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Non-Conference Tournament Predictions/Preview

Posted by Patrick on November 18, 2008

Thursday night brings the Semi-Finals of the 2K sports classic in which all of the regional hosts moved on to Madison Square Garden.

Semifinals: UCLA will have trouble with Michigan but should end up winning because of their overall depth and poise in pressure situations. This will also be Manny Harris’ chance to show the nation what he’s all about on a huge stage, so expect a big night from him.

Duke should blow out Southern Illinois, but then again many people thought they should have blown out Rhode Island. SIU is a good team at home, but on the road against one of the better Duke teams in the past couple of years it’ll be no easy task. I expect Duke by 15+.

Finals: UCLA vs. Duke: Wow, what a match-up in the first tournament final. I want to say that Kyle Singler and Duke will win this game because they are a better team technically, but UCLA just has more talent. Darren Collison has been unstoppable and UCLA’s big men should dominate Duke inside.

Champion: UCLA

Regional Games: Certainly nothing is set in stone in terms of which teams will make the semifinals and play in New York. Arizona must beat UAB, Oklahoma plays Davidson, Boston College has to beat St. John’s, and Purdue needs to hold off Loyola. I predict that all regional hosts will advance except for Oklahoma who will lose tonight against Davidson.

Semifinals: Stephen Curry will prove to be too much for Arizona, although I expect Chase Budinger to have a big night.  Arizona needs to make sure they don’t become too hung up on stopping Curry and forget about players like Lovedale and Paulhaus-Gosselin. That could lead to their demise.

Purdue will suffer their first loss of the season against Boston College in this semifinal match-up. I love what Matt Painter has done with this program and think that they are still the favorites in the Big Ten, but Tyrese Rice will dominate in this game. Much like Curry will do against Arizona, Tyrese Rice can divert attention away from his teammates and confuse the Boilermakers all night.

Finals: Boston College vs. Davidson: This will be a match-up between two of the most dynamic guards in college basketball, and while Rice is going to be a force in this game he will be no match for Curry. As we all saw last season, Curry performs on the big stage. I don’t expect anything different from him in the final.

Champion: Davidson

Semifinals: I am not a fan of the fact that even in the unlikely event that there is an upset in the regional rounds, the hosts automatically move on to Kansas City. I think that for the true purity of a tournament format, winners should always advance.

Regardless, the first game will be between Florida and Syracuse. Florida has been surprising in their early games winning by very large margins, and most notably Nick Calathes is playing out of his mind. Although Syracuse is the more athletic team, they don’t play defense and Florida will take advantage of that. Florida will move on to the championship game.

The next semifinal is against Kansas and Washington. I would pick Washington in this game had they not just lost at Portland, a team that won just nine games the previous season. Kansas has the more well-rounded team and should move on with little trouble.

Finals: Florida vs. Kansas: Two programs that have won national championships in the past two seasons will go head to head in the CBE Classic final. While I like Kansas, Florida is the better team and Calathes will dominate once again. Kansas should hang close and make this a close game, but I expect the Gators to pull out a victory in the end.

Champion: Florida

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Quarterfinals: In the past these quarterfinal Maui games have provided much better match-ups, but this season the top seeds look like they should get out of the first round pretty easily. Don’t expect Chaminade to upset #1 UNC like they did to Ralph Sampson’s Virginia team way back when, and Indiana won’t stand much of a chance against Notre Dame. Saint Joseph’s can give Texas trouble, but the Longhorns are without a doubt the much better team. Oregon will defeat Alabama in a mild upset.

Semifinals: The Texas and Notre Dame game should go back and forth all night with great match-ups at the guard (A.J. Abrams vs. Kyle McAlarney) and forward (Luke Harangody vs. Damion James) positions. Harangody should dominate like usual, and carry the Fighting Irish to a resume building victory.

North Carolina will dominate Oregon, and it shouldn’t even be close.

Finals: North Carolina vs. Notre Dame: This game will depend on whether on not Tyler Hansbrough is ready to play at a high level, because if he is sitting out Harangody will have free reign down low. However, I expect that Hansbrough won’t miss such an important game and North Carolina will show why they are the best team in the nation beating Notre Dame by more than ten points.

Champion: North Carolina

Quarterfinals: By far the most complete tournament from top to bottom is the Old Spice Classic being played over Thanksgiving weekend in Orlando. In the first game, Siena will play Tennessee. I think that Siena will win this game much like they did against Vanderbilt in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The second match-up won’t be nearly as compelling as the first, and Georgetown should roll over Wichita State. Michigan State will have a lot of trouble with an underrated Maryland team, but should get by to the next round. Finally, Gonzaga shouldn’t have any trouble at all with inconsistent Oklahoma State.

Semifinals: Siena will continue to play Cinderella and upset Georgetown the day after beating Tennessee. Georgetown isn’t nearly as good as their ranking and Siena is a very experienced and poised basketball team that will take advantage of the younger Hoyas.

Gonzaga will prove to have too much depth for Michigan State, and the inside-outside combination of Austin Daye and Jeremy Pargo can put up tremendous numbers. These two teams match up very well against each other, but I expect the Zags to continue their trend of performing well in non-conference tournaments.

Finals: Gonzaga vs. Siena: Two teams from mid-major conferences that are both looking to get back to the NCAA tournament and make plenty of noise in their brackets. I think that after two big upsets, trying to get three in a row will too big of a task for the Saints and Gonzaga will roll to victory.

Champion: Gonzaga

Quarterfinals: St. Mary’s should have no trouble with UTEP and move on to the second round. Cal State Fullerton will be very scrappy and keep their game close, but Wake Forest will prove to be too much for the Titans. Arizona State will walk over Charlotte, and Baylor will sneak by Providence.

Semifinals: St. Mary’s is a tremendous team that will make noise in their conference this season and probably get back to the NCAA tournament, but Wake is more athletic and should run up and down the court with ease. Al Farouq-Aminu will have one of the better games in his college career scoring more than 25 points.

Arizona State may have some trouble with Baylor, but James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph are going to lead the Sun Devils to victory and on to the finals.

Finals: Arizona State vs. Wake Forest: Harden will show why he is the best player in the Pac-10 and take over in a very important game for ASU. Supporting players such as Pendergraph, Ty Abbott, and Derek Glasser will also have great games to crush the Demon Deacons hopes of winning this tournament.

Champion: Arizona State

Other Tournaments to Check Out:

Paradise Jam: Possible match-up between UConn and Wisconsin/San Diego

Legends Classic: Pittsburgh, Washington State, Texas Tech, and Mississippi State highlight this field.

Posted in Non-Conference Tournaments, Predictions | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Final Pre-Season Mid Major Top 15

Posted by Patrick on November 12, 2008

Here’s the link to my first Mid-Major Top 15.

(I will not include: Gonzaga, Xavier, C-USA, WAC, or MWC)

The teams are the same but just some rearranging:

1. Davidson- Curry has obviously made a smooth transition to point guard, as expected, scoring 41 in the Wildcats exhibition game. If Curry plays anything like this during the regular season, those supporting players should be enough to keep Davidson rolling.

2. San Diego- I’m still a strong believer that San Diego is one of the better Non-BCS teams out there. They have a senior heavy lineup led by Gyno Pomare and Brandon Johnson, plus sophomores Trumaine Johnson and Rob Jones are studs that can play with anyone in the nation.

3. Siena- Brings back all five starters from the team that made fools out of Vanderbilt in last year’s tournament. They shouldn’t have too much trouble winning the MAAC, but it will be interesting to see how they stack up against the powerhouses in the Old Spice Classic.

4. Saint Mary’s- Patrick Mills, Omar Samhan, Diamon Simpson, and Ian O’Leary will lead a Gaels team that looks to be back in the NCAA tournament.

5. Saint Joseph’s- This team probably has the best chance to upset Xavier and win the A-10. Ahmad Nivins is the best center in the conference and can give any team a headache thats trying to stop him.

6. Virginia Commonwealth- Eric Maynor is certainly up there with the best point guards in the nation, but will this team choke once again when the conference tournament rolls around.

7. Cleveland State- This team is one of the more athletic teams in the mid-west and should be the favorites to win the Horizon League. Athletic big man J’Nathan Bullock (above) and stellar point guard Cedric Jackson look to lead the Vikings to the NCAA tournament just two years after posting a terrible conference record.

8. Cal State Fullerton- Keep your eye on Josh Akognon (below) all season, he’s a tremendous player that goes unnoticed for playing in a small conference. As for the rest of the team, they bring back a lot of experience from the squad that made the NCAA tournament last season.

9. Creighton- In my opinion, the Blue Jays are the favorites to win the MVC. A team that just lost three seniors a year ago should be poised to make the NCAA tournament after being routed by Florida in the NIT.

10. Dayton- Also a team that can surprise; London Warren and Chris Wright are two very underrated players that should make some noise in the A-10.

11. Wright State- Vaughn Duggins and Todd Brown will try to bring the Raiders back to the NCAA tournament for the 2nd time in 3 seasons. However, it won’t be easy with Cleveland State in their way.

12. Tennessee Martin- Lester Hudson and Marquis Weddle should easily take control of the Ohio Valley Conference from the get go, as long as these two are on the court they will be a tough game for any team.

13. Belmont- Until they prove me wrong, I have to give the Bruins some love for what they almost did to Duke last season. Plus, they have built a dynasty in the Atlantic Sun and I don’t expect any underdog teams to steal their throne.

14. Oral Roberts- Do these guys ever go away? Not when you have players like Robert Jarvis. I don’t see anyone that can contend in the Summit League.

15. Drake- This will be a very tough season for the Bulldogs. With Josh Young running the offense they should still experience success, but certainly not at the magnitude of last season’s.

Also Considered: Santa Clara, Butler, Vermont, Northeastern, Southern Illinois, UMass

Posted in Predictions, Team Rankings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Ten Bold Predictions For 2008-09

Posted by Zach on November 10, 2008

We have arrived.

My equally obsessive passion- baseball- kept me occupied long enough over the summer to avoid thinking about how much I miss college basketball. As my team’s season ended with a sharp groundball to Aki Iwamura in mid-October, my mind immediately transforms into one completely transfixes with counting the hours, minutes, seconds until the squeak of the sneakers against the college basketball hardwood. Tonight, the Cameron Indoor Stadium doors open, the Crazies will paint their faces and Coach K will patrol the sidelines. I know it’s only Presbyterian, it doesn’t matter one iota to me. A real college hoops game will be played tonight and that’s more than enough to keep me going through the bitter cold of the winter.

We’ve done our best to get our readers prepared for the journey ahead. With bracketology, major conference previews, Top 25’s, breakout players, predictions, summer roundups and instant reactions to breaking news, we hope our little experiment called Northwestern Wins has been a decent read for you, the fans that have longed for the opening jump ball as much as we have. Hopefully you’ll make your way back here during the regular season. We have plenty in store. So tie up those Adidas, Gerald Henderson, and let the season begin.

Here are ten bold predictions that we could see in 2008-09:

1. Virginia Tech will be the firmest ACC challenge for North Carolina- The Heels were pushed to the brink in last year’s ACC Tournament by the Hokies, who return everyone of note besides Deron Washington. Seth Greenberg’s team plays the best defense in the ACC and feature talented players like Jeff Allen and A.D. Vassallo. Blacksburg isn’t an easy place to win for any opponent, and these two teams face off late in the seaosn (March 4). Virginia Tech, not Duke or Wake or Miami, will give the Tar Heels their toughest fight during ACC play.

2. Memphis will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament- John Calipari’s team certainly has the talent assembled, but I see a combination of mostly role players with limited upside. Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart, Angel Garcia and Willie Kemp are perfect role players around stars like Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, but can they be the centerpieces? Tyreke Evans could mold into something special very soon, but he’s no Derrick Rose. They also turn the ball over enough to make John Calipari’s head explode and nobody can shoot free throws.

3. Siena will defeat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse– Led by Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hansbrouck and Alex Franklin, three players who scored 15+ PPG last season, Siena will be the top mid-major in college basketball this season. They return nearly everyone from their 4-13 win over Vanderbilt last March, and the Saints will finally receive national recognition when they take down Kansas on the road January 6. Look for them to go undefeated in the MAAC, as well.

4. The Big East will get 10 teams in the tourney– I’ve made this prediction before, but the Big East is strong enough where a 8-10 Providence team could be the last team in. Barring some major disappointments, the nine teams ahead of Providence in the preseason should push their way into the field. The Friars added the National Coach of the Year and have plenty of scoring. Ten teams from one conference will happen.

5. Gonzaga will reach the Final Four- If Austin Daye finally plays up to his potential, Gonzaga will be playing into April. They have the explosiveness of Jeremy Pargo, the scoring of Micah Downs and Matt Bouldin, the three-point shooting of Stephen Gray, and the inside game of Daye and Josh Heytvelt. They’ll be tested in a brutal non-conference schedule along with San Diego and Saint Mary’s in the WCC.

6. Someone will emerge in the Duke frontcourt- Whether it’s Mason Plumlee, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek or Kyle Singler becoming more of an inside force, the Blue Devils will finally have someone to lean on in the paint when March rolls around. My money’s on Singler- he gained 20 pounds of bulk over the summer in preparation for lasting through ACC play. Thomas may finally break out of his shell.

7. Iman Shumpert will win ACC Rookie of the Year– Shumpert will be the centerpiece of the Jackets offense (especially now with Clinch suspended due to academics) from the opening tip. He has the skills to outlast Aminu, Davis, Zeller, Williams, Jones, Singleton and the rest for the honor.

8. Indiana will not win a Big Ten game this season- Not one. Not even over Iowa, Northwestern or Michigan. Look at that roster. It would barely survive in the Horizon League.

9. Connecticut will defeat North Carolina in the title game– I love the way UConn, at full strength, matches up with the Heels. Thabeet can frustrate Hansbrough down low, Price matches up well with Lawson containing his speed, Austrie/Dyson can hold Ellington from getting too many open looks, and the Huskies are nearly as deep as North Carolina. It’s not like Jim Calhoun will be outcoached, either.

10. Duke will lose to Presbyterian tonight– On second thought, I’m not that bold.

Posted in Predictions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Tommy’s Preseason Predictions

Posted by Tommy on November 10, 2008

Ahh yes, the season is finally upon us. College basketball fans can finally plop themselves in front of their TV in silent rejoice because Duke-Presbyterian is on tonight!! Like Pat and Zach before me, I’m giving you my preseason predictions.

ACC- 1) North Carolina, 2) Duke, 3) Wake Forest, 4) Miami, 5) Virginia Tech, Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough

Big Ten- 1) Michigan State, 2) Purdue, 3) Ohio State, 4) Wisconsin, 5) Minnesota, Player of the Year: Raymar Morgan

Big East- 1) Connecticut, 2) Louisville, 3) Notre Dame, 4) Pittsburgh, 5) Marquette, Player of the Year: Sam Young

Big 12- 1) Oklahoma, 2) Texas, 3) Baylor, 4) Kansas, 5) Texas A&M, Player of the Year: Blake Griffin

SEC- East Champion: Tennessee, West Champion: Alabama, Player of the Year: Ronald Steele

Pac 10- 1) UCLA, 2) Southern Cal, 3) Arizona State, 4) Washington, Player of the Year: Darren Collison

First Team All-America– Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Harangody, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, A.J. Price

Player of the Year- Tyler Hansbrough

Coach of the Year- Scott Drew

Defensive Player of the Year- Hasheem Thabeet

Breakout Player- Jeff Teague

Sleeper NCAA Tournament Team- South Carolina

Top Non-BCS Team- Gonzaga

Top Mid-Major (not Gonzaga or Memphis or UNLV)– San Diego

Top Freshman- BJ Mullens

Final Four- North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State, Notre Dame

National Champion- North Carolina

Posted in Predictions | Leave a Comment »

Patrick’s Official Season Predictions

Posted by Patrick on November 8, 2008

Here are my official season predictions, and they are a lot different than Zach’s.


ACC Champ: North Carolina Tar Heels, Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough

Big Ten Champ: Purdue Boilermakers, Player of the Year: BJ Mullens

Big East Champ: Connecticut Huskies, Player of the Year: Luke Harangody

Big 12 Champ: Texas Longhorns, Player of the Year: Blake Griffin

SEC East Champ: Tennessee Volunteers

SEC West Champ: Mississippi State Bulldogs, Player of the Year: Patrick Patterson

Pac-10 Champ: UCLA Bruins, Player of the Year: James Harden

First Team All America: Tyler Hansbrough, BJ Mullens, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry

Player of the Year: James Harden

Coach of the Year: Mark Few

Defensive Player of the Year: Hasheem Thabeet

Breakout Player: Marcus Landry

Sleeper NCAA Tournament Team: San Diego

Sleeper Final Four Team: Pittsburgh

Top Non-BCS Team: Gonzaga

Top Mid Major (not Gonzaga or Memphis or UNLV): Davidson

Top Freshman: BJ Mullens

Final Four: North Carolina, Gonzaga, Arizona State, Connecticut

National Champion: North Carolina

Posted in Predictions | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Zach’s Official Season Predictions

Posted by Zach on November 6, 2008

With the college basketball season kicking off on Monday, we’d be remiss not posting our official season predictions for teams, players and championships. This is more for us than you; so we can look back in March and make fun of eachother like when I slotted NC State third in the ACC last season. Also, my Big 12 Preview won’t be up until Friday night, while Pat and Tommy continue to finish their Pac-10 and ACC previews, respectively.


ACC- 1) North Carolina, 2) Duke, 3) Wake Forest, 4) Miami, 5) Virginia Tech, Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough

Big Ten- 1) Michigan State, 2) Purdue, 3) Wisconsin, 4) Ohio State, 5) Minnesota, Player of the Year: Keaton Grant

Big East- 1) Connecticut, 2) Louisville, 3) Notre Dame, 4) Pittsburgh, 5) Marquette, Player of the Year: Luke Harangody

Big 12- 1) Oklahoma, 2) Texas, 3) Baylor, 4) Kansas, 5) Texas A&M, Player of the Year: Blake Griffin

SEC- East Champion: Tennessee, West Champion: LSU, Player of the Year: Patrick Patterson

Pac 10- 1) UCLA, 2) Southern Cal, 3) Arizona State, 4) Washington, 5) Arizona, Player of the Year: DeMar DeRozan

First Team All-America– Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Harangody, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, A.J. Price

Player of the Year- Blake Griffin

Coach of the Year- Jim Calhoun

Defensive Player of the Year- Hasheem Thabeet

Breakout Player- Kalin Lucas

Sleeper NCAA Tournament Team- Cincinnati

Sleeper Final Four Team- Oklahoma

Top Non-BCS Team- Gonzaga

Top Mid-Major (not Gonzaga or Memphis or UNLV)– Siena

Top Freshman- DeMar DeRozan

Final Four- North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State, Louisville

National Champion- Connecticut

Posted in Predictions | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Missouri Valley Preview

Posted by Zach on October 11, 2008

I have to admit I saw Drake coming.

Back in November, Drake made their return trip of the Bracket Buster selection from Des Moines to Milwaukee, and I happened to be in attendance along with both Tommy and Pat. Admittedly, I didn’t know that much about the Drake Bulldogs, just that they had two excellent players in Josh Young and Leonard Houston, and they were picked near the bottom of the MVC. After a drubbing in which Drake shot 13-26 from three and 55% overall from the floor, it was impossible not to ask yourself one question: “why isn’t this team considered a contender in the Missouri Valley?” That game didn’t turn out to be a fluke. Drake proved their worth winning the conference and earning a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Drake hasn’t won back-to-back titles, or even had a glimmer of success, since their Elite Eight run in 1971 before last year. So, are they primed to repeat? Or will a MVC power reclaim their glory? On to the preview…

1. Creighton Bluejays: To answer your question: a MVC power will reclaim their glory. Creighton and coach Dana Altman dealt with an extremely young core last year in Omaha with nine players performing in their first Division 1 action. Still, they managed a trip to the NIT and an impressive 22-win season. They return MVC Freshman of the Year P’Allen Stinnett, who has the potential to explode onto the national scene as an athletic superstar as his game continues to mature. Stinnett has all the ability in the world to win conference player of the year, but to help Creighton he needs to cut back on the turnovers and bonehead plays. Creighton’s strength is clearly with their backcourt. Along with Stinnett, the Jays have Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter- two players that contributed nearly 10 PPG off the bench last season. Senior point guard Josh Dotzler isn’t a primary scoring option, but plays excellent defense and is smart with the basketball. Dana Altman also put together an impressive recruiting class led by wing Justin Carter. This team has eight freshman and sophomores and yet most agree Creighton is the clear favorite in the conference.

2. Southern Illinois Salukis: You can’t keep the Salukis down very long. Finishing third in the conference and earning a trip to the NIT is a solid year for most MVC schools; in Carbondale, it’s a huge disappointment, one that tested coach Chris Lowery. Losing forward Randall Falkner and guard Matt Shaw, two double-digit scorers and team leaders, will also test Lowery. Bryan Mullins will emerge as the new all-around scorer and passer for the Salukis. Mullins is a smart point guard with range on his jumper and the keen ability to find the open teammate. Seniors Wesley Clemmons and senior Tony Boyle are both strong defenders, tailoring to the clear strength of the SIU program. They need to get back to playing tenacious defense every game before they return to the NCAA Tournament. Lowery also added what he calls the best recruiting class in the program’s history.

3. Drake Bulldogs: New coach Mark Phelps must deal with the losses of point guard and MVC player of the year winner Adam Emmenecker, three-point specialist Klayton Korver and super-athlete Leonard Houston. Phelps, a former assistant at NC State and most recently working under Herb Sendek at Arizona State, loves the three-point shot. In a total coincidence, Drake also loves the three-point shot. So expect plenty of thre pointers from Josh Young, who made 43% of his shots from long distance last season along with a healthy 15.9 PPG overall. Young is the favorite for MVC POY. Jonathan Cox is a phenomenal inside-outside force, one that shoots the three with remarkable efficiency (44%) while also finishing second in the MVC in rebounding (8.6 RPG). Cox continued to improve as the season progressed, ending his campaign with 29 points and 16 rebounds in the shootout vs. Western Kentucky. Phelps will rely on Young and Cox, along with UC Irvine transfer Adam Templeton, in hopes of winning another conference title.

4. Illinois State Redbirds: If not for Drake, the story of the MVC last year would have been Illinois State. Former Kansas assistant Tim Jankovich improved ISU from 15-16 to 25-10 and a win in the NIT, finishing second in the conference behind Drake. Losing four of their top seven scorers from a year ago hurts, but Osiris Eldridge returns- a 15.8 PPG scorer from last year as a sophomore. The loss of point guard Boo Richardson will hinder his ability to get the ball in key spots. JC transfer Lloyd Phillips and freshman Kenyon Smith are hoping to take over at point guard and find Eldridge during big possessions. Illinois State does get a boost with Oregon transfer Chamberlain Oguchi, who led the Ducks in threes back in 05-06, eligible for the season. A potential weakness for the Redbirds could be rebounding where they already lost senior forward Brandon Sampay for the first part of the year recovering from offseason hip surgery. Junior Dinma Odiakosa (6.9 PPG) also returns; it looked like he could become a key component after exploding onto the scene in the NIT.

5. Bradley Braves:
Not many know that Bradley played into April last season. Sure, it was the CBI, but coach Jim Les will take the extra month of games and practices in preparation for this season. Losing 15.8 PPG scorer Jeremy Crouch and point guard Daniel Ruffin stings. Luckily for Coach Les, the reigns to the high-tempo Bradley offense will be handed to Andrew Warren, a 13+ PPG scorer from last year who shot effectively from the outside. Warren teams up with sophomore Sam Maniscalco. As a freshman, Maniscalco took over for the injured Ruffin and finished with an impressive 114 assists. Theron Wilson is another returning double-digit scorer. Bradley should be an exciting, guard-oriented, push-at-every-chance team to watch this season, and quietly the Braves are looking for their fourth consecutive 21+ win season. Rather than playing deep into March in the CBI, Les now hopes to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

6. Northern Iowa Panthers: I also was able to see Northern Iowa in person last year and two things stuck out for me: 1) they play phenomenal defense and 2) they have a real difficult time scoring the basketball. Eric Coleman led the Panthers in scoring, rebounds and blocks last season. He’s gone. This means two key post players must take over the scoring load- Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder. Eglseder literally just stands in the paint at 7’1 and is able to score at will against most teams when he feels motivated, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble and be more aggressive fighting for rebounds. Koch is a talented player who has a better shot at making The Leap over Eglseder. The return of injured point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe should help UNI move up the offensive charts; they finished ninth in the MVC in scoring average last season and lost Coleman.

7. Indiana State Sycamores:
The Sycamores return three starters, notably sophomore Isiah Martin to boost interior defense and junior guard Harry Marshall for scoring. Marshall can play both guard positions and needs to take over as team leader after the Sycamores went 2-13 on the road last season. Coach Kevin McKenna hopes to gain contributions from two junior college players: former Iowa Hawkeye Josh Crawford, who averaged 4.5 BPG in JC, and Rashad Reed, who looks to replace Gabe Moore. Moore started all four years for Indiana State and will be a key loss on both ends of the floor. Newly added height should help Indiana State move up the rebounding charts in the MVC where they finished last in both offense and defensive rebounding.

8. Wichita State Shockers:
The Shockers and coach Gregg Marshall could go either way. There is a ton of uncertainty around the program after a hugely disappointing 2007-08 loaded with injuries and bad luck. Only one starter returns for this year, meaning it could be another struggle. Ramon Clemente is a breakout candidate after improving mightily as last season progressed. Sophomore J.T. Durley can explode at any point with his knack for scoring the basketball in bunches.  This team is hard to predict because of all the new additions: JC transfers Reggie Chamberlain and Kelvin Hannah, 7-foot freshman Garrett Stutz, and St. Bonnie’s transfer A.J. Hawkins can all make immediate impacts.

9. Evansville Aces:
The Aces avoid the basement because they return all five starters from their last-place finish of 2007-08. In fact, Evansville hasn’t finished with a winning record in eight seasons. The backcourt is strong with Jason Hoslinger shooting from behind the arc and small forward Shy Ely (I swear, the MVC has the best names of any conference) can play with anyone, finishing with 14.4 PPG and 5.1 RPG last season. The weakness for Evansville will be inside. They play North Carolina in November in what could be an ugly bloodbath.

10. Missouri State Bears
: Finishing behind Evansville is not something new coach Cuonzo Martin wants to place on his resume, but it could very well happen. This program is currently in disarray. The Bears are moving into a brand-new hoops facility for this season, which may be just about the only bright spot in what could be a last-place campaign. They return zero double-digit scorers and fell behind dramatically in recruiting with the coaching switch. Several newcomers such as Isaiah Rhine at forward have a chance to emerge.

First Team All-Missouri Valley:

G- Josh Young, Drake
G- P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton
G- Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State
F- Jonathan Cox, Drake
F- Adam Koch, Northern Iowa

Coach of the Year-
Dana Altman, Creighton
Newcomer of the Year- Chamberlain Oguchi, Illinois State
Sleeper Team- Wichita State Shockers
NCAA- Creighton
NIT- Southern Illinois, Drake

Posted in Conference Previews, Predictions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Atlantic 10 Preview

Posted by Zach on October 9, 2008

To say the Atlantic 10 had an unusual season in 2007-08 would be the understatement of the century. The league raced to a phenomenal start in non-conference play with Massachusetts and Rhode Island stunning Syracuse, Dayton taking down Louisville in Freedom Hall and Pitt at home, and perennial A-10 powerhouse Xavier bullying their way past Kansas State and Virginia. Unfortunately, the conference season started, beginning the downfall for a team like Dayton. They finished with an impressive RPI of 31 due to their remarkable non-conference slate of victories, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament due to a flurry of devastating injuries and subsequent 8-8 record in the Atlantic 10. Rhode Island is another example of a team that found themselves in the Top 25 in November and an 11 seed in the A-10 tournament in March. Xavier ended up representing the conference well with their march to the Elite Eight.

1. Xavier Musketeers:
Shocking, right? Coach Sean Miller and the Musketeers once again find themselves the near-unanimous favorites to win another Atlantic 10 title. The losses of key seniors and floor leaders like Drew Lavender, Stanley Burrell and Josh Duncan are subtractions hard to stomach, but Miller has enough talent returning to win the conference. The frontcourt will be led by two double-digit scorers, Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson, who just may be the two best frontcourt players in the conference. Keep an eye on 7’0 freshman Kenny Frease in the middle as someone who will improve mightily with development. Replacing Burrell and Lavender in the backcourt isn’t an easy task, but Miller has a slew of point guards to work with. Jordan Crawford won’t be eligible till next season, but former Indiana mate Terrell Holloway is. Shooter B.J. Raymond and speedster Dante Jackson lead the way for Xavier, teaming up with Brad Redford, Michigan’s Mr. Basketball. A difficult non-conference slate will test this untested Musketeer core right out of the gate.

2. Temple Owls:
The Owls over-achieved last season more than any other Atlantic-10 team, going from a middle-of-the-pack sneaky team to conference tournament champion under coach Frank Dunphy. The Owls will definitely miss their primary ball handler in Mark Tyndale, but return their best player: Dionte Christmas. Christmas is attempting to become the first three-time conference scoring champion in A-10 history after finishing with 19.7 PPG last season and shooting 37% from behind the arc. Three other starters return along with Christmas, including forwards Lavoy Allen and Sergio Olmos, the defensive shot blocker extraordinaire. Allen is more prone to be effective on the offensive end, where he finished with 8.1 PPG on an efficient 56% from the floor. Point guard is the one main concern. Dunphy is hoping either junior Luis Guzman or senior Semaj Inge to emerge in practice and take over for Tyndale. Temple could very well find themselves on the bubble by the time March rolls around.

3. Massachusetts Minutemen:
The loss of coach Travis Ford to Oklahoma State stings, but the Minutemen found a capable replacement in Derek Kellogg, the former UMass point guard and recruiting mastermind at Memphis. That strong suit will be immediately put to the test in normally-barren New England high school basketball. Their best player and 19 PPG scorer, Gary Forbes, is gone, but Massachusetts returns two studs: blossoming Ricky Harris and outstanding senior point guard Chris Lowe. Lowe (6.3 APG) molded into one of the top point guards in the nation, finding three-point specialist Harris behind the arc enough times so he could drain 104 threes. Wake Forest transfer Anthony Gurley also helps immediately, but the offense will clearly revolve around Lowe finding Harris outside with the newly instituted dribble-drive motion offense, or doing most of the scoring on his own. The frontcourt is the clear weakness. It’s possible 7-foot Luke Bonner emerges as he becomes more aggressive inside.

4. Dayton Flyers: As I pointed out in the intro, Dayton’s season was a roller coaster ride last year. They went from defeating Pitt by 25 at home in December to needing to win their last three games just to finish .500 in the conference. Chris Wright appeared to be the next big-time Atlantic 10 player before breaking his ankle in the opener against Rhode Island and missing the rest of the regular season. Having Wright for a full season scoring and rebounding will boost the Flyers immensely. Losing star Brian Roberts hurts dramatically in the backcourt, so they’ll turn to an improved frontcourt at their strength. Marcus Johnson is a personal favorite, an athletic and long forward who could emerge as a 13-7 threat this season.  Senior Charles Little took a step back last year and is hoping to repeat his double-digit scoring output of his sophomore year. Dayton won’t find themselves #14 in the nation any time this year (or 12th in the conference), and the NIT is a likely destination.

5. Charlotte 49ers:
Coach Bobby Lutz has plenty to work with this upcoming season. He returns nine of his top ten players from a group that shocked Clemson OOC and beat Temple and Saint Joe’s. The one player missing happens to be their best from 07-08: Leemire Goldwire, who averaged 18.6 PPG last year starring at shooting guard. Rather than guards, Charlotte’s strength will be in the frontcourt this year. They’re led by a pair of senior forwards, Lamont Mack- who scored 15+ points in 11 of the final 17 games of last season (including 27 at defensively-strong Richmond)- and Charlie Coley- an athletic, scoring forward who also happens to be the team’s most capable rebounding presence. Charlotte has always focused on shooting plenty of three-pointers under Lutz’s tenure. They won’t have any trouble finding open jumpers with the focus on Coley and Mack, along with boasting hoisters such as newcomer Shamarr Bowden and junior transfer Rashad Coleman. While the frontcourt is strong, Lutz may have a difficult time finding an impact player in the backcourt this season.

6. Saint Joseph’s Hawks: Nick Calathes and Rob Ferguson shouldered 29 points and 12 rebounds per game last season for Phil Martelli and Saint Joe’s. Both are gone, so it’s up to all-league forward Ahmad Nivins to take over as a dominant big man for the Hawks. Nivins is a legitimate draft prospect with an exceptional offensive game facing the basket. To help Saint Joe’s contend for a postseason bid, Nivins will have to compliment his scoring with improved defense and rebounding. The backcourt will be led by two returning starters- Tasheed Carr and Darrin Govens. Carr is a strong candidate to improve on his 10.8 PPG from last season with his shooting potential and Govens is more of the steady point guard type. The strengths of Saint Joe’s will be Nivins, coaching, balance, and an impressive freshman class.

7. Richmond Spiders: Richmond and coach Chris Mooney defied expectations and finished in a tie for fourth in the conference, earning a trip to the CBI. Any plans for a postseason tournament were put in serious jeopardy when potential first-team forward Dan Geriot tore his ACL in a summer league game. This is an extremely tough blow for Mooney, who planned on Richmond to sneak up on Xavier, Temple and UMass in the conference. The Spiders do boast 2007-08 Rookie of the Year Kevin Anderson, an excellent scoring guard who also happens to be the team’s strongest passer and defensive player. They hope that sophomore guard Justin Harper can emerge and Richmond can surprise some folks in the Atlantic 10.

8. La Salle Explorers: Could La Salle be the dark horse of the conference? Not unless their defense improves under John Giannini, but they certainly have a chance. Losing the Atlantic 10’s all time leading three point shooter in Darnell Harris is a significant blow. Returning is super-athletic guard/forward Rodney Green, a quick and playmaking wing who led the team in APG and SPG along with 13+ PPG. Vernon Goodridge could be Newcomer of the Year in the A-10. The transfer from Mississippi State will prove a valuable compliment to sophomore Jerrell Williams in the paint. Local Philly star Devon White will see playing time immediately at the forward position.

9. Rhode Island Rams:
Much like Dayton, URI’s season was a roller coaster ride. They began the year defeating three Big East schools, nearly knocking off BC on the road, and entering the Top 25 with a 19-3 record. They ended up losing to Creighton in the NIT. Coach Jim Baron has to be feeling some pressure. URI has never danced under his tutelage and have made the NIT just three times. Losing all-league forward Will Daniels doesn’t help. One of the top players for Baron this season will be Jimmy Baron. Yes, you guessed right, he is the coaches son. He drained 99 three pointers last season. Also leading the way is senior Kahiem Seawright, the team’s leading rebounder who must take on a bigger scoring load with Daniels no longer aiding the effort.

10. Saint Louis Billikens: Other than Kevin Lisch and Tommie Liddell, Rick Majerus and the Billikens are extremely young once again. They move to a new arena with less fanfare, and this could be a profound welcome to a team that finished last in the conference in scoring and managed just 20 points in a stunning loss to George Washington. Lisch and Liddell form a very strong backcourt, but Majerus knows he needs more from other pieces. He hopes freshman point guard Kwamain Mitchell emerges. I saw Mitchell in high school a few times and I think he can develop into a steady player for Saint Louis. An extremely young frontcourt appears to be the clear weakness.

11. Duquesne: Damian Saunders, a top A-10 newcomer last year, looks to emerge in a lean frontcourt
12. George Washington: 27-3 seems like decades ago; hopes ride with a healthy Taylor King at point guard
13. St. Bonaventure: Return of two starters and a promising class give hope to the future, present is ugly
14. Fordham: Rams lost all five of their starting seniors who finished just 6-10 in the conference

First Team All Atlantic-10:
G- Dionte Christmas, Temple
G- Ricky Harris, Massachusetts
F- Derrick Brown, Xavier
F- Chris Wright, Dayton
F- Ahmad Nivins, Saint Joe’s

Coach of the Year- Sean Miller, Xavier
Newcomer of the Year- Vernon Goodridge, La Salle
Sleeper Team- Saint Joseph’s Hawks
NCAA- Xavier
NIT- Temple, Massachusetts, Dayton, Charlotte

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Mountain West Conference Preview

Posted by Tommy on October 8, 2008

Ahhh, college basketball is right around the corner, which means it’s time to preview the conferences for the upcoming season. We’re starting a three week period during which we’ll do conference previews for the Mountain West, Colonial, A-10, Missouri Valley, WCC, Big 12, Big 10 and SEC as well as in-depth looks at the ACC, Pac 10 and Big East. I’m kicking it off with the preview of the Mountain West, one of the most under-appreciated conferences in all of college basketball. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the publicity it deserves from the major sports networks like ESPN and FSN and is often seen on networks like CSTV and Versus. This lack of media coverage permits the high quality teams in the MWC to fly under the national radar even if they do deserve to be nationally recognized. I’ll start off with a rundown of each team in the conference from best to worst and then preview the First Team All-Conference players.

1. UNLV Rebels: Coach Lon Kruger and the Rebels have found themselves atop of the MWC the past couple of years and look to make it three straight seasons in the field of 65. One fact that I found astounding is that UNLV’s program has a winning percentage of .716, third in the country behind Kentucky and North Carolina. Kruger is one of the best coaches in the country and will have another great team for the 08-09 campaign. Explosive guard Wink Adams, the favorite to win conference POY, returns to Vegas to provide plenty of scoring as well as strong senior leadership. Fellow senior Rene Rougeau does all the dirty work for the Rebels. He may not put up the biggest numbers, but he has a nose for the ball on defense as well as when he crashes the boards. UNLV will be a team to watch come March because coach Kruger always seems to have his players ready for the big games.

2. Utah Utes: One of the traditional MWC powerhouses looks to return to the top of the league after going 7-9 within the conference last season. The Utes will have to give big man Luke Neville (15.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG in 07-08, which was down from his 06-07 production) plenty of touches in the paint if the Utes are to succeed. Jim Boylen returns all five starters, which is always a plus, but outside of Neville none of those starters have made too big of contributions in the past. Johnnie Bryant was the second leading scorer behind Neville with 14.2 PPG off the bench, but his departure leaves a pretty big hole to fill in the scoring column. Despite the loss of Bryant, the Utes will be much improved from last season and will use their experience and depth to out-play opponents. The Utes could sneak up on UNLV to contend for the MWC crown and possibly get a NCAA tournament bid if everything goes well.

3. San Diego State Aztecs: The Aztecs are going to be a team to look out for in the MWC this season. They return their top eight scorers from last year, they have six seniors on the roster, and boast plenty of athleticism. The scoring was spread around pretty nicely over the course of last season with 4 players in double-digits and their 8th leading scorer averaged almost 6 points per game. After taking his name out of the draft, Louisville transfer Lorrenzo Wade is going to be the Aztecs’ go to guy and Kyle Spain along with Ryan Amoroso will provide plenty of support in the scoring column. SDSU looks like a legitimate contender for the MWC title on paper, but they always seem to under-perform expectations. They could finish anywhere from second (first is a slight stretch) to fifth in the conference, and that’s saying a lot with the weak bottom half of the MWC.

4. BYU Cougars: Unlike Utah and SDSU, the Cougars lost several key contributors from last year’s squad, which was arguably the best team from last year’s version of the MWC. BYU is going to have a tough time making up for the losses of big man Trent Plaisted and guards Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess who combined for 28.2 PPG, 13.6 RPG and 7 APG last year. The Cougars do return leading scorer Lee Cummard as well as Jonathon Taverneri who contributed 13.1 PPG, but the big question is whether these guys can make up for the losses of their big man and point guard, two key components to any good basketball team. Cummard is a great player, but him and Taverneri will have to create a lot of offense on their own, and the Cougars seem to be a little soft on the defensive side of the ball.

5. New Mexico Lobos: The loss of high-flying J.R Giddens is certainly going to hurt the Lobos, but they have a good amount of talent to bring to the table for the 08-09 campaign in Albuquerque. The team is fairly young with only four upperclassmen, but these four players are big contributors for coach Steve Alford. Tony Danridge, who didn’t play at all last season because of a broken leg, returns this season as a senior and will be a key to success for the Lobos. In addition to Danridge, Chad Toppert and Daniel Faris will provide plenty of scoring, and point guard Dairese Gary returns as a sophomore with a year of experience as the starter. I really like the makeup of this team, they all shoot good percentages from the field and there isn’t a standout star requiring all the attention. One problem is the lack of experience on the roster. There are six true freshman on the roster, including SG Phillip McDonald, who could become a key contributor come mid-season, and PF AJ Hardeman, another frosh that will have to step up his game for the Lobos.

6. Air Force Falcons: The Falcons finished in 5th place in the MWC last year, the first under coach Jeff Reynolds. The Falcons may not always have the most talented teams, but they play terrific defense and do the little things to perfection. The team returns just three starters, but sixth-man Andrew Henke, who will be a senior, was the team’s second leading scorer. Fellow seniors Matt Holland and Anwar Johnson will look to improve on their 7-9 record in the MWC from last season, which may be a reach. It’s always tough to succeed under a first year coach, so I think the Falcons will be a good team despite the loss of their heart and soul in Tim Anderson. The ceiling of this team’s success is 7-9 within the conference.

7. Wyoming Cowboys: Heath Schroyer and the Cowboys fell victim to an upset at the hands of Colorado State (0-16 in conference play) in the first round of last year’s MWC tournament. Brandon Ewing, the MWC’s leading scorer from last year, returns in hopes to improve on their disappointing season last year. Ryan Dermody and 7-footer Mikhail Linskens are returning starters from last year and will have to step up their game if the Cowboys want to make some noise in the MWC. Schroyer has brought in several transfers, three if whom are eligible to play in 08-09. The most notable of these transfers is former Wichita State guard Sean Ogirri. Ogirri will combine with Ewing to make up a very strong backcourt for Wyoming. This team’s season is going to ride mostly on the shoulders of Brandon Ewing, and unless they get big contributions from role players, I don’t see them doing too well in the Mountain West.

8. Colorado State Rams: The Rams move up one spot in the rankings after going 0-16 within the conference last season. Like Wyoming, the Rams are going to have to rely a lot on guard Marcus Walker, who was runner up to Ewing in scoring in the conference. The Rams are returning four of their starters from last season and are entering their second year under coach Tim Miles. Things are looking up for the Rams when compared to their winless season in the MWC last year, but don’t expect anything better than a 6th place finish.

9. TCU Horned Frogs: Leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Langford returns to TCU in 08-09, but will his contributions in the paint be enough to propel TCU up the ranks? I really don’t think so. The Horned Frogs only return two starters from last year’s team, Langford and junior guard Jason Elbi. Coach Jim Christian has started to rebuild the program by bringing in five new players, including three JUCO transfers, but his efforts won’t be enough for his team to succeed this season.

First Team All-Mountain West Conference:

G- Wink Adams, UNLV

G- Brandon Ewing, Wyoming

F- Lee Cummard, BYU

F- Lorrenzo Wade, SDSU

C- Luke Neville, Utah

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NCAA Player Rankings: Top 25 Players 2008

Posted by Patrick on August 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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