October 23 - NCAA Top 25
I have but one piece of advice to pass along to all of you……..
Beware the Bay Area natives in your NCAA Tournament pool this season. For they are the ones that
have been reading College Basketball preview magazines since mid-October and are already
prepared for March Madness. An October stumble in baseball and two NFL teams that have yet to
leave the gate have reduced us already to March planning……..and plan I already have.
It took some careful film study and consultation with my crack research staff but we are ready to
unleash our preseason Top 25. Words can’t describe the anticipation with which I am looking
forward to the upcoming season of college hoops. You know why NFL football and NCAA basketball
are my two favorite sports to follow? It is because both sports do it right in terms of how a season
should be structured. Both sports begin with drinks and light hors d’oeuvres (preseason NFL games
and preseason tournaments). Those are followed by a solid main course (regular seasons) which is
then capped off with a sumptuous dessert and after dinner Scotch (NFL playoffs and NCAA
Tournament). With that let me order my first cocktail and begin our list with………..
25. Loyola Marymount
Without a doubt the biggest sleeper on the West Coast. This is their best team since Hank Gathers
and Bo Kimble were running circles around the nation. The Lions return two All-Conference players
in Brandon Worthy and Matthew Knight. Worthy in particular is the best player in the WCC and
probably one of the five best on the West Coast. Knight averaged 16 and 10 last year and should only
be better this season. Their one-point loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Finals should serve
as sufficient motivation for the Lions and I fully expect them to make noise in March.
Buck Me?!?!?! BUCK U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Bison have the necessary ingredients to make another
Cinderella run as Pat Flannery’s crew returns three starters. The leader of this team will be the 6’11”
Chris McNaughton. McNaughton is a load inside and is made doubly effective due to the presence of
the sharp-shooting Jason Vegotsky. Abe Badmus and Donald Brown are nice complimentary pieces
for a Bison team that should return to the Dance.
This ranking is basically a tip of the hat from me to Jim Calhoun. I just cannot write a preseason Top
25 without including UConn. While they lost four guys who became NBA first round picks and three
others who were heavy contributors, UConn still has some guys who should keep the program
afloat. A.J. Price was a big-time player coming out of high school and should form an above-average
backcourt with Craig Austrie. Jeff Adrien will anchor a frontline that will need immediate contributions
from freshmen Hasheen Thabeet and Jonathan Mandeldove.
Curtis Sumpter returns from a torn ACL which sidelined him for all of last season. He will anchor a
frontcourt that should be very strong as Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham both return. Mike Nardi
returns in the backcourt and he will most likely be joined by freshman Scottie Reynolds. The
McDonald’s All-American can apparently score points in a hurry and already reminds people of Randy
I reserve the right to revise this ranking if Paul Harris truly is the next Carmelo Anthony. In fact, let me
hold off on talking about this team until I see this kid compete because if he is that good then The
Cuse could be dangerous as the complimentary pieces are already in place with Eric Devendorf,
Demetris Nichols, Terrence Watkins, and Josh Wright.
I’ve heard the talk about Rajon Rondo being an NBA sleeper and trust me I am waiting for the other
shoe to drop. What all these NBA followers don’t know that college hoops aficionados do know is
that Rajon Rondo is like the hot French girl who transferred to your high school. On the surface she
looked good, but once you get her naked you’ll find out that there is hair under those pits.
Kentucky is a sleeper this year as Tubby Smith is one of those coaches who does better when he is
coaching a team that isn’t very talented. When that happens, Smith gets them to buy into slowing the
game down and playing defense and that is when his teams are very good. The best returning player
for Kentucky is Randolph Morris. Morris is now a junior and needs to become the surefire lottery pick
we all thought he would be coming out of high school.
(The first paragraph of our look at Kentucky paves the way for our first fun fact of this NCAA preview.
Rajon Rondo’s shooting percentages on three pointers last season was 27.3% and from the foul line
was 57.1%. What’s that phrase about throwing rocks in the ocean?)
Gonzaga having to play without Adam Morrison feels like the Beatles having to sing without John
Lennon, “The Sopranos” having to continue without Tony, or Alvin & the Chipmunks having to forge
along without Alvin. No team in the country lost as much as Gonzaga did because in Morrison
leaving, Gonzaga not only lost the best player in the country but they also lost the person most closely
identified with their program. His void is a big one and the slack will have to be picked up by
everybody on the roster. The backcourt should be solid as “Opie” Raivio, Jeremy Pargo, Pierre-Marie
Altidor Cespedes and Larry Gurganious all return. The frontcourt has loads of potential and the key
will be for high talent guys like Josh Heytvelt, Micah Downs, and David Burgess to begin the process
of putting it together. Sean Mallon and David Pendergraft are both effective complimentary players
who will see plenty of minutes. Keep an eye on freshman Matt Bouldin as he was Mr. Basketball last
year in Colorado.
18. Wichita State
Don’t give me that look. Wichita State is returning four starters from a team that made the Sweet
Sixteen and should probably be preseason ranked higher than eighteenth. What makes the
Shockers extremely dangerous is that they have a bunch of guys who can shoot it from anywhere on
the court. The strength is on the perimeter as P.J. Couisnard, Sean Ogirri, and Matt Braeuer all
return. Keep an eye on freshman Gal Mekel from Tel Aviv as he is apparently a big-time player.
17. Boston College
Do you think Jared Dudley was banging on his chest when he left the womb? Those bruises on his
chest aren’t from the other team; they are from himself after a high-scoring game. That all being said,
Dudley is one of those players who probably won’t make it in the NBA but will be remembered as an
outstanding college player. He is your classic tweener who has success on this level. Joining him in
the frontcourt are two big nasties in Sean Williams and John Oates. The underrated player on this
team is in the backcourt. Remember the name….Tyrese Rice. Rice is an absolutely fearless player
who wants to take big shots.
Nick Fazekas is back for his senior season and it should be a special one for the Wooden Award
candidate. The multi-dimensional Fazekas is joined by the experienced perimeter trio of Marcellus
Kemp, Kyle Shiloh, and Edgar Sessions. Nevada ended last year on a disappointing note as they
lost in the first round to Montana. Look for them to atone for that and more in this year’s Dance.
I’m not sure why the Musketeers aren’t getting more national recognition because they have a team
that could create major noise in March. Xavier will be led by guard Stanley Burrell who can score from
anywhere on the court. Josh Duncan is as versatile a forward as you will find in America. The junior
forward is somebody that you just keep waiting to dominate a game because he has the talent to do
so. 17th year senior Justin Doellman brings a ton of effort under the basket and has a nice touch
when he steps out. The key to this team will be Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender. Lavender was
electric in his two seasons for the Sooners and is the player who could put Xavier over the top and
into the Final Four.
14. The…………..Ohio State University
I think some of the people who write these preseason publications need to take a step back for a
second and just slooooowwwww down about how great the Buckeyes are going to be this year and
how they will contend for the national title. I’m sure Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and
David Lighty are fantastic basketball players, however they are still freshman. There will be some
ups and downs and there will be a bad nonconference loss (I’m circling November 20th against the
University of San Francisco as to when that might happen). The key to this season will be for
upperclassmen Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis to take the pressure off of the frosh during the
Bo Ryan has a ton of experience returning in Madison and his Badgers have to be considered the
favorites in the Big 10 conference. Alando Tucker leads this group and he is one of those players that
does a little bit of everything. Complementing him is Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch. Taylor is a
sharp-shooting guard who gets points on the board in bunches. Brian Butch is a former McDonald’s
All-American who started to live up to that potential last season.
Marquette is the cute girl who always likes to wear a hat with the ponytail sticking out and jeans.
Constantly overlooked and underrated, yet always a factor. Tom Crean may have his best team since
this guy with the last name of Wade led them to the Final Four. For my money, Dominic James is the
best point guard in the nation. James was an absolute revelation in his freshman season and in the
NCAA Tournament. He is joined out on the perimeter by fellow sophomores Jerel McNeal and
Wesley Matthews. Both of those guys can really put the ball in the bucket. Their Final Four hopes
hinge on getting production out of a variety of unproven big men.
11. Texas A&M
The over/under is 1. That’s how many more years Billy Gillespie has at Texas A&M before he gets
hired by a big-time basketball school. The reclamation project he has done in College Station is
quite possibly the best job I have seen done in college basketball in a very long time. In two seasons
he moved Texas A&M from laughingstock to Big 12 contender. Gillespie’s third campaign should be
his best though.
The cupboard is full in College Station and it begins with point guard Acie Law IV. There is not a
more underrated lead guard in the nation as he is the straw that stirs the Aggie drink. Joseph Jones
is an absolute horse in the paint that should be even more effective this season if freshman Bryan
Davis is as good as advertised. Dominique Kirk, Josh Carter, Atanas Kavaliauskas are all nice
(Here is our second fun fact of this preview. Sophomore Martellus Bennett is a two sport star as he
currently has 24 catches for 284 yards on the season for the Aggies in football. In four years he is the
next Tony Gonzalez/Antonio Gates. Just remember one thing…………..you heard it in this article first.)
Let’s put it this way, the only reason I have them in my top ten is because everybody else does and
mine would lose all credibility if they were excluded. That being said, I have a lot of problems with a
team and staff that lost to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round of consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
And if you think I’m bitter because they had a nice hand in ruining one of my brackets….you’re right.
If you could be a star college basketball player at any school in America……..wouldn’t Arizona be the
one you choose. You almost wonder if the admissions department makes prospective female
applicants submit a picture instead of a writing sample.
The Wildcats are loaded and should fight it out with UCLA all season long for the Pac 10 title. They
return Mustafa Shakur, Jawann McClellan and Marcus Williams. All three of these guys can
absolutely fly. Chase Budinger is the newest highly touted frosh to enroll for the Wildcats. While I
think we all need to slow down on the Chase Budinger/Adam Morrison comparisons….Budinger is
(Here is our third fun fact of this NCAA preview. That guy on the bench sitting a few seats from Lute
Olson that looks like Miles Simon………..is indeed Miles Simon.)
The Crimson Tide have high hopes for this season, mainly because of the return of Ronald Steele.
There is no doubt that if Ronald Steele played for a basketball school that he would be more of a
household name. The point guard will contend for All-American honors. Complimenting him is a
strong frontcourt led by Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix. This is easily the best team Mark
Gottfried has ever had in Tuscaloosa.
Let’s put it this way…….I had already written the e-mails patting myself on the back and had visions of
spending my NCAA Tournament pool winnings last year. Never did I think UCLA would get killed by
Florida. While Jordan Farmar, Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman are gone, the vast majority of last
year’s contributors return to contend for an NCAA title. Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
are big-time players who will both be collecting an NBA paycheck someday. The key to this team will
be Darren Collison. There were times in limited action that you thought he might be better than
Farmar. The key will be the adjustment in minutes. Collison plays at a fast pace and it will be
interesting to see if he can sustain that pace over the now 32-35 minutes he will now see.
What do you think there is a better chance of? Glen “Big Baby” Davis becoming an NBA superstar or
Glen “Big Baby” Davis wearing a straw hat and playing the harmonica at some blues club in New
Orleans. I’m saying the latter and quite frankly I think the thought of Davis sitting on some stool and
belting out classics would be utterly hysterical.
The Bayou Bengals have a great chance of repeating their Final Four run of last season. Davis will
key the frontcourt and commands a double team on every possession. Tasmin Mitchell, Garrett
Temple, Darnell Lazare, and Ben Voogd also return. Keep an eye on Tack Minor who returns from a
torn MCL and Marquette transfer Dameon Mason. Mason was the 2004 Conference USA Freshman
of the Year and he should really fill it up after a year off the court.
5. Cobra Kai
Watching the Cobra Kai dojo compete for the first time without J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams will
be a weird experience. It’ll be like going into McDonald’s and finding out that they took the “Big Mac”
off the menu. A lot of experts doubt their chances at the All-Valley Karate Tournament this year. Not
me. Coach K is at his dastardly best when he can play the underdog card. Josh McRoberts and
DeMarcus Nelson lead the returnees and Gerald Henderson highlights the newcomers.
There wouldn’t be a better story in basketball than Jamie Dixon cutting down the nets the year after
his sister Maggie passed away. Pittsburgh should have a shot at making this possible as Aaron
Gray coming back to school for his senior season was huge. His presence elevates the Panthers
into the top five. The key to this team will be for either Levance Fields or Ronald Ramon to step up
and solidify the point guard position. Keep an eye on transfer Mike Cook as well as he really filled it
up in his freshman campaign at East Carolina.
I think the Hoyas are going to be a huge factor at the end of the season. Mainly because I believe that
strongly in the fact that Roy Hibbert will be a star. Lost in all this talk about Greg Oden entering
college as the best center in the country was the fact that Hibbert was blossoming in the NCAA
Tournament. The 7’2” 285 pounder has great hands and seemed to develop a new post move every
time I saw him. It would not shock me if puts up a 15-11-4 season. Jeff Green is also somebody
who has been flying under the radar on all these preseason checklists. He has a lot of variety in his
game and is the Hoyas best scorer. Patrick Ewing Jr. is eligible this season and should add even
more post depth. The key to this team will be the guards. Do not be surprised if they look to
freshman Jeremiah Rivers to solidify the backcourt. Rivers is the son of Doc Rivers and we all know
how effective a coach’s son can be at the point guard spot (see John Lucas Jr., Bryce Drew, etc.).
2. North Carolina
A lot of people have been crowning the Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson recruiting class as North
Carolina’s best since the 1990 class that included Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, and Brian Reese.
In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend”. Last I checked the Sean May/Raymond
Felton/Rashad McCants class was a pretty good one.
That being said, North Carolina is loaded. All-American Tyler Hansbrough leads a group of returnees
that includes Reyshawn Terry, Bobby Frasor, Wes Miller and Quentin Thomas. If the newcomers can
blend in with the solid group of returnees then this North Carolina team has a chance to be special.
Everybody seems ready to hand them the national championship and on paper this group is very
imposing. Joakim Noah passed up on being a top three pick in the NBA Draft. Al Horford, Taurean
Green and Corey Brewer are all future pros who will contend for All-Conference and All-America
consideration. However, we are all forgetting one thing. What are the chances that every single one
of these guys has been getting laid three times a day for the entire offseason and have gotten a little
happy with themselves? I’m saying even the walk-ons have one of those numbers dispensers they
have at the bakery outside their dorm room. Complacency could easily seep in here so unlike Denny
Green I’m not ready to “crown their ass” just yet.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.