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2007-08 College Preview

Tue, 11/20/2007 - 9:12am

By Adi Joseph
11/20/07

[img_assist|nid=3618|title=Michael Beasley - AP Photo/Charlie Riedel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=445]You ain’t seen nothing yet. Last season, we watched as Florida toppled a group of heralded freshmen with four juniors, two seniors and a sophomore comprising their rotation. It’s a different year. It’s a different freshman class.

The landscape of college basketball has changed dramatically again this season, although the end result seems similar. A high powered freshman class has made major upsets less likely once again this season, though this time around it is because of who the freshmen joined.

Just about every top program (save North Carolina, who had too much depth to add another) has added at least one crucial freshman. And the contenders, in particular, are dangerous. UCLA will be able to go big thanks to superstar center Kevin Love. Georgetown lost Jeff Green, but replaced him with high-scoring Austin Freeman and pure point guard Chris Wright. Memphis lost no starters and adds Derrick Rose to an Elite Eight roster. Indiana added the scorer they needed with Eric Gordon and Texas A&M added a giant (DeAndre Jordan) to replace a mighty mouse (Acie Law).

USC and Kansas State brought in the best recruiting classes in school histories, led by O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, respectively. Those Florida Gators have switched mantras and will be relying heavily on an outstanding, deep recruiting class. Ohio State made the National Championship on the back of the nation’s top recruits, lost three of them to the NBA, and replaced them with another top-5 class. North Carolina State was a surprise down the stretch last season, and now the Wolfpack will have a post-scoring machine in J.J. Hickson.

The freshman class last year wasn’t overrated. It was both top heavy and deep. It was filled with four-year stars and one/two-year wonders. Expect little to change. The depth of this season’s freshman class, along with the number of top players heading to top programs, means that we will be witness to the Year of the Freshman, part 2.

PROJECTED TOP 25

1. UCLA
2. Memphis
3. North Carolina
4. Georgetown
5. Kansas
6. Tennessee
7. Gonzaga
8. Michigan State
9. Indiana
10. Pittsburgh
11. Washington State
12. Duke
13. Texas A&M
14. Louisville
15. Oregon
16. Syracuse
17. Texas
18. Marquette
19. Arizona
20. Kansas State
21. N.C. State
22. Mississippi State
23. Davidson
24. Virginia
25. Southern Illinois

PROJECTED AWARDS

Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

Coach of the Year: Ben Howland, UCLA

Freshman of the Year: Michael Beasley, Kansas State

Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

All-Americans

First Team:
Darren Collison, UCLA
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
Chris Lofton, Tennessee
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

Second Team:
D.J. Augustin, Texas
Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
Chase Budinger, Arizona
Kevin Love, UCLA
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

Third Team:
Tyrese Rice, Boston College
Eric Gordon, Indiana
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
Ryan Anderson, Cal
Aleks Maric, Nebraska

TOP 25 BREAKDOWN

1. UCLA Bruins (Last season W-L 30-6)

Ben Howland is hoping third time’s the charm. Or maybe he wants to prove that all you need is Love. Either way, the Bruins projected to make their third consecutive Final Four appearance for a reason. They return everyone except swingman Arron Afflalo from a team that was dominant at times last season, before having Florida end their season for the second straight year. Kevin Love might be the best freshman in the nation and Darren Collison might be the best player. This team has great depth, especially when Collison and Michael Roll are at full health. And they’ve got the talent to get to the promised land and renew the “Title Town” mantra.

2. Memphis Tigers (33-4)

To say Memphis lost no one from their Elite Eight team last season is false: sharp-shooting sixth man Jeremy Hunt was the team’s second leading scorer. Still, while Hunt’s hot/cold shooting will be missed, I think Tiger fans will get over it. Freshman Derrick Rose is the floor general that John Calipari lacked last season, and a collection of very talented returnees are ready to step to the next level. Junior wing Chris Douglas-Roberts is ready to blossom into a star, and he is complimented by rebounding freak Joey Dorsey, long and athletic Robert Dozier and do-everything Antonio Anderson. Rose and Douglas-Roberts put the Tigers squarely in the middle of championship talks.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (31-7)

North Carolina signed no impact freshmen. They didn’t need to. The Tar Heels are once again one of the most talented and deepest teams in the nation. They are preseason No. 1 in both major preseason polls. Expect Deon Thompson to step right into Brandan Wright’s role without missing a beat. And expect a gigantic season from Tyler Hansbrough, who will look to validate all the preseason hype circling him and his team. Sophomore guards tend to make big leaps historically, and the same should be seen from North Carolina’s duo of Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Anything short of a National Championship banner will leave Dean Dome residents a little disappointed, and for good reason

4. Georgetown Hoyas (30-7)

Last season, Georgetown didn’t have the talent to make the Final Four. They had the discipline, the coaching, the experience and the chemistry, sure. But they simply weren’t as talented as any of the other Final Four teams, or North Carolina, who absolutely should have beaten the Hoyas if Roy Williams could have shown any coaching ability in the last ten minutes. Despite losing Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green, the Hoyas are more talented now. Freshmen Austin Freeman and Chris Wright provide much needed backcourt depth and sophomores DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin should show huge strides of improvement. And through it all, Roy Hibbert will anchor a team that should contend for another Final Four and perhaps a National Championship.

5. Kansas Jayhawks (33-5)

There aren’t many places nationally where an Elite Eight performance isn’t enough to satisfy fans. Unfortunately for Kansas coach Bill Self, Lawrence is one of those places. Now, with a boatload of talent returning, the Jayhawk faithful again expect a Final Four, if not a National Championship. Departed forward Julian Wright was Kansas’s best player last season, but sophomore Darrell Arthur may be even more talented at power forward. If Arthur and fellow sophomore Sherron Collins show big strides as expected, and Brandon Rush is fully healthy after a knee injury in the off-season, Kansas should be right back in the thrust of title contention.

6. Tennessee Volunteers (24-11)

Last season’s Sweet Sixteen exit was a heartbreaker for Vols fans. They had the game in their hands against Ohio State. But the shooting stalled and Ohio State came alive. Last year’s team was prone to such games, as they relied so heavily on three-point shooting a cold slump could be the end of them. And while deep shots are still the forte of Bruce Pearl’s squad, there is reason to believe that this year’s version is the best Pearl has had at his disposal. Iowa transfer Tyler Smith gives the Vols a legitimate do-everything star player. Smith joins forces with Chris Lofton, the returning SEC Player of the Year, to provide the Vols with the best one-two punch in the league, if not the entire NCAA. Throw in a deep sophomore class who will likely make huge leaps, led by point guard Ramar Smith and center Wayne Chism, and the Vols should be more dangerous than ever.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-11)

I’ll be the one to say it: 2007-2008 Gonzaga may be the best Zags team we have ever seen. The Zags have been overlooked by many. But with Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Micah Downs and freshman Austin Daye, there is plenty of talent to go around in Spokane. Daye is a monster: a long, athletic shooter with the look of a young Rashard Lewis. He will likely crack the starting lineup by midseason. Pargo is this team’s heart, and the energetic point guard has all the talent and desire necessary to lead a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. With Heytvelt manning the post, Mark Few has more talent than ever. And we all know he can do the coaching thing pretty well.

8. Michigan State Spartans (23-12)

Coach Tom Izzo and senior guard Drew Neitzel are one heck of a duo. Both simply instinctively win, regardless of what surrounds them. Last season, they were out on a bit of an island. But expect more help this time around. Sophomore Raymar Morgan is one of the most improved players in college basketball. His all-around skill is obvious and he’s impressing just about everyone. Freshmen Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers should provide a spark, and the front court has a lot of big game experience. And when the game is on the line, Neitzel is always available. And that alone is enough to put them amongst the title contenders.

9. Indiana Hoosiers (21-11)

Eric Gordon. He may be the biggest recruit in a decade for Indiana, certainly the biggest since Jared Jeffries came to Bloomington. His arrival puts the Final Four into picture for every Hoosiers fan. Teaming with senior center D.J. White and a core of experienced players, Gordon will be the offensive focus of the best Hoosiers team in years. Juco transfer Jamarcus Ellis was another, less noticeable recruiting coup. The Hoosiers have the ability to extend their season deep into March but may not have the depth or overall talent to win the championship. That doesn’t mean their fans won’t expect them to.

10. Pittsburgh Panthers (29-8)

The Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon era has made Pittsburgh perhaps the most consistent team in college basketball. And they’re only improving. Freshmen DeJuan Blair and Bradley Wanamaker headline the best recruiting class of the era, and the returnees have a lot of potential. Blair, a center, and forward Sam Young will take on starring roles. Young is explosive, Blair is steady and strong. Senior guard Levance Fields is the chemistry guy and gutsy defender. Together, they give the Panthers the type of leadership and skill that could push the team beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1974 (when there were only 25 teams invited to the Big Dance).

11. Washington State Cougars (26-8)

The Cougars snuck up on the world next season. But after losing only one rotation player from last season’s Pac-10 second place team, coach Tony Bennett has a new challenge: expectation. Wazzou played tough defense and slowed the pace of play last season, and they will surely value those properties again this time around. Despite playing mid-major style basketball, they’ve got a lot of talent. Swingman Kyle Weaver does a bit of everything and can run the offense and forward Daven Harmeling is one of the most explosive hot/cold scorers in the nation. And Derrick Low is one of the best shooting guards in the nation. They still don’t have the talent to match the big boys, but a second year in the system could give the Cougars the discipline and chemistry to compete with anyone.

12. Duke Blue Devils (22-11)

Throughout his sophomore year, Josh McRoberts’s story was one of unmet expectations. And so went the 2006-2007 basketball season for the Blue Devils. McRoberts is gone. A new star has risen. Freshman Kyle Singler, alongside a strong supporting cast loaded with wings, will have another set of huge expectations placed upon them. But the chemistry seems better this time around, and point guard Greg Paulus looks better than ever. Expect a true rebound for Duke

13. Texas A&M Aggies (27-7)

So what happens when you lose the coach that rebuilt your program and the best player in its history? You rebuild and look for a repeat Sweet Sixteen performance. The Aggies are primed, with new coach Mark Turgeon in place and center DeAndre Jordan, the best recruit in school history, ready to join the fray of returnees. Bill Gillespie and Acie Law IV will be missed. But Josh Carter, Joseph Jones and Jordan are more than enough to compete for a Big 12 title again.

14. Louisville Cardinals (24-10)

The Cardinals lost one of the most exciting games of the NCAA Tournament last year. This season has Rick Pitino thinking bigger. Even with injuries to David Padgett and Juan Palacios, there is still a ton of talent. Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter are high-potential sophomore forwards while Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee and Jerry Smith. Holding it all together is swingman Terrence Williams. Williams must improve his efficiency for his junior season, but as a whole no one can overlook Louisville as a major threat.

15. Oregon Ducks (29-8)

Aaron Brooks will be missed. No one should doubt that. The Ducks were Brooks’ team last year, and the senior was as valuable to his team as any player in the nation. But Ernie Kent has a lot to work with again. Bryce Drew and Malik Hairston are as talented as any pair of wings in the nation. And despite a lack of size, Oregon’s “big men” Maarty Leunen (6-feet-9-inches) and Joevan Catron (6-feet-6-inches) can rebound. Point guard may be an issue with the loss of Brooks, though, as Tajuan Porter is a pure shooting guard.

16. Syracuse Orange (24-11)

The Orange are a young, talented team who are assured of some ups-and-downs. Paul Harris is a monster inside and he’ll be joined by Donté Green, one of the top freshmen in the nation. Together they will lead the Orange, who have one of the top starting lineups in the country with Harris, Green, freshman Jonny Flynn, junior Eric Devendorf and sophomore Arinze Onuaku. Depth may be an issue but there’s a lot to like.

17. Texas Longhorns (25-10)

Goodbye Kevin Durant, hello offensive balance. Durant needed to carry the Longhorns last season. But with his departure comes a team that should utilize a variety of weapons, starting with the backcourt duo of dynamic D.J. Augustin and streaky A.J. Abrams. If the front court can produce offensively – most of the Longhorn big men are defenders first – this team could go well past where Durant led them.

18. Marquette Golden Eagles (24-10)

Take 2? The Golden Eagles had major expectations entering next season, with the world expecting huge seasons from a trio of then-sophomore guards. Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are back for another shot after last year’s relative disappointment. Joined by transfer point guard Maurice Acker and reserve David Cubillan, the Golden Eagles have the deepest backcourt in the nation. The big men should be improved. It’s time to show all that potential.

19. Arizona Wildcats (20-11)

Chase Budinger, simply put, an offensive machine. The wing proved last year he can do everything… except play defense. Now, Arizona as a whole needs to toughen up. The Wildcats are hyper-athletic and offensively outstanding. Point guard Jerryd Bayless is a fiery competitor and super talent and big man Jordan Hill’s increased roll should help with that defense.

20. Kansas State Wildcats (23-12)

As the media circus looked for a second Kevin Durant, many top analysts argued that there simply wouldn’t be one. Well, maybe not. But that’s more because Michael Beasley is even more NBA-ready than Durant was early last season. Beasley may not have QUITE the upside of Durant, but his rebounding tenacity and polished offensive game are enough to carry the Wildcats.

21. N.C. State Wolfpack (20-16)

N.C. State basketball fans get a bad rap for constantly comparing themselves to North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest. But I think they have every right to hold such expectations. And this season, it appears they’ll be able to compete with their instate rivals. Brandon Costner, J.J. Hickson and Ben McCauley give the Wolfpack one of the strongest front courts in the nation.

22. Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-14)

Memphis coach John Calipari throws his players into a frenzied, maddening, high-pace basketball better than anyone in the nation. But Miss State coach Rick Stansbury comes close. The Bulldogs should fly up and down the court with a bevel of athletic weapons, led by under-heralded superstar Jamont Gordon at the point or on the wing.

23. Davidson Wildcats (29-5)

Stephen Curry is all the hype in the mid-major world. For good reason. The thin-as-a-rail guard has the shooting stroke of his father, Dell, and the overall scoring ability to light up any gym at any given time. Combine Curry’s talents with a full returning rotation and you have a team that should be able to put together a similar record to last season’s 29-5 mark…with a little tournament success perhaps sprinkled on top.

24. Virginia Cavaliers (21-11)

Sean Singletary wasn’t ready for the NBA. The undersized guard still had some work to do, and he returned to Charlottesville, Va., to do it. Now, he will lead the Cavaliers to one of their best seasons in recent memory. Adrian Joseph and Mamadou Diane look ready to develop into stars, and the frontcourt has a lot of able, if unspectacular, bodies.

25. Southern Illinois Salukis (29-7)

The Salukis have developed into one of the top mid-major program for a reason: stifling defense. They swarm, attack, and play with relentless energy for 40 minutes. They are one of the most difficult teams in the nation to match up against, and with forward Randall Falker leading them, they have just enough firepower to take them back to the tournament for, perhaps, another Sweet Sixteen run.

OVERRATED/UNDERRATED

Every year, hype is thrown out all over the place in college basketball. And every year, there are a few swing-and-a-miss cases, where hype is misguided into a team’s favor early, as well as a few strike-out-looking cases, where no one saw that coming. Last season, LSU was everyone’s swing-and-a-miss, along with Josh McRoberts’ can’t-miss abilities. Meanwhile, no expected Washington State to do anything and Derrick Byars wasn’t exactly a hot pick to be an All-American candidate.

OVERRATED: Louisville | UNDERRATED: Pittsburgh

Admittedly, I have a bit of an advantage over a number of publications’ preview specials in that I have seen a little bit of the season already. Still, Louisville is not a top 10 team, yet some are claiming they are a top five team. I’m not sold that Derrick Caracter has the fitness or mentality to play big minutes consistently. And without David Padgett, Caracter will need to. Juan Palacios would help, but he can’t stay healthy either and is out till at least December. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh makes the Sweet Sixteen seemingly every year these days. So why is it that no one expects anything big from them? Jamie Dixon is a really great coach, the system works, and Sam Young and Dejuan Blair are two of the best players ever to come to Pitt.

OVERRATED: D.J. White, Indiana | UNDERRATED: Tyrese Rice, Boston College

White is being put on All-American teams by just about every major analyst in the nation. And don’t get me wrong, he’s a really good post player. But he’s never shown the ability to consistently take over games, and he’ll be Indiana’s second option offensively behind Eric Gordon. He needs to improve his toughness, although the new fitness regiment was crucial. Rice, on the other hand, has almost no preseason hype. Everyone’s projecting the Eagles to the NIT. But Rice is a superstar in the making. He’s one of the top point guards in the country and could easily average over 20 points per game for the Eagles.

OVERRATED: O.J. Mayo, USC | UNDERRATED: James Anderson, Ok. State

O.J. Mayo might have peaked two years ago. The man has been surrounded by absurd hype all of his high school career, but I’m wondering whether he is considered a top 5 player in his high school class simply because of his name. He’s a poor decision-maker who probably won’t be able to carry USC to another Sweet Sixteen, as some expect. Certainly, when Mayo is hot he is outstanding. But he relies too much on his jump shot and should be playing shooting guard. Anderson drew no where near as much hype, but may be just as good as Mayo. He’s got amazing athleticism and a good shot. His scoring instincts and overall ability make him a prototype shooting guard who should make an easy transition into the NBA in a year or two.

OVERRATED: John Brady, LSU | UNDERRATED: Matt Painter, Purdue

Coaches are often left alone by the mass media. But Brady can be simply frustrating to watch at times. He’s a very good recruiter, and that alone has allowed him to keep his job. The matter was helped by a surprise Final Four appearance two years ago. But don’t go thinking Brady is a genius and deserves a break for last season. Time and time again he makes poor in-game decisions. And knowing he had no point guards on his roster, he only recruited unheralded Bo Spencer at the position. He’s forced his wings to run the point guard position many times in the past, but perhaps never as much as he will have to this year. Meanwhile, Painter is quietly turning Purdue into a Big Ten power. Expect an NCAA Tournament for the Boilermakers this season, led by one of the top 5 recruiting classes in the nation. Painter is an intelligent head coach who has always got the most out of his players. The only thing keeping Purdue from becoming a national power is the threat that Painter may leave.

Thanks for reading, guys. The weekly columns will start next week.

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