|Nov. 8th, 2006 @ 07:08 pm My 2nd Annual College Basketball Preview|
|Nearly one year ago tonight, the first night of college basketball on ESPN2, I wrote, for the first time, my college basketball preview, calling sleeper teams such as UCLA, and having two of my Final Four predictions make it all the way to the Elite Eight. And while I didn't see the likes of Witchita State or George Mason or Bradley prospering the way that they did come tournament time, I still believe, that of all the sports that I know, college basketball is my personal area of "expertise" if you will.|
This college basketball season is shaping up to be absolutely spectacular. Why? Well, for the first time since 1998, a defending champion brings back their entire starting five. However, Arizona didn't repeat in '98. Arkansas didn't repeat in '95. Not since Duke in 1991 and '92 has a team gone back to back. And they were the first to do it since the Legend of Westwood was sitting on the bench watching guys named Alcindor and Walton. Does that mean that Florida can't repeat as national champions? Absolutely not. But history is against them.
Who stands behind Florida? By all national prognosticators, North Carolina and Kansas are clearly the second and third best teams in the country. But I'm not sure I buy them. Why? Youth. It's the same reason I don't like Ohio State to finish better than 11-5 in the Big Ten. The speed and size at this level is different than high school. And there is more to basketball than raw talent. It's also hard to take kids who are used to being the man all by themselves and fit them into a team concept. Villanova almost did it last year. But here's the problem with those teams: Bill Self and Roy Williams. Roy Williams had the most talented college basketball team in the last ten years and was a bad call away from losing to Villanova in the Sweet 16. Bill Self? Well, he hasn't won an NCAA tournament game in the last two years with the Jayhawks. Yes these coaches can recruit. Yes they have talent. But can they put it all together and make a run to Atlanta despite their youth? Time will tell.
Wisconsin is ranked 9th preseason. I think they might be the most underrated team right now. Yes, I said it. Underrated. The name who is going to emerge as an all-conference player this year? Jason Chappell. Yes, Jason Chappell. He looked amazing in the red-white scrimmage. He looked even better against Stout. His decision making and shot have improved and he's finally being more aggressive. He's always had talent. He's just never harnessed it, and in fact looked lost on the court in many situations last year. Not anymore. He's going to have a GREAT year. The name who could be a freshmen All-American? Jason Bohannon. His game reminds me of Jason Williams, except he doesn't have all of the tatoos. He is relentless, his range is limitless, and he's already the best ballhandler on the team. I saw this team play in their scrimmage against Stout. They're big, they can shoot, and they are quicker than any Wisconsin team. Ever. This team is fast. Wisconsin has the best team they've ever had, and it's not even close. They are going to win the Big Ten going away this year, and should be either a 1 or 2-seed come the NCAA tournament.
Watch out for Georgetown this year. They're going to be really good. Everyone is picking Pitt to win the Big East. I'm picking Georgetown. They might have the best frontcourt in the country with Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green coming back. They're going to be good.
Another team to watch for? Arizona. Yes, I know, I'm an Arizona fan. But Chase Budinger is going to draw immediate comparisons to Adam Morrison. Not just because he's white. Well, mostly because he's white, but he can shoot it from anywhere and can create his own shot. He's my pick for Freshman of the Year nationally.
Will Florida even win the SEC this year? LSU brings everyone but Tyrus Thomas back. Tennessee brings almost everyone back as well. Don't forget, Tennessee beat Florida twice last year. Alabama is going to be really good too, and Kentucky is always around come tournament time.
My biggest sleeper team from a major conference? Georgia Tech. They bring nearly everyone back from last year and add a stellar freshmen class, including Thaddeus Young. Get to know that name. It will get called within the first five picks of next year's NBA Draft.
The highest ranked team who won't live up to the hype? I'll take two: Pittsburgh and Kansas. Pitt wasn't that great last year, and don't have a real good freshmen class coming in, not to mention the heart and soul of that team, Carl Krauser, was a senior last year. Yes, everyone makes a big deal about Aaron Gray coming back. But while he may be the best rebounder in the country, most of his points came because of Krauser's penetration and incredible knack to pass the ball into very small spaces. Pitt won't finish in the top 3 in the Big East. On the other hand, Kansas is already having issues. Their starting center, C.J. Giles, just got dismissed from the team for reapeated violations of team rules. Also, Sasha Kaun will miss the first two months with a broken foot, and may miss the entire season. Their team is based on guard play, but are there enough minutes and enough ball to keep all of the playmakers happy? My guess is no. This team could self destruct early and limp into the NCAA tournament. Look for Texas and Texas A&M to give them trouble in the Big 12.
If Greg Oden is out until January with a broken wrist, is Ohio State really worthy of the high preseason ranking? Given their tough early season schedule, they might not be ranked by the time Oden returns. He's worth the hype though, and rumors are already swirling that he may not be one and done at Ohio State. If that's true, just hand them next season's NCAA championship trophy.
Time for some final predictions:
Final Four: Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Arizona, Wisconsin
National Champion: Wisconsin
I've wrestled with myself on this one for about two months now. Is this really a homer pick? Because they way I look at it, no one can match up with Wisconsin. They can go big, they can go small, and they can play fast. They match up with Florida's size, Carolina's guards, and remember, before Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma got suspended last season, they were ranked 13th in the country and had just beaten Michigan State by 25. The freshmen that they have may not be as heralded as others around the country, but Jason Bohannon and Travon Hughes can both play. They're good enough to start for this team. Kam Taylor and Jason Chappell are going to break out huge this year. And Tucker will be a first-team All-American. They can go 12 deep, and remember, when Bo Ryan won his national championships at UW-Platteville, they used a deep rotation and full court pressure to simply wear teams out. Wisconsin can shoot, they can rebound, they can play defense, and they can run. It seems like a homer pick, it really does, I know that even as I write it. But Florida lost a lot of depth. North Carolina and Kansas are young. Arizona lost a lot of athleticism when Hassan Adams graduated. And Georgetown's guard play, while very good, isn't quite at Wisconsin's level.
Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina. I think it's going to be Tucker. But the national media loves this guy, and it's his award to lose. I don't think he'll lose it.
If a Final Four Team Falters, Watch Out For: LSU, UCLA, Texas A&M
Sleepers: Georgia Tech, Marquette, Kansas State
This Year's George Mason: Creighton, Hofstra, Winthrop. Remember, Hoftstra beat George Mason twice last year, and brings nearly everyone back, and Creighton beat George Mason on the road by 20, and Nate Funk comes back for another season after injuries plagued him last year. He was the MVC Player of the Year two years ago. Winthrop was a tournament team from a year ago that nearly beat Tennessee in the first round. They bring 4 starters back.
That's my college basketball roundup. Will I be right? Will I be completely wrong? I'm not sure. But it'll be fun to watch and find out.