. After taking half a season to adjust to Carmelo Anthony
's departure, Hakim Warrick
and Gerry McNamara
clearly showed themselves ready to lead this team back into the national spotlight. This is their year to do it. Warrick and McNamara might comprise the best 1-2 punch in the nation, and could end up getting quite a bit more help this season. McNamara is your classic combo guard, and heats up as quickly as anybody this side of JJ Redick. However, he isn't the most athletic guy in the world, and would naturally play off the ball. This is where the undependable Billy Edelin comes in. After 3 years full of suspensions and question marks, he is eligible and ready to take over full-time PG duties. Sophomore defensive specialist Demetris Nichols
and jack-of-all-trades type Josh Pace both earn their minutes. Warrick is a wiry Darius Miles
look alike, who actually enjoys playing in the paint. His partner down low is 7-footer Craig Forth, who doesn't show up much on the stat sheet, but remains an important presence. Terrence Roberts
and Darryl Watkins
are two sophompore big men that struggled as freshman but are clearly talented. Don't be surprised to see this team back in the final four come March. They are talented, deep, and, most importantly, experienced.
Ranking: Top 5-10
Draft Prospects: Scouts are up and down on Hakim Warrick
, but he'll definitely be a factor in the first round after this season. McNamara puts up big numbers, but might just be a college guy. Demetris Nichols
, Terrence Roberts
, and Darryl Watkins
could emerge on draft boards by the time they are upperclassmen.
2 â Connecticut
. This team is probably the most talented in the Big East. The question is, will they fall apart like the last time Jim Calhoun attempted a championship encore, or is there enough talent to replace names like Gordon and Okafor? This team is clearly looking for it's go-to scorer. Odds are wing Rashad Anderson
will get the looks early, after really starting to emerge last season. He has a silky smooth shot and decent athleticism, although he might not get as many open looks this season. Opposite Anderson will be fellow junior Denham Brown
, who complements Anderson's outside touch with some serious athleticism and a nasty streak. Lurking behind the two veterans is super frosh Rudy Gay
. At a wiry 6-9, Gay is freakishly skilled and compared by some to Carmelo Anthony
. Who gets these guys the ball? That question became a bit more important after touted freshman AJ Price suffered a brain hemorrhage just before school started. Marcus Williams
played well in limited action, but ended up missing the 2nd semester as an academic casualty. If the Huskies are going anywhere, Williams is going to be on the floor because frosh Antonio Kellogg, the current backup, is more of a 2. If you think Jim Calhoun has a lot of talent on the perimeter, just wait. His frontcourt is deeper and more versatile than anybody's. It all starts with Charlie Villanueva
, a Lamar Odom
look-alike who ended up playing fairly well after flirtations with the draft last spring and an eligibility firestorm that lasted well into the season. Next to him will be fellow sophomore Josh Boone
, who might just replace Okafor as the top shot blocker in the conference. Joining the squad is the burly Ed Nelson, who was a double-double guy at Georgia Tech before transferring. We haven't even gotten to Marcus White and Hilton Armstrong
, who could comprise the starting frontcourt of many tourney teams. UConn has an unbelievable amount of talent, but it also lost a lot of talent. Anybody on this team could score 20 per night, but nobody returning averaged more than 11 last year. It's up to Jim Calhoun to mold this impressive stable of talent into a winner.
Ranking: Top 10-20
Draft Prospects: Where to start? Gay and Villanueva are future lotto picks, although maybe not until '06. Anderson and Brown have to prove themselves, but both could end up in the league. Josh Boone
is a legit first round prospect down the road, and even Hilton Armstrong
has some NBA athleticism.