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Top 15 Freshmen; Friday News And Notes

Posted by Zach on October 31, 2008

One of the best parts of opening a new college basketball season is seeing the fresh crop of freshmen in action for the first time. Two years ago, Kevin Durant surpassed any expectation and became the best player in the country. Last year, the likes of Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love highlighted the deepest and most talented freshman class ever assembled. What’s in store for this year? Most prognosticators suggest this class is much weaker and supremely less talented. I respectfully disagree. This year’s freshman crop has athletes, scorers, dominating big men and all-around superstars who will shine for prominent national programs. Here’s my top 15 from the list:

1. DeMar DeRozan, USC:
I have high expectations for the young DeRozan out of Compton, a player whose highlight-reel athleticism and scoring ability is unmatched among his peers. If DeRozan plays to his potential, I feel he can match the production of O.J. Mayo last season and team up with Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett in bringing USC back to the top of the Pac-10.

2. Jrue Holiday, UCLA: Holiday is a 6’3 combo guard with an exceptional all-around game who does nothing but win. He’s the perfect Ben Howland player in that he’s smart on the floor and is advanced defensively for an incoming freshman. He could start immediately for the Bruins and headlines their impressive recruiting class.

3. B.J. Mullens, Ohio State:
Mullens is a versatile 7-footer (yes, it’s possible) who can face the basket or mix it up inside with his steady frame. He could be an impact double-double man right away for Thad Matta, and his upside is so high some have him pegged as the #1 pick in the next NBA Draft.

4. Samardo Samuels, Louisville: Samuels is a gem for Rick Pitino in a conference where you need a scoring big man. He’s an aggressive forward with great instincts and a knack for the rim. Samuels is extremely powerful for a freshman and will challenge players like Luke Harangody immediately.

5. Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Evans has to be Memphis’ best player from day one if John Calipari wants to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Thing is, he very well could be. The dynamic Evans is a confident scorer with excellent range and finishing ability.

6. Greg Monroe, Georgetown: Monroe has dropped on some recruiting charts, but I still feel he’s a perfect player for Georgetown and will shine. He’s blessed with a wide frame and tremendous rebounding skills under the rim. It might take Monroe a year to mold into a feared scorer in the Big East.

7. Willie Warren, Oklahoma:
Warren is a huge reason why I feel Oklahoma can be a top ten team right away. This versatile guard simply has a knack for scoring and should be that second impact players Jeff Capel needs beside Blake Griffin. Warren does need to improve his defense, though.

8. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest:
I love what Aminu brings to the table for a rising Wake Forest team. He’s an excellent perimeter scorer who can face up mid-range and hit shots. Also, not many can match his athleticism and drive on the court. You don’t find scoring 6’8 small forwards every day.

9. Kemba Walker, Connecticut:
Walker is such an advanced point guard at his age, it’s silly. He reminds of Derrick Rose with his court vision, toughness and leadership. He’s also stout defensively and should see extensive minutes right away for a loaded Connecticut team.

10. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee:
Hopson is an extremely talented prospect who originally signed with Mississippi State. He rebounds well for a guard and can also score consistently. The talent is certainly there, and he’ll provide a steady duo with Tyler Smith in Knoxville this season.

11. Luke Babbitt, 12. Iman Shumpert, 13. Devin Ebanks, 14. Delvin Roe, 15. JaMychal Green

Some quick news and notes on this Friday:

– Roy Williams is planning a news conference today to give us more information regarding the Tyler Hansbrough injury. My guess: Williams estimates they’ll be without Hansbrough for the entire month of November and set a best-case scenario for December 3 vs. Michigan State in Detroit. What the Tar Heels cannot afford to do is rush the ultra-competitive Hansbrough back to action too quickly, because then the stress “reaction” can turn into a Marcus Ginyard stress “fracture.” Then, you’re talking about being without Hansbrough for the entire season, and the entire goal is to have him 100% for March.

– The NCAA has passed legislation disallowing those early practices that Kentucky and Illinois enjoyed as a way to kick off their season because it gives them a recruiting advantage. Maybe so, but, as Gary Parrish so accurately describes, doesn’t the NCAA have more important things to take care of? Like, coaches hiring AAU coaches of their top recruits as an advantage a la John Wall? Taking care of that loophole instead of eliminating early practices for next October seems to make sense.

– Arizona lost their top incoming freshman for this season, Jeff Withey. As I’ve stated before, Arizona could have a mini-Indiana on their hands next season if Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill enter the NBA Draft. They have zero recruits for 2009 because their Pac-10 rivals are stealing them all. Withey, a 6’11 center, was ranked as the #35 overall player by Scout.com. He joins Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Negedu as 2008 recruits that have jettisoned from Tuscon.

– Some surprising news out of Tennessee as J.P. Prince will miss 3-5 weeks with a shoulder injury he suffered in practice. If Prince cannot return in time for the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Siena’s chances of pulling an upset just went up a few notches. And if you don’t think it can happen….it can happen. Siena returns everyone from that thrashing of Vanderbilt.

– Prep star Kenny Boynton made his decision yesterday and will attend the University of Florida. Billy Donovan is assembling an impressive recruiting class for 2009, rebuilding quite successfully after losing that national championship core. He chose Florida over USC, Duke and Texas. Boynton might be the quickest and purest scorer in the entire class, ranked as the #2 SG by Scout.com. He’s an absolute gem in what should be a tremendous backcourt for the 2009-10 Gators.

Andy Katz has a piece on new California coach Mike Montgomery. I thought that was a great hire by Cal. It’ll stir up the Stanford rivalry again and Montgomery is a proven college coach with a track record. His failures at Golden State are irrelevant to whether he can get the job done at Berkeley.

– Nevada all-WAC guard Brandon Fields petty larceny charge has been dropped, but he remains suspended by coach Mark Fox. Don’t expect Fields to miss any significant action. Nevada should be the WAC favorite with Fields, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson.

– What to expect from this site the next week or so: Big East #1, Pac-10 Preview, Big-12 Preview, ACC #5-1, Preseason Bracketology, Awards, Top 25, Games to Watch and possibly some more as we gear up for the start of college basketball.

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Wednesday News And Notes

Posted by Zach on October 22, 2008

Interrupting the Big East preview to get caught up on the latest News and Notes around college basketball as the season continues to approach. Only 20 days until Houston/Georgia Southern!

– Seth Davis has been scribing plenty lately, this time heading down south to Memphis for a discussion with coach John Calipari. I thought it was a bit puzzling Davis offered Calipari a chance to watch last year’s National Championship with him later that day (that would be like asking Dennis Eckersley if he wanted to sit down and re-watch Game 1 of the 1988 World Series), but that’s beside the point. Davis goes into some key factors for the Tigers, including the obvious: how can you replace Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey, and still expect to be a top-20 team? He wonders whether Willie Kemp or Tyreke Evans will run more point guard, whether Robert Dozier can progress into more of a complete offensive player after getting rejected by the NBA, and if Antonio Anderson, who quietly led C-USA in assist/turnover ratio, can emerge as the team leader.

– Sophomore shooting star Nick Calathes is now around 75% recovering from an apparent hip flexor. Coach Billy Donovan is taking it slow with Calathes in hopes of having him 100% by the season opener, which seems very realistic. Donovan has to be feeling a lot better this year than he was last October dealing with an extremely young team. Even with Mareese Speights departed, Donovan has a nice nucleus led by Calathes and Jai Lucas. He’s also in the top two for Kenny Boynton. Look for the Gators to return to the NCAA Tournament this year and Calathes to be a huge reason why.

– Some injuries to report out of Minnesota and Georgia Tech. Gophers forward Damian Johnson broke his left non-shooting hand in practice Monday and received surgery a day later. He’s expected to miss four to six weeks, so coach Tubby Smith should expect to have his valuable reserve on the court by the end of November. Johnson finished second on Minnesota with 59 steals while averaging 7.1 PPG and 4.7 RPG. In Atlanta, senior De’Andre Bell is lost for the season due to spinal stenosis, a devastating injury that forced T.J. Ford to miss an entire NBA season back in 2004. Bell started 22 games for the Jackets last year averaging 6.6 PPG and showing contributions on defense.

– Sad news out of Asheville: 7’7 behemoth Kenny George’s basketball career is over. He’ll remain in an Iowa hospital for at least another month recovering from a staph infection, the end possibly resulting in right foot amputation. His enormous stature resulting from an overactive pituitary gland, which reaches 7’9 with shoes along with the ability to dunk flat-footed, has caused George plenty of knee and foot problems over the course of his basketball career. George looks to return to Asheville in the second semester to complete his degree, but we won’t see him on the court ever again. He won Big South Defensive Player of the Year last season and finished with 12.4 PPG and 7.0 RPG.

– Top ten class of 2009 prospect Lance Stephenson was arrested earlier this month and charged with a Class B misdemeanor following a charge he groped a woman’s breast and buttocks inside the school. Stephenson, a native of Brooklyn that stars at the same high school (Lincoln) Sebastian Telfair once graced, has a long history of petty crimes and missteps, causing many prominent programs to think twice about pursuing the talented wing in fear of adding a Derrick Caracter or Nate Miles clone. Stephenson is ranked as the #1 SF by Scout.com and might be heading to St. John’s. They’ll take anyone regardless of baggage at this point.

– Speaking of Nate Miles, he has a found a home in Southern Idaho. The former Connecticut Huskie who coach Jim Calhoun called “our best offensive player” at one point this summer violated a restraining order twenty minutes after receiving said order. He was then expelled from Connecticut and will now star at the College of Southern Idaho in the second semester. Miles was planning on filing an appeal in hopes of returning to Storrs at some point, but Calhoun opted to move on. They’ll now give more playing time to the likes of Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie, while College of Southern Idaho coach Steve Gosar has to be doing cartwheels.

– Tuned into the Midnight Madness coverage Friday night around 10 PM when I got home from a movie and was pleasantly surprised by the revolving coverage. I came away impressed by the intensity of the Gonzaga scrimmage and the dunking ability of Jeremy Pargo (already knew this). I watched Stephen Curry nail six out of six points on his last rack to defeat Brendan McKillop in an epic three-point shooting contest in Davidson (Katz has a Curry/Davidson article up on ESPN.com). ESPNU did a nice job covering each school and gave Katz, along with Adrian Branch, plenty of time to discuss upcoming games and expectations until midnight.

Some notes from various conferences regarding preseason standings/awards/predictions:
– Top four in the Big East in order: Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
– Villanova over Marquette for the fifth spot was surprising. Could this be the Buzz effect?
– Top three in the SEC East in order: Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky. Also happen to be the top three teams in the conference
– First team All-SEC: Calathes, T. Smith, Downey, Patterson and Oglivy. Can’t argue with that.
– Oklahoma picked over Texas to win the Big 12 was a bit surprising. Kansas tied with Baylor for third.
– Blake Griffin tabbed as preseason player of the year was an obvious selection

– Gary Parrish has his Preseason Top 26, All-Americans and Top Point/Combo Guards up. I take exception to some of his opinions: 1) Duke better than UCLA, Michigan State, Purdue and Pittsburgh,  2) Ohio State ranked #19 ahead of Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Baylor, 3) Wake Forest unranked, 4) Patrick Mills on his third team over Tyrese Rice and 5) Jrue Holiday on his third team over Jack McClinton. I’ll have my Top 50 players list and All-American teams up (along with Patrick and Tommy’s) in November.

– Site news: As you can tell, I’m entrenched in my Big East preview right now. When I’m finished (I’ll have my #6 team up tomorrow), I’m planning on writing both an SEC preview over two days and a shorter Big 12 preview, much like Tommy’s Big 10 preview in terms of length. Pat and Tommy are busy with school and football/volleyball after class, but they’ll have the ACC and Pac 10 previews done before the end of the month. Expect daily selections, weekly ACC and Big East reports, weekly game scouting reports and many other features when the season begins.

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Let The Madness Begin

Posted by Zach on October 17, 2008

No, not March Madness. This is October Madness, otherwise known as Midnight Madness. Sure, it’s only layup lines, dunk contests, dressed-up speeches and optimism abound, but it’s something. It’s college basketball. And for those diehards like us three who have been clamoring for the sound of sneakers squeaking against the newly-minted court ever since Kansas shocked Memphis last April, this is a holiday ranking just behind Thanksgiving, Opening Day and Yankee Elimination Day on my list.

I assume most of our limited readership that visits the site on a somewhat regular basis are college basketball nuts, as well. So you know exactly how I feel at this very moment. I’d like to think I’m not the only one who has November 10 circled on the calender (yes, even if it’s only Duke vs. Presbyterian), have checked out the non-conference tournaments more than once, purused Andy Katz blog every single day this summer and long for the sights and sounds that a college hoops game provides. The emotion, the passion and the intensity is simply unmatched, especially at the professional level.

Tonight is only the beginning. Some teams, like West Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois, have already had their massive celebration on campus (or on a football field). Most will take their place at the starting line tonight, and some of the most prestigious programs will be highlighted by exclusive ESPNU coverage, if you’re lucky enough to get that awesome channel. They’ll be featuring Gonzaga, Davidson, Kansas and Georgetown with the Big Ten Network covering Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota. That’s right- the first chance to see Stephen Curry swish another off-balance three, or Jeremy Pargo shattering the rim with a monster dunk, or a chance to get an early glimpse at prized froshies like Greg Monroe, Delvon Roe, Ralph Sampson and Tyshawn Taylor. Devin Ebanks didn’t look so shabby for the Mountaineers last Friday, either.

The optimism is abound. Teams like Indiana can have a night of joyous celebration for the program they root so valiantly and diligently for before….well, they know what could be coming this year. There will be heartbreak, there will be dramatics, there will be celebration. The start of practice can represent plainly the start of practice to some, but for me it’s a new beginning and a fresh season where nobody knows what will happen next. Take it from a Red Sox fan that sometimes sports will give you the most exruciating punch to the gut ever imaginable, but there are those unexplainable moments like last night where the tough times seem like absolute bargains.

The emotions run high in college basketball more than any other sport. Allow me to join these schools in an optimistic mood and say that I have a feeling this season will be one of the greatest ever. The story lines are numerous: Can UNC go undefeated? Can Davidson make it back? Who will win the loaded Big East and Big East tournament? Who is this years Cinderella- San Diego, Siena, American? Which senior will lead their team to the promised land? What unforgettable moments will take place this March?

Yes, college basketball season is officially here. Lace up the Adidas and get in those layup lines, boys.

Some Midnight Madness links for everyone:

Andy Katz goes through the injuries that may impact big-name teams at the start of the season. Lorrenzo Wade and the Aztecs could have plenty of trouble on their hands.

Seth Davis asks 20 lingering questions for this season, including the prospect of senior Greg Paulus coming off the bench and sophomore Nolan Smith getting the starting nod.

Gary Parrish sums up some possibilities we could see this year, including a 50-point performance from Stephen Curry. That’s not too far-fetched of a notion.

Dana O’Neil runs down the history of the Midnight Madness tradition. Yet another highlight on the resume of one Lefty Driesell.

Posted in Features, Midnight Madness, News And Notes | 1 Comment »

Friday News And Notes

Posted by Zach on September 26, 2008

An edition of Friday’s News and Notes to catch up on this past weeks biggest college basketball headlines:

– Connecticut freshman Nate Miles is supposed to be a key cog for the Huskies ascent to the top of the college hoops rankings this season. The talented wing will be a sparkplug off the bench for Jim Calhoun…if he can stay out of trouble. Miles violated his restraining order 16 minutes after receiving it in Hartford yesterday, posting a $2,500 bond and is scheduled to go to court later this month. Miles came with a reputation out of the many high schools he attended for being a nuisance without much supervision. Calhoun hopes this is just a minor transgression for the budding freshman.

– One of the top coaches in the nation, Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon, received a three-year extension on his already lengthy contract on Wednesday. The deal extends through the 2015-16 season and he will receive a raise from the $1.3 million he made last season. The Panthers have averaged nearly 27 wins per season under Dixon’s watch even if they’re not exactly a recruiting powerhouse. Dixon should be rewarded. Not many coaches could have rallied his team without stars like Levance Fields and Mike Cook to win the Big East tournament and receive a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

– Sticking with the Big East theme, good news for Syracuse fans came out early this week. Talented guard Eric Devendorf has received another year of athletic eligibility after being granted a hardship waiver due to last season’s devastating knee injury. For this upcoming season, Devendorf will be a junior athletic-wise. He forms a great backcourt with Johnny Flynn and returnee Andy Rautins for the Orange, who are looking to contend in the loaded conference.

– Kyle Whelliston chimes in with another gem. This time the topic is the newly-formed Great West conference that will form before the 2009-10 season. The name doesn’t tell the entire story- NJIT will be a member and New Jersey isn’t exactly considered a Western state. Whelliston points out the hardships these teams often have to go through scheduling games and flying coast-to-coast to get walloped by top-ranked teams looking for cupcakes. He also brings up the question of whether this conference will be rewarded with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, something the committee probably wants to avoid.  Texas Pan-American, NJIT, South Dakota, North Dakota, Houston Baptist and Utah Valley make up the current conference slate.

– This is only Insider, but Andy Katz’s blog catches up with three possible tournament teams this fall: Ohio State, Wake Forest and Nevada. Some gems: Matta thinks B.J. Mullens is more of a Greg Oden than a Kosta Koufos, meaning he’ll be someone planted firmly in the paint this season; the team hasn’t cleared its point guard situation, a big reason why I think they’ll finish behind Wisconsin who boast Trevon Hughes; Wake Forest has installed a Dick Bennett-style defense and their freshmen look great in workouts; Ishmael Smith should be ready for the season for Wake; Nevada coach Mark Fox managed to get North Carolina to come to Reno this season in a 2-for-1 deal.

– Luke Winn has a worthwhile article attempting to predict the breakout players for this season using possessions used and efficiency ratings. The article circles Dar Tucker of DePaul, LaceDarius Dunn of Baylor and Austin Daye of Gonzaga as potential breakout candidates. Tucker is a definite possibility, but will anyone notice on DePaul?  We’ll have our own list of breakout candidates when the season draws nearer.

Hope everyone has a great weekend and thanks for reading. More and more articles will be on the way as we head towards November.

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News And Notes: 8/29-9/5

Posted by Zach on September 5, 2008

Hey everyone (if there is anyone). No, we’re not dead. It’s just been harder posting lately due to the beginning of school and lack of any serious news in the college basketball world. Things will heat up on the site in October with in-depth conference previews and player rankings before the start of the season in November, when there will be a guaranteed post every day by either Pat, Tommy or me. At least until the end of this month, look for the occasional post as well as a News and Notes article from me every Friday night summing up the previous week or so in college hoops. Here’s another edition:

– Not only did the current Kansas Jayhawks team have a hectic week both inside and outside the United States, but their former players experienced a few trials as well. Two stars from last year’s national championship Kansas team were thrown out of an NBA rookie program for having marijuana and women in their hotel room. Arthur denies any wrongdoing, but it was clearly an immature decision by two immature people. David Stern came down on them hard, and now we know a bit more on why their draft stock plummeted so severely on draft day (at least Chalmers).

Also in Lawrence news, the current KU team spent this past week in Ottawa facing off in exhibition games and getting a feel for, other than Sherron Collins, an entirely new main cast. It was a smart move for coach Bill Self to schedule this trip and build continuity both on and off the court. Not surprising is the emergence of Cole Aldrich north of the border as a dominant big man prepared physically for Big 12 basketball. Also faring well were freshmen Tyshawn Taylor with two 20+ point games and Travis Releford, who scored 25 points in the second exhibition. They also received good news that Marcus and Markief Morris have been cleared by the NCAA to play this season. Remember, it’s not rebuilding…it’s reloading.

– Other teams playing exhibitions at this time: Kansas’ conference foe Missouri in Ontario. They’ve been led by DeMarre Carroll, who scored 20 points in the thrashing of the Ontario All-Stars, and freshman guard Marcus Denmon, totaling 23 points against Brock University. Virginia looks to be the weak link in the ACC this season, but does have an impressive rookie: Sylvan Landesberg, who scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a rout over St. Lawrence College. Encouraging news for NC State as the much maligned Brandon Costner scored 31 points in their game vs. York University. Sure, the competition is less than stellar, but these are still early signs on the progression of certain teams for the upcoming campaign.

– Two New Jersey area Big East bottom fodders are looking to move up. Rutgers was able to rack in one McDonalds All-America in talented point guard Mike Rosario. Now it appears they’ve cleared talented big man Gregory Echenique to play for the Scarlet Knights this season. Had he remained in the Class of 2009, it’s likely Echenique would have played in the McDonalds game. Their rival, Seton Hall, received another big-time transfer in former New Mexico State forward Herb Pope to aid a below-average frontline. Pope averaged 11.1 PPG and 6.8 RPG last year. We know Bobby Gonzalez isn’t afraid to reel in low-character players for the sake of winning, and Bobby hopes to gain a waiver for Pope to play this season.


– Levance Fields looks to finally be 100% healthy by November and ready to lead Pitt to a Big East title this season. He received bone graft surgery about a week ago to stabilize his broken left foot, which had been causing him periodic pain over the summer. Fields wanted closure and received surgery. While this will put a hamper on his preparation for the season, Jamie Dixon is fine with having Fields ready for Opening Night. Also on the Big East injury front, David Cubillian may miss the start of the season due to off-season shoulder surgeries.

– I don’t know how reliable this source is, but BruinsReportOnline.com is reporting that talented class of 2009 guard Abdul Gaddy is down to Arizona and UCLA. Gaddy is ranked as the #2 point guard in the land by Scout.com and has proven to be an elite backcourt player with enormous upside. Gaddy is somewhat like Derrick Rose in his feel for the game and tremendous passing ability from the point guard position. Why do I have a feeling he ends up at Westwood?

– I’m just as sick of Derrick Caracter as you are. Still, because it’s Division 1 and Conference USA, it’s worth reporting he’s likely to land at Southern Miss. It appeared Caracter was going to land at a NAIA Oklahoma school before Larry Eustachy stepped in and decided to give Caracter a second chance. And if anyone can relate to second chances, it’s Larry Eustachy.

– Andy Katz has a fine write-up on his ESPN blog about Memphis and how much John Calipari is looking forward to the upcoming season, more because he wants to forget about last year’s national championship game than the actual caliber of his players, I would gather. Still, Memphis looks strong. Tyreke Evans joins the fray as their leading scorer and floor leader. Nebraska transfer Roburt Sallie failed to meet Big 12 eligibility standards and instead opted for Memphis. Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson withdrew from the draft, which helps greatly. Calipari also mentions that Pierre Niles dropped 40 pounds and the lanky Shawn Taggart put on 25 pounds this summer. Calipari also attempts to persuade us the coup of C.J. Henry has nothing to do with Xavier, which is of course complete and utter nonsense.

– Perusing over the Big East conference schedule, here are my top five games:

1. Connecticut at Pittsburgh, March 7
2. Louisville at Notre Dame, February 12
3. Pittsburgh at Louisville, January 17
4. Connecticut at Marquette, February 25
5. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, January 31

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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:

UNLV
– 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.

Kentucky
– 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.

Baylor
– 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.

Providence
– 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 ESPN.com for their ShootAround segment. For the big conferences, we’ve previewed all six on this site, so snoop around.

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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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Saturday News and Notes

Posted by Zach on August 2, 2008

Ready for another addition of News and Notes? We’re all excited.

Loved this article from Gary Parrish on prized Nevada recruit Luke Babbitt. Apparently this kid is such a workout/basketball junkie, Wolfpack coach Mark Fox banned Babbitt from the gym for ten days this summer. That’s right, Babbitt was banned from touching a basketball or lifting weights or even walking into the gym for ten days, so the kid is going down to Florida with his family. Refreshing to see 1) a coach who is not hawking over his players to spend their lives in the gym and 2) a player with the work ethic as strong as Babbitt. Nevada is a contender in the WAC and Babbitt is the reason why.

– Baylor coach Scott Drew pulled a move many coaches are resorting to recently, hiring John Wall’s AAU coach to a director of player development position. Dwon Clifton coaches John Wall, who is ranked as the number one point guard in the nation for the class of 2009 by most publications, and with this new gig landed in Waco, it appears Baylor has the inside track to land their best recruit ever. Wall is a 6’4 speedster from Raleigh, NC and is officially considering other schools like Kentucky, Oklahoma State and NC State. Baylor already landed a commitment from the #13 center in the nation, Cory Jefferson, for the class of 2009. What Baylor and Scott Drew have done to re-energize a program that hasn’t won a NCAA tournament game in 58 years is remarkable.

– Andy Katz blogged about Blake Griffin and his offseason workout regimen in efforts to establish himself as the true #1 pick in the 2009 draft. Griffin is going through a Marine-like experience this summer to get into peak shape for the upcoming Oklahoma campaign. Blake stayed not only for a Big 12 title, and they’ll have a chance with Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson returning, but to vault his draft stock even higher. Putting up a Tyler Hansbrough stat line wouldn’t hurt. That’s the goal for Griffin this season.

– The WCC officially moved their ESPN broadcast to a Thursday-Saturday slate rather than their usual midnight ET Big Monday slot for this season. The WCC is stronger than ever this season with top-ten team Gonzaga, top mid-major San Diego and contender Saint Mary’s leading the pack. Rather than just featuring the Zags in most of their games, ESPN is attempting to showcase more of the WCC teams, including the San Diego-Saint Mary’s duel on January 22.

– Recruiting news: Michigan landed the best recruit of the Beilein era thus far by snatching Darius Miles, a top-100 player and top-10 point guard, for their 2009 class. Miles hails from Los Angeles. Villanova received a commitment for 2010 when James Bell, a 6’4 Orlando shooting guard, decided to join Jay Wright’s squad. The Wildcats boast an impressive ’09 class and look to be building for ’10. Finally, Michael Dixon, the 17th ranked PG, committed to play for Mike Anderson and Missouri in 2009.

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Tuesday News and Notes

Posted by Zach on July 29, 2008

– Arizona is making news around the recruiting trail, both favorable to Lute Olson and potentially damaging. The good: Zona received a commitment from Solomon Hill, a 6’6, 195 pound California wing ranked in the top 100 by Scout.com. Hill is an excellent ball-handler with versatility and the ability to play multiple positions. For Hill to become a top-flight player for Arizona, though, his shooting needs to improve. The bad: the #33 player in the nation Greg Smith, a 6’8 power forward from Fresno, de-committed to the Wildcats and instead joined the Bulldogs. Nope, not Georgia or Gonzaga- his hometown Fresno State Bulldogs. Smith marks the best recruit Fresno State has ever reeled in. Smith told Fresno’s Scout.com page that “it was a soft verbal (to Arizona)” and his “heart was with Fresno State.” Arizona is in the running for the second ranked point guard in the nation, Abdul Gaddy, and could be leading, neck-and-neck with Memphis at this point at the top.

– The first round contests for the Old Spice Classic were announced this morning, and Maryland fans have to be feeling very slighted. The Terrapins will have to play Michigan State in the first round, the Spartans being a potential top-10 team and Big Ten title contender. On the same side of the bracket, Gonzaga takes on Oklahoma State, setting up a possible Michigan State-Gonzaga game in the semifinals. On the other side, Georgetown plays Wichita State and Tennessee gets dangerous Siena. The Spartans will most likely have to beat Maryland, Gonzaga and Tennessee to win the tournament title in what should prepare them sufficiently (and more) for the conference slate.

– Richmond lost its best player for the season on Monday. 6’8 forward Dan Geriot, who could have been one of the top players in the A-10 this campaign, tore his ACL in a summer league game in Philadelphia and will miss the entire season. Geriot averaged 14.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG for the low-scoring Spiders as a sophomore last season.

– Indiana extended Tom Crean two more seasons on top of his current deal. The program admires the fashion in which Crean took a devastating situation and is beginning to turn it around. At the recent NCAA committee hearing, Indiana was handed another violation that could result in penalties: a “failure to monitor” charge to the extensive Kelvin Sampson troubles list. The Hoosiers return just one player from last season’s disappointing campaign.

– West Virginia junior guard Joe Mazzulla, who experienced a breakout last few games for the Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament, was arrested Monday night, along with teammate Cameron Throughman, with aggravated assault, underage drinking and hindering apprehension at a Pirates-Rockies game in Pittsburgh. The players argued with police when asked for an ID, and when resisting, Mazzulla accidentally punched a police officer. While they should face more disciplinary action from the team, if you know anything about Bob Huggins, I wouldn’t expect much.

– Finally, just wanted to point out this good article from Andy Katz regarding the Wake Forest situation. This team has a lot to look forward to. Jeff Teague and James Johnson are outstanding sophomores and the recruiting class new coach Dino Gaudio was able to reel in is phenomenal. Expect a great season in Winston-Salem in honor of fallen coach Skip Prosser.

Also: Ra’Sean Dickey has left to play in Europe and Texas A&M-CC committed nine NCAA violations.

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Monday News & Notes

Posted by Zach on July 14, 2008

-Tim Floyd can breath a sigh of relief as stud incoming freshman Demar DeRozan has been cleared to play by the NCAA after receiving a qualifying ACT score. If he hadn’t qualified, a trip to Europe with Brandon Jennings may have followed. DeRozan was Scout’s 6th ranked player in the nation but his stock is flying right now. He was recently invited to the LeBron James Skills Camp and has the most NBA potential of any incoming freshman. He’s the one newcomer I’m most looking forward to seeing this season. USC has a great chance to contend in the Pac-10 with favorites UCLA and Arizona State, led by Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett and DeRozan. FOX Sports also reports they’re in the running for UNC transfer Alex Stepheson.

Lute Olson lashed out at the one-and-done rule the NBA and NCAA have instituted for players guaranteeing each prospect have one year in “college.” Olson, who recently saw his most prized signee Brandon Jennings depart for Europe rather than play at Arizona, said clearly he would not sign any one-and-done players in the near future. Sure, Lute. This will last about six months. Olson proposed a deal where high school kids can enter the NBA straight out of high school, but if they opt for college, they have to stay for two or three years. I can see the reasoning behind this only if we start to see more and more players go to Europe to the point where it gets out of control. Then reform is needed.

– News from the CBS camp: Billy Packer will no longer be the lead announcer for college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. In fact, he’ll no longer be with the network at all. Packer always was a bright and intelligent basketball mind, but came across as arrogant and I never enjoyed him calling the biggest hoops games of the season. I was especially put off when he admitted in front of a camera he didn’t even enjoy sports anymore. Clark Kellogg will now be the lead analyst alongside Jim Nantz, with a rumor circulating that Greg Anthony will replace Kellogg in the studio with Seth Davis and Greg Gumbel. Big ups to CBS for making a much needed transition in their college basketball coverage.

– Andy Katz had some good conversations with Georgetown head coach John Thompson III and NC State coach Sidney Lowe about their chances in 2008-09. Thompson didn’t express too much remorse about losing Vernon Macklin to Florida (somewhat hurtful loss) and Jeremiah Rivers to Indiana (not much of a loss at all) because of the instant replacements in freshmen Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, along with a healthy Chris Wright taking over guard duties. Thompson expecting immediate contention in the loaded Big East may be too much to ask; I see them as a middle-of-the-pack team. Sidney Lowe says last year’s disappointing campaign was marked by a lack of a true point guard and the decline of junior forward Brandon Costner, who saw his PPG go down nearly eight points. Costner and McCauley need to step up as seniors for the Wolfpack to contend.

– Some dates to circle for big games: UCLA will play a home game against Notre Dame in a battle of top ten teams on February 9 in the thick of conference season, and will play @ Texas on December 4 as part of the Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood series. Missouri, who lost guard Keon Lawrence to Seton Hall, will also be a part of the Puerto Rico tournament with Memphis, USC, Xavier and Virginia Tech. Oklahoma will face USC at home on December 4, also. Kansas State, who added UConn transfer Curtis Kelly, will play @ Michigan State and @ Arizona.

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