Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Archive for August, 2008

Gameday, Sleepers and Other News

Posted by Zach on August 28, 2008

Not much news in or around college basketball during late August. I could update you on the Derrick Caracter situation, but he’s not worth anyone’s time. The recruiting rampage has died down with the elite camps concluding and coaches returning for the start of school. While some injury or late transfer may take place in the next few days, don’t expect much big news as the summer ends and fall begins. Don’t fear though, college basketball is closer than you may think. To conjure up excitement, here’s a look at the recently released College Gameday sites for the 2008-09 season:

Jan. 17- Chapel Hill, N.C. (Miami at North Carolina)
Jan. 24- South Bend, Ind. (Connecticut at Notre Dame)
Jan. 31- Knoxville, Tenn. (Florida at Tennessee)
Feb. 7- Spokane, Wash. (Memphis at Gonzaga)
Feb. 14- Madison, Wis. (Ohio State at Wisconsin)
Feb. 21- Austin, Texas (Oklahoma at Texas)
Feb. 28- Berkeley, Calif. (UCLA at California)
Mar. 7- Morgantown, W.V. (Louisville at West Virginia)

Fairly pedestrian, right? The two best games are Connecticut-Notre Dame, which should have major Big East title implications, and Oklahoma-Texas, which should do the same for the Big 12 later in the season. California must feel fortunate considering they’re in full-fledged rebuilding and the UCLA pairing will probably result in a blowout. Memphis-Gonzaga could be interesting, but the Zags never lose at home. That March 7 game could prove to be the reason Louisville loses out on a Big East title in the last weekend of the season. Keep that date circled. Not an easy place to play.

Anyway, on to the main point of this post: my top five sleeper/surprise teams of this upcoming season:

– Lon Kruger is one of the smartest coaches in the business, taking his team on a two week summer trek around Australia to prepare for the season against top-notch Australian teams. The Rebels are perennially a contender in the Mountain West and reached the Sweet 16 just two years ago in Saint Louis; this year, they’re the clear favorite to win the regular season crown in the MWC. Still, because of the MWC TV package with CSTV and the lack of national exposure, most don’t give the credit to UNLV and Kruger that is deserved.

The Rebels are led by super-talented guard Wink Adams, a true playmaker in every sense of the word that scored 25 against Kansas in their second round matchup last March. He’ll need to improve drastically on his 14 total points scored against rival BYU in two games for the Rebels to win the conference. UNLV will be boosted by Memphis transfer guard Tre’Von Willis and strong, elite forwards Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau. They’ll be in the Top 25 at some point this year.

– Billy Gillespie showed his coaching mettle last season by overcoming strong pressure and adversity following a disastrous non-conference performance by finishing valiantly in the SEC and in their close loss to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Two freshmen battling for the point guard spot on an SEC contender is never a good thing due to the inexperience, but DeAndre Liggins and Kevin Galloway are prime talents and are fully cleared by the NCAA. Someone will emerge.

The stud is recently healed Patrick Patterson, a forceful and menacing forward who uses his physicality to put up double-doubles on any given night. He’s my pick for preseason SEC player of the year. Jodie Meeks is also healthy and Perry Stevenson is a quality role player for any team. Kentucky could be boom or bust this season due to the amount of freshmen they’re relying on; my inclination says boom, but it could easily go the other way.

– The Bears are becoming a sexy sleeper pick for this season, and the direction of the program is clearly heading in the right track after indirectly and unofficially landing one of the top players in the 2009 class, John Wall (wink wink). The Bears will surely improve on a school record nine conference wins from a season ago and have NCAA Tournament expectations. Their guard play is terrific, even with their loss of team leader Aaron Bruce. Curtis Jerrells averaged over 15 PPG last season and may turn out to be a contender for Big 12 POY this season if his outside shooting improves.

The team returns eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago, including emerging sophomore guard LaceDarius Dunn. The Monroe, LA native averaged 13.6 PPG and shot 42% from three in his freshman campaign. Scott Drew also added Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh to the program, who started 31 games for Michigan the last couple years. Drew has this program on the rise. They could finish third in the Big 12 this year.

Southern Cal
– Most would consider the Trojans exempt from any sleeper list, but the national media may sleep on a team that lost both top-five pick O.J. Mayo and draft defect Davon Jefferson. For the folks in Southern California, here’s two words that should heal any post-Mayo wounds: DeMar DeRozan. Believe me, this kid is going to be something special. Another one-and-done recruit for Tim Floyd, DeRozan has athleticism unmatched in his freshman class, a complete package in terms of scoring and rebounding, and the ability to penetrate and finish in any situation.

Joining DeRozan will be UNC transfer Alex Stepheson, a true post presence who will take more and more pressure off of Taj Gibson to recover following a disappointing 2007-08 season and Leonard Washington to contribute immediately. Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis are also extremely valuable role players for Tim Floyd. The Pac-10 isn’t as loaded as in past campaigns, so look for USC to finish third behind UCLA and Arizona State.

– Most folks scoff when I mention the possibility of the Big East actually getting ten teams into the NCAA Tournament this season. The likelihood of one of the contenders fading and/or the conference beating up on each other too much for this to occur is very high, but even the consideration shows the bulk of top-heavy talent in this conference. That tenth team I’m throwing out there is Providence, led by former Drake coach Keno Davis.

The Friars have two main questions that need to be addressed: 1) is Sharaud Curry healthy enough to lead this team, and 2) who will handle point guard duties in a conference where, frankly, you need a competent point guard. The Friars have some interesting pieces, most notably guard Weyinmi Efejuku, a double-digit per game scorer, and former Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier, another player who can handle much of the scoring load for Providence. They’ll be tested immediately with the Anaheim Classic and were fortunate in getting a favorable Big East slate with Cincinnati and Rutgers twice.

Some other quick news and notes:

– Marquette sophomore forward Trevor Mbakwe gave every indication he was going to return to the program even with the departure of Tom Crean this off-season, but he has changed his mind and has left Marquette for other ventures. We’ll see which small school scoops him up. He’s a project but a worthwhile one.

– Memphis is heading towards another package deal, a growing and disturbing trend in college basketball. They lured in the brother of one of the top players in the 2009 class, Xavier Henry’s brother C.J, to enroll full-time at their school. Slick move by John Calipari to help in the recruiting of Xavier, so they’ve seemingly moved ahead in the race.

– Villanova landed another top recruit in Mouph Yarou, a 6’9 African big man from a military academy in Virginia, ranked #28 overall in the county by Scout.

– Freshman guard Mark McLaughlin will not play for Nevada this season, a top-100 recruit in the nation. This is a big loss for the Wolfpack as he was expected to team up with Luke Babbitt and contribute mightily this season.

For excellent mid-major season previews, just go to for their ShootAround segment. For the big conferences, we’ve previewed all six on this site, so snoop around.

Posted in News And Notes, Team Rankings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Summer SEC Report

Posted by Tommy on August 27, 2008

Last year the SEC experienced somewhat of a down year when compared to years past. SEC play was fun to watch at times, like when Shan Foster and Chris Lofton, two of the conference’s greatest shooters of all time, faced off. And who could forget Georgia’s improbable SEC tournament victory last year after going 4-12 in SEC play. Unfortunately, a lot of the teams are losing some of their best players from last season, whether it be to graduation or other reasons. The SEC is going to experience another down year, probably even more so than last season, but hey, college football season is right around the corner so SEC sports fans should get their boasting done while they can.

Alabama: After losing double-double machine Richard Hendrix as well as their second leading scorer in Mykal Riley, Tide fans have to ask themselves who is going to replace their production. High-flying guard Alonzo Gee brings his 14.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG back for the 08-09 campaign and fellow senior guard Brandon Hollinger will be back as well after scoring 6.3 PPG and dishing out 3.2 APG last year. These two aren’t quite as powerful of a combo as Hendrix-Riley, but I think their complementary styles will really help the Tide. The big weakness for the Tide will be the play of their frontcourt after losing Hendrix from a small team from last season. They do bring in explosive power forward JaMychal Green who can contribute right away for the Tide but is a bit undersized at 6-7.5. If Bama finds some contributors from down low, I think they could surprise some people in the SEC, but right now it looks as if the guards will have to carry this team. The NIT looks like the likely final destination for the Tide.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost a lot of talent from last year’s team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Who’s coming back to the Razorbacks for this season? Let’s see… Sonny Weems? Gone. Darian Townes? Gone. Gary Ervin? Gone. Steven Hill? Gone. Patrick Beverley is the only player of note coming back, that is until he was declared ineligible to play in Fayetteville for the 08-09 season. John Pelphrey is going to have his hands full coaching this Razorback team that has next to no experience aside from Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington who combined for 9.6 PPG last year. It’s needless to say that any postseason hopes Razorback fans had were dashed by the loss of Beverley.

Auburn: After going 14-16 last season and losing star players Quan Prowell and Frank Tolbert, times will be tough for the Tigers for 08-09. They do return Korvotney Barber, a forward who averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.9 RPG last year, along with guard Rasheem Barrett who averaged 13.6 PPG, 4 RPG and 2.2 APG over the course of last season. Auburn is going to have to improve their effort on the defensive end if they want to win games in the SEC. The scoring ability is there, especially in the backcourt, but they don’t quite have the firepower to outscore teams. If they do decide to play defense, they could take advantage of a weak SEC and surprise some people by moving up the ranks, but I can’t see anything above a .500 finish in the conference.

Florida: The baby Gators experienced growing pains last season and missed the tournament after winning back-to-back national titles. They lost athletic F/C Marreese Speights to the NBA Draft but leading scorer Nick Calathes is returning for his sophomore season. Guards Walter Hodge and Jai Lucas make up a good backcourt for Billy Donovan who brings in a pretty deep freshman class including 6’10” center Kenny Kadji who may have to be a contributor right away. They may only have one senior on the roster, but the Gators have a lot of players with one or more years of experience under their belt. Donovan will bring the Gators back to the tournament this year, but don’t expect them to make any national title runs yet.

Georgia: Despite going 17-17 last year, the 07-08 campaign was unforgettable for Georgia basketball fans because of the improbable SEC tournament victory that gave them an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. UGA fans are going to have to savor that moment over the course of the entire 08-09 season and probably longer because the Bulldogs lose some key components from the tournament team. The departures of Sundiata Gaines and Billy Humphrey will hurt the Dogs, but Terrance Woodbury and Jeremy Price return in hopes to prove the nation that they are capable of repeating. Coach Dennis Felton brings in a big-time recruit in Howard Thompkins to help bolster a frontcourt that definitely needed some help. I think Bulldog fans know not to expect another SEC tournament victory, but I think an improvement on the 4-12 record within the SEC is a definite possibility.

Kentucky: As the only school in the SEC that has more tradition in their basketball program than in their football program, Kentucky finds themselves around the top of the SEC nearly every season. The roller coaster of a season last year for the Wildcats was the first for new head coach Billy Gillespie. The Cats had a terrible non-conference season with losses to Gardner-Webb, Houston, San Diego and UAB. Despite those bad losses, the Wildcats were granted a tournament berth after going 12-4 in SEC play. As far as the 08-09 campaign goes, it’s going to be very tough to replace the contributions of Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford who combined for 33.8 PPG. The Cats do return Patrick Patterson down low, who averaged 16.4 PPG and 7.7 RPG as a freshman, as well as Jodie Meeks and Ramon Harris. Gillespie is bringing in a couple of four star freshman as well as a couple of JuCo transfers. This team will built around the post play of Patrick Patterson, and if he can stay healthy and other people can step up around him, the Cats have a good chance of returning to the dance, especially coming from a weak SEC. Right now I see them as NIT-bound.

LSU: Last year was a tough year for LSU basketball. The talent was there with Anthony Randolph and Marcus Thornton but things just never seemed to come together for the Tigers. They lost Randolph to the draft, but many of the same faces are returning to Baton Rouge including Thornton, last year’s leading scorer. Center Chris Johnson will be back along with forward Tasmin Mitchell who missed all but three games last year, guard Terry Martin and leading assist man Garret Temple. New head coach Trent Johnson arrives at LSU to a pretty nice roster for the 08-09 season, and I think Johnson will have the Tigers playing more as a team. There’s no way this team should have been 13-18 last year with that kind of talent so I think this coaching change will be great for the Tigers. I think 20 wins is a realistic goal for this team, especially with a pretty weak schedule.

Mississippi: After starting out 15-1, with the only loss being @ Tennessee by 2, the Rebels looked to be heading for the dance, but their 7-9 record in the SEC didn’t impress the selection committee. Things are looking pretty bright for Ole Miss in 08-09 as freshman star Chris Warren returns to lead Ole Miss once again along with David Huertas, Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins. The loss of big man Dwayne Curtis leaves a big hole to fill in the paint, but I think the skill of their guards is enough to propel Ole Miss into the dance.

Mississippi State: Rick Stansburry and the Bulldogs had a great season last year with a 23-11 record and a 12-4 record in the SEC. Stansburry loses one of the best one-two punches in the nation in Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon who averaged 17.4 and 17.2 PPG respectively. Shot blocking phenom Jarvis Varnado will be back along with guard Barry Stewart. Those two will have to account for a lot of the scoring for the Bulldogs, but will get some help from freshman Romero Osby and redshirt freshman Phil Turner. MSU fans shouldn’t expect the same accomplishment as last year for these Bulldogs, but Stansburry will have a pretty good team in the SEC.

South Carolina: Last year guard Devan Downey burst onto the scene for the Gamecocks after transferring from Cincinnati. Downey, along with backcourt mate Zam Fredrick, carried South Carolina last year combining for 33.2 PPG and 8.6 APG, meaning a lot of scoring was created by this duo. Both Downey and Fredrick are back again for the 08-09 season and look to improve on last year’s 14-18 record. New coach Darrin Horn returns the top six scorers from last year’s squad so they should have no trouble improving on their sub .500 record. I think this South Carolina squad will surprise a lot of people next season and the Downey-Fredrick combo will become nationally recognized.

Tennessee: Last year’s SEC winners are the heavy favorite to repeat. They did lose sharpshooter Chris Lofton and spark plug JaJuan Smith, but return all their other key components from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism make up a good, athletic frontcourt for Bruce Pearl, but the big question for the Vols is at the point guard position. JP Prince had a terrible time trying to run the point last year so their starting point guard could very well be JuCo transfer Bobby Maze who decided to come to Tennessee after committing to Maryland. They aren’t as good as they were last year, but the Vols have the players to win the SEC once again and will probably get around a 5 seed in the tournament.

Vanberbilt: The Commodores ended the year on a bitter note after getting thrashed by Siena in the first round of the tournament. Go-to guy Shan Foster is gone along with Alex Gordon and Ross Nelter, three of the four leading scorers from last year. Sophomore A.J. Ogilvy is going to have to do a lot on his own if this Vandy squad is to be successful. Jermaine Beal, who only averaged 7.6 PPG last year, will have to take on a much bigger role this upcoming season as well. Vandy is going to struggle next season and the departure of Foster will be felt throughout the year.

Predicted Standings (Postseason Prediction)


  1. Tennessee (NCAA)
  2. Florida (NCAA)
  3. South Carolina (NCAA – bubble)
  4. Kentucky (NIT – bubble)
  5. Vandy (CBI)
  6. Georgia (none)


  1. LSU (NCAA – bubble)
  2. Ole Miss (NCAA – bubble)
  3. Alabama (NIT)
  4. Mississippi State (NIT)
  5. Auburn (none)
  6. Arkansas (none)

Posted in SEC Report | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Summer Big 12 Report

Posted by Patrick on August 23, 2008

As we try to kill time during this long break in college basketball action, it’s time to preview another major conference. Recently the Big 12 has featured some of the best freshman in the league i.e. Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, etc. and this conference has also had its success in the tournament. Most notably, Kansas took home the title last season. It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 will be represented in the Final Four. The last time they had one in (before Kansas) was Oklahoma State in 2004, but I’m not expecting another drought as long as four years. This season is also very intriguing because there is no clear-cut favorite to win the conference. Some may say there as many as four teams that have a legitimate shot at the crown.

Baylor- Scott Drew did a heck of a job getting this program back on the right track after being suspended from non-conference play just two seasons ago. Drew is figuring out that Texas is a great state to recruit in, and I think soon you may be seeing Baylor steal some of the big programs’ recruits (A&M and UT). As for this year’s team, they really didn’t lose a lot of talent and are returning most of their key starters. Leading scorer Curtis Jerrells will attempt to lead this team to the NCAA tournament with a great supporting cast in guards Henry Dugat and LaceDarius Dunn. Kevin Rogers is really the only guy that can make noise in the frontcourt for the Bears so I wouldn’t be surprised if they used key reserve Tweety Carter as a starter in a four guard lineup. This team’s strengths will be speed and the ability to put the ball in the bucket, but the weaknesses definitely lie in size and rebounding.

Colorado- If I said things were going to get better in Colorado I would definitely question my own credibility; the Buffaloes are coming off a 3-13 finish in the conference putting them in last place once again. This season might be even worse because their three top scorers all graduated (Marcus Hall and Richard Roby are signed with NBA teams). Sophomore Cory Higgins will lead the backcourt while Jermyl Jackson-Wilson will be their best threat at the forward position, but it really doesn’t look good for CU basketball fans in 2008.

Iowa State- Once again here is a team that lately has not been any kind of factor in the Big 12, and like Colorado it doesn’t look like the tables will be turning this season. The top four scorers are gone and there are only three seniors on this year’s team. Diante Garrett (6.3 PPG and 2.8 APG last year as a freshman) will be the Cyclones best player, followed by seniors Bryan Peterson and Sean Haluska. Dominique Buckley could make a big impact as a freshman in ’08, but it doesn’t look like this team will be getting back to any postseason tournament any time soon.

Kansas- This is easily the team that lost the most key players for this upcoming season; however, Bill Self will still have himself a pretty quality basketball team. Sherron Collins will lead the Jayhawks at point and try to get the ball to a pair of freshman forwards, twin brothers Marcus and Markief Morris (if eligible). Cole Aldrich will also be a very solid contributor to this offense, but I don’t see Kansas getting anywhere close to where they finished last season. A Sweet Sixteen isn’t impossible, though. If the Jayhawks get one more guard to step it up, they could catch some teams sleeping in the Big 12.

Kansas State- Kansas State is another team that probably won’t have success like they did last season because of the loss of key players such as Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Sophomore Jacob Pullen will lead along with fellow sophomore guard Fred Brown. It’s likely the Wildcats will go through a lot of growing pains this season, but they could be back on the radar for a Big 12 championship in 2009.

Missouri- This is probably one of the only teams in this conference that has improved since last season. Senior forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons (26.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG combined last season) will be the duo that will determine the success of the Tigers on offense and defense. Key contributors include J.T. Tiller and freshman Miguel Paul and Steve Moore. The Tigers can definitely be a surprise team in the Big 12 for this upcoming season, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a top five finish. In order to make the NCAA tournament, they are going to need consistent play from their support players.

Nebraska- The Cornhuskers are a trendy pick to surprise in 2008, especially when people saw what they could do after beating Oregon at home last season. If Nebraska continues to have success it could be scary for other teams because their great facilities provide a great recruiting edge. As or this year, guards Steve Harley and Ade Dagunduro will be the prime offensive threats. Cookie Miller (one of the best names in basketball) and Ryan Anderson will also be key contributors and need to play well behind the two guards in order for this team to live up to rare expectations, especially in year where they can make noise in the Big 12.

Oklahoma- Obviously Blake Griffin will be the one that is leading this team all season, and he might just be good enough to carry the Sooners all the way to a deep NCAA tournament run. Guards Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson will be the outside threats in Oklahoma’s offense, and both have a key role: spread the floor to open up plays for Griffin on the inside. Freshman phenom Willie Warren will probably get starting time right out of the gate (ranked as the #3 SG in the nation). The Sooners toughest non-conference test will come in the Preseason NIT where they will have to beat Davidson to advance to New York to meet the likes of Purdue, Arizona, and Boston College (two of those three).

Oklahoma State- The Cowboys could definitely be a dark horse candidate in the Big 12, especially because their top three scorers are back for this season. Sophomore James Anderson, senior Byron Eaton, and senior Terrel Harris (just deemed eligible) averaged 35.3 PPG and 11.2 RPG. Former UMass coach Travis Ford took the Oklahoma State job for this season, and he is being handsomely paid to do so with his $9.1 million contract.  The only inside threat that the Cowboys have is Ibrahima Thomas. They’ll surely be trying to shoot more threes because their outside attack is formidable.

Texas A&M- Mark Turgeon’s first year at Texas A&M was filled with ups and downs. The Aggies struggled on the road in conference play, but they showed what they’re team was capable of in the NCAA Tournament when they lost a nailbiter to UCLA. Star freshman DeAndre Jordan entered the draft, and they also lose some good scorers. However, the “Big Three” are back in leading scorer and NBA prospect Josh Carter, Bryan Davis who will be really the only experienced force on the inside, and point guard Donald Sloan. The Aggies will once again be a force in the Big 12, but in order to compete for a title they need to play consistently all season long.

Texas- If this team still had D.J. Augustin, they would probably be ranked #2 in the nation behind the Tar Heels. Augustin entered the draft and it’s tough to say if Texas is even a Top 15 team. A.J. Abrams will be taking over the leadership role for Texas, but many don’t have faith in Abrams because of his unreliable play down the stretch last season. Damion James is probably UT’s best player, and a big reason for why they upset UCLA early last year. If Abrams steps it up and James can bring it like he did last season, Texas has all the surrounding pieces to win a Big 12 title.

Texas Tech- The Pat Knight reign begins in Red Raider land, and it will be interesting to see how the fans react if the team isn’t up to par. However, I don’t think Knight will have to worry about having a bad team. He returns Mike Singletary, who was a strong forward last season, and outside threat Alan Voskuil. The loss of scoring leader Martin Zeno will probably affect this team. Look for someone else to step up and take over the scoring load.

Projected Finish (Postseason Tournament)

1. Texas (NCAA)

2. Oklahoma (NCAA)

3. Baylor (NCAA)

4. Kansas (NCAA)

5. Texas A&M (NCAA)

6. Oklahoma State (NIT)

7. Missouri (NIT)

8. Texas Tech (CBI)

9. Nebraska (CBI)

10. Kansas State (none)

11. Iowa State (none)

12. Colorado (none)

Posted in Big 12 Report | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Cook Denied Another Year Of Eligibility

Posted by Zach on August 22, 2008

Pittsburgh forward Mike Cook was denied another year of eligibility by the overbearing and completely unfair NCAA this week, marking another instance where the hierarchy that runs college basketball has prevented a scholar athlete from competing in the sport he loves. The reason for the dismissal of Cook’s eligibility waiver centered on the rule where a player who participated in 30% (where do they get that number?) of their team’s games cannot red shirt for the following season. Cook tore his ACL on December 20 against Duke in MSG, a classic contest that concluded in a game winning Levance Fields three-pointer that he dedicated to his friend Cook.

Cook played in Pittsburgh’s first 11 games before the injury accounting for 34% of Pittsburgh’s regular season games. The NCAA imposed a rule for medical red shirt purposes stating that all of the team’s postseason games would count as one total game. Counting postseason, Pitt played in 37 total games, meaning Cook would be eligible, but since the postseason counts as one total game, Cook was denied the ability to play this season. Much like the NCAA has done with recent transfers looking to withhold sitting out a year due to family circumstances, they should have allowed Cook to play this season as an exception.

Now, the Panthers will be denied one of their top performers for this upcoming campaign, one that could potentially end in a Big East title and national championship. Gilbert Brown now takes on a larger role with the team at the forward position, and more pressure lies on Sam Young and Fields to perform. Pitt will battle Notre Dame, Louisville and Connecticut atop the Big East, and Cook would have certainly helped them gain a slight advantage over the pack.

“Situations like this are hard to take when you know how dedicated Mike’s life has been to playing basketball,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said in a statement released by the university. “Over the last three years, Mike has contributed significantly to our success both on and off the floor and has been an important member of our basketball family.”

The situation outlined means if Cook had torn his ACL two games earlier, he would be eligible to play. These strict and unfair rules imposed by the NCAA, one that now prevents Cook from playing college basketball again after losing his final season due to a severe injury, someone who has been nothing but a positive performer on and off the court for Pitt, once again show a lack of flexibility by the NCAA and a lack of heart for a player who just wanted to suit up in Panthers blue and gold again.

Posted in Quick Posts | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Summer Pac-10 Report

Posted by Tommy on August 15, 2008

While my colleagues are out east in DC, I’m going to go out west and preview the Pac-10 from my computer at home. The Pac-10 lost a lot of talented players to this year’s NBA Draft such as Kevin Love, Brook and Robin Lopez, Ryan Anderson, Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, Russel Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Kyle Weaver, Malik Hairston, DeVon Hardin and Maarty Leunen. Despite the loss of talent, the Pac-10 is still going to be a great conference to watch especially because there is such a level playing field. UCLA will in all likelyhood be at the top of the Pac-10 once again but after the Bruins there is a pack of 6 or 7 teams that will beat up on each other, and that is why I give this year’s version of the conference the nickname the “Pack-10”.

Arizona: After a dissapointing 7th place finish in the Pac-10 last season, the Wildcats will try and return to the top of the Pac-10, a familiar place for Zona. Unfortunately, the Cats have a void at the point guard position due to the departure of Jerryd Bayless and the decision of Brandon Jennings to play professionaly in Europe instead of coming to Tucson. Nic Wise, along with other role players from last year’s team, will have to shoulder much more of the scoring load if the Cats are to succeed. Jeff Withey and the incoming freshmen are going to have to help Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger out on the offensive end, otherwise Hill and Budinger will have to do a majority of the scoring. I don’t think Arizona is going to improve too much on their 8-10 record in the Pac-10 this season and will likely ride the bubble all year long. Right now I’d have to say they’re bubble-out but maybe they could ride their SOS to another tournament bid.

Arizona State coach Herb Sendek pleading to a ref

Arizona State: Last year Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils burst onto the scene by beating their in-state rivals Arizona twice and by upsetting Stanford, but only to get their bubble bursted at the last minute. Stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph return to Tempe along with guards Ty Abbot and Derek Glasser to show the nation what they’re capable of. The Devils will be much improved this year and will avenge last year’s snub with a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

California: Cal is going to see their fair share of struggles this season with the departure of leading scorer Ryan Anderson to the NBA. The scoring is going to have to come from the guards Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle who are the only two double digit scorers returning to this year’s team. Cal will be near the bottom of the Pac-10 once again and will most likely end up participating in the CBI.

Oregon: After signing coach Ernie Kent to and extention through the 2012-13 season, they obviously see Kent as the right guy to lead Oregon back to the top tier of the Pac-10. Unlike Arizona State, the Ducks made it into the field of 65 with a 9-9 record in the Pac 10 but lost in the first round to Mississippi State.  The Ducks don’t have the talent to make it back into the tournament again this year because of the departure of leading scorers Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen as well as Bryce Taylor. Tajuan Porter is the only returning double digit scorer and will have to use his 5’5″ frame to carry this Oregon squad. Joevan Catron, who averaged 8.8 PPG and 5.7 RPG last year, will be the go-to guy in the frontcourt. These young Ducks don’t have the firepower to compete in the Pac-10 and it will take a couple of years until they return to the NCAA tournamnet.

Oregon State: Coming off a 6-win season, the Beavers don’t have too high of expectations for the 08-09 season. They were winless in the Pac-10 last year and will likely be the bottom team in the Pac-10 once again. The versatile guard/forward Seth Tarver will be the go-to guy for OSU, while his brother Josh will play a supporting role along with Lather Wallace and OmariJohnson. The Beavers will be relatively young and will experience plenty of growing pains with the stiff Pac-10 competition, but could improve in the coming years. As of right now they won’t get a sniff of any postseason, not even the CBI.

Stanford: This year’s Stanford squad is going to look much different after the departures of the Lopez twins along with frontcourt-mates Taj Finger and Fred Washington. They’re presence in the paint is going to be missed throughout next year. New coach Johnny Dawkins is going to have a rough first year with his 9-man roster which has nobody over 6’9″. However, they do have two senior leaders in the backcourt in Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods as well as senior wing man Lawrence Hill. Dawkins has shown he can coach under-sized teams as the right-hand man to Coach K at Duke, but will have a lot to prove in his first job as a head coach. The Cards are going to have to play terrific defense if they want to near the top of the Pac-10 again this season. It’s hard to say what the Cards will do as far as postseason goes but I think Stanford will make the tournament as a 8 or 9 seed.

UCLA: After losing Kevin Love and Russel Westbrook to the #4 and #5 picks as well as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata-Real, one would think that Ben Howland and the Bruins would have lowered expectations for this season. Think again. Howland brings in the best recruiting class in the nation for 2008 which includes Jrue Holiday, J’Mison Morgan, Malcolm Lee, Drew Gordon and Jerime Anderson, all 4 or 5 star recruits. In addition, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp return for their senior seasons in hopes to make another deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Once these freshmen mature, the Bruins have a good chance of making yet another Final Four run.

USC:Tim Floyd has done a great job with the Trojans thus far especially in the recruiting aspect. Last year Floyd brought in superstar freshman OJ Mayo but was a one-and-done as he went third in this year’s NBA Draft. Now Floyd has brought in the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest winner and another likely one-and-done player in Demar DeRozan. DeRozan will be the main offensive threat for the Tojans and will be supported by Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis. The Trojans have another good lineup for the 08-09 campaign and could be one of those teams to battle in the pack of the Pac-10.

Washington: The Huskies, who went 7-11 in Pac-10 play last year, return some of the same faces to this years team and hope to improve on their record from last year. The main man for the Huskies will be big man Jon Brockman who can put up 19 PPG and grab 12 RPG over the course of next season. Quincy Pondexter, Justin Dentmon and Matthew Bryan-Amaning are the returning players that will play supporting roles for Lorenzo Romar. The Huskies also have a pretty impressive incoming freshman class with names such as Elston Turner Jr, Scott Suggs, and Isaiah Thomas (no, he isn’t Zeke’s son but has drawn some comparisons with his explosiveness). I really like the play of Brockman and if he gets strong support, the Huskies could be a tournament team but like some other teams in the Pac-10 they’ll be riding the bubble.

Washington State: Two years ago, coach Tony Bennet brought WSU from the depths of the Pac-10 and made them a nationally recognized team. Now, with the graduation of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill the Cougars will struggle a bit. Having low pre-season expectations from the media hasn’t stopped coach Bennet from doing well before, so I expect the Cougs to be competing in the pack of the “Pack-10”. Aron Baynes, Daven Harmeling, and Taylor Rochestie will be the veteran leaders for WSU and will uphold coach Bennet’s style of hardnosed defense and offense that uses plenty shot clock. Tony Bennet brings in a top-10 small forward in freshman Klay Thompson as well as a couple of other freshmen that can contribute right away. Even though they aren’t the best team on paper, the Cougersare going to frustrate opponents with their great defense and I think could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.

Predicted Pac-10 Standings w/ Postseason

  1. UCLA – NCAA
  2. Arizona State – NCAA
  3. Stanford – NCAA
  4. USC – NCAA
  5. Washington – NCAA (bubble)
  6. Washington State – NCAA (bubble)
  7. Arizona – NIT (bubble)
  8. Oregon – NIT
  9. California – CBI
  10. Oregon State – none

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Wednesday News And Notes

Posted by Zach on August 13, 2008

Time for a Wednesday edition of News and Notes before Pat and I head out to DC for a week (don‘t expect any candid John Thompson III interviews, we apologize in advance)…

– Some news that flew way under the radar was the confirmed ineligibility of Patrick Beverley from the Arkansas basketball team this past week. While Arkansas’s NCAA hopes and chances to contend in the SEC West were slim anyway, losing your best player is a crushing blow for coach John Pelphrey. Beverley will now decide whether to transfer to another school in hopes of gaining another year of eligibility or turn professional and play overseas. He led the Razorbacks in scoring (12.1) and rebounding (6.6) last season in their march to the NCAA tournament second round in Pelphrey’s first season at the helm. The former SEC newcomer of the year was hoping to get his life back on track in time for a productive season, but it appears any future accomplishments for Beverley on the court won’t happen in Fayetteville.

– Updates on three players attempting to gain eligibility this season:

1. Augustus Gilchrist, USF
– Coach Stan Heath may get word by the end of this week whether the 6’8 Maryland transfer can suit up for the Bulls this season. He’d be a big help to a team that lost Kentrell Gransberry and is in need of scoring and rebounding to stay competitive in the Big East. Gilchrist is a complicated story: he enrolled at Virginia Tech, rescinded and committed to Maryland, enrolled for the second semester there, then transferred to South Florida. Gilchrist, much like Vernon Macklin received with his transfer to Florida State, is hoping for a waiver to allow him to play this season due to family issues.

2. Mike Cook, Pittsburgh
– Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has to be getting frustrated with the NCAA for their lack of progression on the status of the valuable Cook this season. Cook tore his ACL in the classic Duke game last December and is hoping for a sixth year of eligibility. Cook’s appeal could go into the second semester and really drag on through the year. Recovering from that ACL tear, Cook still hasn’t been able to participate in 5-on-5 drills.

3. Keon Lawrence, Seton Hall
– Much like Gilchrist, Lawrence is aiming at acquiring a waiver that will allow him to play for the Pirates this season due to family issues. Lawrence transferred from Missouri to Seton Hall to be closer to his family because of their “serious medical issues,” according to an advisor to Lawrence. Lawrence hails from Newark and his addition would take pressure off Eugene Harvey and Jordan Theodore in the backcourt.

– Jim Calhoun is just starting to return to his normal coaching routine and preparation for this season after a bout with skin cancer this summer. He had surgery May 6 to remove a lump in his salivary gland and, after stressful and painful chemotherapy, is finally returning to 100% and is excited about his team’s potential. And why not? With stars like Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, the Huskies could have a tremendous season. The coach told Andy Katz he feels Nate Miles is going to explode onto the scene with the talent around him. Calhoun will take two more weeks to relax before school starts.

– Mario Chalmers’ tenure at Kansas is complete, concluding with one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history. Now the director of basketball operations for the Jayhawks is resigning. What’s the connection? The director is none other than the father of Mario Chalmers, Ronnie Chalmers. The package deal worked out pretty well for Coach Self, wouldn’t you say? Ronnie was probably hired just for the commitment of his son, Mario. Now you’re seeing the same thing happen with Baylor hiring prized recruit John Wall’s coach to the same position with the Bears. The NCAA may need to step in and try to prevent this pattern from re-occurring, but there’s not much they can really do.

– This news is a week old or so, but Kansas coach Bill Self signed a new 10 year, $30 million deal to stay in Lawrence after flirting with the Oklahoma State job this April. The accepted deal has been in the works since then and includes big raises for his coaching staff. Self was one Jason Richards three away from being labeled as a perennial tournament choker with talented Kansas teams, but advanced to the Final Four and won his first national title in defeating Memphis. Self is now up there with Billy Donovan and Tom Crean as the highest paid college basketball coaches.

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Poll: The Best Conference in the Nation

Posted by Patrick on August 13, 2008

Please say why in the comments. Oh yeah, and this is only for basketball.

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NCAA Player Rankings: Top 25 Players 2008

Posted by Patrick on August 13, 2008

One of the toughest things to do in any sport is rank the importance of one great player over the next. Every MVP/Naismith/Wooden/Player of the Year award has a lot of debate over if the right player got the award. I’m sure I will miss some players so let me know if you disagree with what I think, but here is my view of the best 25 players in college basketball next season:

1. Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)- I don’t think I’ll have many people disagreeing with me taking “Psycho-T” number one in this player ranking. Hansbrough is the reigning ACC Player of the Year, Naismith award winner, and Wooden award winner. There is a strong possibility that with the team that Hansbrough has around him at North Carolina he could average around 25 PPG and 10 RPG. He is the most dominating player in college basketball and next season will be the favorite to once again win every Player of the Year honor that is out there.

2. Stephen Curry (Davidson)– It looks like North Carolina is a good state to find great college basketball players because the top two players in the country both play in the state that was “First in Flight”. Many people doubted Curry last season because he plays in such a bad conference, but he certainly showed what he was worth in games against North Carolina, UCLA, and Duke in Davidson’s non-conference schedule. Then he was pretty much immortal in the NCAA tournament. This season should be no different. The switch to point guard will probably decrease his scoring average, but not by much, and I expect Curry to average over 25 PPG and probably shoot around 40 percent from behind the arc. It will be interesting to see where Curry ends up in Player of the Year voting for next season, especially if Davidson can make another deep run in the tournament.

3. B.J. Mullens (Ohio State)- I might be the biggest B.J. Mullens fan out there, and I truly believe that in a year where the freshman class is not as good as year’s past Mullens will be one of the best players in the NCAA. Mullens will lead his team to the NCAA tournament and probably past the Sweet Sixteen. There really isn’t any substitute in the tournament for a big athletic center that can score at will. In my opinion, Mullens flows better on the court than Greg Oden, and I think he will have a better season than Oden did in 2006-07. Look for Mullens to average around 15 PPG,12 RPG and 3 BPG.

4. Demar DeRozan (USC)- In recent years it seems like every great big man ends up at Ohio State and every great guard is going to Southern California. DeRozan looks to follow in those guards’ footsteps and be one of the best players in the nation at the guard position. However, DeRozan isn’t necessarily only a guard, he is big enough to play small forward and definitely athletic enough to play any position. I think DeRozan will average around 20 PPG, but won’t really get a lot of rebounds or assists.

5. Luke Harangody (Notre Dame)- It will definitely be interesting to see how Harangody builds on his success last season. He is the favorite to win Big East player of the year for the second year in a row and may end up as a first team All American. This kid will carry the Irish to a potential Final Four run, and along the way probably average around 20 PPG and 12 RPG. I think come the end of this season Harangody may be one of the players going top 10 in the NBA draft in 2009.

6. James Harden (Arizona State)- Being the die hard college basketball player that I am, I was overcome with happiness when I heard that James Harden was coming back to school for the 2008-09 season. Harden shoots a great percentage from the field and because he has another year under his belt, he will average even more than his 17.8 PPG last season. I look for Harden to be a force in the Pac-10 and I can’t wait for the matchups between Harden and DeRozan. Not only will Harden carry his team to the NCAA tournament, but he will put up great numbers, probably somewhere around 22 PPG.

7. Tyrese Rice (Boston College)- If anyone of you saw what Tyrese Rice did against North Carolina last year, you should have no problem with him being this high on my list. This kid can shoot the ball with tremendous consistency and is actually underrated when it comes to driving the ball to the hoop. If Rice is on all year, Boston College should have no problem making the NCAA tournament and Rice should garner First Team All-ACC honors once again. I expect this kid to score around 20 PPG and even dish out about 8 APG to be one of the best all-around point guards in the game.

8. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma)- The Sooners were lucky to land a kid with Griffin’s size and athleticism, as well as his tremendous work ethic. Not only does Griffin look to be a top player in the upcoming college season, but many people are saying that he may be the number one pick in the NBA Draft for 2009. Griffin can post up just about anyone in the country, and can rebound with the best of them. He also is a great athlete at the power forward position. I look for Griffin to average around 17 PPG and 11 RPG being a consistent double-double guy for the Sooners every time he takes the court.

9. Jack McClinton (Miami FL)- The ACC is loaded with great players, and once again nobody is surprised. McClinton is definitely no exception, as he has been a leader for the ‘Canes the past two seasons and is looking to lead them to a top three finish in their conference this season and a deeper NCAA tournament run (last year Miami beat Saint Mary’s in the first round but lost to Texas in the second). If McClinton has improved his three point shooting even more, he can be looked at as maybe the best three point shooter in the nation (he averaged 42.7 percent from behind the arc last year). I predict that he will score around 18 PPG and shoot 44 percent from behind the arc.

10. Sam Young (Pitt)- Young is another guy that is very athletic for his size and is also a key leader for his team in 2008. Young gets the little things done and can score easily on just about anyone in the country. His sophomore year he wasn’t called on to do a lot in terms of scoring, but last year he took on a much heavier load and scored 18 PPG. I expect that he’ll do just about the same for the Panthers this season and even get about 7 RPG while earning himself All-Big East First Team honors.

11. Ty Lawson (North Carolina)- This guy is probably more vital to North Carolina’s title hopes this season than Tyler Hansbrough. Lawson gets the fastbreak offense going for the Tar Heels and is also the guy tasked with finding Hansbrough. Over the years Lawson has molded himself into a complete point guard and a very good NBA prospect. ext season he should average about 11 PPG and 8 APG. Assists should come easy for Lawson because he has probably the best offensive weapons on his team that he can dish the ball to.

12. Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut)- The best shot blocker in the nation showed how much he improved from his freshman year when he was a “Roy Hibbert clone” being uncoordinated around the rim and having trouble sticking with faster centers. Last year was a drastic improvement, and this year I think he will be even better. Thabeet very well may block over five shots per game next season while also scoring around eight points. Jim Calhoun must be pleased to play any kind of zone with his athletic guards on the wings and Thabeet standing tall in the middle. As long as Thabeet is in the lineup, Connecticut will be very hard to beat.

13. Robert Vaden (UAB)- Vaden certainly put on a show last season especially in the Blazers’ win over Kentucky, but he was also very effective against Memphis. If he can improve his field goal percentage, he could be the C-USA player of the year next season in a landslide vote. However, if he struggles (only 40 percent in 2007) other players like Tyreke Evans could make a run at the honor. Vaden averaged 21.1 PPG last season which is right around where I expect him to be in 2008.

14. Chase Budinger (Arizona)- Another small forward, Budinger should be one of the key impact players in the Pac-10 conference. I believe that his stats will definitely take a hit because he doesn’t have a great point guard that can get him the ball (Bayless entered the draft and Brandon Jennings is in Europe as you all know). Budinger can still have a great year but he has to improve his shot selection; there were times last year when I just knew that in the Wildcats next possession Budinger was going to take a bad shot. I think he will most likely average 15 PPG and 7 RPG. There is no substitute for this guy’s athleticism on the court, especially from a big player.

15. Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga)- Pargo is easily one of the most athletic point guards in the nation, if not the most athletic. This Zag is perfect for dribble penetration and he is also a great defender and knows how to get the right guys the ball. Part of the problem with Pargo is that he gives up way too many turnovers from trying to make a pass he can’t or just stupid dribbling. However, when I watched him in the NBA Summer Camps he looked a lot better with decision making and I could see him being a Second Team All American next season.

16. AJ Ogilvy (Vanderbilt)- The Man from Down Under will be in his second campaign for the Commodores, and this time its his show to run after the departure of star guard Shan Foster. Ogilvy came on very strong at the beginning of the year but had a real tough time in their tournament game against Siena (as did the entire Vandy team). I think with a year under his belt he should be ready to make a run at SEC Player of the Year, and also maybe a tournament run with his teammates. I predict he will score 16 PPG and average 9 RPG.

17. Lester Hudson (Tennessee-Martin)- A pretty unknown player to most college basketball fans, but to the few that know of him you should have no problem with him being at number seventeen (I actually felt I may be doing him an injustice here). Hudson, who averaged 25.7 PPG last year, is a favorite to be the leading scorer in the NCAA. He also has pretty good hands on defense averaging 2.8 steals per game. I believe that he will surpass his PPG mark of last season and average 27 PPG and three steals per game. I really like this kid to also lead the UT-Martin Skyhawks to the NCAA tournament.

18. DeJuan Blair (Pitt)- Blair is the man that will complement Sam Young down low for the Panthers, and he will be expected to carry a lot of the rebounding load. His averages last year were close to that of a double-double each night, and this year I think he will be able to average just that. Also, on top of his scoring ability Blair plays great inside defense and, besides Hasheem Thabeet, is the only guy that can stop Luke Harangody 1-on-1.

19. Scottie Reynolds (Villanova)- Reynolds may not be the textbook point guard that some people think he should try to be, but he is scoring a lot of points and no one can argue with a guy that puts up twenty points every night. I think Reynolds will have a breakthrough year in 2008 building off his tremendous performance in last year’s NCAA tournament. He needs to get his players the ball more this season, but his low assist per game average can also be credited to the fact that Villanova didn’t have a great supporting cast around Reynolds. Next season, I think Reynolds will score 18 PPG and average around 4 APG.

20. Jrue Holiday (UCLA)- It’s tough to make a top players list and not mention a Bruin once, and it’s also very hard to make a case for why Holiday shouldn’t be on this list. He is one of the premier freshman in the incoming class and should make a huge impact at UCLA leading a pack of young players (and Darren Collison) that will try to make UCLA’s fourth straight Final Four appearance. Holiday should average around 13 PPG next season, and shoot about 46 percent from the field.

21. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest)- Aminu will be asked to take a good amount of the Demon Deacon’s scoring load in his freshman season, and is expected to lead this team back to the NCAA tournament. It may take some time to adjust to ACC basketball, but I think at least halfway through the conference season this kid will play with the best of them. His tall and lanky frame will help him on defense, and his athleticism will help him get points in the paint. Look for Aminu to average around 12 PPG and 6 RPG for Wake Forest next year.

22. Jon Brockman (Washington)- Brockman is certainly one of the best players that the Pac-10 has to offer and he will prove it with his unbelievable strength and scoring/rebounding ability. He averages a double-double each game and he could be a great NBA prospect. Brockman is the driving force behind the Huskies’ attack and will be able to guard any big man in the conference. Look for Brockman to average 17 PPG and 12 RPG. The only reason that he isn’t higher on my list is because he has been injury prone in the past.

23. Josh Akognon (Cal State Fullerton)- I am a huge Josh Akognon fan, and I think that he is able to contend with Hudson and Curry as the best Mid-Major scorers in the nation. Akognon scored 31 points against Wisconsin, the most by any player against the number one ranked defense in the NCAA. He will be tearing up defenses in the Big West and leading his Titans back to the NCAA tournament and maybe even pulling off a first round upset. I expect 25 PPG or more out of Akognon this season.

24. Jeff Adrien (Connecticut)- Adrien is a very versatile player, especially at the power forward position, and should be one of the best players in the Big East this season. Not only is he athletic enough to stop most big and small men in the conference, but having Thabeet next to him down low will help Adrien be a better player. I look for around 14 PPG and 8 RPG from Adrien as a guy who does all the little things right for UConn and is a vital key to their success next season.

25. Devin Ebanks (West Virginia)- Who said this freshman class wasn’t loaded with studs? Ebanks was probably the best late sign in this entire class, and will offer West Virginia a great scoring forward that can also stroke it from downtown.  He should average around 11 PPG in his first season at West Virginia and I expect that he will stick around past his freshman year.

Honorable Mention: Raymar Morgan, Jerel McNeal, Jonny Flynn, Gerald Henderson, Wayne Ellington, Levance Fields, Tyler Smith, Dior Lowhorn, Greg Monroe, J’Mison Morgan, Lee Cummard, Chris Wright, Austin Daye, John Bryant, AJ Price, Greg Paulus, Marcus Thornton, Jeff Pendergraph

Posted in Predictions | 27 Comments »

Summer Big Ten Report

Posted by Zach on August 12, 2008

We’ve covered the ACC and the Big East thus far in our summer preview editions on the site, and with the Pac-10 coming soon courtesy of Tommy, I figured the Big Ten should be the next in line. While the conference perennially has its fair share of talent, the focus of Big Ten basketball has long been defense, rebounding and physicality. One may see a boring or slow basketball game in a contest that’s 57-55 with 30 seconds to play, but real fans acknowledge the hard-fought tendencies and fundamentals established year in and year out in this conference. This campaign should be a fun one- Michigan State and Purdue as the top contenders, tournament teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota just behind, while Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State join rebuilding Indiana in the rear.

Illinois- The strength of the Fighting Illini in their efforts to return to the NCAA tournament will lie in their backcourt. The loss of oft-troubled Jamar Smith hurts the team’s ability to shoot from the outside, but emerging sophomore Demetri McCamey, a three-point specialist who broke out in the classic Eric Gordon clash with Indiana last season, may be able to shoulder much of that workload. The backcourt is strengthened by the addition of Kentucky transfer Alex Legion and the return of scorer Trent Meachem. The questions obviously focus on the frontcourt, and losing both Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle doesn’t help that cause. At least two of Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole must step up for Illinois to contend for the bubble, but none of them even managed 4 PPG last season in limited action. The loss of Smith probably keeps Bruce Weber’s team out of the NCAA picture. Postseason: NIT

Indiana- Diehard Hoosier fans must show patience with new coach Tom Crean in his quest to completely overhaul and rebuild a destroyed program following the ugly departure of Kelvin Sampson. Eleven players are gone from a 25-win team and it’s difficult to point to one area where Indiana is set for this upcoming season in terms of any semblance of a starting five. Indiana was supposed to be returning Armon Bassett (UAB), Jamarcus Ellis, Jordan Crawford (Xavier) and DeAndre Thomas to a squad looking to contend for an NCAA berth, but all have departed for other programs. The Hoosiers will have to depend heavily on freshmen Nick Williams, Matt Roth, Verdell Jones and JC transfers Tijan Jobe and Devon Dumes. Crean is already starting to build a solid program with 2009 commitments Jordan Hulls and Maurice Cheek, the former being the #8 PG in the nation from Indiana’s backyard. Postseason: None

Iowa- Coach Todd Lickliter’s Iowa Hawkeyes still don’t have the talent to contend in the upper echelon of the conference, but Lickliter’s teams always defend well and play inspired basketball on their home court, two factors that prevent their opponents from overlooking Iowa on any given night. Still, the loss of outstanding scoring guard Tony Freeman to Southern Illinois and backcourt mate Justin Johnson to graduation, the only two players who scored in double digits last season, hurts in a profound way. Two players in the frontcourt that need to step up for Iowa to contend for the tournament are Cyrus Tate, a 6’8 senior who averaged 8.3 PPG last season, and 6’7 enforcer Jarryd Cole. Both players finished with over 67% from the floor last season, but will need to do more with increased minutes. The threat from outside is sophomore Jake Kelly, a pinpoint shooter from three-point range at 44% last season.  Postseason: None

Michigan- John Beilein was undoubtedly a tremendous coup for the Michigan program (as was their new football coach), and will have the Wolverines on the track to NCAA contention sooner than later. To expect the team to make that leap this season may be too much to ask, though. They do boast one of the top talents in the conference and the leading returning scorer, sophomore sensation Manny Harris. The success of Michigan will hinge on whether they can provide enough scoring help for Harris. The contenders are forward DeShawn Sims, a 6’8 forward who averaged 12 and 5 last season, and emerging 6’10 junior center Zack Gibson. Unfortunately for them, Ekpe Udoh transferred to Baylor and German recruit Robin Benzing did not meet eligibility requirements, so it’s up to Sims, Gibson and Anthony Wright. Coach Beilein is building a quality team that is clearly on the rise. Postseason: NIT

Michigan State- The loss of Drew Neitzel on and off the court hurts for the Spartans, but Tom Izzo’s squad returns more than enough talent to avenge last year’s disappointing season and win the Big Ten. Topping that list is inside-outside threat Raymar Morgan, a conference player of the year candidate who can score, rebound, dish and is an efficient shooter from anywhere on the floor. Joining Morgan in the frontcourt are experienced seniors Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Incoming five-star freshman Delvon Roe will likely be 100% healed from micro fracture knee surgery to give Izzo another scoring force from the paint. The backcourt is anchored by speedster sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, a player quickly molding into Ty Lawson Lite with a tremendous feel for the game. Let the debate continue over whether the Spartans or Boilermakers are the class of the conference this season. Postseason: NCAA

Minnesota- Some writers are pegging Minnesota as a potential surprise team in the conference this season, but losing your top three scorers from an NIT team doesn’t put me in that same boat. Still, the Gophers will contend in their second year under Tubby Smith, even with the loses of Lawrence McKenzie, Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman. Look for progress out of guards Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber in the backcourt, one bolstered by the commitment of talented freshman Devoe Joseph in the first of many stellar Tubby recruiting classes (or at least we expect so). The frontcourt is extremely thin with the losses of Tollackson and Coleman, so look for prized freshman Ralph Sampson III to step in right away, and after growing pains and development, become a true force in the paint for the Gophers. Postseason: NIT

Northwestern- Could the Northwestern Wildcats finally make a postseason tournament this season, whether it be the CBI, NIT or (gasp) the NCAA Tournament? Well, no, they don’t have a chance for the NCAA, but Wildcat fans should have a sliver of hope for a successful campaign for a program that has just three conference wins since 2005. They return star forward Kevin Coble (15.9 PPG, 81% FT) and emerging backcourt mates Craig Moore (13.4 PPG, 40% from 3) and Michael Thompson (11.6 PPG), all double digit scorers who will keep Northwestern out of the sixties in points more often than not this season. The recruiting class is loaded with height, the star being 7’0 center Kyle Rowley from Lake Forest Academy. Bill Carmody is obviously on the hot seat given the putridity of Northwestern’s program the last few seasons. Expect them to pull off some stunning upsets and turn a few heads this season. Postseason: NIT

Ohio State- Thad Matta’s recruiting prowess is often able to prevent Ohio State from rebuilding. Losing senior leader Jamar Butler, first round draft pick and inside anchor Kosta Koufos and bulldog Othello Hunter would cripple most teams, but Matta lured in two outstanding recruits- center B.J. Mullens, one of the top five freshmen in the nation heading into this season and a 7’1 behemoth in the paint, and shooting guard William Buford, another five-star with big-time scoring abilities and driving ability. The key for Ohio State will be the progress of guards David Lighty, Evan Turner and Jon Diebler from the outside. They shot 34, 33 and 29 percent from behind the arc last season, so obvious improvements are needed. If they are able to boost those totals, the Buckeyes become one of the best inside-outside teams in the conference with Mullens manning the paint. Postseason: NCAA

Penn State- Losing Geary Claxton, the face of the Penn State basketball team and their only true nationally known player, will be crippling. The Nittany Lions are hoping Jamelle Cornley, an emerging forward scorer and leader from last season coming off knee surgery this March, will take Claxton’s place as the go-to guy. Cornley averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season in 30 MPG. Talor Battle is an intriguing sophomore with upside and Tony Morrissey is another player who is hoping to become the backcourt floor leader for Penn State and coach Ed DeChellis. The enigma with Penn State has always been their defense, or lack thereof. For them to have any chance of making a postseason tournament this season, the defense must be somewhat respectable. Postseason: None

Purdue- Coach Matt Painter has brought this Purdue program great lengths in a very short period of time and should be constantly praised on a national level. They return all five starters from last year’s Baby Boilers surprisingly successful campaign, only losing Scott Martin to Notre Dame. Matt Painter says the team is determined to advance further than the second round in this year’s NCAA tournament and they’ll use the defeat at the hands of Xavier as motivation. E’Twaun Moore emerged as the team’s most reliable and explosive scorer and fellow guard Robbie Hummel became the glue player so vital to teams hoping to reach the Final Four. Moore, Hummel and Grant all shot over 43% from three-point range last season, as the long-range jumper quickly became as much a strength for Purdue as rebounding is their clear weakness. They need Chris Kramer and JaJuan Johnson to improve in that area. Postseason: NCAA

Wisconsin- It’s been said in every Big Ten preview article and it’s worth being said again: counting out Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin system this season is a grave mistake, much like every other season.  Wisconsin plays tremendous defense and protects their home floor better than any team in the nation. Losing Brian Butch and Michael Flowers stings, but Trevon Hughes is ready to take off as an all-Big Ten contender this season and Jason Bohannon as a top three-point shooter. Role players Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft need to vault themselves to a more integral part of the offense, or Wisconsin will greatly struggle scoring points. Sophomores Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil will play more and help in the frontcourt along with Ryan’s top incoming freshman, center Jared Berggren. Expect the Badgers to make the NCAA tournament once again. Postseason: NCAA

Predicted Order Of Finish:

1. Michigan State, 2. Purdue, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Ohio State, 5. Michigan, 6. Minnesota, 7. Northwestern, 8. Illinois, 9. Iowa, 10. Penn State, 11. Indiana

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NCAA Position Rankings: Top 10 Centers

Posted by Tommy on August 7, 2008

Everytime a great center steps onto the court, his inside presence alters the game. Guards think twice about going to the rim if these guys are prowling in the paint. Also, good centers offer a big target on the block and are able to take over a game with their overpowering size. Unfortunatelynot many teams have players with this kind of a presence because this year’s class of centers is very weak, especially compared to the class of their frontcourt-mates at power forward. It seems to me that there is a clear-cut number one center, but after that ranking these players proved to be a great challenge. 

BJ Mullens skying above the rim

1. BJ Mullens: As the best combination of size and athleticism at the center position, Mullens will be the premier center in the nation as a freshman. He’s 7 feet tall, and has incredible quickness and explosiveness, which reminds me a lot of his Ohio State predecessor Greg Oden. He may not have the pure shot blocking ability of Oden, but he has a good mid-range game, something Oden didn’t possess. Mullens will instantaneously become a star for the Buckeyes and as he develops his game, will become a strong candidate for a top 3 pick in the NBA Draft.


2. AJ Ogilvy: Shan Foster attracted a lot of the media attention for the Commodores last season, but Ogilvy’s contributions as a freshman can’t be ignored. The Aussie averaged 17 PPG and grabbed 6.7 RPG andshot 58.8% from the field in 26.4 min./game. In watching Ogilvy last season, I saw a very intelligent player with a great all-around offensive game. He’s very tough to guard off the pick and roll and has a great set of post moves. I’m a little skeptical on how Ogilvy will fair with the departure of Vandy’s other top scorers, but he has a great ability to pass out of a double team, enabling him to get good one on one match-ups down low.


3. Hasheem Thabeet: As a freshman, Thabeet came into UConn as a 7’3″ center who could block shots and that’s about it. Since then, he’s greatly improved his offensive game but still has a lot of work to do in order to become a good scorer. Thabeet was uncomfortable with the ball in his early days as a Huskie, but has become better on the low block by adding a couple of good post moves. The reason he is at #3 is his great shot blocking ability. He averaged 4.5 BPG last season and his mere presence virtually shuts off the paint for the opposing team. If Thabeet polishes his offensive game on the block and becomes stronger with the ball, he will become a stud center.

4. DeJuan Blair: Blair is short for a center at 6’7″, but makes up for his lack of size with heart and not to mentiona 7’3″ wingspan. He plays his hardest every second he’s on the floor and loves to bang bodies down in the low post. He averaged close to a double-double last year as a freshman with 11.6 PPG and 9.1 RPGbut Blair’s contributions to the Panthers can’t all be found on the stat sheet. If Blair works on his footwork, adds a couple of post moves and uses his broad shoulders down low, he can become a good scorer. Pitt returns many of the same faces for next season, giving Blair one on one opportunities on the block.

5. Jordan Hill: Hill saw his scoring go up nearly 9 points and grabbed almost 4 more rebounds per game from 06-07 to 07-08. He isn’t a big time offensive threat with 13.2 PPG last season, but he shot 62% from the field meaning he takes good shots. Hill will have to work for his own shots more often with the departure of Jerryd Bayless and the absence of Brandon Jennings but I think he has the talent to become a good low block scorer.


Varnado erasing Memphis's Robert Dozier's shot attempt

6. Jarvis Varnado: At 6 foot 9, a bit undersized for a center, Varnado is surprisingly the best shot blocker in the country. He averaged 4.6 BPG for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, which is unbelievable for a guy his size. He swatted nearly everything that came his way (as seen in photo on the left) and had 10 blocks against Miami, Kentucky and Georgia last year. This guy’s shot blocking ability is the lone reason he’s at #6. He only averaged 7.9 PPG and 7.8 RPGlast year, but his shot blocking presence as second to none. If he keeps his shot blocking up and improves on his offensive game, he’ll be one of the premier big men in the SEC.


7. Luke Nevill: As a sophomore, Nevill averaged 16.8 PPG and 7.7 RPG and shot 63.7% from the field and 74.1% from the stripe in 31.3 min./game. Entering his junior season, a lot of people expected Nevill to improve his game enough to get drafted. Instead, he saw a slight decrease in his numbers for every statistic except for blocks. This is inexplicable for me, but if the 7 foot Aussie becomes stronger in the post he could be a dominant player in the MWC and a mid to late 2nd round pick.

8. J’Mison Morgan: Morgan is a 6’9″ wide-bodied incoming freshman out of South Oak Cliff High School and is part of the stacked recruiting class for Ben Howland and the Bruins. It’s tough to fill the hole that Kevin Love left in UCLA’s frontcourt, but Morgan has the body andtalent to do so. He’s a great finisher around the rim and isn’t afraid to bang bodies in the post. He could use a couple of years to develop his basketball IQ and his quickness, but if he improves on that, Morgan has a great chance to be a futrure lottery pick.

9. John Bryant: Bryant put up some pretty impressive statistics for Santa Clara last year with 18 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 2.5 BPG which included 15 double-doubles. At 6’10” 350 lbs. he’s a load down on the block and uses his great combination of power and touch around the rim. Bryant’s post presence will help Santa Clara compete with the top opponents in the WCC: Gonzaga, San Diego and Saint Mary’s.

10. Mac Koshwal: As a freshman for the Blue Demons last year, “Mac Daddy” averaged 10.7 PPG and brought down 8.4 RPG. He was a raw talent last year with plenty of upside for the future. He runs the floor very well and is a very explosive center for DePaul. He needs work on his post moves, but other than that he has all the athletic tools to enable him to become a well-known name in the Big East.

Also Considered: Ty Walker, Trevor Booker, Connor Atchley.

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