NCAA Preview: Part 3

NCAA Preview: Part 3
Nov 28, 2004, 12:43 pm
Big Ten

1. Illinois - Clearly the class of the Big ten, and the only legitimate NCAA title contender in the conference. It all starts in the backcourt, as Deron Williams and Dee Brown are two of the top PG's in the country. Williams and Brown will keep the pace frantic, and wear down opponents all season. One problem this team had last season was finding a scorer for the PG's to pass the ball to. Luther Head's re-emergence was key to the late-year success, and he must have a big year if the Illini do want to compete nationally. Down low, Illinois is deep and versatile, even if the frontcourt isn't quite dominant. James Augustine, Roger Powell, and Nick Smith all pose different problems for opposing defenses. Augustine should be a star, but hasn't shown the will to dominate yet. Powell is an explosive, albeit undersized force near the basket. Though the two newcomers are talented, this is essentially the same team as last season. No major additions, no major losses. I say, hand them the Big Ten title right now.
Ranking: Top 5-10
Draft Prospects: Brown and Williams are future first rounders. Augustine has a shot if he can continue to improve. Don't quote me on it, but even Head could end up in the league.

2. Wisconsin - With Devin Harris, this team gets my pick for #1 in the country. Without him, the Badgers are still pretty darn good. Penn State transfer Sharif Chambliss and defensive specialist Boo Wade will replace Harris, and shouldn't do a bad job. Chambliss and former walk on Clayton Hanson can really shoot. This should open things up for Wiscy's solid inside corps, led by scrappy seniors Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley, and redshirt uber-frosh Brian Butch. Butch took a redshirt year to gain weight, and has put some muscle on. He's still a twig, but has the footwork and touch to be a star. Wisconsin is in great shape if they can get a double-double out of Butch. Also returning is powder keg of a wing Alando Tucker, who redshirted last season because of a stress fracture. There are some talented freshman here as well, but it's hard to see how they get much time this year. This team is a go-too scorer from being a contender. Chambliss, Tucker, or Butch could end up being that guy. Either way, the Badgers are a top-tier Big 10 team.
Ranking: Top 15-25
Draft Prospects: There is no Devin Harris on this team, but you can bet scouts have their eyes on Tucker, and 7-footers as touted as Butch is will always get some attention from the league.

3. Michigan - Another team that looks really, really good on paper. They looked good on paper last season too, however, and didn't put it together until the NCAA's were long out of reach. This team will have essentially the same look as last years - athletic, tough-minded, defense-oriented. Ammaker will be without high-scoring wing Bernard Robinson Jr, who has graduated. Leading the show, and most likely deciding the fate of this Michigan team is Daniel Horton, who seems to have devloped a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde complex. When he was attacking teams relentlessly and hitting clutch shots his freshman year, he was playing tenatively and commiting key blunders last season. He still had his moments, but there is no doubting that the Wolverines will go as far as Daniel Horton takes them. At the wing are two atheletes with go-too scorer potential in Dion Harris and Lester Abram. Harris really came on last march. Down low, Michigan is as deep and athletic as any team in the Big Ten. Soph Courtney Sims should develop into the league's best center, averaging close to a double-double. Guys like Chris Hunter, Graham Brown, and JC Mathis would be starters on most teams. Recruiting was a bit of a dissapointment, as top prospects Joe Crawford and Al Horford both decommited and ended up at other schools. The loss of Crawford was particularly hurtful, as he developed into a legit McD's AA and would have been the perfect replacment for Robinson. Now the Wolverines are perilously thin in the backcourt, and a key injury to any of the four perimeter players expected to get a lot of time would be devestating. Despite the lack of depth in the backcourt, if this team can shoot the ball a bit more consistently, they belong in the top 25.
Ranking: Top 25-35
Draft Prospects: Horton would have been drafted much higher had he come out after his freshman year. Abram has NBA game. However, NBA scouts will be coming to Ann Arbor to watch Sims and Petway, two players with standout athleticism even for the league.

4. Michigan State - On paper, you'd have to put Michigan State at #1 in the B10. Unfortunately for Spartan fans, the games are played on the hardwood. MSU has a whole stable of standout wings, one of the few legit centers in the country, and talented incoming freshman class. What's not to like? The PG situation, for starters. Chis Hill and Alan Anderson are very good at what they do well (shooting and defending, respectively), but neither can run an offense effectively, which is what Izzo has required of them over the past two seasons. This left the Spartans vulnerable to the press, and led to a lot of crucial turnovers and forced shots at the end of the shot clock. Another issue with the senior wings is that it keeps the more talented underclassmen wings off the court. Shannon Brown and Mo Ager need to see the court, and get the ball where they can actually do something with it. The other problem I have with this team is that there is no inside presence other than Davis. Paul Davis has the game to be an all-american, but hasn't had anyone to take the pressure off him in 2 years at MSU. Last season defenses collapsed on him, leading to forced shots and a lot of frustration. There are a lot of youthful bigs on the roster, but will Izzo trust one of Rowley, Naymick, Gray, Ibok, or Sutton enough for them to be a factor? I have my doubts. The second half of the year should be a bit easier on Spartan fans, as touted freshman PG Drew Neitzel should work his way into the rotation and make things easier for everybody. The team will also pick up football player Matt Trannon, who contributed a bit during his first season. This team is better than last year's, but I believe last year's team wasn't that good at all. Borderline top 25, with improvement throughout the year.
Ranking: Top 25-35
Draft Prospects: Davis is a guy that many gurus disagree on. Still a first rounder in nearly everybody's book. Watch out for Brown and Ager. Teams will look at Hill, Anderson, and Torbert as second round/free agent possibilities.

5. Iowa - It's been a rough couple of seasons for Steve Alford, and while there are some serious question marks, this could be the year he takes the Hawkeyes back to the tourney. This team's strength is the backcourt, where Jeff Horner and Pierre Pierce return. Pierce is the conference's 2nd leading returing scorer, and contributes in just about every way possible. He does have a couple of knocks, however, in that he's turnover prone and doesn't shoot well from the outside. Horner progressed as a shooter and decision maker in his sophomore season, and should be considered one of the top PG's in the conference. Also new to the backcourt this year is Iowa State transfer Adam Haluska, who nearly averaged double figures as a freshman in the big XII. He should add athleticism and outside shooting to the lineup. Things are a bit sparse inside for the Hawks. Undersized PF Greg Brunner is back, and will provide double-double type numbers every night. Beyond Brunner is a group of largely unproven players. Erek Hansen, a slender 7-footer who lwas 2nd in the conference in blocked shots despite playing just 13 minutes per game, will get the first crack at center. Newcomers Doug Thomas, Alex Thompson, and Seth Gorney will be asked to contribute early and often. This could be Alford's best team since the Recker/Evans era, and though that isn't saying much, this team could easily earn an NCAA bid. To achieve this goal, a few of the young big men will have to step up, and the backcourt trio mentioned above will carry the Hawkeyes every step of the way.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
Draft Prospects: Pierce is the only real NBA prospect on the team. He has the athleticism and size to be a solid NBA PG, but needs to become a smarter player before he gets into the first round.

6. Indiana - Teams 6-8 are very evenly matched, and I may be caving to popular opinion here, but I will give Mike Davis a bit of my support. Last year was a disastrous season for Indiana basketball, no doubt. Most of it had to do with a lack of a big man (George Leach was hurt; Patrick Ewing wasn't ready), but there were also problems with ball distribution and outside shooting. The big man situation should be slightly better at the least, with the addition of McD's AA PF DJ White, who has that Big Ten banger mentality. Ewing will be better, and Sean Kline returns as well. On the perimeter, Bracey Wright will again contend for Big Ten player of the year honors, and look to improve on his sub-40% field goal percentage. With a little help defenses aren't going to key on him as much, and he will get much better shots. He's as willing to sacrifice his body and play tough defense as any college star. The help could be coming from freshmen (notice a theme) as physical wing Robert Vaden and combo guard AJ Ratliff both come highly regarded. PG is a question mark, as the explosive yet maddeningly inconsistent Marshall Strickland returns. This team has a lot of talent, but just as many question marks. Who plays point guard well enough to provide cohesion? Who plays center? Who hits the outside shot? I don't doubt that this group can win down the road, but freshman will be freshman. I expect the Hoosiers to finish in the 6-8 range in the Big 10 this year. 2006 will be Mike Davis' make or break year. The freshmen will be sophomores, and the 2 Auburn transfers will make this a complete team.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: Wright has a shot at the first round. White is a bit small to be an early entry-type prospect.

7. Northwestern - I really want to put these guys higher. I really, really do. However, losing JTim Young means that Bill Carmody's guys are going to have to prove themselves all over again after a suprisingly promising 2004 campaign. Young was the true Big Ten MVP last season, and did some truly shocking things when you consider they were coming from a 6-2 guard. This season things will center around shooting wing Vedran Vukusic, who has the potential to lead the league in scoring. (He's also one of the most injury-prone players in the league). The other main reason to be excited about the Wildcats this year is the addition of former McD's AA and Duke Blue Devil Michael Thompson. He's a legit center, and he's finally going to have a chance to show what he can do. Replacing Young will be a true team effort, but expect to see solid wings Mohammed Hachad and Evan Seacatt get the ball quite a bit more. There are also several freshman and SJU transfer Tim Doyle who could contend for time on the wings. Running the show is TJ Paker, who won't join his brother in the league but remains a solid Big Ten-level PG nonetheless. Bill Carmody seems to be building momentum in Evanston, but he's going to have to adjust to life without the key source of that momentum. I wouldn't be surprised if this team can make some noise in the Big Ten this year, but I will hold back the most optimistic of predictions for now.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: Nobody solidly on draft boards, though teams might take a look at Vukusic for his size and stroke. Thompson is someone who has to prove himself, but certainly has the body.

8. Ohio State - The Jim O'Brien era came to a crashing halt, and the Thad Matta era begins. It seems like ages since OSU has had a good floor general, and that might change this season. After two seasons of watching Brandon Fuss-Cheatham throw up bricks, Matta convinced touted PG Jamar Butler to stick around after the O'Brien firing. He's a superior athelete and playmaker, and should challenge BFC from day one. The other major positive heading into the season is the presence of Terrence Dials, perhaps the conference's best pure post scorer. Whenever I see Dials play, I wonder how he doesn't score 20 every night out. The backcourt is stocked deep with solid players, but there isn't necessarily a standout here. Last year's transfers, Tony Stockman and JJ Sullinger, have a year of Big Ten ball under their belts and both should be improved. The word is that Sullinger has been particularly impressive in practice. Also around are touted JUCO guard J'Kel Foster and the tantalizing yet underacheiving wing prospect Ricardo Billings. Helping out Dials down low will be patchwork group of underachievers and newcomers. Velimir Radinovich is gone after four solid years, and it's not immediatley clear who picks up the slack. Skillful combo F Ivan Harris has the chance to be good. My guess is that it takes the Buckeyes a year to get adjusted to Matta, but I wouldn't rule the Buckeyes out as far as making an NCAA run. There is some talent here.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: Dials isn't a known name, but I think he has NBA game.

9. Purdue - A program truly in transition, Purdue has one last run with Gene Keady, before turning things over to Matt Painter. The talent pool has come close to running dry, however. The Boilermakers took a hit in the offseason, when Melvin Buckley decided to transfer to South Florida. He was being counted on to provide scoring at the wing. David Teague, the leading scorer among the returnees, can create his shot, but may not be ready to be the go-too guy on a good Big Ten team. Brandon McKnight returns to run the point, and will continue to be a steadying presence. Purdue lost numerous inside players from last season, and will need Matt Kiefer and Ije Nwankwo to step up after developmental seasons last year. Also inside is stud JUCO transfer Carl Landry, who may start right away. It will be interesting to see what Keady can do for his swan song. There is a bit of talent here, but it will need to mesh quickly. Players like Teague and McKnight are Keady program mainstays, so you can be sure they will play tough and be competitive. But is it enough?
Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: None

10. Penn State - Ed Dechellis can only imagine what might have been. If Jan Jagla had decided to finish out his college career. If DeForrest Riley hadn't jumped ship at the most inopprotune of times. The Nittany Lions could have sported a solid starting five, with some talent at key positions. Instead, PSU ends up with a shell of a team, and nothing in terms of hope on the horizon. Two double-digit scorers do return. Marlon Smith averaged 13 points per game as a freshman, and will have to increase that number in 2005. Smith should also think about trying to increase his FG% from a meager 36% last year. Fellow sophomore Ben Luber will join Smith in the backcourt, after averaging 4.1 apg as a frosh. Aaron Johnson gives DeChellis a fighting chance down low, but there is little else in the post. Freshman guards Mike Walker and Danny Morrisey are the newcomers with the best chance of contributing. Things look bleak for Penn State, and the only thing keeping the Nittany Lions out of the cellar is the complete disaster of the program listed below them.
Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: None

11. Minnesota - Dan Monson's Minnesota tenure began with optimism and high expectations. Things officially hit rock bottom last season, as a divided team never put forth the effort necessary to win games. The Kris Humphries era is over, and gone with him is nearly every other key contributor. Mike Bauer and Ben Johnson are graduated. Stan Gaines and Mo Hargrow transferred. Adam Boone is out for the year due to injury. Even expected returnee Jeff Hagen is suffering from foot problems. Who replaces them? Benchwarmers from last year's 12 win team, and a group of wide-eyed freshman. Everybody is new, but the one player with some big-time experience might be JUCO transfer and former Charlotte wing Vincent Grier. He's an athelete and as the rough and tumble mentality necessary to succeed in the Big Ten. The paint will be patrolled by a pair of freshman bigs, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Both have potential, but it's doubtful that they can carry a team. The backcourt is sparse, to say the least. Undersized point Aaron Robinson is the most experienced returnee, and will play often with undersized 2-guard Rico Tucker, a super-athletic freshman. Also around are local product Miles Webb and former walk-on Brent Lawson. I'm not going to say there is no talent on this team and that the futures is completely bleak, but this team is going to struggle to win 3 league games this season. Good luck, Golden Gophers...
Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: Grier might have a shot if he puts up the numbers that some people are predicting him to

Big Ten Player of the Year:

PG Dee Brown, Illinois


1st Team

PG Deron Williams, Illinois
WG Bracey Wright, Indiana
WG Pierre Pierce, Iowa
PF Terence Dials, Ohio State
C Paul Davis, Michigan State

2nd Team

PG Jeff Horner, Iowa
PG Daniel Horton, Michigan
WG Dion Harris, Michigan
WF Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
WF Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern

3rd Team

WG Shannon Brown, Michigan State
WG Chris Hill, Michigan State
PF James Augustine, Illinois
C Courtney Sims, Michigan
C Brian Butch, Wisconsin

Honorable Mention

PG Marshall Strickland, Indiana
WG Marlon Smith, Penn State
WG Sharif Chambliss, Wisconsin
WG Luther Head, Illinois
WG JJ Sullinger, Ohio State
WG David Teague, Purdue
WF Lester Abram, Michigan
WF Alan Anderson, Michigan State
PF Roger Powell, Illinois
PF Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin

Newcomer of the Year:

C Brian Butch, Wisconsin

All-Newcomer Team:

PG Jamar Butler, Ohio State
WF Vincent Grier, Minnesota
PF DJ White, Indiana
PF Carl Landry, Purdue
C Michael Thompson, Northwestern

Defensive Player of the Year:

Courtney Sims, Michigan

Most Improved Player:

Dion Harris, Michigan

Big 12

1 - Kansas. After a disappointing regular season and deep NCAA tourney run, KU probably has the best mix of returnees and incoming freshman in the country. Simien is the best pure post scorer in the country, and Miles is amongst the nation's best pure floor generals. Simien has always been more effective with a partner in the post, and with Padgett/Graves gone, it's going to come down to one of three freshman. It sounds like CJ Giles has an advantage over Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson. JR Giddens and Keith Langford are two of the best wings in the conference, but I still noticed a lack of shot-creating ability from KU's guards last season. This could be resolved in 2005, with Giddens only getting better and Russell Robinson coming aboard. Robinson has proven he can score against anybody, and could be the key to Bill Self winning a national championship. The clear-cut #1 in the Big XII, and a top five team nationally. Wayne Simien could be national player of the year.
Ranking: Top 5
Draft Prospects: Everybody. Simien is a mid first round pick at the worst. Giddens probably works himself into lotto contention with a good season. Langford and Miles will get second round looks, while Kaun and Giles are two young bigs to watch for the future.

2 - Oklahoma State. Last year's final four run was one of the most unexpected in recent history, though Eddie Sutton has consistently made the most out of program castoffs for years. This year the key is to replace leading scorer and lockdown defender Tony Allen, and figure out a way to get by with an undersized frontcourt in a league that just keeps getting bigger. The Emergence of John Lucas was probably the #1 overall factor that led to the Cowboys' success, and he's back to run the show in 2005. He has that Chris Paul-esque quality that causes good things to happen whenever he touches the ball. The new leading scorer could be super athletic wing Joey Graham, who showed signs of blowing up during the 2nd half of last season. Inside, there isn't much size, but 6'8 Ivan McFarline was able to hold things down well enough last year. New to the interior corps is 6'10 JUCO transfer Aaron Pettway. He is as superior an athelete as you will find on the college level, though his actual basketball skills are a bit raw. It will be interesting to see what happens with incoming freshman JamesOn Curry, a one-time UNC signee who got busted for selling drugs. He could take over Allen's role in the offense. A team always plays differently when faced with expectations. Everybody expects OSU to be back in the final four. I think they will have a shot, but that expectations should be tempered just a bit. The lack of post size and depth could come back to bite them...
Ranking: Top 5-15
Draft Prospects: Joey Graham could gain first round lock status with a big year. It's hard to peg Lucas' stock, though he's a bit on the short side.

3 - Oklahoma. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Sooners last year went wrong. A campaign marred by injuries and suspensions was concluded in a similar fashion when promising wing DeAngelo Alexander decided to jump ship over the summer. Despite the loss of Alexander, this team is healthy and primed to return to the top of the conference. The all-freshman backcourt took it's lumps last season, and when you realize that it was an all-freshman backcourt, it kind of makes sense that OU didn't make the NCAA's. Lavender, McKenzie, and Foust all return, with a year of experience under their belts. Expect Lavender's FG% and ballhandling numbers to rise dramatically. Although he is quite a talent, it remains to be seen if the undersized Lavender can play the kind of physical defense that Kelvin Sampson requires. His high school teammate Brandon Foust certainly can, and based on his play late last season, fans could forget about Alexander sooner rather than later. Also around in the backcourt are two prototypical Sampson JUCO's Jason Williams and Terrell Everett. The big men should become a source of strength for Oklahoma, after a season in which Kevin Bookout missed 20 games and Jabahri Brown was booted from the team. Bookout is back and healthy, and could contend for all-conference honors. Taj Gray was the #1 JUCO prospect in the nation, and may be the other starter down low. If not Gray, longtime Sampson roleplayer Johnny Gilbert or still promising Larry Turner would make perfectly fine starters. Some may question me putting OU ahead of Texas, but I really believe this team is on it's way back. As we learned with this team last year, guard experience can't be underrated, and now OU has it. Top 25 to start the year, with a chance to move up.
Ranking: Top 15-25
Draft Prospects: Bookout and Gray are probably thought of a second round/free agent types.

4 - Texas. It's a changing of the guard in Austin, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing for Rick Barnes. Last year's senior class won a lot of games by slowing it down and playing physical, back-down-from-nobody style basketball. With a freshman class for the ages, that all could change. It all starts at the point for this team, which will hand the reigns over to McD's AA freshman Daniel Gibson. Last season's team could have been the best in the country with a PG, and Gibson has a chance do TJ Ford justice as his successor. He will be joined in the backcourt by several holdovers, including Sydmil Harris, Kenton Paulino, and former Baylor sharpshooter Kenny Taylor. If Gibson can get through the obligatory adjustment period and get these guys the ball in an efficient manner, all three should improve their shooting substantially. Down low there will be a vicious battle for playing time. The old guard includes the much-improved Jason Klotz and former McD's AA big man Brad Buckman. The new guard features so talented that they can steal PT in their freshman seasons. One returnee who isn't going to lose time is undersized "power player" PJ Tucker, who was a revelation of sorts in college hoops at the D1 level. At just 6'5, Tucker shouldn't have been able to score at will against guys 5 inches taller than him, but he did. College coaches are already adding their own versions of Tucker in their 05 recruiting classes. Conventional wisdom says that it takes Gibson a year to adjust and this team is a year away from truly dominating. But the domination is only a matter of time, with Gibson ready or not. Top 25 team.
Ranking: Top 15-25
Draft Prospects: Aldridge probably develops into a lotto pick within two seasons. Don't be surprised if Gibson joins him someday.

5 - Iowa State. If experienced guard play really is the crucial piece of college basketball success, ISU should probably be rated ahead of Texas. Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock are the latest members of Quincy Morgans NYC guard pipeline, so good that we might be mentioning these two instead of Jamal Tinsley when the "pipeline" comes up in conversation. Stinson is the scorer, and though he now has that target on his back, there's no reason he can't lead the big XII in scoring now that Jake Sullivan is gone. Blalock is the distributor, whose outside shot could use some improvement. There's another NYC newcomers this year in 6'5 wing Tasheed Carr. If summer and preseason reports can be trusted, he's going to do the pipeline justice. Also new to the fold are touted wings Anthony Davis and Rashon Clark. The Clones do need to find a big man to play next to the solid and ever-improving Jared Homan. There are several worthy contenders, including Damion Staple, Reggie George, and newcomer Robert Faulkner. The 'Clones will also get some press this season for signing 6'10, 350 pound behemoth Aaron Agnew. Agnew might just replace recent Western Kentucky grad Nigel Dixon as the biggest player in all of college basketball. This is the year Quincy Morgan starts to prove his worth as a coach. We all know he can recruit, and despite the loss of Sullivan and Jackson Vroman, he now has the talent and experience in the backcourt to win games. Personally, I expect him to do it and get a low NCAA bid.
Ranking: Low NCAA/NIT
Draft Prospects: Stinson is the only NBA player on this roster, though he will need to have proven he can run the point long before he gets picked in the first round.

6 - Missouri. I really don't know what to do with this team. All things considered, Tiger fans can't be too unhappy with where this program stands. After a maelstrom of off-the court controversy and on-the-court underachievement enveloped the program last season, Snyder has managed to bring in four four-star freshman and retain the core of a very talented team. The question remains, was last year's underachievement due to the controversy, or was it due to the fact that Quinn Snyder can't coach? Never has an NIT team lost so much talent. And never has an NIT team that lost so much talent returned so much talent. Hmm...For this team to be successful, the much-hyped Linas Kleiza must stay healthy. He was on his way to a solid freshman season when a shoulder injury knocked him out for the year. Expect a healthy Kleiza to step right in and replace Arthur Johnson's post scoring and wide-bodied presence. The backcourt gets a shuffling as well, with freshman Jason Horton coming in and taking the reigns at PG. There couldn't be better news for junior wing Jimmy McKinney, who is obviously a superior talent but hasn't been able to breakout playing out of position at the point. McKinney will split time with soph Jason Gardner who showed promise as a freshman, and Jason Conley, who could break out after a season to adjust to the high-major level. Surrounding Kleiza down low will be returnees Kevin Young and Jeff Ferguson, as well as a couple of touted freshman in Marshall Brown and Kalen Grimes. Snyder has quite a talented group to work with, even if these guys haven't played with each other much. It's a transition year to be sure, and there isn't as much depth here as there has been in the past. Nonetheless, a middle-of-the-pack finish should be expected, eeking out an NCAA berth hoped for.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: Kleiza is probably a four year guy because of his size, but is an NBA caliber player. Gardner and Horton are two to watch.

7 - Texas Tech. It's always foolish to pick a Bobby Knight-coached team to finish in the bottom half of any division, but this could be the year it happens. The Red Raiders are trying to replace one of the best players in school history, and it isn't going to happen in 2005. The backcourt will be Knight's strength, with defensive specialist/distributor Ronald Ross and scorer Jay Jackson returning. Jackson is a typical Knight-type, tough as nails and a perfectionist with the ball. Devonne Giles, a hyped JUCO transfer last season, is the best option down low. The athletic PF came on strong in the second half of last season, and could be in for a breakout season. He's a superior athelete for his size, and can really causes defenders problems with his versatility. Supporting Giles is a group of largely untested bodies, including Dorryl Dora, Phil Harbaugh, and Tanner Ogden. Like Eddie Sutton, Knight has a knack for coming up with talent that other college coaches dont' notice. Whether he sees something others don't or simply develops it once players step on campus, it's a proven fact that it happens every year. While I have Texas Tech at 7th, I wouldn't bet on the Raiders finishing in the bottom half of the conference. A bit of bad news has Giles sidelined until December with a broken hand.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: None

8 - Nebraska. Barry Collier's program is starting to pick up some momentum, both on the court and the recruiting path. Despite the loss of three key players, the Cornhuskers should be able to match last season's competitive showing. The backcourt is experienced, with Jake Mulheisen, Marcus Neal, and Corey Simms all seniors. Mulheisen is probably the most talented of the group, and should improve on last season's numbers after working back in the rotation last season. The wildcard is Jason Dorisseau, who has looked great in the preseason but was planning on taking a redshirt season. Providing depth at the point is tiny sparkplug Charlie Richardson and touted freshman wing Joe McCray. Down low, big man John Turek will hold down the fort, hopefully getting some help from the talented yet frustrating Wes Wilkinson once he comes back from injury sometime in December. The x-factor is Australian big man recruit Aleks Maric, who really impressed this past spring. If he can contribute this season, the Cornhuskers could be ready to make a move.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: None

9 - Kansas State. Things were looking up headed into this season, and then sophomore floor general Dez Willingham decided to jump ship. Not all is lost for Jim Woolridge, but this loss is a serious blow. Things will now focus around a pair of forwards, Jeremiah Massey and Cartier Martin. Massey came in from JUCO last season ready to contribute, and ended up with some of the most impressive numbers for a big man in the conference last season. Martin, a combo F, is a superior athelete who battled off a slow start last year and is ready to break out. The frontcourt is surprisingly deep, with Marques Hayden, Justin Williams, Tyler Hughes, and Dramane Diarra all capable of securing regular 4/5 minutes. The issues surface when discussions of the backcourt begin. Willingham's departure turns a pretty thin backcourt situatoin into a grade-A crisis. The only scholarship returnee is soph wing Lance Harris. Three newcomers, freshmen Curtis Allen and Clent Stewart and JUCO Fred Peete will shoulder the load, and it's pretty much a guarantee that Woolridge is already having nightmares about playing a tough defensive team like Oklahoma or OSU. Who knows? Maybe the new guards will come out and play above and beyond expectations. It happens from time to time. However, KSU probably doesn't have the firepower in the backcourt in order to use their solid frontcourt to an advantage.
Ranking: NIT
Draft Prospects: Massey is probably a bit too small for the league. Keep an eye on Martin.

10 - Colorado. Ricardo Patton loses nearly 45 points per game from last year's squad, a squad that somehow didn't even win an NCAA berth despite a quite loaded roster. There are a bunch of newcomers, and it remains to be seen if any of them are worth a darn. The holdovers are a group of roleplayer guards, including Antoine McGee, Marcus Hall, and Jayson Obazuaye. No returnee averaged more than 5 points per game, but give McGee the inside track on the starting PG job. Amongst the newcomers, there is some athletic potential at the wings. High flyer Richard Roby is most touted of the freshmen, and could start right away. Or it could be Martane Freeman, who had success at the JUCO level. Down low, there are three notable transfers coming in to try and replace David Harrison. JUCO's Lamont Arrington and Julius Ashby could be the starters come December. Arrignton is a 6-11 beanpole, and Patton convinced Ashby to pick the Buffaloes over Indiana. Also around are Loyola transfer Andy Osborn and redshirt freshman Keith Smith. It's really too early to tell what this team is going to do, but expect it to take some lumps. There's simply nothing left from what was a moderately successful era in Colorado basketball.
Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: None

11 - Texas A&M. The Aggies lose 40+ ppg from a team that somehow managed to go winless in conference play, but what they did gain was new coach Billy Gillispie, fresh off taking the once-dead UTEP program back to the big dance. Super wing prospect Antoine Wright had a disastrous sophomore campaign, but is still on the NBA's radar screen. He's as athletic as they come, and should benefit from a bit of direction under Gillispie. As far as other returnees of note, the PG slot seems to be nailed down after Acie Law had a moderately successful freshman campaign. Backing him up is senior Bobby Leach, and freshman Kenneth White is somewhat touted. Inside play is going to come from nearly all new faces, as both starting bigs from last season are gone. Look for top 100 freshman Joseph Jones and JUCO standout Edjuan Green to get thrust into the limelight a bit too early, but end up being better off for it. Also around are little-used reserves Luis Clemente and Marlon Pompey. It will interesting to see what Gillispie can accomplish in such a short amount of time. Expect the Aggies to fight hard and for Wright to put up some outstanding numbers, but don't expect a lot of wins.

Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: I have my doubts about Wright, but he is still listed as a first rounder by many.

12 - Baylor. Scott Drew's real test begins. Although Drew was lauded for leading last year's undermanned team to 3 conference wins, that team was absolutely loaded compared to what he has to work with in 2005. Big man Tommy Swanson is the only scholarship returnee, and the recruiting class isn't going to get anybody too excited. G's Roscoe Biggers and Aaron Bruce will probably get the majority of the minutes in the backcourt, while burly LSU transfer Tim Bush is the guy at SF. Pencil in Swanson at the PF, and pray to high heaven that 7-foot string bean Mamadou Diene doesn't get broken in half by the Wayne Simien's of the world. Diene supposedly is an intriguing prospect, but remains a few years away from being Big XII competent. Drew has the program headed in the right direction, but the right direction is another year down the road, where several top prospects have signed on. This season, it's going to be a struggle for the Bears.

Ranking: Unranked
Draft Prospects: None

All Conference

Big XII Player of the Year

PF Wayne Simien, Kansas

First Team

PG Aaron Miles, Kansas
PG John Lucas, Oklahoma State
WG Curtis Stinson, Iowa State
WF Joey Graham, Oklahoma State
WF Antoine Wright, Texas A&M

Second Team

PG Drew Lavender, Oklahoma
WG Keith Langford, Kansas
WF PJ Tucker, Texas
PF Jeremiah Massey, Kansas State
PF Linas Kleiza, Missouri

Third Team

WG Jay Jackson, Texas Tech
WG JR Giddens, Kansas
PF Jared Homan, Iowa State
PF Kevin Bookout, Oklahoma
PF Devonne Giles, Texas Tech

Newcomer of the Year

PG Daniel Gibson, Texas

All-Newcomer Team

PG Jason Horton, Missouri
WG Russell Robinson, Kansas
PF Taj Gray, Oklahoma
PF Lamarcus Aldridge, Texas
C Antoine Pettway, Oklahoma State

Defensive Player of the Year

PG Aaron Miles, Kansas

Most Improved Player of the Year

WG Jay Jackson, Texas Tech


1 – Memphis. The Tigers have been flirting with greatness for what seems like forever.C Calipari always manages to put a star or two on the floor, but he has yet to put a true team out there. This year could be different. Calipari is blessed with chance to coach two of the nations top wings, Sean Banks and Rodney Carney. Wings in the mold of Banks (6-8 superathlete) rarely matriculate to college anymore. While there have been some alarming off the court incidents that have made many question Banks' commitment to the game, you can't help but recognize Banks' McGrady-esque talent. However, he's probably not even the best player on his own team. Rodney Carney had a surprisingly solid season last year, and is ready to blow up. He might not be quite the athlete that Banks is, but he has a better first step and better all-around skill. Rounding out the backcourt will be dynamic freshman PG Darius Washington. Known for his high school duels with fellow phenom Sebastian Telfair, Washington's true test this season will be running the team and playing under control. The guard rotation is not just talented, it is also deep. Anthony Rice is a returning starter, while Jeremy Hunt could start for many teams. Memphis' inside game is what keeps this team out of the top 10 nationally. Too many times last season this team's only source of offense was its guards. Ball movement was poor, and there were no high percentage shots. Newcomers Waki Williams, Joey Dorsey and Simplice Njoya need to step up, because returnees Duane Erwin, Arthur Barclay, and Almany Thiero aren't going to cut it. It's not that these guys aren't physically up to the task – they just aren't good basketball players. Dorsey has probably shown the most in the preseason. He's a fierce rebounder with a mean streak. Calipari has an incredibly talented team here. If he can get any sort of inside game going, the sky is the limit for these guys.

Ranking: Top 10-20

NBA Prospects: Banks and Carney are likely future lotto picks. Washington should end up in the first round someday if he decides to emulate his rival Sebastian Telfair's approach to the game and not his predecessor Dajuan Wagner's.

2 – Louisville. Rick Pitino's inaugural stretch as Louisville head coach has had its ups and downs. Last season the team was off to a great start before injuries and a lack of depth really caught up to them. Expect more of the same from Pitino's bunch this year. The core of players remains the same, with a few new faces thrown in here and there. Fransisco Garcia and Taquan Dean looked like the best backcourt in America over the first half of last year, before both were worn down by nagging injuries. Garcia is as complete as they come, playing a very intelligent floor game and boasting one of the best strokes in the country. Dean can also light up the twine, but is better off the ball. The loss of prep prodigy Sebastian Telfair to the NBA hits especially hard because of this, but sophomore Brandon Jenkins is more than capable of taking over starting duties this season. Larry O'Bannon is a defensive sparkplug with a decent shot that will contribute a lot off the bench. Pitino's pressing style clearly takes its toll on these guards by the end of the year, so perhaps freshman wing Lorenzo Wade will be asked to take on a significant role. Post play was a real issue last season. While the underachieving Kendall Dartez is gone, Pitino should be able to get a bit more out of his big men. For starters, PF Ellis Myles is back for a 5th year after tearing his ACL last preseason. He is the physical rebounding presence that this desperately needs. In addition, Pitino welcomes big time freshman F Tello Palacios to the team. Palacios is 6-9, 240+, but is fully capable of sinking the trey or taking his man off the dribble. The Cardinal faithful got another dose of disappointment this fall when blue chip freshman big man Brian Johnson's knee problems wouldn't go away and ended up requiring surgery. Otis George is another big man that returns. Many people have the Cardinals ranked in the top 10, but I'm not ready to go that far year. Garcia can be shut down by physical defenses, and this team isn't quite deep enough to do what Pitino really wants them to. Nonetheless, a top 25 team to start the season.

Raking: Top 15-25

NBA Prospects: Garcia is a Tayshaun Prince clone who will get first round looks. Palacios wanted to declare out of high school, although that doesn't mean he was good enough.

3 – Marquette. Tom Crean's program took a step back last season after Dwyane Wade jumped to the league. However, it was a momentary bump in the road for a program that is asserting itself as a national factor. The team's hopes ride solely on the slim shoulders of senior PG Travis Diener. Diener, a college version of Steve Nash, runs a team nearly flawlessly and will kill teams if they are silly enough to give him room to shoot. Diener isn't the greatest athlete in the world, and has a tendency to get worn down. That is where super soph Dameon Mason comes in. Mason showed a surprising similarity to Wade, the man he replaced, on his way to nearly averaging double figures as a freshman. Expect him to play a much larger role in the offense this year. Lanky shooter Steve Novak wasn't quite ready for the big time last year, but nobody can deny that he's probably the best shooting big man in the nation. With a bit more help from his teammates, he could break out. Crean will blend in a steady group of roleplayers around his three feature stars. Todd Townsend and Joe Chapman are veteran wings who are willing to do the little things. Marcus Jackson and Chris Grimm will get the first chance to replace departed senior Scott Merritt at C, but there are three newcomers to play post as well. Ryan Amaroso was regarded as Minnesota's second best prep, while Mike Kinsella is a 7-footer with a rare shooting stroke. Ousmanne Barro is a mystery, but clearly has the physical attributes to contribute. People seem to be sleeping on this team heading into the season. Diener is as good as any point guard in the country, and he should be able to will this team to an NCAA berth.

Ranking: Top 25-35

NBA Prospects: Travis Diener is too limited athletically to be a first rounder, but will get a chance. Look for Dameon Mason and Steve Novak on future first round mocks.

4 – Charlotte. Bobby Lutz and company are coming off a surprisingly successful NCAA tournament season. There are some losses, but nothing that the returning talent can't overcome. Lutz has a star in Curtis Withers, a do-it-all forward. He has feathery touch from the outside, and can score off the dribble or with his back to the basket. The other player Lutz will feature offensively is senior shooting specialist Brendan Plavich. Plavich was maddeningly streaky a year ago, but there isn't a player in the nation that can shoot like this guy once he gets hot. His struggles may have stemmed from the fact that shoot-first guard Demon Brown was running the point. Plavich will do much better now that the athletic Mitchell Baldwin has been handed the reigns to the team. The small forward slot belongs to the versatile Eddie Basden, who defends just as well as he scores. Down low, the 49ers will miss dependable big men Butter Johnson and Calvin Cleamons, but should be able move on without much of a hitch. C Martin Iti had his ups and downs as a freshman, and after an embarrassing pre-draft camp, is back for his sophomore season. At the very least, Iti provides an intimidating defensive presence down low. CJ Pigford will play a factor down low, as will athletic JUCO transfer EJ Drayton. Behind Withers and several other very talented players, Charlotte has a great shot to make it back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.

Raking: Low NCAA/NIT

NBA Prospects: Curtis Withers plays somewhat like former 49er and lottery pick Rodney White. After measuring in nearly four inches shorter than he's listed at Charlotte, Martin Iti isn't going to get a look from NBA scouts this season.

5 – Cincinnati. Bobby Huggins had about as rough an offseason as a coach can have (well, unless you are Larry Eustachy), but his program has not collapsed. The Bearcats will have to rely a bit more on their coach's characteristic tough defensive gameplan and superior athleticism, but there is still talent here. PF Jason Maxiell has been battering CUSA opponents for years, and I'm sure many opponents are secretly breathing a sigh of relief that his time at Cincinnati is almost at an end. Unfortunately, Maxiell never got that quality center to play next to him that would have really opened his game up. This Maxiell will be the center, as he is the only true big man of any pedigree on the roster. Combo F Eric Hicks is just as relentless and explosive as Maxiell, but is even more undersized. The backcourt will remain as athletic as ever, with true PG Jihad Muhammad taking over at the point. Muhammad was one of the most highly sought after JC prospects in the nation. He will be pushed for PG minutes by Chadd Moore, while the athletic Nick Williams slides over to play his natural SG position. James White has been through a lot in his three college seasons, but it is put up or shut up time for the high-flying wing. He jumps like Vince Carter, but has shown very little basketball skill. Also sure to get minutes at the wing is Roy Bright, a 6-6 manchild who comes in with quite a bit of hype. There are some serious questions that Bobby Huggins has to answer – namely, who hits the outside J and who plays center. Still, this is a competitive team in the C-USA.

Raking: Low NCAA/NIT

NBA Prospects: White has gone from top 5 pick to sliding off many draft boards. Maxiell and Hicks are a little undersized.

6 – DePaul. It was a fairytale season for the Dave Leitao's Blue Demons. The two key components from last season's tourney run are gone. This means a momentary hold up in the reemergence of the program, but Leitao still has a lot to work with. Like last season, this team will find its strength in the backcourt. Lanky PG Sammy Mejia showed a lot as a freshman, and should emerge as one of the league's stars. Drake Diener is the team's designated shooter who really came on strong last season. Quemont is a physically overpowering combo F who can probably view the tweener tag as a complement. The Blue Devils have some solid depth as well, as defensive specialist LaVar Seals returns, while freshmen Cliff Clinscales and Draelon Burns could both earn time. The interior game is a bit dicier. Andre Brown is gone, after finally cashing in on years of misplaced potential late last season. Redshirt freshman C Wesley Green is most likely the recipient of his minutes. Green was earning rave reviews last preseason before an injury sidelined him for the year. Leitao will turn to Marlon Brumfield, Lorenzo Thompson, Marcus Heard, and promising JUCO transfer Jamal Nichols for the rest of the interior minutes. DePaul most likely doesn't build on last year's tourney appearance, but certainly won't drop back into Kennedy era-type doldrums. You will be hearing more from DePaul in the future

Ranking: NIT

NBA Prospects: Mejia and Holland are two to keep an eye on.

7 – UAB. One of the nation's darling underdogs over the past couple of seasons, UAB now gets to see what life is like without the core of those responsible for that success. Mike Anderson has what it takes to keep this squad competitive, but don't expect an NCAA berth again this season. Morris Finley is gone, and the Taylor twins will be required to replace his scoring presence. Donnell and Ronnell are more your typical wings size-wise, and both have the athleticism to excel. DeMario Eddins is a lanky wing forward that could also be that breakout scorer, while sophomore Brandon Tobias was somewhat hyped coming out of high school. Squeaky Johnson will continue to be the motor that runs Anderson's pressing machine, putting up great steal and assist numbers. Anderson probably needs a bit more out of his frontcourt this season, and that's going to be tough with the loss of his top big man Gabe Kennedy. Senior PF Marques Lewis and sophomore C Ernest Little have a bit of potential, as does freshman Frank Holmes. I won't say this team doesn't have a few intriguing pieces. Anderson does have a lot of players that fit his up tempo system. However, I want to get a look at these players in feature roles before I put UAB back in the tourney.

Ranking: NIT

NBA Prospects: None

8 – Saint Louis. Brad Soderberg doesn't have the talent of many of his C-USA counterparts, but when has he ever? Going back to his Wisconsin days, Soderberg has found a way to win with less. He has a legit go-too scorer in Reggie Bryant, and a solid big man in Tom Frericks. Freshman Dwayne Polk takes over at PG for the graduated Josh Fisher. Vas'shun Newborne and Izik Ohanon can contribute down low, while wing Darren Clarke showed some potential as a freshman. This team isn't going to make the tourney, but you can bet they will beat a few teams they have no business being in a game with.

Ranking: NIT

Draft Prospects: None

9 – TCU. The Horned Frogs showed a pulse for the first time in a while last season. Former Temple guard Nile Murray joins the standout guard tandem of Corey Santee and Marcus Shropshire to form one of the more potent backcourts in the conference. Wing Blake Adams also has the potential to be good. There are a few post players worth mentioning as well. Femi Ibikunle came to TCU with some international acclaim. While he was overwhelmed at times during his freshman season, expect the big man to come on a bit this year. Chudi Chinweze, who averaged double figures last season, is the other starting big man.

Ranking: NIT

Draft Prospects: None

10 – Eastern Carolina. This program hasn't had much success since joining the C-USA a few seasons back, and that isn't going to change this season. One of the bright spots is C Moussa Badiane, one of the nation's top shot blockers. If Badiane could add some offense to his game, it would be a major help. Mike Cook returns at PG, while soph Japhet McNeil can run a team as well. Tom Hammonds Jr, son of the former NBA player, could see time early on in his freshman season. JC Transfer Mike Castro is likely the other big man that gets minutes.

Ranking: Unranked

Draft Prospects: Badiane will get a look for his ability to alter shots.

11 – Tulane. Times have been tough for the Green Wave, and while there is some decent returning talent here, it's nothing that will get this team out of the bottom half of the conference. The frontcourt may be the team's strength. Quincy Davis is a legit big man, while 7-footer Ivan Pjevevic could be a player if he stays healthy. Robinson Louisme and David Gomez are two intriguing freshman big man projects. The backcourt minutes go the trio of Ben Benfield, Vincent Camper, an double figure scorer Marcus Kinzer.

Ranking: Unranked

Draft Prospects: None

12 – Southern Mississippi. Larry Eustachy is back in college basketball, light years away from the elite eights and top 5 rankings he once generated. Eustachy was handed a fairly bland group of returnees, so he hit up the junior college ranks in a major way. The enigmatic Rashaad Carruth is the best of the bunch. After stops in Kentucky, Oklahoma and a JUCO, Carruth could be ready to fulfill the potential that put him in the McDonalds All American game 3 years ago. He is a truly unique shooter. Point guard Michael Ford comes highly regarded out of a California JUCO. Thick big man Jaspar Johnson is the top returnee, after averaging nearly 13 points per game a season ago. Guards like David Haywood, Dante Stiggers, and Solomon Brown will try and fill in the cracks. Eustachy brings talent wherever he goes, but this team isn't significantly better than the JUCO's that used to feed his ISU program.

Ranking: Unranked

Draft Prospects: None

13 – South Florida. If falling completely off the map in one season isn't bad enough, moving to the Big East must be wearing on Robert McCullum's mind. Then, top guard Bradley Mosley was diagnosed with cancer just a couple of weeks ago. It can't get much worse, can it? C Terrence Leather nearly averaged a double-double a season ago, and will be relied on even more this year. Brian Swift runs the point efficiently, but will struggle to find a perimeter option to pass the ball to. JUCO transfer C Solomon Brown is probably the most talented of the newcomers.

Ranking: Unranked

Draft Prospects: None

14 – Houston. The Cougar program has truly reached rock bottom. Tom Penders had to go into emergency mode and recruit several players from the same JUCO team. These players weren't exactly dominant in JC ball, yet will be depended on for some significant minutes this season. If there is a strength to this team it is the backcourt tandem of Andre Owens and Lanny Smith. Owens will get the green light to shoot whenever he wants, probably the only type of situation he would ever succeed in. Andrew Francis, Rodney Hannah, and Elijah Miller headline an almost nonexistent inside corps.

Ranking: Unranked

Draft Prospects: None

All-Conference Team

C-USA Player of the Year

PG Travis Diener, Marquette

First Team

WF Sean Banks, Memphis
WF Rodney Carney, Memphis
WF Fransisco Garcia, Louisville
PF Curtis Withers, Charlotte
PF Jason Maxiell, Cincinnati

Second Team

PG Sammy Mejia, DePaul
WG Dameon Mason, Marquette
WG Reggie Bryant, Saint Louis
WF Quemont Greer, DePaul
F Steve Novak, Marquette

Third Team

PG Corey Santee, TCU
PG Darius Washington, Memphis
WG Ronell Taylor, UAB
WF Eddie Basden, Charlotte
C Moussa Badiane, Eastern Carolina

Newcomer of the Year

PG Darius Washington, Memphis

All-Newcomer Team

PG Jihad Muhammad, Cincinnati
WG Rashad Carruth, Southern Mississippi
WF Roy Bright, Cincinnati
F EJ Drayton, Charlotte
F Tello Palacios, Louisville

Defensive Player of the Year

Eddie Basden, Charlotte

Most Improved Player

Dameon Mason, Marquette

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