If All Return, Gators Tough To Pick Against

North Carolina and Ohio State are all worthy of preseason No. 1 mention in the summer and fall. But if Coach Billy Donovan's Florida cast returns intact, how can anyone but the Gators be the preseason choice to win the 2007 national championship?

If Joakim Noah makes good on his April 7 proclamation in Gainesville and, along with sophomore classmates Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green, as well as the program's other underclassmen, is in a University of Florida uniform in the fall, the Gators should be the consensus preseason No. 1.

 

Reasonable arguments could be made on behalf of North Carolina, where Tyler Hansbrough and a bunch of other quality underclassmen will be joined by the best freshman class in the country, as well as Ohio State, where the most dominant low-post presence to enter college since Shaquille O'Neal was a freshman at LSU in 1989, Greg Oden, will be donning a Buckeyes' uniform.

 

But the Gators, other than in their narrow Sweet 16 victory over Georgetown, were so dominant on their championship run that – assuming no key player defections – it would be something well beyond bold to have anyone but Billy Donovan's club as the favorite to win the 2007 crown.

 

By the way, didn't Sean May also make the "I'm coming back next season" vow, as well, during the post-championship celebration in Chapel Hill after North Carolina won it a year ago?

 

Yes, we've heard the "I'm coming back" declarations, after national championship celebrations (in football and basketball), before.

 

So there is an inclination to fall into the "I'll believe Noah is bypassing the NBA Draft when the April 29 deadline (for underclassmen to declare for the draft) has come and gone and he hasn't filed the draft paperwork" mode.

 

I think he would be the No. 1 choice, over the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas), Tyrus Thomas (LSU), Rudy Gay (Connecticut) or Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) – all underclassmen, with only the first already declaring for the draft -- if he were decide to skip his final two seasons of NCAA eligibility.

 

Yes, he is in need of bulk and strength to compete successfully on the NBA level and, yes, his jump shot needs a whole lot of refinement. But none of the aforementioned candidates for the top slot on June 28 have his combination of size, across-the-board athleticism, basketball skill, effort and exuberance.

 

Should he return for his junior season, I'd suggest that he would be the best college "big man" to turn his back on the draft since Tim Duncan returned for his 1996-97 senior season at Wake Forest.

 

BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY

*All of the college players out there who are still pondering the "should I go or should I stay?" question about the NBA Draft would be wise to consider the senior seasons that Brandon Roy and Randy Foye just enjoyed at Washington and Villanova, respectively – and what those performances meant to their NBA stock.

 

The consensus first-team All-Americas, and top five-finishers in the John R. Wooden Award balloting, could be the first guards selected on June 28. Yet, each would have been, at best, a late-second selection if they had opted to enter last year's draft pool after their junior seasons.

 

 The 6-foot-5 Roy has no problem with anyone referring to him as a "poster child" for the long-term basketball value of staying in college as long as possible.

 

"It (playing for four seasons for Lorenzo Romar) helped me to become a much more complete player," he said after J.J. Redick was announced as the Wooden Award winner in Los Angeles on Saturday.

 

"It shows that you (other college players) shouldn't be worrying about rushing to the NBA. You can enjoy your college experience and, in the end, it (the NBA) will still be there."

 

*Did anyone really think there was much of a chance that John Calipari was going to leave Memphis for North Carolina State?

 

Under its present makeup, Calipari and the Tigers should continue to dominate, more or less, Conference USA.

 

If he'd moved to Raleigh, Calipari would become one of the 10 coaches trying to finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski – excuse me, behind North Carolina and Duke – every season while working against the ACC, Big East and SEC for the bulk of the Wolfpack's potential recruits.

 

*The estimated 1,200 that turned out in North Hollywood, Calif, Tuesday morning for the funeral of Army head coach Maggie Dixon included quite a few men's college coaches.

 

Some of the head coaches of men's programs sighted included Ben Howland of UCLA (who served as a pallbearer for the sister of Pittsburgh men's coach Jamie Dixon), David Leitao (Virginia, the head coach at DePaul when Maggie Dixon was an assistant there), Jerry Wainwright (DePaul), Brad Holland (University of San Diego), Doug Wojcik (Tulsa) and Randy Bennett (Saint Mary's). Soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Geno Auriemma (Connecticut) was among the women's coaches paying their services.

 

*The return of sophomore guard Daniel Gibson (who said Monday night that he will not enter the NBA Draft pool) and junior forward P.J. Tucker (who hasn't make a decision yet) would all but lock Texas into the preseason Top 10 next fall, even with the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to the NBA.

 

Getting another strong presence in the post could be an issue, though. Although he's 6-10, McDonald's All-America Kevin Durant – one of the three best prospects in the Class of 2006 – is much more a perimeter player than he is someone Rick Barnes could keep almost exclusively in the high or low post areas.



 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com



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