins return Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, Brian Morrison, Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins. All five of those guys were considered top-notch players out of high school who have underachieved. I think Howland gets those guys to realize their potential this year. His teams generally play hard.
What will make this team a top 25 ballclub are freshman Jordan Farmar, Aaron Affalo and Josh Shipp (you recognize the name because brother was a star at UC-Berkeley). Farmar will especially have a huge impact early at the point guard spot. In my opinion he is one of the top ten freshmen in the country.