1 â Wake Forest
. It was the year that Skip Prosser's program took the next step. Behind the lead of the program's best player since Tim Duncan
, the Demon Deacons gained the national spotlight and won't look back anytime soon. Chris Paul
is one of those special players that only come along every couple of years. He can score at will, but prefers get everybody involved and then strike the dagger himself. People compare him to everybody from Isaiah Thomas to TJ Ford, but it's very clear that someday people will be comparing young guards to Chris Paul
. If Paul wasn't around, it's pretty clear that Justin Gray
or Taron Downey would be considered amongst the top floor generals in the nation. Gray is a pure scorer who has some pretty incredible stretches from the outside, while Downey adds a steady hand and more pure playmaking skill. If Prosser wants a bit more size in the backcourt, he can turn to physical wing Trent Strickland
. Jamal Levy is a truly unique player in that he can do pretty much everything. He has great size for a wing, and great skill for a post. He can defend anybody, and is the perfect small forward to team with Wake's exceptional guards. Down low, there isn't much of a dropoff. Eric Williams
has shown promise ever since appearing in the McDonald's game three years ago, and he is slowly starting deliver on it. Williams is your prototypical college banger, and if he can continue to work on staying out of foul trouble, he will end his career as one of the nation's best big men. Next to Williams is Vytas Danelius
, who regressed a bit last season due to some injuries. Danelius is a banger who always manages to make a big play. Off the bench, Prosser can go with 6-11 C Kyle Visser
, or PF Chris Ellis. This team loves to run, and will more often then not simply tire people out. Playing at that kind of pace, defense sometimes becomes an issue. This team can also turn the ball over at alarming rate. But this is nitpicking. It's hard to argue why this team shouldn't be #1 in the country at this point.
Ranking: Top 5
NBA Prospects: Paul is a lottery pick whenever he chooses to come out. Williams and Danelius will both get looks from scouts. Gray and Levy probably get their chance as well.
2 â North Carolina
. It hasn't been a smooth transition for Roy Williams, but it's strange to think that anybody thought it would be. Last season the Tar Heels showed a penchant for looking like the best team in the nation and losing to Clemson in the same week. It isn't an issue of talent. UNC has more than anybody. It was probably more about a lack of experience and learning a new system. It's no guarantee that UNC comes out and solves whatever put them in the middle of the pack in this conference last season â they were more talented then everybody else last season as well. However, you can't look at the Tar Heels this season and not be impressed. Ray Felton is the team's engine. He is content to be the playmaker, pushing the tempo and taking people off the dribble. But every now and then, he'll put into overdrive, and win games by himself. His backcourt partner, Rashad McCants
won a few games by himself last year as well. McCants has somewhat of a volatile personality, but there's no denying that he might be the best pure scorer in the country. The backcourt is deep, with seniors Melvin Scott and Jackie Manuel
back. Scott is the shooter, Manuel is the lock-down defender. Freshman Quentin Thomas is a welcome addition for Felton, as the never-stops PG will be able to take a breather every now and again. The frontcourt has everybody back as well, led by PF Sean May
. May came back for his sophomore season slimmed down a bit, and was dominant at times. May did struggle at times, but that may have been because he was forced to do it all himself. Combo F David Noel
and PF Jawad Williams
both struggled with nagging injuries last season, and May simply didn't have the stamina to excel for 40 minutes per game. This season, help comes from touted freshman Marvin Williams
, a lanky combo type who many believe is the top incoming freshman in the country. This team has had talent the past two seasons, but hasn't been able to pull it together when it counts. However, looking at all this talent, it's hard not to put the Tar Heels near the top of the conference.
Ranking: Top 5
Draft Prospects: Felton, May, and McCants all have issues to resolve before they make it in the NBA, but all three will have a shot at the first round eventually. Jawad Williams
will get a shot, and it was said that Marvin Williams
could have gone lotto last season.
3 â Georgia Tech
. The Yellow Jackets took the loss of Chris Bosh
and turned it into a final four season. Despite the lack of a go-too scorer and little presence in the post, Tech used a stable of athletic, physical guards to win a lot of games. Where other more hyped teams in the conference struggled to play to their full abilities, Tech was stealing games left and right. This season shouldn't be much difference. The backcourt is largely intact, and led by PG Jarrett Jack
. At 6-3, Jack could lead the conference in scoring, but he prefers to get his teammates involved. Like Paul, he seems to be able to turn on the scoring instinct at exactly the right time. But if Jack were playing with a bunch of ordinary guards, this team would be very ordinary. Will Bynum
and BJ Elder display every attribute that winning guards need - toughness, intelligence, athleticism, and above all, a killer instinct. Elder played the role of leading scorer, and will probably be expected to do more now that Marvin Lewis has graduated. Bynum is only 5-9, but you'd never know it from the way he plays. He'll dunk on you, and is nearly impossible to get around off of the dribble. Isma'il Muhammad
, the powder keg wing who easily takes the cake as the nation's best dunker, probably ends up playing a bigger role this year. He can score in bunches, but has played his best ball off the bench thus far in his career. Combo forward Anthony McHenry isn't very involved in the offense, but like many Yellow Jackets, can defend anybody. C Luke Schenscher
is Paul Hewitt's best option down low. He started the season overmatched, but slowly grew more comfortable as the year wore on. By the end of the season, he was a legit scoring option in the post. He is helped out by junior PF Theodis Tarver, whose season got off to a slow start due to injury. This core will probably keep any youngster out off the floor most of the time, but Hewitt does have four talented youngsters to utilize when needed. Anthony Morrow
and Zam Frederick are two guards who will eventually play a lot of minutes. Jeremis Smith
is an athletic combo guy, while Ra'Sean Dickey
could eventually be Schenscher's replacement at center. There's no doubting that Georgia Tech overachieved last season, but I don't see why won't do it again this year.
Raking: Top 5-10
NBA Prospects: Jarrett Jack
is a legit first rounder, while Schenscher will get looks for his size. It's hard to imagine Muhammad not playing in the NBA someday.
4 â Maryland
. Only in the ACC could a team this complete be ranked this low. Gary Williams' Terps looked like they were taking a year off before exploding into the postseason and winning their first round game. Nearly everybody is back, and a top-tier ACC finish should be expected. PG John Gilchrist
literally exploded in the conference tournament last season. If he can do it consistently, he might not just be the best point guard in the nation, but the best player period. He is complemented by Chris McCray
and DJ Strawberry, a couple of tough-nosed wings that could help the team out by providing more of a consistent scoring effort. Mike Jones
, a former McDonald's All American, hasn't been able to get off the bench, but showed flashes of stardom in high school. The starting small forward is Nik Caner-Medley
, a player who can score in a variety of ways. When his shot is falling, he's almost impossible to guard. Down low, the Terps will miss the presence of Jamar Smith, but have the horses to overcome his loss without much of a hitch. Sophomore Ekene Ibekwe
gets his starting spot, and provides a strong athletic presence. PF Travis Garrison
hasn't lived up to expectations, but still draws defenders away from the hoop with his outside J. The backup post minutes will be split between 7 foot sophs Will Bowers and Hasan Fofana, as well as freshman PF James Gist
. This team could range anywhere from middle of the pack to conference champion. There isn't a proven standout other than Gilchrist, but numerous players are in the position to step up. I expect the Terps to fight for an ACC title this year.
Raking: Top 5-15
Draft Prospects: Glichrist is a future first rounder. I wouldn't be surprised to see scouts take an interest in Ibekwe, either.
5 â Duke
. The Duke Blue Devils are back for another national championship run. They might be a little thin, but there's no denying the talent this team has in its top seven or eight players. Chris Duhon
is gone, but the rest of the backcourt returns. Sean Dockery
is the new starting PG [Ed. Note: Dockery did not start in the Devils' season opener but is expected to as the season goes on], and should do just fine. Dockery isn't the greatest shooter in the world, but should do well pressuring the ball and getting in the passing lanes. JJ Redick and Daniel Ewing
will excel on the wings. Redick remains the nation's premier outside shooter. It doesn't always show up in the percentages, but nobody draws more attention from opposing defenses. Ewing does a bit of everything. He can handle the ball, shoot the J, and plays tough defense. Joining the backcourt this season is blue chip combo guard DeMarcus Nelson
, who some have compared to a smaller version of Rashad McCants
. He will probably end up with many of Duhon's minutes. The inside situation can be summed up quickly. Shelden Williams
and Shavlik Randolph
came to campus with much fanfare. Williams has lived up to the hype, proving to be one of the best interior defenders in the nation. Randolph has shown solid athleticism and a decent post up game, but has struggled to crack Coach K's rotation. That won't be a problem this season, as there is no post depth to speak of. Wings David McClure, Lee Melchionni and Reggie Love might have to do for backup minutes. The Blue Devils are being discounted by many right now, and I partially agree. Any injury ruins this team's chances. However, if everybody stays healthy, this is still a very good team â good enough to win many conferences
Ranking: Top 15-25
Draft Prospects: Shelden Williams
is probably the team's best draft prospect, though Ewing, Reddick, Randolph, and Nelson will all get their chance to play in the league.
6 â NC State
. The Wolfpack have gone through a resurgence of sorts, and it isn't just a fluke. Herb Sendek has managed to upgrade the talent level, slowly but surely. All-American wing Julius Hodge
may be a bit overrated by some, but I certainly can't deny what he has done for the program. He will most likely put better numbers than anybody else in the ACC this season once again. Around him the talent is improved, especially with Georgetown transfer Tony Bethel coming in to play the point. Bethel has always had more of a scorers mentality, but he is an upgrade over what the Wolfpack had last season. The other backcourt starter could be sophomore Engin Atsur
, who dominated overseas before heading to the US. He is a deadeye shooter who could have a breakout sophomore season. The Wolfpack are a bit thin down low, but do-it-all wingman Illian Evtimov can masquerade as a 4. The true big men are senior Jordan Collins and a couple of talented freshmen, Andrew Brackman
and Cedric Simmons
. Senior Levi Watkins is still around as well. This is a team that will be led by Hodge, and is easily good for a middle of the pack ACC finish. Given the state of the ACC, that's saying something.
Draft Prospects: It's hard to imagine a player of Hodge's pedigree not getting drafted in the first round.
7 â Florida State
. Leonard Hamilton is on the verge of getting this program to a level it hasn't been at in a while. However, the competition in the ACC is downright brutal this season. Furthermore, the Seminoles will have to make do without the graduated Tim Pickett, the team's leader and best player. Most of the talent on this team will still come from underclassmen. Two of last season's bumper crop of freshmen figure to take over leadership roles on this team. Von Wafer a super athletic wing that showed he belongs in the ACC as a freshman. PF Alexander Johnson
impressed with his physicality and athleticism, and should be the number one option in the post. Veteran leadership is available at the point guard slot with junior Todd Galloway, but hotshot freshmen Isaiah Swann and Jason Rich are waiting in the wings â impatiently. Hamilton has a few options at, SF. Andrew Wilson is a role player, while up-and-down senior Anthony Richardson can light it up when he gets on a role. Also around is JUCO transfer Antonio Griffin. Johnson will have a new frontcourt partner in C Diego Romero. Romero actually transferred in last season from JUCO and was expected to be an impact player, but had to sit out until some eligibility issues could be resolves. Adam Waleskowski and Al Thornton
are around for post depth. This team has a lot of talent, but is light on experience and playing in the toughest conference in the nation. An NCAA berth would be a smashing success.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
Draft Prospects: Wafer and Johnson could break out and become first round draft picks down the road. Romero is an unknown quantity.
8 â Virginia
. If you are going to talk about coaches on the hot seat, it won't be long before Virginia's Pete Gillen is mentioned. The Cavaliers are always considered capable of competing, but never seem to live up to realistic expectations. Last season was going along in typically disappointing fashion before a late-season run almost got the team an NCAA berth. Most of the team is back in 2004, but nobody really lost much in the ACC this year. After two seasons of using natural shooting guard Todd Billet at the point, Virginia finally has a true point guard. Sean Singletary
comes with quite a bit of hype. Expectations might be a bit unrealistic as playing PG in this conference comes with a brutal initiation period, but it's clear that this team will add a wrinkle that it has lacked over the past few seasons. The Cavaliers have several impressive wing players, led by senior Devin Smith. JR Reynolds and Gary Forbes
both had varying levels of success in their freshman seasons. Rounding out the backcourt rotation will be backup PG TJ Bannister. Down low, C Elton Brown
is a load, but he also has a reputation for being mentally weak. Teams can show him extra attention, and he will disappear. Senior Jason Clark is the team's blue collar power forward. There are several other young big men with a chance to emerge, such as sophomores Donte Minter and Jason Cain, or freshmen Adrian Joseph and Tunji Soroye. It is redundant, of course, but it still rings true â if this was any other conference, this team would have a much better chance of making the tourney.
NBA Prospects: Brown might have an NBA body, but he doesn't have a pro's mentality. Smith is somebody that could get a 2nd round look.
9 â Clemson
. Oliver Purnell's first go-round in the ACC could have been worse, but he's not exactly making any of the other coaches sweat either. The Tigers were competitive at times, and not so competitive at others. One can reasonably expect this to continue this season. The team's most consistent player is senior post Sharrod Ford
, who is good for a double-double most nights. The backcourt is filled with guys who can contribute, but lacks a standout. Vernon Hamilton and Shawan Robinson are a capable starting backcourt, but freshmen Cliff Hammonds, Cheyenne Moore and Sam Perry will push for time. Freshman Troy Mathis may have ended up with the starting PG job, but was suspended for the season after an off the court incident. Olu Babalola is a tweener forward who might not get as much time this season. The other post players are the athletic Akin Akingbala and promising frosh James Mays
. This team isn't without talent, especially when it comes to the underclassmen. Nonetheless, they don't stand a chance of competing in the stacked ACC.
NBA Prospects: Ford will get second round looks after his senior season
10. Virginia Tech
. It's not going to be pretty for Seth Greenberg's team this year. Not only do they jump to the nation's most competitive league, they also have to learn to live without 22+ point per game scorer Bryant Matthews. The backcourt is young, but probably still the team's strong point. Two sophomore guards, Zabian Dowdell
and Jamont Gordon
, will lead the charge. Both are of the combo type, but will be joined by true PG Marquie Cooke. Cooke is Tech's most highly touted recruit in a very long time. The team doesn't have much inside, so expect the team to go with a four-guard lineup. Greenberg does have a few taller wings to utilize in freshmen Deron Washington
and Wynton Witherspoon, as well as senior Carlos Dixon. Dixon was a standout two seasons ago before tearing his ACL and missing the entire season. The post situation is what will kill the Hokies in the ACC. Coleman Collins
is the best big man, but neither Collins or Allen Calloway is a true banger. Greenberg struck out in landing an impact big man on US soil, so he has brought in Euro C Robert Krabbendam, who has a ways to go. Virginia Tech does have a decent recruiting class, but it's hard to see this team winning more than 2 or 3 games in the new ACC.
NBA Prospects: None
11 â Miami
. Frank Haith inherited a tough situation before the team moved to the ACC. Now, he will try to win a few ballgames with the pieces of Perry Clark's unsuccessful program and a few emergency recruits singed this past spring. If the Hurricanes have a strength, it is the backcourt duo of Guillermo Diaz
and Robert Hite
. Both spectacular leapers, Diaz showed the potential to be a star early in his freshman season, while Hite, a junior, developed into one. They might not win a team many games, but they will make plenty of highlight reels and keep a few Hurricane fans in the stands. The other guards, sophomore Anthony Harris and freshman Antoine Mayhand, aren't nearly as exciting. The post players are fairly ho-hum as well. Senior William Frisby has never amounted to much at the PF slot, and Gary Hamilton has yet to develop either. Sophomore Eric King and freshman Broderick Hicks will get their chances. One intriguing player to mention is 6-11, 350 pound behemoth Glen Batemon. Completely out of shape a short time ago after transferring in from Fordham, word is that Batemon has lost a few pounds and might be ready to contribute. It will be a necessity if Miami wants to not get embarrassed a couple of times this season.
Draft Prospects: Players who can leap like Diaz and Hite will always get looks. Neither is firmly on the draft radar, however.
ACC Player of the Year
PG Chris Paul
, Wake Forest All-ACC Team
PG John Gilchrist
PG Jarrett Jack
, Georgia Tech
WG Rashad McCants
, North Carolina
WG Julius Hodge
, NC State
PF Sean May
, North Carolina
PG Ray Felton, North Carolina
G Justin Gray
, Wake Forest
WG Barry Elder
, Georiga Tech
WG JJ Redick, Duke
PF Shelden Williams
WG Daniel Ewing
WF Devin Smith, Virginia
PF Alexander Johnson
, Florida State
C Eric Williams
, Wake Forest
C Luke Schenscher
, Georgia Tech ACC Newcomer of the Year
WG DeMarcus Nelson
, Duke All-Newcomer Team
PG Sean Singletary
PG Marquie Cooke, Virginia Tech
G Isaiah Swann, Florida State
F Marvin Williams
, North Carolina
PF Andrew Brackman
, North Carolina State Most Improved Player
PF Alexander Johnson
, Florida State Defensive Player of the Year
PF Shelden Williams
1 - Arizona
. The Wildcats may be the most difficult in the entire nation to peg heading into the season. They have as much talent as anybody, but the fact of the matter is that this is no different than last season, where the word "underachievement" would be considered kind. I think this season will be different. The main reason is depth. Where last season the team was down to 6 scholarship players at times, this year the team is stocked with talented depth at every position. Depth is a crucial component of every team, but even more crucial for an up-and-down team like Arizona, who lost numerous games in the second half. A key component of the new depth will be the PF position. Channing Frye
was forced to man the middle by himself last year, and will greatly benefit from an enforcer-type who can give him a little space to work with. Oft-injured senior Isaiah Fox and physical freshman Mohamed Tangara will get first crack at the starting four spot. Also still around is Ivan Radenovic
, a clearly talented 3/4 who didn't have time to gel with his teammates after transferring in at the semester break. The backcourt remains largely intact, with Mustafa Shakur
, Salim Stoudamire
, Chris Rodgers
and Hassan Adams
all back. The group is supremely talented, but one got the impression that a few of these guys would take plays off, especially on the defensive end. If that happens this season, Lute Olson will be able to counter with a couple of very talented freshmen, Jawan McLellan and Jesus Verdejo, instead of standing there wringing his hands. The added competition/depth is going to end up making everybody better. For what it's worth, Hassan Adams
may be the most talented player in the country, and Arizona could be the most talented team in the country. Now it's up to the players to prove that last year was a fluke. They will win the conference either way, but a final four appearance should be expected by Wildcat fans.
Ranking: Top 5-10
Draft Prospects: There is a long list here. Hassan Adams
is a future high first rounder, even if he's a bit undersized. Frye might end up there as well. Stoudemire, Shakur, Radenovic and McLellan are all players to keep an eye on.
2 - Washington
. For the first time in a long time, UDub fans have more to be excited about when it comes to basketball than football. Much like the team ranked above them, Washington features a group of superior perimeter athletes that don't stop gunning all night. The key figure remains diminutive former football player Nate Robinson
, who will throw down as many highlight dunks as anybody 5-9 ever has. The rest of the guards all play their roles. Will Conroy
is the distributor, Bobby Jones
is the defender, Tre Simmons
is the shooter, and Brandon Roy
is the jack-of-all-trades. Roy, in particular, could be on the verge of a breakout season. The problem for Lorenzo Romar
is when a team does manage to slow those guards down. Washington is thin down low, and the team's only true post player, 6-7 banger Hakeem Rollins, will have to work overtime. Finesse PF Mike Jensen fits well with the team, but does most of his damage from the outside. Newcomer Jamal Williams
, a combo F transfer from New Mexico, will have to spend most of his time down low. Last year's incredible tourney run took nearly everybody by surprise. Washington was about as hot as a team can get. As a conference favorite, there will be some adjustments. However, last year wasn't a fluke. This team plays well together, and is legit top 25.
Ranking: Top 15-25
Draft Prospects: Robinson was a revelation in the Chicago camp last summer, and even at 5-9, may have a shot late in the first round. Roy may be a future first rounder as well.
3 - USC
. I really didn't' know who to put here in this conference, and clearly there is a huge drop-off at #3. Henry Bibby
's program has struggled over the past several seasons, but if a resurgence is going to take place under Bibby, it will be this season. As with most successful teams, it starts with some veteran guard play. The Trojans have that with the Craven twins, Errick and Derrick. The two should begin the season as starters in the backcourt, along with sophomore Lodrick Stewart, whose twin brother Rodrick transferred out after a disappointing freshman season. Neither of the Cravens is what you would call a true point, so Bibby brought in point Dwayne Shackelford, who had a lot of success at the JUCO level. Two freshman guards, Gabe Pruitt
and Nick Young
, will push the veterans for playing time. Both were amongst the highest risers in the senior class last spring. Down low, Jeff McMillian and Rory O'Neil fit together quite nicely as a low/high post starting combo, while Greg Guenther and Nick Curtis are reserves that can contribute big. Most importantly, all four are seniors. One can only imagine what could have been if 7-footer Robert Swift
had decided to play college ball, but USC did get a decent consolation prize in Kenyon Martin
wannabe Emmanuel Willis. I'm not convinced this team has what it takes to make it to the tourney, as they should have been a lot better than they were last season. But with a real lack of quality teams in the Pac 10 this season, the Trojans seem most likely to make a move to the top of the conference.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
NBA Prospects: There aren't any first rounders on this team, but McMillian, Eric Craven, and Stewart are players to keep an eye on.
4 - Stanford
. All the experts seem to be picking the Cardinal in 2nd or 3rd, but I just don't see it. This team has lost a lot - 4 seniors, 3 double-digit scorers, and a lot of leadership. After missing most of his first two years with injuries, a healthy Chris Hernandez
was as important as any player in last year's near-undefeated regular season run. Unfortunately, he's injured again and could miss the start of the season. This could be a death blow to a young team that was already trying to gel under a new coach. Several guards will be forced to step up this season, with the loss of Josh Childress
and Matt Lottich. Look for Nick Robinson, Dan Grunfield, and redshirt frosh Evan Moore to get most of the time on the wings. This group shoots the ball well, even if they aren't the most athletic bunch. Jason Haas will get minutes at the point as long as Hernandez remains sidelined. Down low, the Cardinal return a quality post duo in Matt Haryasz
and Rob Little
, despite having little depth. Little is one of the most physically imposing players in the country, and Haryasz could break out and become the team's go-too guy. There is little depth here, so expect to see freshman Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt early and often. This program is in good hands with new coach Trent Johnson, but don't write them into the tourney for this season.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
Draft Prospects: If Haryasz develops as expected, he is a first rounder by the end of the year. Little likely ends up getting drafted.
5 - Oregon
. Ernie Kent has lost three lottery picks over the past three seasons, but has managed to keep the team stocked with talent. This season is no different, as a standout group of freshman moves on campus and gets a chance to play right away. Oregon came out of nowhere to steal all-world wing Malik Hairston
away from several big-time suitors. Hairston is a smooth, pure scorer, as talented a player as you will see at the college level these days. He could lead the team in scoring as a freshman. Getting him the ball will be sophomore Aaron Brooks
, who struggled with injuries last year but looked dominant in the offseason. Guard depth will also come from youngsters, as three seniors saw time in the backcourt last season. Freshmen Bryce Taylor
and Chamberlain Oguchi
are two of the top shooting freshmen in the country, but it remains to be seen if they are ready in an all-around sense. Down low, the Ducks have a lot of options but no one dominating presence. Ian Crosswhite, an impressive outside shooter for his size, averaged double figures last season. The beef figures to come from from three 6-10 or taller players - Mitch Platt, Ray Shaefer, and Matt Short. A consistent effort from one of the three could be key, though none have much game experience. Also around is freshman Marty Luenen, who has won praise for his rebounding ability and soft touch. Ernie Kent has amassed a solid collection of skill players here, and while the team may be young, they also are good enough to make an NCAA tourney run. If Hairston stays for his sophomore season, watch out world.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
Draft Prospects: Hairston is a future lottery pick, whether it be a year from now, or 4 years from now. Brooks could be on the draft radar someday. Crosswhite has a chance in the league because of his size/shooting ability.
6 - Arizona State
. A lot of people have ASU picked 10th in the conference, but given the state of some of the other teams in the Pac-10, I can't figure out why. This team is always going to stand a fighting chance when Ike Diogu
is around. Diogu followed up an unbelievable freshman campaign by actually returning to campus and actually continuing to improve. He's an unstoppable low-post scorer with feather soft touch and Tim Duncan
-like footwork. The problem last season was the talent surrounding him took a major hit. This year the supporting cast should be improved. Point guard was a weak spot last season, and touted JUCO transfer Tyrone Jackson should take care of that. He has reportedly already passed up incumbent Jason Braxton, and Jackson's presence should mean more success for everybody. Steve Moore and Kevin Kruger are outside shooters that will contribute, while newcomers Tim Pierce and Bryson Krueger should infuse a bit of much-needed athleticism into the backcourt. Surrounding Diogu with a bit of worthy talent has been a struggle for Rob Evans ever since Tommy Smith graduated. Frontcourt play outside of Ike is probably this team's weakness as well, as players like Keith Wooden, Will Fameni, Allen Morrill don't excite anybody. Serge Angounou is a power forward who has shown promise in the past, but injuries may have gotten the best of him. The difference between finishing in the cellar and playing deep into March is often very slim. This team would need a lot of things to go right to make the tourney, but I fully expect a rebound off of last year's disappointing performance.
Draft Prospects: Diogu is undersized, but I highly doubt he slips out of the first round.
7 - Washington State
. WSU may lack household names and traditional talent, but there's no doubting the difference that was seen with this team last season. It all comes down to Dick Bennett, who doesn't need a lot of talent to compete. The two feature returnees are wing Thomas Kelati and undersized power forward Jeff Varem. Varem battled various eligibility issues before finally getting on the court and putting up some impressive single-game numbers. He's a super athlete, and his 6-6 frame doesn't stop him from scoring inside. Kelati averaged double figures last season and shot 44% from 3. He may struggle a bit this season, as last year's go-too scorer and PG Marcus Moore is no longer around to draw defensive attention. Replacing Moore is an issue, as the somewhat touted freshman Derrick Low
tore his ACL and is out for the season. Another freshman, Josh Akognon, may get thrown to the wolves. The team lacks size overall, with Shaminader Gill and Chris Schlatter the two key interior returnees. Freshmen Chris Henry and Robby Cowgill will get their chances to play. This isn't a team that's going to move into the upper half of the standings, but I would be shocked if they finished in the bottom two. Bennett's players are only going to get better in his slow-it-down system.
Draft Prospects: None
8 - UCLA
. The Ben Howland era has begun without much fanfare, but given the types of players he was left with, it's easy to understand why. The Bruins have gotten steadily softer and more complacent as a team over the past few years, but that is all about to change. Howland has brought in a stellar recruiting class, full of tough-minded players much more similar to the group that overachieved at Pittsburgh than to the primadonna fare we are now used to seeing at Pauley Pavilion. McD's AA PG Jordan Farmar
takes over at the point, and will immediately make an impact. My pick for national freshman of the year, Farmar runs a team as well as anybody, and does it with flair. He can also hit the jumper, and D up. Aaron Afflalo, another high school all-american, is Howland's UCLA version of Julius Page. Afflalo is physical, and will contribute in every aspect of the game. Dijon Thompson
, the team's leading scorer a year ago, also returns, but will be pushed another freshman, Josh Shipp
. The frosh will have to play an even bigger role this year, as backup PG Ryan Walcott transferred and Cedric Bozeman
tore his ACL. The frontcourt took a hit when super-frosh Trevor Ariza
decided to declare for the draft. He would have provided the toughness and overall floor game to perhaps propel this young team into the upper half of the conference. Instead, the Howland will rely on a couple of underachieving 7-footers, Ryan Hollins
and Michael Fey. Lorenzo Mata is a raw but powerful 4 man that will get some important minutes by default. This is the core of a new era in UCLA hoops, but it's going to take a while for Hollins to rebuild the program's deteriorated culture. The losses of Ariza and Bozeman probably did the Bruins in for this season.
Draft Prospects: Farmar is a future lotto pick. Thompson has an NBA body, but didn't get a whiff from NBA scouts this past offseason.
9 - Oregon State
. Many people had picked the Beavers as the conference sleeper this season, but that was before leading scorer and preseason all-conference pick David Lucas
was lost for the season with a toe injury. Instead, Jay John will turn to wing Chris Stephans for go-too scoring, and expect an increased role from junior PG Lamar Hurd. Hurd is a top-notch floor general, but has been reluctant to shoot the ball in his first two seasons. Lucas will not be replaced down low, but Kyle Jeffers and Iowa transfer Nick DeWitz
will be the recipients of his minutes. 7-2 redshirt frosh Liam Hughes will also get a shot. New Mexico state transfer Jason Fontenet should see plenty of time in the backcourt, along with role-player Angelo Tsagarakis and freshman Marcel Jones
. Even without Lucas, there is more talent on this OSU team than most followers of college basketball are used to seeing. However, Jay John has to pull it together and come up with a new game plan on very short notice. There is a chance that Lucas could be back before the end of the year, but he might just redshirt. If that's the case, its doubtful OSU can move out of the bottom half of the conference.
Draft Prospects: None
10 - California
. Ben Braun's squad was looking good until super soph Leon Powe
went down with his second ACL tear in three years, leaving the team in a world of hurt. Powe was probably on his way to doing an Ike Diogu
impression and averaging close to 20/10. Without him, the Bears lack a go-too scorer and are short on overall talent. The backcourt should remain solid, but it remains to be seen if athletic point guard Ayinde Ubaka
, shooting specialist Richard Midgley, and high flying wing Marquise Kately
are ready to put it into another gear and actually beat some Pac-10 teams on their own. Wings Dominic McGuire
and Eric Vierneisel add some nice intermediate size at the F spot and will compete for time. There really isn't anybody down low worth talking about now that Powe is out, but expect Rod Benson
and David Paris to be the veterans that attempt to pick up the slack. Freshmen Kevin Langford, DeVon Hardin
, and Sam Rayburn all figure to get solid playing time. This team had a chance to be pretty darn good with Powe, but is just a collection of role-players trying to make it through the season without him. Cal fans should already be looking to 2006, when Powe comes back and the Wilkes brothers suit up.
Draft Prospects: Marquise Kately
is a guy to keep an eye on. Even healthy, Powe is a bit undersized to get picked high in the first round.
Pac-10 Player of the Year
WG Hassan Adams
, Arizona All Pac-10 Team
PG Mustafa Shakur
WG Nate Robinson
WG Brandon Roy
PF Ike Diogu
, Arizona State
C Channing Frye
PG Aaron Brooks
WG Salim Stoudamire
WG Eric Craven, USC
WF Marquise Kately
PF Matt Haryasz
PG Jordan Farmar
PG Lamar Hurd, Oregon State
WG Malik Hairson, Oregon
PF Jeff Varem, Washington State
C Rob Little
, Stanford Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year
PG Jordan Farmar
, UCLA All-Newcomer Team
PG Tyrone Jackson, Arizona State
WG Bryce Taylor
WG Malik Hairson, Oregon
WG Aaron Afflalo, UCLA
PF Nick DeWitz
, Oregon State Defensive Player of the Year Bobby Jones
, Washington Most Improved Player Matt Haryasz