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Pac-10 Preview (#6-#4)

Posted by Patrick on November 4, 2008

The teams that are in the “middle of the pack” in any conference are sometimes the most dangerous. They’re often overlooked, but they still have the talent to upset some of the best teams (example: almost Cal over UCLA last season). Here are the schools that could make some noise in the Pac-10 and maybe even the nation, yet they could also find themselves in the NIT/CBI in March.

6. Washington State Cougars– Coach: Tony Bennett (3rd year)

Backcourt: Taylor Rochestie will be running the offense in Pullman, which should run pretty smoothly. Rochestie is a great outside threat, shooting over 40% from three last season. He reminds me a lot of Derek Raivio, a great player at Gonzaga. On top of being a great shooter, he also plays great defense. Mike Harthun was a huge recruit for the Cougars, and should fit in nicely at shooting guard. It will be interesting if he can play “Cougar-level” defense, but what we do know is that he can get to the basket and finish.

Frontcourt: Aron Baynes anchored this team last season, and will probably do the same in 2008. His inside presence is unlike many in the Pac-10; he has a huge frame and has a relentless knack for the ball. I think its easy to say that Washington State will go as far as Baynes takes them. Devin Harmeling will have an expanded role in the offense this season, and despite being 6’7” he shoots the ball relatively well. Klay Thompson was the top recruit in Bennett’s 2008 class, and should make an immediate impact at small forward.

Bottom Line: A team that plays defense as well as Washington State could go very far this season, but like most Pac-10 teams they are missing something, and that something is depth. Once Baynes comes out of the game, whether it be because of fouls or just rest, they don’t have a player that can fill in on offense or defense. Teams will probably attack the basket early to try and get Baynes some cheap fouls, and Bennett needs to recognize that. It will be interesting to see how one of the top coaches in the nation deals with a team that doesn’t have much depth.

Starting Lineup:

PG-Taylor Rochestie (Sr.)

SG- Mike Harthun (Fr.)

SF- Klay Thompson (Fr.)

PF- Devin Harmeling (Sr.)

C- Aron Baynes (Sr.)

Projected Post Season Tournament: NIT

Key Games: Baylor (12/6), Gonzaga (12/10), Washington (1/3), at Arizona (1/31), Arizona (2/26)

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5. Arizona Wildcats-Coach: Russ Pennell (1st year)

Backcourt: After losing two amazing point guards in the offseason (Jaryd Bayless and Brandon Jennings), Nic Wise (pictured above) gets the honor of being Arizona’s floor general. People may not know Wise very well, but he is a tremendous player that can shoot the three and find people on the court. Freshman Brendon Lavender will be a key addition to this roster, and if he can score like Arizona recruited him to do so, then the Wildcats could be in very good shape this season.

Frontcourt: Chase Budinger needs no introduction. Everyone that has watched college basketball the past two seasons knows that he is one of the top players in the game. Besides Budinger, Jordan Hill is the most experienced frontcourt players that the Wildcats have. While Hill can score with the best, he got into foul trouble last season (averaged over three fouls per game), limiting his minutes on the court.

Bottom Line: This team has had very rough off-season. Losing their best player to the draft, having their best recruit leave for Europe, and having three different coaches in three seasons. Russ Pennell has a great team to work with, but it will be a very tough job and in order to get this team to play to its potential he needs veteran leadership from the likes of Nic Wise, Jordan Hill, and Chase Budinger. Arizona has the talent to win the Pac-10, but do they have the desire?

Starting Lineup:

PG- Nic Wise (Jr.)

SG- Brendon Lavender (Fr.)

SF- Chase Budinger (Jr.)

PF- Jordan Hill (Jr.)

C- Jeff Withey (Fr.)- may transfer

Projected Post Season Tournament: NCAA

Key Games: at Texas A&M (12/5), Gonzaga (12/14), Kansas (12/23), Arizona State (1/21), UCLA (2/14), at Arizona State (2/22)

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4. USC Trojans– Coach: Tim Floyd (4th year)

Backcourt: Once again USC has a freshman phenom that will lead their team to the promised land. This year it’s DeMar DeRozan, and he may even be better than O.J. Mayo. He has the ability to take over games and may be the most athletic guard in the nation. Having Daniel Hackett at point guard is going to help this team tremendously because he is one of those players that you want to have the ball in key moments. Dwight Lewis will also anchor the Trojans strong backcourt.

Frontcourt: Taj Gibson has been a star for USC since he arrived on campus, and this season should be no different. Gibson loves to eat up rebounds and will be the backbone of this basketball team. Gibson also plays great defense, but like many big men runs into foul trouble and for USC to be an elite team they need Gibson on the court. Junior Alex Stephenson (if his waiver is accepted to play this season) and senior Keith Wilkinson will be the duo trading off time at the other forward spot.

Bottom Line: USC is a great team and could very easily contend for a Final Four, but last season it seems that this team doesn’t take care of the ball and had trouble controlling their star players. If DeRozan listens to the coaching staff and plays team basketball he could lead them very far (like Derrick Rose), but if he doesn’t USC will be another one-and-done in the tournament.

Starting LIneup:

PG-Daniel Hackett (Jr.)

SG- Dwight Lewis (Jr.)

G/F- DeMar DeRozan (Fr.)

F- Taj Gibson (Sr.)

F- Alex Stephenson (Jr.)- waiver under review

Projected Post Season Tournament: NCAA

Key Games: at Oklahoma (12/4), UCLA (1/11), at UCLA (2/4), at Arizona State (2/15)

Posted in Conference Previews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview Roundup

Posted by Zach on November 3, 2008

Here are all of my previews: 1. Connecticut, 2. Louisville, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Marquette, 6. Georgetown, 7. Syracuse, 8. Villanova, 9. West Virginia and 10. Providence, 11. Cincinnati and 12. DePaul, #13-16

First Team
G- A.J. Price, Connecticut
G- Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
F- Sam Young, Pittsburgh
F- Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
C- Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut

Second Team
G- Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
G- Jerel McNeal, Marquette
F- Terrence Williams, Louisville
F- Jeff Adrien, Connecticut
F- Earl Clark, Louisville

Third Team
G- Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame
G- Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
G- Austin Freeman, Georgetown
F- Lazar Hayward, Marquette
C- DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh

Player of the Year:
1) Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
2) A.J. Price, Connecticut
3) Sam Young, Pittsburgh

Defensive Player of the Year
: Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
Breakthrough Player: Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Freshman of the Year: Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Coach of the Year: Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
Dark Horse Player: Dar Tucker, DePaul
Dark Horse Team: Georgetown
NCAA Teams: 10
NIT Teams: 2
CBI Teams: 1

Top Five Games

1) Connecticut at Louisville (February 2)
2) Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (January 31)
3) Connecticut at Notre Dame (January 24)
4) Louisville at Notre Dame (February 12)
5) Louisville at Georgetown (February 23)

Big 12 preview up Wednesday and Bracketology on Thursday, while Tommy should have his ACC preview done by next Monday. Not sure if Pat feels like contributing to the site at any point with his Pac-10 preview.

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , | 27 Comments »

Big East Preview: #1 Connecticut Huskies

Posted by Zach on November 3, 2008

1. Connecticut Huskies– Coach: Jim Calhoun (23rd season)

PG- A.J. Price (SR):
Whether Price is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the first half of the shocking loss to San Diego in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is the biggest question mark for this Connecticut team. Price is their sparkplug point guard who also happens to be their most dynamic scorer. He shines in big games, averaging 20 PPG in the seven games Connecticut played against ranked teams last season. He runs a spectacular point guard for Jim Calhoun, leading the Huskies in assists last year. When Price went down and the backcourt turned into a Wiggins-Austrie duo, the drop-off was painfully clear. By all accounts Price is 100% healthy and possibly in the best shape of his life. Price is a preseason All-Big East selection after leading Connecticut in scoring 13 times in 07-08. Price is the one player in the nation I see making the biggest leap forward this season, and the main factor for why I believe Connecticut is the team to beat in this loaded conference.

SG- Kemba Walker (FR):
Originally many pegged fellow freshman Nate Miles to start and give coach Calhoun more rebounding and size in his starting five, but with Miles’ dismissal I suspect Calhoun will opt to go small originally. Walker is a rough-and-tough Bronx point guard at heart who can handle the Big East from day one. A trio of Walker, Dyson and Price in the backcourt will be hard to match in all of college basketball, especially if Walker replicates some of his performances in the U18 FIBA games, where he took home MVP honors. Calhoun calls his prized freshman “cat-like quick”, a dynamic scoring guard who will look to push the tempo and add a new dimension for this team. Outside shooting is a bit of a question mark for Walker early in his college career (I don’t suspect he’s a one-and-done, but who knows), so he’ll look to feed shooters Price and Dyson on the wings and rack up the assists.

SG- Jerome Dyson (JR):
The emergence of Walker could spell Dyson to the bench once Robinson returns, but for now the junior will be pegged as the third guard for coach Calhoun. Dyson’s scoring average (12.5) actually dropped from his breakthrough freshman campaign (13.8) and many viewed his season as something of a disappointment. His three-point shooting (33%) needs to improve slightly, but Dyson does so many valuable things for this team. He’s an aggressive wing who attacks the basket with ferocity, drawing fouls and making free throws consistently (81%). He’s outstanding defensively, racking up nine steals in one game vs. St. John’s last season. I see Dyson thriving in a complimentary role to stars like Price, Adrien and Thabeet, making positive contributions in an offense where he can play fourth or fifth scorer.

PF- Jeff Adrien (SR): The Brookline, MA native is a Jim Calhoun favorite and for good reason. Adrien is a monster rebounding presence who routinely shoots over 50% from the floor on the season. He’s seemingly always in the right place in the paint to snatch a key offensive rebound for the Huskies. Could Adrien average a double-double in his senior campaign after tallying 31 total in his last two seasons? It’s definitely possible, considering Adrien finished last season at 14.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG. There are some clear weaknesses in Adrien’s game, most notably an absence of any threatening mid-range jump shot and porous free throw efforts. Still, the value far outweighs the negatives for this power forward. He’s not a superstar, but, much like Dyson and Thabeet, Adrien provides the Huskies with phenomenal contributions in certain areas (in his case, rebounding). Factor all of these players together and you have the most complete team in the nation.

C- Hasheem Thabeet (JR): The progress of one Hasheem Thabeet has been remarkable. Just two years removed from picking up a basketball for the first time, Thabeet was incredibly raw his freshman year, possessing no offensive qualities and proving sluggish and uncoordinated on the floor at times. Heading into his junior season, Thabeet is shooting 60% from the floor, adding an array of mini-hooks and short jumpers to a growing offensive repertoire. The blocked shots and rebounds are a given for the 7’3 Thabeet. This future lottery pick averaged a stunning 4.5 BPG last season to go along with 7.9 RPG and defensive player of the year honors. His free throws also improved from 51% as a freshman to 70% as a sophomore. What Thabeet provides on defense cannot be measured simply in statistics. Opposing guards are ultra-hesitant to test the post when Thabeet is manning the middle ready to swat your floater into the tenth row, and his size is nearly unmatched in college basketball. Only foul trouble will keep Thabeet from making a tremendous impact for Connecticut all season long.

Bench:
There’s no trade deadline in college basketball, but Connecticut should acquire freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson right around midseason to add more depth and height. Many feel the Australian Majok is a future NBA talent with his 7’4 wingspan and 6’10, 225 pound frame. He’s very raw on the offensive end, but should provide excellent rebounding and defense right away. Majok may be eligible by late December. Robinson’s academic and personal issues means he won’t find the floor until the second semester, just in time for the depths of the conference season. Unless Robinson screws up again, Calhoun has yet another returning double-digit scorer, athletic rebounder and shot-blocker extraordinaire at his disposal. Craig Austrie is a valuable piece off the pine for Calhoun. He led the Big East in free throw shooting, can run the point without turning the ball over, and plays strong defense. Look for his playing time to drop with Walker on board, though. Freshman Scottie Haralson will be called on as the three-point marksman late in games, an area where Connecticut has struggled the last two years. Forward Gavin Edwards appeared in 30 games last year and hit 55% of his shots.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A
Bench: A+
Coaching: A

Bottom Line:
I mentioned that Louisville was loaded in their preview. Believe it or not, Connecticut is even more loaded, even with the loss of Nate Miles. They have the ingredients for a Big East banner: senior point guard who can score and dish, the best defensive big man in the nation, excellent complimentary pieces, a deep bench, outstanding rebounders and shot blockers, and one of the best coaches in the nation. Whether Robinson rejoins the team and Majok can contribute immediately are two glaring question marks. This Connecticut team won’t fall victim to another early round upset, instead playing deep into March and contending for the national championship.

Key Non-Conference Games: Paradise Jam, 12/20 vs. Gonzaga (Seattle), 12/29 vs. Georgetown, 2/7 vs. Michigan
Key Conference Games: 1/24 @ Notre Dame, 2/2 @ Louisville, 2/25 @ Marquette, 3/7 @ Pittsburgh
Most Valuable Player: A.J. Price
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (National Champion)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pac 10 Preview (#10-#7)

Posted by Patrick on November 3, 2008

The Pac-10 was arguably the best conference in college basketball last season. However, the talent level is way down in 2008-09. The top of the conference should still have teams that can contend for a Final Four, but the conference is not particularly well-rounded. These are the bottom four teams of the conference: some are teams that have never really been to the top, and some are teams that will be getting their first taste of the basement in a long time. It will still be a very interesting season out West, but I don’t see these teams doing much.

10. Oregon State Beavers– Coach: Craig Robinson (1st Year)

Backcourt: Josh Tarver and Ricky Claitt led a backcourt that can’t hold their own even against mid major teams. While Tarver does get the basket somewhat well, he has a terrible knack for turning the ball over. His 62 turnovers in 31 games (only averaging 24.4 minutes per game) is pretty bad, and he led the Beavers in that category- 20 ahead of the second place man. Claitt should never shoot threes- as he was 3-29 last season from behind the arc- and I can’t imagine how poor he could be this year now that the line has been moved back.

Frontcourt: Josh’s twin brother Seth is probably the Beavers best player, although he only averages around 10 PPG. Roeland Schaftenaar is the center, yet last year he wasn’t even in the top four on Oregon State for total rebounds. The frontcourt is certainly better than the backcourt, but after these two players there isn’t much else to offer.

Bottom Line: This program is struggling and will have a lot of trouble winning a game in the Pac-10. For Last season, Oregon State managed to lose their opening game to Colorado State, a team that went winless in the Mountain West. This season, the Beavers look worse. While the coaching change was needed, I don’t know if getting an Ivy League coach was the right move. OSU should pray that maybe a top mid-major coach wants to move on to the Pac-10 and try to rebuild this program, but until then don’t expect anything from these guys.

Starting Lineup:

PG-Josh Tarver (Jr.)

SG- Rickey Claitt (Sr.)

SF- Seth Tarver (Jr.)

PF-Omari Johnson (So.)

C- Roeland Schaftenaar (Jr.)

9. Oregon Ducks– Coach: Ernie Kent (11th Year)

Backcourt– Tajuan Porter leads a young team and can be a big scoring threat. However, he loves to shoot even when he is having an off night. Joevan Catron is the next best option in the Ducks backcourt. He can also stroke it at times, but most of the problem in this backcourt is shot selection and turning the ball over. If they can take better shots and hang onto the ball it could make a huge difference in the standings. The Ducks have a freshman phenom in Teondre Williams, but I am hesitant to say he will play a huge role quite yet.

Frontcourt– This is where Oregon falls behind most of their Pac-10 competition. They have freshman Michael Dunigan who can be a force down low, but if other teams are concentrating on him and can box him out, the Ducks offense will be crippled. The fact that Oregon’s best option in the paint is a freshman shows the inexperience of Oregon. As a result, it’s tough to project them much higher that second to last.

Bottom Line: This team needs to start playing defense or they will get run off the court in this conference. Obviously they won’t be able to compete with UCLA or Arizona State, but if they want to finish in the top half of the conference they will need to stop teams from putting up ridiculous numbers on offense. The guards also need to stop chucking up three pointers when they’re down. Having a viable option in the paint with Dunigan will help them in close games, but I still don’t see many wins from the Ducks in 2008-09.

Starting Lineup:

PG- Tajuan Porter (So.)

SG- Teondre Williams (Fr.)

G/F- Joevan Catron (So.)

F- Frantz Dorsainvil (Jr.)

C- MIchael Dunigan (Fr.)

8. Stanford Cardinal– Coach: Johnny Dawkins (1st year)

Backcourt– The Cardinal return most of their backcourt players in Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. Johnson will be running point and Goods will most likely be getting the start at shooting guard if the Cardinal run a three guard offense.  Jeremy Green is one of the best freshman guards in the nation and he will take on a strong role for Stanford. He has a great outside shot and could help this team down the stretch.

Frontcourt– Obviously Stanford lost an awful lot in the frontcourt after Brooke and Robin Lopez declared for the NBA Draft after their sophomore seasons. Lawrence Hill is the only experienced big man, and Josh Owens is a sophomore that got very limited playing time last season but showed that with some work he can be a good player. Jarrett Mann, another freshman, should also see plenty of playing time while this group tries to pick up the slack left by the Lopez twins.

Bottom LIne: Its difficult to put such a talented program that plays great defense this low in the conference, but with virtually no big men and a new coach Stanford will go through some major pains.  If Mitch Johnson can take leadership of this team it’s possible that they can finish much higher than 8th, but that’s a big if.

Starting Lineup:

PG- MItch Johnson (Sr.)

SG- Anthony Goods (Sr.)

G- Jeremy Green (Fr.)

G/F- Jarrett Mann (Fr.)

F- Lawrence Hill (Jr.)

7. California Bears- Coach: Mike Montgomery (1st year)

Backcourt: Believe it or not, Cal has one of the best backcourts in the conference. Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle have both proved that they can score and are experienced players. Of course, the departure of Ryan Anderson hurts this team tremendously. However, DJ Seeley (a freshman) is going to fit in nicely at point right away.

Frontcourt: The frontcourt is definitely a  weakness for Cal and where they fall behind other teams in the conference. Harper Kamp and Jamal Boykin are their best bets down low. They’re both undersized and are barely Pac-10 caliber frontcourt players.

Bottom Line: Cal will be a great team in 2009-10 but not this season, unless Christopher and Randle can put up Ryan Anderson like numbers. Cal also needs to play defense if they want a shot at an NCAA bid they’ve been striving for over the last couple seasons.

Starting LIneup:

PG- DJ Seeley (Fr.)

SG- Patrick Christopher (Jr.)

G- Jerome Randle (Jr.)

F- Jamal Boykin (Jr.)

F- Harper Kamp (So.)

Posted in Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

ACC Preview #5 Virginia Tech

Posted by Tommy on November 3, 2008

Coach- Seth Greenberg (6th season)

PG- Malcolm Delaney (SO): Last year the Hokies really missed the play of an experienced point guard. Delaney split the duty of running the offense with fellow freshman Hank Thorns. Now that both of these players are acclimated to college basketball, Greenberg will rely heavily on them to run the team. The reason I give the nod to Delaney over Thorns is his scoring ability. Delaney has a better shot and more size than the 5-9 Thorns and found his stroke during the ACC Tournament and NIT. Delaney does have a tendency to turn the ball over a bit more but Greenberg will live with that as long as Delaney keeps up his scoring numbers. Nevertheless, Delaney is a budding star in the ACC and could be poised for a bust-out sophomore season at the helm of the Hokies.

SG- A.D. Vassallo (SR): The young Hokies are really going to look to Vassallo to provide leadership. He doesn’t have a game with a lot of flare but he’ll do just about anything to help out his team. Vassallo gets it done on both ends of the floor. He can score in a number of ways, is a good rebounder and a tough defender and plays with his head as well as his heart. His size and versatility will allow him to play the two and the three this season. Vassallo is in a nice situation in which he’ll be relied on to take plenty of the shots, but can’t acquire too much of the opposition’s attention because he has quality young players around him. Vassallo could flirt with 20 PPG this season.

SF- J.T. Thompson (SO): Thompson, who played the four spot for the most part last season, has slimmed down over the offseason. His slimmer frame has improved his athleticism and will enable him to play the wing. Thompson has shown that he isn’t a threat from outside after only shooting one three-pointer last season, but he’s strong and athletic and will get to the rim. The departure of Deron Washington leaves some pretty big shoes to fill for Thompson at the wing, but as he gets more and more playing time, I think he’ll really come on strong for the Hokies. He may not have the greatest of offensive games, but he’ll provide hustle, defense and a strong rebounding presence for Greenberg.

PF- Jeff Allen (SO): The third starting sophomore for the Hokies is without question their best. Allen opened a lot of ACC fans’ eyes with his play down low. He’s one of those guys that fills most every column in the stat sheet. He’ll put up around 13 PPG, grab 8 RPG, and will cause about five or six turnovers each game through blocked shots and steals. Allen has a nice set of soft hands and good touch around the rim. Like Thompson, Allen has lost a significant amount of weight, meaning he’ll give the Hokies more athleticism and will be able to stay in the game longer, block more shots and run the floor better. Like the other two sophomores in the starting lineup, Allen is blossoming and I think can establish himself as one of the best big men in the ACC.

PF- Lewis Witcher (JR): Although Witcher is an undersized post player, he makes up for it with hustle and toughness down low. He won’t impress anybody with his athleticism or his skill set on offense, but Witcher is willing to put his body on the line for the sake of his team. Greenberg will look for him to provide the club with good defense and make the shots he’s given, knowing he shouldn’t expect any more or less out of the junior. Witcher reached double digits in the scoring column only twice last season, and any improvement on his 2.7 PPG would be a nice bonus for Greenberg and the Hokies.

Bench: Greenberg has a lot of interchangeable parts for this year’s roster. Senior Chuck Diakite will come off the bench and provide an energetic game similar to that of Witcher. As I said before Thorns will get some time at the point, but he has to improve on his 34 percent from the field from last season if he wants to get a chance at significant minutes. Sophomore guards Dorenzo Hudson and Terrell Bell give the Hokies some flexibility and athleticism in their backcourt. There has been a lot of talk in Blacksburg about 6-8 245 lb incoming freshman Victor Davila. His size and athleticism will bolster the frontcourt that will probably need some help because of their lack of size.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: B
Bench: A-
Coaching: B+

Bottom Line: I would imagine Seth and the Hokies would be pretty motivated going into this season after having their bubble burst at the 11th hour last year. With three sophomore starters and three more playing significant roles off the bench, this “Sophomore Six-Pack” will have to mature over the course of the season. There is plenty of talent in that class, but if the Hokies want to solidify a spot in the dance, guys like Delaney and Allen will have to play a big part in taking them there. Nobody on Virginia Tech will blow opponents away with their natural talent, but they all play great defense and run an efficient offense.

Key Non-Conference Games: O’Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-off 11/20-11/23, 12/1 vs. Wisconsin
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Boston College, 1/25 @ Miami, 1/29 vs. Clemson, 2/28 vs. Duke
Most Valuable Player: A.D. Vassallo
Postseason Tournament: NCAA (one and done)

Posted in ACC Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview: #2 Louisville

Posted by Zach on October 30, 2008

2. Louisville Cardinals– Coach: Rick Pitino (8th season)

PG- Andre McGee (SR): Along with K.C. Rivers of Clemson, McGee is one of the more underappreciated guards in the country. Hopefully observers of what should be a hyped Louisville team will notice all that this 5’10 senior provides as point guard and floor leader. McGee is the polar opposite of Edgar Sosa- he’s not nearly as explosive offensively, bur Pitino feels much more comfortable with McGee running his offense (and that’s a huge understatement). McGee broke out during his junior season by setting career highs in assists, steals, points and minutes played. Over the final nine games for Louisville with McGee entrenched at the point guard slot, he turned the ball over just nine times. He’s smart, unselfish, rarely makes crippling mistakes, and also plays better defense than Sosa. McGee is precisely the type of intelligent point guard championship teams need, and his emergence has made the Cardinals much deeper by bringing Sosa off the pine.  

SG- Jerry Smith (JR): Smith is the perfect player for Rick Pitino: he defends exceptionally well and can knock down the three-pointer. While his shooting percentage dropped from an uncanny 48% to a stellar 38% from his freshman and sophomore seasons, Smith became more of a complete player in the process. He notched 62 steals on the year and transformed offensively from a stationary three-point popper to someone who flies around the court and can drain jumpers on the move. While Smith could be a stronger passer, Pitino knows his role and will surely find plenty of minutes for an above average defender that can hit around 40% of his threes. Not many programs can rotate four guards as multi-dimensional as McGee, Sosa, Smith and Preston Knowles.

SF- Terrence Williams (SR): The Cardinals need Terrence Williams to recover from his knee injury in time for the Big East season (which he’s expected to easily do) in order to complete their squad. Williams is a super-athletic NBA prospect that scores efficiently, dominates on the glass, and passes with the vision of a point guard. It’s not an overstatement to say Williams can go off for a double-double, or even a triple-double, on any given night. Oh, and he also happens to be Louisville’s best defensive player. He’s beginning to cover up some holes in his game as his college career progresses. For one, he took way too many outside shots early in his career for someone with a below-average jumper. In his junior season, Williams took less threes and improved his FG% to 41%. Now, he’s focused on scoring closer to the paint and working for second chance opportunities. The real question: Can he improve his dismal 57% from the charity stripe as a senior? If he does, you have one of the best players in the country.

PF- Earl Clark (JR)
: Much like Williams, Clark projects to be a lottery selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. His athletic abilities are off the charts and his wingspan is an NBA scout’s dream. After a somewhat surprising return for his junior season in Louisville, Clark is looking to become one of the most feared forwards in the nation and lead the Cardinals to new heights. Clark showed his future stardom in the NCAA Tournament when he exploded with 14.5 PPG and 8.3 RPG in Louisville’s four games. Pitino hopes Clark can maintain that scoring ferocity the entire year while continuing to rebound and block shots, two of Clark’s clear strengths. He’ll need to adapt more playing inside as a four and continue to mature as a defender. 14 PPG and 9 RPG are reasonable expectations for the talented forward.

C- Samardo Samuels (FR)
: The emergence of Samuels as a Kevin Love-type producer for Louisville is the wild card. As talented and hyped as Samuels is (and he deserves the accolades, including being named USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year), he’s still going to be expected to bang down low with the best of the Big East like Hasheem Thabeet, Luke Harangody and DeJuan Blair. Can he handle the workload and expectations? I’d say yes. Samuels is an advanced scorer and rebounder for his age who will take pressure off Clark and Williams on the glass. He’s extremely powerful in the Eddy Curry mold and may be a one-and-done for Pitino. Luckily for him, this is the year Louisville fans expect a ticket to Detroit, and Samuels should be a huge part of that run. I have Samuels finishing a close second to DeMar DeRozan in terms of Newcomer of the Year.

Bench: Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles will serve as depth in the backcourt for Louisville. Sosa expected to be the next great Louisville guard after dropping 31 on Texas A&M in the second round his freshman year. Instead, the guard who Pitino calls “immature mentally” will have to battle for playing time over those who are more mature mentally, namely McGee and Knowles. Sosa is a hard-nosed player who penetrates and defends well, providing explosiveness for Pitino off the bench. He could see more time at the 2-guard this season. Knowles is more of a complimentary piece who does the little things efficiently and will find minutes even with the talent on the roster. Freshman Terrence Jennings from Notre Dame Prep should help defensively right away with his shot-blocking and rebounding skills. He’ll need to develop offensively, but the Cardinals don’t really need more scoring in the frontcourt with Williams, Clark and Samuels. Mississippi State transfer Reginald Delk should also see minutes.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: A+
Bench: B+
Coaching: A

Bottom Line:
There’s not much to dislike about this Louisville team. They’re perennially one of the top defensive teams in the nation and nobody expects that to change this season. They have the shooter in Jerry Smith, they have the intelligent point guard in McGee, the athletes and rebounders with Clark and Williams, the phenom in Samuels, and a bench that surely will provide enough insurance in case of injury. The only real question is if a team leader will emerge following the graduation of David Padgett. If Louisville stays mentally focused and scores enough points, which I expect will happen, they’ll be a Final Four team. I have them pegged for Detroit along with North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/18 vs. Ole Miss, 12/20 @ Minnesota, 12/27 vs. UAB, 12/31 vs. UNLV
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Pittsburgh, 2/2 vs. Connecticut, 2/12 @ Notre Dame, 2/23 @ Georgetown
Most Valuable Player: Terrence Williams
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Final 4)

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ACC Preview: #6 Clemson

Posted by Tommy on October 29, 2008

CoachOliver Purnell (5th season)

PG- Demontez Stitt (SO): Stitt experienced his fair share of growing pains during his first year at the point but this kid has a nice upside. He’s a pretty athletic guard and has some nice moves, enabling him to fly right by his defender. In addition, he’s a good defender which really helps Purnell execute his pressure. His 1.09 assist-to-turnover ratio from last season needs to improve and probably will with a full year under his belt. Stitt also needs to improve his 3-point shot after shooting just 27.6% from deep last season. If Stitt solidifies himself as a reliable point guard by making better decisions, it would be a huge addition for Purnell and the Tigers.

SG- K.C. Rivers (SR): Rivers has been the quiet leader for the Tigers for the past couple of seasons. He’s the Tigers’ best player on both the offensive and defensive ends. He can has plenty of size to get to the rim, he has a nice mid-range jumper and he shoots above 40 percent from beyond the arc. I expect him to put up around 15 or 16 PPG and is one of the best rebounders for his size in the country, grabbing 6.3 RPG last season. He also averaged just under 2 steals per game last season and will shut down the opposition’s best backcourt player. Rivers will have to make up for the loss of his long time backcourt-mate Cliff Hammonds and will get plenty of shot opportunities.

SF- David Potter (JR): Although Potter is a junior, he’s not too experienced. I expect Potter to get the starting job at the three instead of putting Oglesby at the two and bumping Rivers down because the combination of Rivers and Potter provides the best defensive lineup possible for Purnell. Potter is a hard-nosed defender and works hard on the boards but will not impress on the offensive end. Clemson has enough weapons in its arsenal to sacrifice the minimal firepower Potter provides to bolster the defense.

PF- Trevor Booker (JR): Booker may be listed at 6-7 but plays much bigger than that. He’s a physical presence in the paint and likes to lower his shoulder into defenders to give him room to get off shots and often give his defender a foul. He uses his great combination of strength and athleticism to out-muscle opponents for rebounds and provides a nice shot-blocking presence (1.9 BPG as a sophomore). Now that he’s an upperclassman, he needs to become a consistent force down low. He has the potential to become one of the best big men in the conference.

C- Raymond Sykes (SR): Like Potter, Sykes found himself coming off the bench last season and isn’t as experienced as most starting seniors are. Sykes is the ideal man to replace the lengthy James Mays who harassed the inbounder for Purnell’s press. He’s long and athletic just like Mays and will certainly give inbounders trouble if Purnell institutes his press again this season. Sykes hasn’t shown that he can fill the scoring column very well, but who knows what can happen with increased playing time.

Bench: One of the best features of last year’s squad was the impeccable depth they had. Purnell was able to substitute liberally and give his guys much needed rest after playing full court basketball and saw little to no drop off in his team’s performance. Unfortunately, Purnell isn’t going to have that luxury this season. Sharpshooting sophomore Terrence Oglesby gives the Tigers a possible lineup with more fire power in case they’re down. After that there really isn’t much. Jerai Grant is a sophomore forward that saw 8.3 MPG last season and will have to step in for either Booker or Sykes if they get into foul trouble. Freshman guard Andre Young and 7-2 freshman Catalin Baciu may be the next options for the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively.

Backcourt: B-
Frontcourt: B
Bench: C-
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line: Purnell seemed to pull all the right strings last season with plenty of substitutions and a press that frustrated their opponents. Purnell is going to have a tougher time pressing after every made basket this season because the starters are going to have to play much of the game. Their starting lineup is a very athletic one, but Stitt, Sykes and Potter have to provide more scoring this season. The Tigers are going to use hard-nosed defense to frustrate their opponents and keep the games within reach. I think they still have enough talent to get into the NCAA tournament but will probably ride the bubble for the entire season.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/2 @ Illinois, 12/30 @ South Carolina, 1/6 vs. Alabama
Key Conference Games: 1/29 @ Virginia Tech, 2/4 vs. Duke, 2/17 vs. Maryland, 2/25 vs Virginia Tech
Most Valuable Player: K.C. Rivers
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (one and done)

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Big East Preview: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by Zach on October 29, 2008

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish– Coach: Mike Brey (8th season)

PG- Tory Jackson (JR)
: Tory Jackson is the quarterback for the Irish. His quick speed and passing ability plays perfectly into Mike Brey’s fast-paced system and he’s the most reliable defender Coach Brey has. Jackson is a penetrating guard who could find Kyle McAlarney for an open three or Luke Harangody in the low block with his eyes closed. His tenacious style of play is infectious and he’s molded into the Irish floor leader.  Jackson is also a strong rebounder for a point guard, grabbing 13 boards against a tough Pitt team. The one weakness for Jackson is a porous outside jump shot and struggles from the charity stripe. He only shot 30% from three and a terrible 52% from the line last season- these obviously need to improve because Jackson cannot beat a defender off the dribble every single time. He comes about as close as anyone, though.

SG- Kyle McAlarney (SR): After a suspension for marijuana possession kept McAlarney off the sidelines for the second half of 2006-07, he made absolutely sure he was going to return to the Irish stronger than ever. His three-point shot might be the best in all of college basketball, and he’s certainly the head marksman from deep in the Big East. He notched 32 points against Connecticut, 30 against Syracuse and 30 vs. Villanova, eventually leading the conference in three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage. McAlarney came alive around December and never looked back, forming a dynamic inside-outside duo with junior Luke Harangody (focus too much on Luke and Kyle will torch you from outside). His clear weakness is defense and McAlarney is often beat by quick and athletic 2-guards. Many pegged Tennessee star Chris Lofton as the top three-point shooter in the nation before last season and he struggled mightily. Whether that’s the case with McAlarney is yet to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

SF- Ryan Ayers (SR): Ayers is the type of complimentary piece that every championship team needs. He plays off McAlarney, Jackson and Harangody exceptionally well by taking what he’s given and making smart plays. Ayers came to South Bend with an extensive high school resume and failed to live up to lavish expectations before his junior season. Ayers made definite contributions during Big East play last year with an accurate three-point shot (45%) and peaked with 17 points against defensively-tough Louisville. Whether Ayers can improve rebounding the basketball and playing consistent defense is certainly a question mark. Brey knows the importance of Ayers as a role player in this type of fast-paced offense and may be asked to shoot even more.

PF- Zach Hillesland (SR): Much like Ayers, Hillesland is an important cog for Brey and the Irish. He’s a multi-dimensional player who can mix it up down low with his 6’9 frame while also showing quickness running the fast break effectively with Jackson and McAlarney as a three rather than a four. He possesses a great feel for the court (third on the team in assists last year) and may mature into the senior leader the Irish need this season on and off the floor. He’s the likely candidate to replace the production of Rob Kurz (12.5 PPG) and will be asked to compliment Harangody in the paint, mainly by providing another option for Notre Dame should Harangody face a fierce double team. Unlike Ayers, Hillesland isn’t any three-point threat, but shot 50% from the floor last season, taking shots within his range and within the offense.

C- Luke Harangody (JR): When Luke Harangody arrived in South Bend as a freshman, many viewed him as nothing more than a promising, rugged post player who can provide key minutes, some inside scoring and grab a few offensive rebounds. He was somewhat hyped, but not even Mike Brey could tell you with a straight face he thought Luke would lead the Big East in scoring and finish second in rebounding in his sophomore season. You saw the progress in Madison Square Garden when he dropped 19 and 14 on Beasley. You saw the stardom emerge with his 40 points in Freedom Hall and his 32 and 16 against Connecticut. Harangody has progressed into one of the most efficient and productive players in all of college basketball: scoring, rebounding, hook shots, short jumpers, dunks, everything but threes. Harangody is even an above-average passer for a big man, capable of finding McAlarney outside when the double team arrives. Brey doesn’t mind that NBA scouts don’t see the Irish star oozing with potential. He’s more than happy to have his own Tyler Hansbrough for four years.

Bench: Luke Zeller is the unquestioned sixth man, providing yet another forward who can shoot from outside. He’s slightly behind the depth chart because of his lack of rebounding and aggressiveness down low, but those areas are progressing rapidly for his senior season. A former McDonald’s All-American, Zeller is looking to silence some critics in his last campaign at Notre Dame. Jonathan Peoples is a valuable third guard with an average shot and great passing instincts on the floor. Tyler Nash is a breakout candidate. The 6’8 sophomore will need to blossom from a player who provides key rebounding and grabs the occasional loose ball, possibly providing more replacement for Kurz in the post.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line: I really like this Notre Dame team offensively. They led the nation in assists last season and can top 90 points on any given night. Tory Jackson is the perfect component to run the offense and Brey can tout the strongest inside-outside duo this side of Lawson and Hansbrough. You also know they’ll protect their home court. The question for the Irish is defense. Other than Jackson, they’re a below average defensive team who will find it difficult to win if their shooters and/or Harangody have a rare off-night. Believe me, it’ll happen in this conference. A stronger defensive effort is the difference between a Sweet 16 and National Championship team this season.

Key Non-Conference Games: Maui Invitational, 12/6 vs. Ohio State, 2/7 @ UCLA
Key Conference Games: 1/12 @ Louisville, 1/24 vs. Connecticut, 1/31 @ Pittsburgh, 2/28 @ Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Luke Harangody
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Elite Eight)

(#2 team tomorrow afternoon)

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ACC Preview #7 & #8

Posted by Tommy on October 27, 2008

8. Boston College Eagles- Coach: Al Skinner (12th season)

PG- Tyrese Rice (SR): There is no question that Rice is the cornerstone of this Boston College team. The lone senior on the Eagles is the best guard in the ACC, perhaps in the country. He’s very good at finding ways to the rim and if defenders over-commit to him, he’ll find the open man. He has a deadly jumper from mid-range as well as beyond the arc. If I had to choose one point guard in the country to run a fast break, it would be Tyrese Rice because he is quick, smart and can hurt opponents in so many ways. He reminds me a lot of Chris Paul, he takes what defenders give him and often makes them pay for their mistakes.

SG- Biko Paris (SO):Paris had a solid freshman campaign and saw significant playing time throughout the year. This year Paris needs to make defenses respect his jump shot to open up space for Rice and Rakim Sanders to penetrate. He shot a dismal 26.1% from beyond the arc last season. Unless Paris improves his jumper, his one dimensional offense makes him a minimal threat. He’ll be the 4th or 5th scoring option for the Eagles, but his improvement would help BC a lot.

SF- Rakim Sanders (SO): Sanders had a pretty good rookie year but underachieved the high expectations put on him as an incoming freshman. What I like most about Sanders is his strong 6-5, 225 lb. frame. He’s a good inside scorer and is the leading returning rebounder. He also has a solid jumper from about 15 feet and is slightly above average from beyond the arc. I’d like to see Sanders not settle for a long range jumper as often as he did last season. He needs to slash to the rim more often and either score, dish or draw the foul. With a small team this season, Sanders is going to need to play big for Al Skinner.

PF- Corey Raji (SO): The four spot is going to be the weakness for BC. Usually the four is a strong player who can rebound and bang bodies down low, but BC doesn’t have anybody like that. Raji is undersized at 6-6, 214 lbs but is the second leading rebounder returning this year behind Sanders. It’s going to be tough for Raji to out-jump his opponents for rebounds because of his size and he doesn’t have the frame to box out the likes of Tyler Hansbrough. Raji does provide a viable scoring option and will give other power forwards a tough time guarding him out on the perimeter.

C- Josh Southern (SO): Southern is a solid big man who really came on the second half of last year. He averaged 7.7 PPG and 4.4 RPG in the last 13 games of last year. He only saw less than 15 Min/G last season, but found himself getting more minutes toward the end of last year. He’s going to be the anchor of this frontline and will have to be a strong rebounder and defender down low because BC lost its two leading rebounders from last season.

Bench:Tyler Roche is the only player with major experience coming off of the bench. Vermont transfer Joe Trapani will give the Eagles an option with more size at the power forward and will get significant minutes along with sophomore Courtney Dunn at the four spot. Freshman Reggie Jackson will give Skinner another option at the two guard. Other than that there aren’t too many more options off of the bench.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: C-
Bench: C
Coach: B

Bottom Line: Rice is going to have to carry the Eagles wherever they may go. It’s never a good indicator if a team is starting four sophomores, but Sanders has a lot of potential and the other three are solid players. The lack of size and depth is going to give Skinner a tough time managing his team.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/2 vs. Iowa, 12/6 @ UMass
Key Conference Games: 1/17 @ Virginia Tech, 1/27 @ Maryland, 2/24 vs. Florida State, 3/7 vs. Georgia Tech
Most Valuable Player: Tyrese Rice
Projected Postseason: NIT (2nd or 3rd round)

7. Maryland Terrapins- Coach: Gary Williams (20th season)

PG- Greivis Vasquez (JR):Vasquez has been the emotional spark for the Terps during his tenure at the point, but now that he’s the leader of this team he needs to learn how to control his emotions as well as the basketball. He’s always played with his heart but needs to start playing with his head a bit more now that a lot of Maryland’s success rests squarely on his shoulders. Vasquez’s 6-6 frame has always helped him get to the rim and shoot a mid-range jumper over his small defenders but he’s inconsistent from beyond the arc. How Greivis plays is the biggest barometer for the Terps. If he starts turning the ball over, which he has a tendency to do in bunches, they’ll have a pretty tough time finding a way to win. If Vasquez is handling the ball well and finding ways to score, the Terps can beat a good amount of teams in the ACC. The bottom line for Grievis is that he needs to be a consistent leader for Gary Williams.

SG- Eric Hayes (JR): Hayes, who is naturally a point guard, transitioned to the two guard last year for Williams. The transition seemed to be a rough one for Hayes. He drastically improved his shot from beyond the arc last season but his offense is pretty one-dimensional with virtually no ability to beat his defender off the dribble. If he does get into the lane, he’s very good at finding cutters or putting up a floater if a defender doesn’t commit to him. After Vasquez, Hayes is going to be the second scoring option for Maryland.

SF- Landon Milbourne (JR): The junior out of Oak Hill has a great combination of size and leaping ability for the three spot, but his athleticism hasn’t translated into the scoring or rebounding numbers he should put up. When I watch Milbourne, he seems uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. If Milbourne improves his ability to handle the ball, he’ll have the size and athleticism to get to the rim. Like Vasquez, Milbourne is a so-so shooter from beyond the arc, but when he’s on he’ll sink them in bunches. Williams is going to need a lot of production out of Milbourne because of the weak frontcourt.

PF- Jerome Burney (SO): Burney is a prototypical Gary Williams big man: long-armed and athletic. He’ll step in and provide a similar shot-blocking presence to that of James Gist or Bambale Osby, but Burney’s lack of offensive skills could be a liability for the Terps. Burney will have to stay out of foul trouble for Maryland because of the lack of reserves for the frontcourt, so Gary may have to pull on the reins when it comes to Burney’s shot-blocking aggressiveness. If Burney provides around 6 PPG and is a strong rebounder and defender, I’m sure Williams would consider that a successful year for Burney.

C- Braxton Dupree (SO):I consider Dupree to be the poor man’s Sean May. He provides a big body down low and has a pretty good set of post moves, but he just doesn’t have the athleticism to be a quality post player in the ACC. He’s an undersized center at 6-8 and has poor jumping ability, so he’s not going to go above the rim for any rebounds. Dupree does have a combination of a soft touch around the rim and a wide body. While he may not shoot straight over opponents, he uses his skills and his frame to shoot around them.

Bench: The backcourt has a number of fill-ins that can come in and produce. Sophomores Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker are a couple of athletic guards that are dangerous in the open court and are very good slashers. Freshman Sean Mosley is another good athlete to fill in at the two spot, giving Gary three viable options off of the bench. As for the frontcourt, it’s a different story. The two starters are sophomores, one who will probably get into foul trouble and another who has trouble running the court. One of the two subs for the frontcourt is senior Dave Neal who would have no business playing significant minutes in the ACC if it wasn’t for his hard-working attitude. Neal will provide solid minutes, but won’t do much on the offensive end. The other sub is sophomore Dino Gregory, another long-armed post man for Gary. Gregory has very little experience but will certainly be thrown into the fire this season. Jin Soo Kim, whose eligibility status is still up in the air, would a be a nice addition to bolster a frontline that needs all the help they can get.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: D+
Bench: B-
Coaching: B-

Bottom Line: Maryland has one of the better backcourts in the ACC, but their frontcourt will be a liability all season unless one of the sophomores step up. Neal is the only senior on this team so Williams is going to have to look to his juniors, two of whom have started their entire carreer at Maryland, to lead this team. There have been murmurs around College Park that this may be Gary’s last season. Those murmurs could escalate if the Terps have another disappointing year and wind up in the NIT. Unfortunately, that’s the likely destination for these Terps, especially when you consider their ACC schedule: three of the five teams they play twice are Miami, UNC and Duke.

Key Non-Conference Games: Old Spice Classic: 11/27 vs. Michigan State, 11/28 vs. Gonzaga/Ok. State, 12/03 vs. Michigan
Key Conference Games: 1/10 vs. Georgia Tech, 1/27 vs. Boston College, 2/17 @ Clemson, 2/25 vs. Duke
Most Valuable Player: Greivis Vasquez
Projected Postseason: NIT (3rd or 4th round)

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Big East Preview: #4 Pittsburgh

Posted by Zach on October 25, 2008

4. Pittsburgh Panthers– Coach: Jamie Dixon

PG- Levance Fields (SR)
: It’s certainly been a battle for Levance Fields the last ten months as a Pittsburgh Panther. On December 20, Fields nailed the game-winning three pointer to defeat Duke at Madison Square Garden and move Pitt to 11-0. The next game in Dayton, Fields fractured a bone in his left foot and missed the next eight weeks, unable to practice even when Fields returned for the stretch run. In August, Fields discovered the same foot was fractured once again and now his full return in November for Pitt is in question. Without Fields, Pitt is a completely different team. They lack his leadership qualities, court vision and outside shooting. He’s an indispensable player for Coach Dixon, evident by their 8-4 record without his services (for Dixon, that’s less than stellar). Fields stars in big games- he shone in the win against Duke and averaged 21.5 PPG in the NCAA Tournament last year. Pitt is a potential Final Four team with Fields on the court and a possible middle-of-the-pack Big East team without Fields on the court.

SG- Brad Wanamaker (SO)
: The battle for the 2-guard spot could end up in the hands of freshman Ashton Gibbs by the end of the season, but for now we’ll peg in sophomore Brad Wanamaker. Taking over for the sharp-shooting Ronald Ramon is no easy task for Wanamaker, especially because he cannot shoot. He does everything else above average or better: rebounding, very physical on defense, second best passer on the team behind Fields. Dixon was hoping to have Mike Cook back and slide Gilbert Brown to the 2-guard. Instead, Wanamaker gets an opportunity and surely needs to improve on his 33% FG to hold down the starting spot on a team looking to go the distance.

SF- Gilbert Brown (SO)
: One of the reasons Pitt should be one of the top defensive teams in the nation this year is due to Gilbert Brown. Rather than clogging up the running game, this Gilbert Brown clogs up the other team’s top shooter. Dixon loves him because of his versatility and ability to play multiple positions. He’s an athletic swingman who has seen his shooting improve mightily over the course of his short college career. After not making a shot in February, Brown came alive and even scored 12 points on 6-10 shooting in the NCAA Tournament vs. Oral Roberts. Brown will never become as good of an offensive player as he is a defensive player, but some consistent improvement offensively, both shooting and penetrating, should take pressure off of Young and Fields to carry the load.

PF- Sam Young (SR)
: No play has shown the vast improvement from the day he stepped onto the Peterson Events Center court to today as much as Sam Young. An average recruit out of a winning high school program that spent some time at Hargrave Military Academy before joining Pitt, Young appeared to be nothing more than a useful role player his first two season before exploding in his junior year and earning honorable mention All-America. Young finished first in scoring and second in rebounding for the Panthers 27-win squad last year, bursting onto the national scene with a dynamic Big East Tournament performance in which he took home MVP honors. Young’s outside shooting has drastically improved; he is now hitting 38% of his three-pointers. Look for Young to contend for Big East Player of the Year this season.

C- DeJuan Blair (SO): Dixon and his staff saw the upside of Blair when they recruited him just blocks from campus coming out of high school, but none could have foreseen he’d make such a positive impact during his first year in a Panther uniform. Blair finished fourth in the conference in double-doubles, fourth in rebounding and seventh in FG%, culminating in the Big East Rookie of the Year honor (along with Jonny Flynn). Blair needs to improve from the free throw line due to his physicality in the post and tendency to draw fouls (Blair shot just 63% last year), but that will come with less freshman jitters this season. His rebounding skills are nearly unmatched and Blair features a series of developing scoring post moves. The offense will surely revolve around Young, Fields and the sophomore Blair for Dixon and the Panthers.

Bench: Dixon lured in some backcourt depth and competition for Wanamaker at the guard spot opposite Fields, including the brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, Jermaine Dixon. He’ll need to contribute offensively from behind the arc along with incoming freshman Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. Replacing Ronald Ramon’s production from outside is a huge factor. Forward Tyrell Biggs should be the first player off the bench for coach Dixon. He’s beginning to live up to his potential and may steal minutes from Brown. Center Gary McGhee may play a prominent role this season if he has to spell Blair when he gets into foul trouble. At 6’10, he provides much-appreciated height and rebounding off the pine.

Backcourt: B
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B-
Coaching: A

Bottom Line: Pittsburgh has quietly molded into a 30-win mainstay on the national scene under the tutelage of Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon, but they have yet to make a Final Four. Will this be the year? I have a hard time believing this team has the secondary parts or depth to reach that plateau. Don’t rule it out, though. Dixon has commented this may be his best defensive team ever, and the Big Three of Fields, Young and Blair is certainly a coach’s dream. The golden question: Can this team score enough points to contend with teams like North Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Duke on a national stage?

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 @ Texas Tech, 12/6 vs. Vermont, 12/17 vs. Siena, 12/21 @ Florida State
Key Conference Games: 1/17 @ Louisville, 1/31 vs. Notre Dame, 2/16 @ Connecticut, 3/7 vs. Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Levance Fields
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

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