Number Two Debate
Posted by Zach on September 16, 2008
The debate will rage on from today till the season opening tip-off: who is the second best team in the nation behind North Carolina? Four Big East teams can boast their credentials, along with a Tobacco Road ACC power who looks to challenge their biggest rival, a perennial Final Four participant, and a sleeper team that could emerge in the Big 10 under the tutelage of Tom Izzo. You can make a compelling case for any one of these teams- most have the talent, depth, toughness and balance to contend for the #2 ranking throughout the year. Here are the cases for each team to be ranked second in the nation:
Connecticut- The Huskies hit their peak late in the season last year before the crushing injury of A.J. Price marked the beginning of the end of their season against 13-seed San Diego. Price, after persevering through a college career that involved laptop theft, brain injuries and a torn ACL, is finally 100% ready for contact practices and ready to lead Connecticut back to the promised land. Joining Price in the backcourt are two special talents- his sidekick Jerome Dyson and freshman sensation Kemba Walker, who looked outstanding in the U-18 championships this summer. The frontcourt doesn’t lack for size or stability. Hasheem Thabeet continues to develop as a dominant big man in the conference, will he make the leap? Jeff Adrien is an all-around do-everything type of force rebounding and scoring. Don’t forget about Nate Miles as a potential difference maker for the Huskies.
Louisville- The Cardinals are as deep and talented as the Huskies this season. By the end of the season, their best player might be freshman Samardo Samuels, a 7-foot behemoth in the low post that will create some intriguing matchups with Thabeet and Harangody. The Cardinals pose two athletic and versatile forwards with triple-double threat Terrence Williams and possible lottery pick Earl Clark. The wild card for Louisville, possibly determining whether they’re a top-2 or top-15 team, is the development of Edgar Sosa at point guard. Is he mature enough to lead a Final Four caliber team to the title? Louisville lost Derrick Caracter earlier than expected, but the frontcourt should be fine. The question mark lies with Sosa and the production from the backcourt.
Notre Dame- The Irish struck gold with the transfers of Scott Martin from Purdue and Ben Hansbrough from Mississippi State this off-season, but both are ineligible this season. Don’t feel too bad for Mike Brey, he’ll be just fine. The stars are Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. Harangody is a 20-10 threat who is looking to win another Big East Player of the Year award dominating opponents in the post with his wide frame and unique scoring ability. Ben’s older brother, Tyler (you might have heard of him) could match up with Harangody in Maui this November. Kyle McAlarney is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation and has point guard Tory Jackson, the ultimate drive-and-dish playmaker, to get him the rock in open spots with good looks. The question: Can Notre Dame match the depth/athleticism of Louisville and Connecticut?
Pittsburgh- The NCAA put the hammer down on the eligibility of Mike Cook at the wing spot for Pittsburgh, meaning Gilbert Brown will have to take over some of the scoring load. Most of that load will be handed off to three worthy players- forward Sam Young, guard Levance Fields and center DeJuan Blair. Young emerged in the Big East Tournament last March as an all-around force with an efficient scoring touch and the ability to make clutch shots. Fields is back from his own injury suffered just days after Cook’s ACL tear, and looks to regain his standing as a top Big East guard from the perimeter. The sophomore of the group, DeJuan Blair, needs to improve free throw shooting to become a consistent threat, but the knack for finding the basket and his intense rebounding ability is too excellent to ignore.
Michigan State- The Spartans are in constant contention every season under coach Tom Izzo, but this season could be the return to the National Title last experienced when Mateen Cleaves led MSU. The point guard for Michigan State this year is Kalin Lucas, a speedster play-making slasher with the ability to create for any one of the Spartans supporting cast- Morgan, Suton, Roe or Walton. Lucas could end up being the top PG in the nation by February. Delvin Roe is the five-star freshman ready to make an immediate impact, and Goran Suton is a dependable post presence who needs to be more aggressive for the Spartans to be successful. Raymar Morgan had a bit of a disappointing 2007-08, look for him to come back with a vengeance this season and help Michigan State edge Purdue for the Big Ten title.
Duke- The Blue Devils could go either way. I like their pieces, but the same issue that’s haunted Duke since the departure of Shelden Williams could ultimately lead to their demise- the lack of a scoring forward/center. Olek Czyz and Miles Plumlee are not ready for prime time, and Lance Thomas has proven to be a soft forward who refuses to bang with any strong opposition. You have to love their guards, though. Greg Paulus continues to progress into a top-notch point guard, even if his detractors refuse to admit it. Kyle Singler can shoot from the outside and wing freshman Eliot Williams will be the next Duke star. The best player of the group is Gerald Henderson, a sensational and athletic playmaker who can shoot and drive. The Duke-UNC battles should once again be epic this season.
UCLA- The Bruins lost two top-5 picks in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love to the NBA Draft. They also lost their best defensive player in Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. The sensational job of Ben Howland since taking over the UCLA program is shown in the Bruins still being in contention for the #2 spot in the country after losing that much talent and scoring load. They reeled in the best recruiting class in the nation led by Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee in the backcourt, along with J’Mison Morgan providing starting ability right away in the frontcourt. Darren Collison never was 100% healthy last season and went through a disappointing campaign. Look for Collison to team up with Josh Shipp to aid the Bruins in terms of jump shooting, team leadership and continuity.
My quick rankings in order: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Louisville, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Michigan State, Duke
Look for a News and Notes sometime this week from me. Tommy and Patrick are real busy with school, work and various sports, but we’ll be back in full swing by October to preview each conference, rank players and give predictions before guaranteeing a post every day in November.