Mikeness30's Pre-Season Top 25

Well it is that magical and wonderful time of the year again known as college basketball season. Not that my opinion truly amounts to a hill of beans, but like every other pontificator out there I have a top 25 of pre-season college teams who I feel, if they stay healthy and intact throughout the year certainly all have a chance at making noise come March. Here they are and why I have them there.

1. Michigan State- Some will scoff, oh heck many will scoff at my putting MSU number 1 but unlike the other two consensus numbers 1's MSU is actually very well coached and not simply a collection of athletes. Tom Izzo is one of the top ten coaches in the land and year in and year out he proves just that. This team has talent, depth and finally a group that can apply the defensive pressure Coach Izzo preaches and desires. Their defense is good but often very foul prone in the post season when officials seem to suddenly remember the rules of the game and where their whistles are thus creating problems for a team that has been breaking the rules all year long in the very physical big ten.

2. Kansas- Roy is gone and Bill is there and things will still be good for the Jayhawks. Self brings with him his high low offense that will play well with the trio of big men the Jayhawk's have. Padgett, if healthy after his injury problems last year has a chance to really step up with his all round interior game and really show the reason he was so coveted. The one thing the Jayhawks still lack though is outside shooting. J.R. Giddens, another freshman, will have to step up from the outside if the Jayhawks hope to not have teams simply pack the paint on them.

3. UConn- A team that many have picked as the number one team in the land but a team that also lacks some on the court leadership, though they have several very viable candidates. Mr. Gordon is a little too worried about his points to be a true leader and Mr. Okafor, while very intelligent also tends to be a little to involved in what he is doing to lead as well. A team that will never be classified as over-coached, they want to beat you up on defense and shoot the ball up and get it off the glass on offense. Passers need not apply here unless your name is Taliek Brown in which case you have that ten foot limit to your allowed range.

4. Texas- I am still a bit befuddled by how easily many folks are simply saying without Ford Texas will be only a shadow of itself. T. J. was a great college player but one who would at times over-penetrate and never really was consistent beyond 15 feet. With all of the scoring punch and toughness that the Longhorns bring to the table in all of the other positions Ford will not be as missed as folks think he will. Texas has bulk and finesse in quantities most other teams do not. They also have a true leader in James Thomas who would run through a brick wall to get a rebound. The one question plaguing coach Barnes will be what tempo this team should play at. Without a true point guard it might be difficult to run as much as the athleticism of this team would warrant.

5. Duke- This is one of those teams with a lot of paper talent but some glaring weaknesses. One of the weaknesses is leadership. This team sorely lacks it on the court. Coach K will have his kids playing hard but Chris Duhon has to step up and be the player he was picked to be last year. It is apparent, however, that with the emergence of Lual Deng that Shavilick Randolph may want to find himself another school if he wants to continue his college career somewhere else other then the bench. Duke will need to continue using the well spaced one game type motion they used last year with some of those entry plays to continue to get shots for Reddick and Ewing as well. Their weak side defense has got to get better without an overly quick team they will find themselves awful susceptible to dribble penetration and off the ball picks still. As long as they continue to apply the kind of defensive pressure they have in the past they will continue to have troubles with quicker teams and considering the fact that Duke as a team has average to below average foot speed this spells trouble.

6. Gonzaga- Everyone's favorite Cinderella has grown up and is now not just the queen of the ball but is running the show. If anyone was not a believer they should have been made one last year with that second round game against Arizona. The Zags return everyone essentially and add some firepower in the form of one transfer, two freshman and one red shirt. Blake Stepp is open the moment he walks into the gym. Corey Viollette when focused is one of the strongest and most athletic four men in the country and last year was Ronny Turiaf's coming out party. A surprise might well be freshman Adam Morrison, while not exactly a defensive whiz has very little fear and at 6'8" also has range out beyond the 25 foot mark. In order for the Zags to get past that third or fourth round into the dance they will have to learn how to play defense on both an individual and team basis because this is something that has long plagued them and may well again this year.

7. Syracuse- A team that lost Carmelo Anthony but retained a whole lot of talent and one of the best PG's in the country in Gerry McNamara. A kid who is a very good leader and just does whatever it takes to win. The incoming freshman will be needed immediately, but there is athleticism in Hakim Warrick up front and strength in Forth. The one problem that has long caused the Orangemen problems beside free throw shooting has been their inability to rebound out of their zone consistently. This year especially, if they hope to make a run in the tourney they will have to rebound a lot better out of that zone than they did in the second half of last years national title game against Kansas.

8. Arizona- This teams looks great on paper and in the airport but will be another team looking for leadership from younger players and guys who have not had to provide any leadership to date. This team has a lot of athletes but not necessarily a ton of basketball players on it. Channing Frye still needs to get tougher and Adams and Iguodala have got to become more than put back and break finishers. They have to actually develop some sort of offensive arsenal. Salim Stoudamire is one of the biggest "big game" players in the country. Once again though, this team is faced with the question of their only being one basketball to go around.

9. Missouri- A team that has top five talent but how much of that talent will be around at the end of the season is not something anyone really can tell you with any absolute certainty. One thing that has been rather apparent is that teams under Coach Snyder who have had expectations tend to fold early and often. Missouri usually has found a way to implode somewhere during the season when they have had expectations. Snyder is a coach with a good pedigree, as if victories are based upon that, but seems to often have a problem communicating what he wants and or sees to his kids. One thing is for sure though, Arthur Johnson can score on the low block.

10. Kentucky- Last year was one of the most memorable in Kentucky history until Keith Bogans went down with an ankle sprain against Marquette. This years Kentucky team has three of the better players in the country in Fitch, Daniels and Hayes. One thing this team does not lack is leadership and toughness. Depth on the other hand might become a factor for the Cats if some of the other players don't step up. Coach Smith last year did a masterful job and it all started with his team's man to man defense. If this year's team can do the same they have a chance to make some noise come March as long as they can rebound.

11. Florida- Loads of talent, a very enthusiastic coach but not one of the more well coached teams, especially on the offensive end. Billy Donovan's Florida teams have usually had an abundance of talent and tenacity on defense but when it comes to the offense they look like fish out of water. Typically going through multiple offenses and sets trying to find the right one as the year goes on, Florida's success tends to fluctuate greatly. If Billy D can get something that fits his team and stick with it throughout the year Florida is a team that could be awful scary come March.

12. Stanford- Watching the Cardinal play usually only can lead you to suppose and or say one thing: how are they actually winning? It has been a few years now since Stanford had the kind of talent that would explain that success so very readily but when that talent is not so readily apparent you only need to look down the bench to the man who is coaching. One of the top ten coaches in this country, Mike Montgomery simply finds a way to get it done in a place very few others actually could.

13. North Carolina- All is right again in the land of Carolina Blue because Coach Williams has returned. Unfortunately there has not been anyone really steering the ship so to speak for the past three years so what Coach Williams is inheriting is a huge and daunting task of teaching from the ground up. If there was one coach out there who's name is not Knight who could do it though, UNC has found that one guy. These kids will all have nearly vertical learning curves but these are talented kids with good basketball IQ's who should absorb this stuff in massive quantities. The one true weakness for the Heels though is in their lack of depth.

14. Wisconsin- Another team that often seems to fly way to far under the national radar until they are smacking some much more well thought of team around come tourney time. Loaded with returning players and bringing in more talented size only assures Coach Ryan of another successful campaign in the Big Ten wars. Wisconsin's one problem can be looking to replace that go to guy that they had in Mr. Penny. Wisconsin still tends to have problems with teams who have a lot more quickness then they do and this will be something Bo will have to continue to prepare for.

15. Cincinnati- Hate him or love him Bob Huggins is one of the top five coaches in America. The man can simply coach. That said, he has, as usual, a whole new crop of kids and with a little elbow grease, some yelling, screaming and cursing should have them battle hardened come tournament time. Last year Cincy struggled at times to put the ball in the hoop but with season of learning under some of his younger player's belts they should be much more capable on the offensive end. There is one thing you can take to the bank and that is that a Bob Huggins' team will defend.

16. St. Joseph's- Time to talk about one of the little guys, well two of the little guys. One named Nelson and the other Martelli. One is a top five guard in the country and the other is a top ten coach in the country. Not bad for a little catholic school in Philadelphia. This is a team that needs to find inside scoring, but has a great trio of guards and coach who will never quit nor allow this team to quit. Inside depth will be a problem but as long as St. Joseph's can play the tempo they want it will be awfully hard to stop those three guards.

17. Pittsburgh- It is awful tough to come in and follow a guy like Ben Howland but I would like to turn people's attention to exhibit A: Davis following Knight at Indiana. Coach Dixon steps into a head coaching job with all kinds of talent and players that have been for the most part so well coached that even if he simply does nothing more than replicate what Howland did this team will be one of the best defensively and find ways to score when they need to. A lot of folks are counting the Panthers out because Howland left, I am not so sure I agree with that sentiment.

18. Illinois- The Illini lost a coach and an All-American forward but return some wonderful talent and but brought in a very capable coach in Bruce Webber and still have a very talented roster. The one thing that the Illinois will need to find early a floor leader. Dee Brown is the logical choice but Deron Williams at times last year seemed to have that necessary spark and vocal ability on the court. They have size and athleticism but will need time to adjust to Coach Weber's program.

19. Wake Forest- Anyone who thinks last year was a Josh Howard lead fluke had better think again. Skip Prosser will do whatever it takes against whoever he is playing to win. He will box and one you, triangle and two you or switch up defenses every other time down court. Prosser's teams are some of the most defensively diversified in the land. One problem is that at times this hurt them because they never truly played any of them at a stellar level. Wake will have two of the best frontcourt players in Eric Williams and Vytas Danelius. A lot will be riding on the leadership and production that freshman PG Chris Paul can bring to the team.

20. Oklahoma- Kelvin Sampson has taken a football school and also added basketball to its list of loves. The Sooners will once again be a very defensive oriented team but will sorely miss the leadership of Price and White and their defensive capabilities. Without two lead guards who can get out there pressure, push, pull and hold the other team's guards, OU will be hard pressed to strike the fear they did last year in the hearts of many of their opponents. Still, this is a team that is young for the most part and will get better as the season progresses.

21. Louisville- Pitino is back and so are the Cards. With a talented crop of incoming freshmen and some more seasoned players returning Rick and the running Cards should be poised to press and three point bomb the heck out of C-USA. A team that will still be looking for a consistent down low scorer, there will be no lack of firepower from the outside with Dean and Garcia but there might be a lack of basketballs to go around at times.

22. Oklahoma State- Eddie Sutton continues to get it done in the Big-12 by having one of the best defensive teams year in and year out in the Big-12. Once again, however, the cowboys will not necessarily be an offensive juggernaut. Looking for more offensive firepower will be Coach Sutton's task all year long. Still, not a team anyone wants to face in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

23. BYU- Here they come, the Stormin' Mormons. Ain't it scary? Okay so the thought of cherubic boys in white shirts and ties does not necessarily scare you unless they are knocking on your front door it might well be smart to be a bit scared this season. Coach Cleveland has a veteran squad that has size and athleticism. With Mark Bigelow back and some returning players from missions the Cougars have a chance to make some folks very nervous again somewhere outside of their local neighborhood.

24. California- Ben Braun has brought the Golden Bears back a long ways from where he found them. With the addition of Leon Powe and Mr. Ubaka, Cal is now poised to make it self heard in the Pac-10 and nationally. One thing the Golden Bears still lack, however, is over-all toughness as a team on both the defensive end and on the boards. Of course this could be said of most if not all of the Pac-10 team's year in and year out.

25. Auburn- It is about time for Cliff Ellis to have a good team again, just one of those things that you can sort on bank on like leap year. Auburn was a team that played ugly last year but even worse, they made their opponents play ugly. Always a well coached team on the defensive end, it will fall upon Coach Ellis' shoulders to look for some more offensive fire power in order to get the Tigers into the elite 8 this year.

Teams to Watch: Temple, N.C. State, Maryland, Xavier, Richmond, Notre Dame, Memphis, Wichita State, Utah, Oregon, LSU, Manhattan, Holy Cross, College of Charleston

bayers@firstbancorp.com


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