IlliniBoard.com: Pre-Season Top Ten

Every one and their grandmother writes a Pre-Season Top Twenty-Five, but that requires a lot of effort. So instead, Brumby decided it would be less effort to just do a Pre-Season Top Ten. Does Brumby have the Illini in his Top Ten, or will they be on the outside looking in? Only people that attempt to read this article will know the answer to that question.

Its late October, so that means the leaves are falling off the trees. Young kids are attempting to figure out what they will wear for Halloween in an effort to get as much candy as possible. College football fans are stating how much of a farce the BCS is, and how a college football tournament would be the best way to determine a "true" national champion (this talk will pick up come late November, though). And college basketball fans are picking their best teams, their Final Fours, and dreaming of long NCAA Tournament runs for their teams.

That means it is a perfect time for IlliniBoard.com to go away for just a moment from specifically covering the Fighting Illini, and give a brief national preview. So without further adieu, the IlliniBoard.com Pre-Season Top Ten:

1. NORTH CAROLINA
After winning his first National Championship in 2005, Roy Williams' Tar Heels were supposed to be rebuilding last year. Instead, led by freshman Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels finished last season 23-8. Now, after his yearly sabbatical from recruiting, Williams brings in the best recruiting class in the country (yes, of course Ohio State's got more press, but Williams' is better) to add to last year's team who will just be missing David Noel.

Williams' freshman class of 2006 is amazing. Williams managed to convince the best power forward (Brandan Wright), the best shooting guard (Wayne Ellington), and the best point guard (Tywon Lawson) in the country to come to Chapel Hill and play basketball. Would all these players have ended up in Chapel Hill had the NBA not passed their new legislation barring players from declaring for the draft until one year after their high school classes have graduated? No, but for Tar Heel fans, that doesn't matter.

It took Roy Williams eighteen seasons to win a National Championship. IlliniBoard.com thinks he will win his second National Championship in his twentieth season as head coach, just two years removed from his first. This is why he moved from Kansas to North Carolina in 2003.

2. KANSAS
Just five years ago, a Kansas coach removed a monkey from his back as Roy Williams brought his stuffed animal Stank'Em to the post game press conference after Kansas beat Syracuse to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons. Will another monkey be removed from the back of another Kansas coach who has failed to live up to his fan's expectations in the NCAA Tournament this year? Probably, and if it does, will Bill Self bring a stuffed animal to the post-game press conference after escaping the first round of the NCAA Tournament?

Self's Jayhawks should get through the first round of the NCAA Tournament this season, because they will most likely be a number one seed. They play in the Big XII conference, which The Sporting News, has rated as the sixth best conference in the country (the lowest of the BCS Conferences), and their non-conference schedule is not the most difficult, despite the made-for-TV game against the defending champion Florida Gators in Las Vegas.

The issue with Kansas this season is not whether or not they have the talent to win. They do. The issue is whether or not Bill Self and his coaches can get his players to mesh as a team, and not have any issues with playing time. Whether or not they can do that is the question. If Self can get that done, this team will be in Atlanta.

3. FLORIDA
How can Florida be just third? They are the defending National Champion, and they return all five starters. For one thing, while Florida is still a damn good basketball team, other teams have caught up to them in the talent wars. For another, it is rare to find a team that is as hungry as they were during the first championship run. Will Joakim Noah be as interested in basketball this year as he was last year while he is the BMOC? For another, last season in college basketball was a down year.

All of this doesn't take anything away from the Gators, and they are still the National Champion until someone dethrones them. The Gators have a tougher road than most, though, and no team has repeat as National Champions since Duke did in 1991 and 1992.

4. UCLA
The big question for the Bruins heading into this season is how are they going to be able to replace Jordan Farmar, now of the Los Angeles Lakers? Ben Howland will rely on Darren Collison, who came on strong at the end of last season to replace Farmar in the Bruin lineup. Collison's biggest asset is his speed, and Howland will try to reign in his speed and hope that he can see the court just half as good as Farmar did last season en route to UCLA's appearance in the National Championship game.

What will make Howland happy this season when he looks at his team, is that he still has Junior Arron Affalo and sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on his roster. Both of these two players should be fighting it out to be the Pac 10's Player of the Year in what is a very improved conference over a year ago.

5. PITTSBURGH
As much play as the coaching carousel of the spring of 2003 got for Illinois, Kansas, and North Carolina, it was ignored completely between as UCLA and Pittsburgh both changed coaches: Howland to UCLA, and his former assistant Jaime Dixon replacing him at Pittsburgh. If you look back at the coaching changes made that Spring, you have five schools that have been represented very well in the NCAA Tournament, including three of the five teams appearing in the National Championship game. Would it be shocking that Pittsburgh makes it a fourth with a run to the Georgia Dome in 2007? Not at all.

Sure, Pittsburgh may play some of the most boring basketball this side of Air Force and Princeton, but the one thing they have done consistently is win basketball games. This year the Panthers will be without Carl Krauser, but seven foot senior Aaron Gray will still don the Panther uniform this season. Replacing Krauser will be difficult for Pittsburgh, but Dixon and the coaching staff really like junior Ronald Ramon and sophomore Levance Fields.

The remaining question for the Panthers is how their perimeter defense will be without Krauser, but considering the Panthers under both Howland and Dixon have been one of the best defensive teams in the country, it is assumed they will have that worked out by the time the season rolls around.

6. LOUISIANA STATE
Tyrus Thomas is now donning a Bulls jersey, and "Big Baby" Glenn Davis is slimmed down a lot. The big question for John Brady and his staff is how often Tack Minor will pass the ball. Many people thought Minor's injury last season was addition by subtraction, so Brady needs to prove to Minor that his best chance to make it in the NBA is to prove that he can be a point guard. If Minor decides to shoot the ball more than Bracey Wright did at Indiana, the Tigers will be a big disappointment.

While every college basketball fan knows about Glen Davis, and his Big Baby moniker, many college basketball fans don't know the other talent that is sitting on the Tigers' roster. Sophomore Tasmin Mitchell is going to look to replace Thomas' contributions on the front line, while senior Darnell Lazare will be inserted into the starting lineup in Thomas' place. Joining Minor in the Louisiana State backcourt will be Marquette transfer Dameon Mason.

Like Florida, playing in the SEC will give Louisiana some tough games along the way, but it should make them more battle tested come NCAA Tournament time.

7. WISCONSIN
The Badgers are the first team from the Big Ten on this list, though they wouldn't be if Greg Oden was not scheduled to be out for the first half of the season. This is the best team of the Bo Ryan era in Madison, and the expectations are high for the Badgers this season. There is no player of the same caliber as Devin Harris on this roster, but there are plenty of good players that fit well into Ryan's system.

Alando Tucker should be the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and he is the best player in the Big Ten Conference. Junior Brian Butch is a much-maligned player in Madison because he has not lived up to the hype that he had out of high school being named a McDonald's All American, but if you look past that hype, Butch is just what Bo Ryan likes in a big man. The rest of the players on the inside are what you would expect from a Wisconsin team under Bo Ryan, no-named, and always better than you expect them to be.

The key for the Badgers will be point guard play. Chris Rock look-a-like Kammron Taylor will start at point guard, but he would be much better playing at the shooting guard. Taylor can score the ball, but he is also adept at turning basic possessions into fast break opportunities for the defense. If Wisconsin is going to make a long run in March, someone needs to step up and move Taylor to the shooting guard position. The odds on favorite to do that this season is redshirt freshman Mickey Perry from Proviso East High School (the same high school that has recently produced Illinois' Dee Brown and Michigan State's Shannon Brown).

8. GEORGETOWN
There is a John Thompson roaming the sidelines for the Hoyas, but it is not the same one that coached Allen Iverson, it is his son John Thompson III. The Hoyas are heading into this season with a great junior class in Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, and Jonathan Wallace. To go with those juniors, Thompson III brought in a freshman class that includes two five-star power forwards in Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers. The front court for the Hoyas looks to be set for the present and the future, but it is the backcourt that is filled with questions for the Hoya staff.

Can freshman Jeremiah Rivers, son of Boston Celtic Head Coach Doc, come in and play right away? Will another outside shooter be able to emerge outside of Jonathan Wallace to keep defense's honest?

9. ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide are the third team from the SEC in the IlliniBoard.com Preseason Top Ten, and like the other two, they return a lot of players from a year ago. Mark Gottfried will have a lot of familiar faces when he looks down the bench this season, including four starters from a year ago. The Crimson Tide will miss Chuck Davis, but they are looking at Ronald Steele and Jermareo Davidson to repeat their All-SEC performance from a year ago.

10. ARIZONA
Some observers of the Wildcat program have stated that the losses of Chris Rodgers and Hassan Adams from the roster will be addition by subtraction, but only time will tell. What is obvious though, is that Arizona does have a very talented team, and they have experience. Many of the players on this year's team were also members of the team that lost to Illinois in the Elite Eight in Chicago in 2005.

Combine the veteran leadership with the extreme talent of sophomore Marcus Williams, and you have a recipe that Lute Olson hopes will lead his team to another Final Four. If Arizona learns to shoot from the outside, they should be a very difficult team to beat, especially considering once again, Arizona may have the best wing player in the country in Williams. To help improve the outside shooting, Lute Olson brought in McDonald's All American Chase Budinger, who should see action quickly in Tucson.

TEAMS TO WATCH AS THE SEASON PROGRESSES
These three teams are not teams that I would consider to be Top Ten at the beginning of the season, but I would not be shocked to see any of these four teams in Atlanta come April.

Texas: The Longhorns play in the weak Big XII, and they are looking to replace all five starters from a year ago. Unfortunately for Longhorn haters, Rick Barnes is not re-building he is reloading. By the time the conference season rolls around, he should have his freshmen ready to carve up the Big XII. The backcourt duo of freshmen DJ Augustin and Kevin Durant rivals North Carolina's freshmen twosome in terms of talent.

Ohio State: The talk of the Big Ten has been the Thad Five, but with Greg Oden sitting out for the majority of the year, they will not be as impressive as expected right off the bat. That is not to say they will not be good, but the only returning starter on the Buckeye roster is Jamar Butler. It should take a while for freshmen, even those as talented as Daequan Cook and Mike Conley to get acclimated to college basketball as they are thrust into the starting lineup.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets struggled last season and didn't make the NCAA Tournament, but things should be different in Atlanta this season. With freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young in the fold, Paul Hewitt's team should not be shocked to find themselves playing in their home town in April for the National Championship.


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