Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Best of the Rest - Top 25 preview 9-25

With the season about to get underway (tonight), some of us may actually drag ourselves away from election coverage to catch the Coaches vs. Cancer Regionals from College Park, Maryland. Vermont takes on New Orleans at 6:30 and the Terps host Hampton at 8:30 EST.

Just in time (my apologies for tardiness), here are the 9-25 pre-season picks:

9. Memphis - Last season the Tigers went 33-4 and washed out in the regional finals to eventual runner-up UCLA. The Tigers lost their top three scorers to graduation or jumping to the NBA, but coach John Calipari will build around a pair of experienced forwards, Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier.

10. Alabama - 18-13 last season and won one game in the tourney before falling 62-59 to UCLA. The Crimson Tide loses top scorer Chuck Davis, but return five of the next six top scorers from 2005-06 including leading rebounder 6'10" Jermareo Davidson.

11. Duke - Losing a lot of talent with the departure of J.J. Reddick and Sheldon Williams, but coach K always fields a quality team. The Blue Devils were 32-4 last year and will vie with North Carolina for the ACC title. Judging by last year's performance, Greg Paulus should be one of the top 5 point guards in the country and Josh McRoberts should continue to develop into a steady, if not dominant, big man.

12. Washington - Gone is superstar Brandon Roy along with 2nd and 3rd leading scorers Jamaal Williams and Bobby Jones, but the Huskies may be the best in the West, featuring a balanced attack and great bench depth. Lost to UConn in a tight 98-92 score-fest in the regional semis to end last season and will be looking for more. A Final Four appearance not out of the question. The Huskies beat UCLA twice last season and play the Bruins on Dec. 31 and March 3, the latter at home and the season finale.

13. Creighton - an under-the-radar team from the Missouri Valley conference that has a number of impact players. Finished last season at 20-10 and return 5 of their top 6 scorers. Will battle with Southern Illinois and Wichita State in the regular season and that kind of fight may serve well come tournament time. Watch for center Anthony Tolliver to have a breakout season after averaging 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

14. Texas A&M - Big 12 sleeper team went 22-9 last season and returns all of their starters. Acie Law and Joseph Jones are the big scoring threats. The team is somewhat undersized, but plays pressure defense and a three guard rotation much like Villanova last year. Under Billy Gillespie, the Aggies may be on the verge of greatness.

15. Tennessee - Went 12-4 in the SEC, and 22-8 overall last year, but were overshadowed by Florida and LSU. The Vols need to find an adequate point guard and help scoring though Chris Lofton, Major Wingate and JaJuan Smith will carry the load. The SEC is brutally tough, but Tennessee will be one of a handful of top teams headed to the tournament.

16. Georgia Tech - 11-17 last season, but may have the best recruiting class, especially with versatile 6'8" Thaddeus Young and a host of starters and role players returning. Young is a serious pro prospect and may be only around for a season or two at best. If the Yellow Jackets can avoid the injury bug, they may emerge from the long shadows cast by Duke and North Carolina.

17. Connecticut - As usual, the Huskies will reload rather than rebuild and playing in the rugged Big East give them an advantage in March. Maybe after last year's disappointment, coach Calhoun can get his troops motivated earlier in the season. The team will build around forward Jeff Adrian and fit in a lot of new recruits.

18. UCLA - Point guard Jordan Farmar skipped to the NBA, and questions still surround Aaron Afflalo's disappearing offense in the NCAAs last season. Afflalo will have to step up his play, but the program is strong with plenty of athletes to provide depth.

19. LSU - Probably going to be a little less effective down low with Tyrus Thomas gone, but Big Baby Glenn Davis will control the box and the boards. The Tigers will still be a quality squad capable of doing damage at the highest levels as they return 6 of their top 8 scorers.

20. Marquette - Finished 6th in the Big East last season, but down years are expected from West Virginia and Villanova, who graduated almost all of their starters, so the Golden Eagles should move up despite graduating leading scorer and rebounder Steve Novak.

21. Oklahoma St. - Could actually finish much higher or completely out of it, depending on how well they get through the rough Big 12 schedule. JamesOn Curry needs to emerge as a leader and get his teammates more into the flow of the offense instead of trying to do it all himself. The Cowboys have plenty of height and speed and should be vastly improved over their 17-16 record of last season.

22. Texas - Another team looking to retool, but capable of vying for the conference title. Freshman Kevin Durant is the real deal and will be one of the best new faces on the college hoops scene, but the Longhorns lost all five starters from last season and will need to get in sync early.

23. Louisville - How long will Rick Pitino languish in the lower echelons of the Big East? Not too long. This team may surprise even themselves. They lose leading scorer Taquan Dean, but back are the next 5 high scorers. David Padgett and Juan Palacios will be twin terrors on the boards and tough to defend. Brandon Jenkins needs to be more consistent at point for the Cardinals to contend.

24. Nevada - A total sleeper from the WAC, won the conference at 13-3 last season, 27-6 overall. Nick Fazekas returns with his 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and almost all of last year's squad is back. Look for the Wolf Pack to move up in the polls and make loud noises in the NCAA tournament.

25. Syracuse - Jim Boeheim is still perfecting his 2-3 zone defense and the Orangemen will be competitive in the Big East, which once again may be the dominant conference in America. They lose leading scorer and point guard Gerry McNamara, but the next five return intact. Top recruit Paul Harris gives the Orange a slew of scoring options.

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