It is that time of year again. The leaves are starting to fall off trees. The fall prime time schedules are running, and the networks are spending obscene amounts of money to get people to watch TV shows like Commander and Chief. Illinois football is mired in a losing season one in which it just seems like they can do nothing right after their comeback win over Rutgers to open the season. All these signs point to one thing: the college basketball season is starting. On Friday night in towns like Durham, Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Champaign, Columbia, Spokane, and Palo Alto college students will be lined up to watch their school start the college basketball season off with a bang in Midnight Madness celebrations.
Every expert is coming out with their own Top 25 list. Fans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean are dreaming of watching their teams cut down the nets on April 3, 2006 in Indianapolis, IN. Young freshmen will be looked upon to carry the burden of expectations from fans that have followed their high school career since they committed. Some of these freshmen will disappoint, and others will star. Every fan hopes their coach landed the next Carmelo Anthony.
So what did I do to get ready for the college basketball season? As I was returning from a friend's wedding in Kansas City this weekend, I saw the CBS SportsLine.com College Basketball Preview magazine with Dee Brown on the cover and picked it up. I sat down in the terminal and started to read the issue. The first thing I noticed was two former Daily Illini columnists listed as Contributing Writers (I will leave it up to you to figure out which two were DI columnists through the wonders of Google).
According to this magazine, the Top Ten teams in college basketball this season will be:
9. Texas Tech
The Illini were ranked 16, only behind Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference who was placed at 14.
Unfortunately for the authors of the magazine, it came out before it was announced that Marcus Williams and AJ Price were arrested for stealing four laptop computers, and subsequently suspended indefinitely from all future activities with the team. With that knowledge, it is a little hard to have UConn as a top ten team in the country, and I am sure they will be moved out of the Top Ten, and probably out of their Top 25.
Now, the UConn snafu not withstanding, this Top Ten is very suspect, as any Top Ten listing that includes two mid-major programs would be. Sure, we all know about Gonzaga and Adam Morrison. There has not been a minute that goes by in college basketball circles that the Gonzaga program has not been praised by a bevy of different talking heads saying this will be the year a mid-major makes the Final Four. Now, not only does this magazine have Gonzaga in the Top Ten, they have also thrown in Nick Fazekas' Nevada Wolfpack into the mix. Sure, it probably sells some magazines, but come on they are not a Top Ten team in the country. Other glaring issues with this list by their omission is Texas. Any team that combines PJ Tucker, Lamarcus Aldridge, Brad Buckman, and Daniel Gibson needs to be in the Top Five in pre-season rankings even if their star recruit CJ Giles ended up on the Utah Jazz roster.
Do you want to get your blood boiling? Check out their mock NCAA Tournament bracket. I am sure some Illini fans will love it. I don't want to spoil it for the nice people at CBS, but be sure to look at it next time you are sipping a latte in Borders or Barnes & Noble.
As far as some more Illini-specific information from the magazine, there is not much. Dee Brown is on the cover, is a Second Team Pre-Season All-American, and their pick for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Their preview of the Big Ten Conference includes a nice remembrance of the Illini season last year, and has Dee Brown as First Team All Big Ten. The preview of the Illini does not really tell Illini fans anything they did not know, but it is a nice capsule and defines James Augustine as the "key" to the Illini frontcourt stating that when he is confident, "he is one of the Big Ten's best big men", but that "he goes into a shell too often." Nothing shocking or ground breaking.
Outside of that, there was nothing really special from the preview magazine, but it did allow me to waste a good hour and a half while I waited for my plane in the Kansas City International Terminal.
In other news, CBS SportsLine's Gregg Doyel provided his positional rankings for point guards. Illinois' Dee Brown placed third behind Temple's Mardy Collins and Texas' Daniel Gibson. I think that is about where Dee Brown belongs. With Temple being in the Atlantic 10 and not to mention pretty bad, Collins pretty much flew under the radar of most college basketball fans. Daniel Gibson is a special talent that Rick Barnes will be looking at to lead the Longhorns back to the Final Four, much like he rode TJ Ford to the Final Four in 2003. While Brown could turn out to be a better point guard than both Collins and Gibson, this is the first time in four years that Dee has played the position, so there is still a question as to whether or not he can excel as the primary ball handler for a team.
Largest Mistake in Doyel's list: Rajon Rondo at 10. The Kentucky point guard, and former Illinois recruit, is way too low on this list. He is a better player than he is given credit for here, and he will prove it this year for the Wildcats.
Probably Ranked Too High on Doyel's List: Darius Washington at 5. Even though Doyel caveats his listing of Washington here by pointing out the 1.1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, he is expecting too much from him as a point guard to have him ranked this high. Don't get me rong, Washington is a very talented player, but he is not the fifth best point guard in college basketball.
Here is an interesting post from RiskyDecision on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Board that ranks many of the teams in the NCAA based on total wins in the last five seasons. What this exactly says, or what you should take of it, I am not exactly sure, but it definitely shows that in terms of overall wins, the Illini have been the second most successful program in college basketball in the past five years. The teams with 130 wins or more (26 wins per season over five years) according to this list are a list of who is who in college basketball: Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Arizona. No other teams had including teams that won the National Championship in that time frame in North Carolina (105), Syracuse (128), and Maryland (117). I guess if there is one thing that this does show is how consistent the Illini program has been over the last five years, a period which has included four Sweet 16 appearances (something that before 2000 Illinois had not done since 1989), four Big Ten Championships, and a Final Four appearance in 2005.
In some news across the Big Ten, Michigan's Brent Petway has been ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester, meaning he will not be able to help the Wolverines until the start of the conference season. This is a hit to Michigan, but Petway was behind Courtney Sims, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter on the depth chart in the front court anyways.
Now, it is time to move to Illinois football. I consider myself lucky that I was unable to watch the game this weekend against Indiana, but my mom saw it, and in her football expertise she told me that Illinois just looked "really bad." There you have it, a definite expert opinion on the Illini football team and how they have been playing in the last four weeks, "really bad" just about sums it up perfectly. Ron Zook's bunch will have an off week before their Homecoming tilt against the Penn State Nittany Lions, and Zook just wants his team to "get away from football" for a while. While his players are off, seven of Zook's assistants will be on the road recruiting looking for the speed and talent that is needed to turn around the Illini program left decimated by Ron Turner's recruiting mistakes and miscues.
If you want to find a bright spot for the Illini in this football season, it would have to be the emergence of freshman wide receiver Kyle Hudson. You can count me in as a guy who immediately counted Hudson out when I heard he committed to Ron Turner. Why? He committed to Ron Turner early, and that commitment was on the footsteps of Turner taking an offensive lineman who chose Illinois over Elon. Yep, Elon. Hudson has been a great surprise, and Ron Zook complimented Hudson on Sunday afternoon calling him "probably the best right now of the receivers." Kendrick Jones where are you? The answer to that question is probably making way for the young corps of Illini receivers, specifically Jody Ellis and Derrick McPhearson.
In some basketball recruiting news from the last two days, Scout.com's Dave Telep reports that Sherron Collins will be coming to Illinois for a visit on Homecoming weekend after he takes his ACT test. The next weekend he will be heading to Iowa, and the previous weekend he will be in Lawrence visiting the Kansas campus. 2007 Shooting Guard Eric Gordon has set up visits to Illinois for Midnight Madness and then Notre Dame the next day, while he just returned from the Purdue campus this past weekend.
Brumby's Daily Column: October 11, 2005
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