Saturday, October 21, 2006

Top 25 Preview: 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Arizona, 8. Georgetown

6. Pitt Panthers

The Pitt Panthers have been slotted by most experts into the top 5 or 10 teams in the nation. Coach Jamie Dixon would likely agree, considering that his starting center, 7-foot, 270 pound, Aaron Gray is a candidate for both Big East and national Player of the Year honors.

Gray will be a force underneath, but the Panthers have to find a replacement for their graduated leader, guard Carl Krauser, who was a tough talker and fearless slasher on the court.

Krauser's production, 15 points per game, will be the job of Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields to pick up. Who will do the trash talking is another matter altogether.

Power forward Levon Kendall, a senior, like Gray, will provide scoring and rebounding help in the interior. Either Sam Young or Tyrell Biggs will start at the other forward position, as both received plenty of playing time last season.

Pitt finished the 2005-06 campaign at 25-6, and were ousted in the 2nd round of the tournament by Bradley, 72-66. The Panthers also lost to Syracuse in the Big East tournament finals last season.

Their schedule will include some tougher opponents early on, including a home game vs. Duquesne on December 6, and back-to-back road games at Wisconsin, Dec. 16 and Oklahoma State, on Dec. 21. Big East play gets underway Thursday, January 4 at Syracuse.

For more on Panthers' hoops see this Pitt News account.

7. Arizona Wildcats

Lute Olsen is familiar with the ups-and-downs of NCAA Tournament play, so he's not concerned about last season's 2nd round exit. The 20-13 Wildcats lost, 82-78, to Villanova, a team that was loaded with talent and eventually fell to champion Florida in the Minneapolis regional final.

The Arizona offense will rotate around Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams, Ivan Radenovic and Bret Brielmaier. Shakur, Williams and Radenovic all averaged double figures in scoring last season, and while Williams will be the do-it-all forward dominating the PAC-10, Radeovic will be sweeping the boards. He led the team with 6.3 per game last season.

Brielmaier has looked sensational in practice and the 6'6" forward will be called upon to pick up his scoring in the absence of Hassan Adams, who graduated and last season led the team with 17.5 ppg.

With Shakur playing point, the 2-guard spot could be a competition between Daniel Dillon, Jawann McClellan and JP Prince as they try to fill the void left by Adams. Freshman Chase Budinger will get plenty of minutes as well. Coach Olson is very high on him and he'll add speed on defense.

Arizona will be in the hunt for the PAC-10 title, with UCLA having lost Jordan Farmar to the NBA and Brandon Roy having graduated from Washington. Coach Olson believes the strength of his team will be on defense and in transition:

We will go as much up tempo as our opponents will allow us. Our goal is to score 70 percent or more from the break situation or what we call the early offense, where we’re getting into our half-court offense. We’re going to try to push the tempo based on what we do offensively and defensively. I think we’ll be more up tempo than what we’ve had here, at least that’s our goal.

A couple of key early games should offer an indication as to how good the Wildcats really are. They host Illinois on December 2nd and Memphis on December 20. Another big game is at Louisville, Dec. 5.

For coach Olson's assessment of the Wildcats, see his media day quotes.

8. Georgetown

In anticipation of key Big East matchups, none offer more intrigue than the pair of games between Georgetown and Pitt on January 13 (at Pitt) and February 24 (at Georgetown). The two powerhouses should be neck-and-neck for the Big East title, having finished with identical 10-6 marks in 2005-06.

The reason for the anticipatory hype is over the center confrontation between a pair of 7-footers, Pitt's Aaron Gray and the Hoyas' Roy Hibbert. At 7'2" Hibbert has a slight 2-inch height advantage and is probably the only center in the Big East who can handle Gray in the post.

Last season, Hibbert was sensational, hitting 59% from the field while hauling down a team-high 6.9 rebounds a game. His 11.6 ppg average was good for 2nd to teammate Jeff Green, the athletic 6'9" forward, who has the ability to take control of games.

After those two, the Hoyas lost their 3rd, 4th and 5th-high scorers from last season to graduation - Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens - but Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace should take over the guard duties, leaving one forward position to the trio of Patrick Ewing, Jr., Sead Dizdarevic and Marc Egerson to sort out. That trio is listed at 6'10", 6'9" and 6'6", so whenever the Hoyas take the court, their front line - along with Hibbert and Green - will be huge.

Besides the conference games against Pitt, there's Syracuse, UConn, Marquette, Louisville and Villanova to contend with, plus, Georgetown has some juicy dates on their early schedule, especially a home game against Oregon on November 29 followed by a road trip to Duke on December 2.

More on the Hoyas at Fox Sports.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 5. Wisconsin

Last season, the Badgers went 19-12 overall and 9-7 in the Big 10 conference, good for 4th place. A repeat performance will not be nearly enough to get Wisconsin into the top 5. That's why Alando Tucker, the 6'6" 1st team all-conference senior swingman, is going to get a lot of help from returning center Jason Chappell, point guard Kammron Taylor and a host of incoming freshmen who will add some youth to an already deep and experienced team.

The Badgers return all but one of their starters from last season. In addition to Tucker, Taylor and Chappell, junior Brian Butch led the team in rounding last season.

Marcus Landry, a sophomore forward, and junior center Greg Stiemsma, both of whom were declared academically ineligible for the second semester last year, will play the full season and are expected to add punch off the bench. Three freshman guards will be vying for playing time, with redshirt Mickey Perry probably having the best shot at significant minutes. Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon may have a more difficult time finding their way into the deep lineup.

The Badgers lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last season to Arizona and are aiming for a much higher seed and a better result this time around. Their depth and a sense of purpose (plus a full season from two important subs), gives them a great shot at competing until late in March 2007.

Of course, the Badgers will have to contend with Ohio State along the way. The Buckeyes are the defending Big 10 champs and won't go down easily.

The Badgers will have ample time to tune up and sort out the lineup for conference play (which begins January 6 vs. Minnesota), especially in games after Thanksgiving against Florida State (Nov. 28), Pitt (Dec. 16) and at Marquette on December 9.

Should Wisconsin win at least two of those three, the Big 10 will be on notice that this is a team poised to take home big iron in the conference. And there is no tougher small forward in the country than Tucker. If he stays healthy, the Badgers may find themselves in the Final Four.

This Wisconsin State Journal article was used in preparing this post on the Badgers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 4. Kansas

More will be expected from this Kansas team now that coach Bill Self has settled into the program and the KU athletic department has accepted a 3-year probation from the NCAA.

The probation is little more than a slap on the wrist, though KU could face sanctions if it does not toe the compliance line. There will be one less scholarship awarded in 2007, but the probation is more a set of guidelines than anything else and will not affect this season's basketball program.

Self returns for his 3rd season as the Jayhawks' coach and hopes to put the onus of back-to-back first round losses in the NCAA tournament deep into the memory hole.

Self was highly successful as the head coach at Illinois, leading the team deep into the tournament from 2000 through 2002 and capturing a pair of Big 10 titles along the way. He has the goods, with this current Kansas team, to go even deeper.

The success of the Kansas program starts and ends with sophomore Brandon Rush, who led the team last year in points and rebounds at 13.5 and 5.9, respectively. But this team will not rely on a single player. While Rush is a consensus All-Big 12, the Jayhawks are very deep, having returned their top seven scorers from a year ago.

Julian Wright, a 6'8" sophomore forward, is also expected to have a break-out season after having started 15 games as a freshman. The Jayhawks are loaded with talent at every position, making them a top 5 choice in just about every preseason poll.

A big test comes November 25 at defending champion Florida, and another measuring stick game comes December 23 when Boston College comes to town.

For more insight on the Jayhawks, see this article on

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 3. Ohio State

Buckeye basketball will have a new look this season with 5 impact newcomers on the roster. In addition to Greg Oden, considered to be one of the best big men in the country (but out until January with a wrist injury), coach Thad Matta has one of the nation's best recruiting classes.

Mike Conley, a teammate with Oden at Indianapolis North High School, will start at point guard. Junior Jamar Butler will fill the 2 guard spot.

Daequan Cook and David Lightly are the other incoming freshmen and along with Othello Hunter, a forward from Hillsborough Community College who averaged 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds last season is also expected to make an impact.

The early part of the schedule will be tough, as the team awaits Oden's return from surgery and they play through a fairly ambitious schedule with includes a game at North Carolina on November 29 and another road trip to Florida on December 23. Conference play begins January 2nd at home vs. Indiana.

The Buckeyes will be a versatile, athletic team with plenty of power in the post. They finished last season at 26-6 after being ousted from the NCAA tournament in the 2nd round.

For more insight on Ohio State, try this Akron Beacon Journal article.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

College Basketball Top 25 Preview: 2. North Carolina

The Tar Heels will lose the services of David Noel, but Roy Williams has Tyler Hansbrough returning along with three other starters and a strong freshman class that figures to be among the best in the ACC if not the nation.

Hansbrough, the 6'9" center who was a sensation last year as a freshman, led last year's team in scoring (18.9 ppg), rebounding (7.8), shooting (57%) and steals (38).

But pounding the ball down low is not exactly what coach Williams has in mind. According to this article by Eddy Landreth, Associate Editor, the Tar Heels head coach is going to put more emphasis on speed.

Along with Hansbrough, forward Reyshawn Terry and guards Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller return to the starting five. Frasor will likely inherit Noel's point guard position, though all of the Tar Heels had good assist numbers last season. Danny Green or Marcus Ginyard will likely be the other starter, but according to Williams' dictates, there is going to be a full rotation of 13 or 14 players in every game.

The Tar Heels will be among the most entertaining and highest-scoring teams in the nation in 2006-07.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Florida Gators preseason Preview

According to this USA Today article, the Florida Gators are eager to defend their 2005-06 national basketball championship.

The starting five all returned from last season, despite speculation that star forward/center Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer would turn pro after stellar sophomore seasons. Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, and Al Horford join Brewer and Noah as the nation's #1 starting five.

Coach Billy Donovan, who begins his 11th season as head coach, will likely be a finalist for coach of the year if the Gators just reach the Final Four again.

The quest for the repeat begins in earnest on November 10, when the Gators suit up at home against Samford. As is the usual in college hoops, the Gators won't face serious opponents until they host Kansas on November 25. Conference play (SEC) begins January 6, 2007, when the Georgia Bulldogs travel one state south.

While the Gators won the NCAA Tournament last season, they did not even win their division in the SEC. That honor went to Tennessee, with a 12-4 conference record. The Gators were 10-6 and won the SEC tournament and the automatic bid to the Big Dance.

The Vols will again provide competition in the SEC East, along with Kentucky, as coach Tubby Smith seeks to find answers after a 9-7 record in the conference. The real power may be in the SEC West, where Alabama, Arkansas and LSU also have a good number of returnees ready to go.

But all eyes will be on the Gators, who seek to win back-to-back championships for the first time since Duke did it in 1991-92. If the Gators do make it to the Final Four, they will be in familiar territory; the championships will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

With all five starters coming back, Florida will be the pre-season #1 in all of the polls, including ours here at Downtown Magazine. Having played together for a full season, they are a well-organized unit. Add to that Joakim Noah's substantial upside and you have the recipe for a serious run at championship #2.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Practices begin today!

Now that practice has begun on campuses across the nation, I'm back for another season of thrilling college hoops.

Last season we crowned Florida as National Champions after they ripped through the field of 64 in the tourney, culminating in their one-sided win over UCLA. With most of the players on those teams returning, they will be highly ranked and, in the case of the Bruins at least, probably favored to win their conferences (the SEC may be another story).

In coming days, I'll be posting news articles, links and team previews. With the first tip-off only a little more than 3 weeks away (November 7), there's just enough time to present previews of the top 25 teams.

Tomorrow will start with - who else - those national champs from Florida.