Bouncing around the country and inching closer to the start of the season . . .
*The Big East Conference's 16 head coaches selected Villanova (by a 9-7 vote) to finish in first place, directly in front of Connecticut, during the conference's regular-season race.
If there were a recall ballot today, I'm thinking the Huskies would be the first-place choice and by a much more comfortable margin than the two-vote edge the Wildcats had in the conference's poll.
Villanova's prospects for a conference title took a major hit recently when the program's best player, forward Curtis Sumpter, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee – the same ligament that was surgically repaired after the injury he suffered in the team's second-round NCAA tournament game against Florida.
Sumpter is scheduled to go undergo surgery to repair the knee again soon and it will test the boundaries of optimism to think he will be back this season. Fortunately for the 6-foot-7 Sumpter, who averaged 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, he's got a red-shirt season available.
The other bit of news that would kick Connecticut back to the top of any preseason Big East forecast put together now was the official word on Oct. 28 that junior point guard Marcus Williams' suspension from the program (for his role in the on-campus theft and attempted sale of four laptop computers) will be lifted in time to enable him to play in the team's Jan. 3 Big East opener at Marquette.
Williams will miss the team's opening games at Pepperdine and the EA Sports Maui Invitational, and then seven home games, beginning with the Nov. 29 contest vs. Army and wrapping up on Dec. 30 against Quinnipiac.
Look for the Huskies to be, at worst, 9-2 (giving them, at worst, a couple of losses on Maui), before Williams – one of the top half-dozen point guards in college – is back in uniform.
And then say hello to the No. 1 threat to Duke's national championship ambitions.
Despite the loss of Sumpter – and it is difficult to envision playing at all this season – Villanova is still a team that should be rated in the 10 to 15 range, nationally.
The Wildcats' collection of guards (seniors Randy Foye and Allan Ray, junior Mike Nardi and sophomore Kyle Lowry) borders on the sensational.
But the team isn't going to make a serious run at a regular-season conference title and a spot in the Final Four without at least some semblance of a post attack, with senior Jason Fraser (who has undergone seven surgeries since enrolling in college, three of those after last season) and junior Will Sheridan being the guys that Coach Jay Wright will have to count on the most.
*Mike Krzyzewski's appointment as the head coach for USA Basketball (thru the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing) last week was nearly as poorly kept a secret as was that Marcus Williams would be returning to Connecticut's lineup this season.
The Duke Hall of Fame coach's role with USA Basketball will barely impact the Blue Devils' program and, obviously, will have even less of an effect on the entirety of college basketball.
Krzyzewski has the art of multi-tasking down pat and I can't imagine anything stealing any of his focus away from the Blue Devils when that focus is necessary. The program doesn't run itself but he's got a staff made up of his former guards (Johnny Dawkins, Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins) who have a pretty good clue as to the way their mentor likes decisions made – with him on the bench or out of sight.
As for the impact he'll have on U.S. national teams – most specifically, in Beijing – it's more of a question of how many of the NBA's best players are willing to make the same kind of commitment to bringing gold medals back to the U.S. that Krzyzewski is.
He'll come up with a wonderful scheme – both long-term and short-team – to get the most out of the players who do elect to make that time commitment.
But Larry Brown is a heck of a coach, too, and I'm sure he gave long and serious consideration and planning to the way the 2004 Olympic squad prepared and played.
And you don't have to be reminded how that U.S. squad performed in Athens.
*If healthy, UCLA will be one of the teams (along with Washington and, perhaps, Cal and Oregon) that will challenge co-favorites Arizona and Stanford for a Pacific 10 Conference championship.
But the Bruins have been anything but healthy while preparing for their Nov. 15 opener against New Mexico State in the NIT.
Sophomore wing Josh Shipp (one of the team's three best players) is sidelined until at least late December – the team opens conference play on Dec. 29 at home to Stanford – after undergoing surgery on his right hip on Sept. 28.
Fellow sophomores Jordan Farmar (groin strain) and Arron Afflalo (quadriceps contusion) have missed several days of practice apiece, while the team's returning starter at center, senior Michael Fey, has yet to practice because of a severe groin pull.
And it doesn't end there.
Freshman forward Alfred Aboya, projected as a potential starter, hasn't been cleared for full practices yet after undergoing his second knee surgery (the most recent on his left knee) in three months.
"I've never experienced anything like this," Coach Ben Howland lamented.
But Howland should use these five words as his mantra: "Better now than in February".
*The NCAA's fall signing period runs Nov. 9-16.
With the bulk of the elite players from the Class of 2006 having already committed (some of them more than once), here's a tentative Top 10 of recruiting classes:
1. North Carolina (six players, including three consensus Top 10'ers); 2. Ohio State (Greg Oden is the headliner and it's assumed you've heard or read that name before); 3. Washington (Lorenzo Romar beat out, among others, North Carolina, Connecticut, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Gonzaga for his four commitments); 4. Connecticut (but just barely over fellow Big East member Louisville); 5. Louisville (Rick Pitino's best class since he was signing players for that school in Lexington).
6. Stanford (visions of the Lopez Twins, Brook and Robin, already haunt nine Pac 10 coaches); 7. Michigan State (Tom Herzog is the most underrated center prospect of '06); 8. Oklahoma (Damion James and Keith Clark will make up a heck of a pair of freshmen forwards a year hence); 9. Duke (if Lance Thomas turns down Arizona, Florida and Rutgers to go with the Blue Devils, they move up at least two slots); 10. Georgia Tech (will sign two McDonald's AA candidates in Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young).
Among the "just misses" are: Arizona, Kentucky, Memphis, Texas, Syracuse and Georgetown.
An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com
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