Burlison's Pre-Season Top 25

There is no shortage of contenders for the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. But, in assembling a preseason Top 25, there is only really one destination to reach when you climb to the apex of the 25. And it's located in Gainesville, Fla.

Wasn't it just something like a month ago that Florida and UCLA were going through lay-up lines in the RCA Dome minutes before the start of the 2006 NCAA championship game?


It sure seems like it.


But, a little more than seven months after the Gators cruised ever-so-impressively past the Bruins, 73-57, in the final game of the season, another campaign is getting under way in earnest.


And a little less than five months from now a couple of teams will be loosening up before the 2007 title game in Atlanta.


Time sure is going to fly!


It's time to get really serious about college basketball, ladies and gentlemen!


Frank's Top 25

25. Gonzaga

Why the Bulldogs are here: Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista have departed but Coach Mark Few's club is far from being "just another team from the WCC". The backcourt is deep, talented and experienced.

The key character: Sophomore Josh Heytvelt. If healthy and focused, he'll be one of the best post players in the West.

Early game to check out: vs. Rice (Nov. 13, NIT Season Tip-off) The Owls will be in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and Morris Almond could prove a first-team All-America.


24. Southern Illinois

Why the Salukis are here: They've played in five consecutive NCAA Tourneys and it would be stunning if that streak doesn't reach six. They defend and they don't take bad shots and that's a pretty good equation.

The key character: Randall Falker – he grabbed 16 rebounds in the MVC Tourney title victory over Bradley.

Early game to check out: at Western Kentucky (Dec. 9). The Hilltoppers are capable of finding their way into the Top 25 at some point this season.


23. Villanova

Why the Wildcats are here: Sure, they lost a bunch off a team that won 28 games before losing to eventual national champion Florida. But there is more back than some realize, including starters Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan.

The key character: Forward Curtis Sumpter is a possible All-American, if a knee that's been carved up a couple of times is agreeable.

Early game to check out: at Pennsylvania (Dec. 2). This should get the folks in Philadelphia juiced a couple of weeks into the season.


22. Memphis

Why the Tigers are here: John Calipari has even more depth than was at his fingertips during the program's 33-win and Elite Eight-season. There were three key losses named Carney, Washington and Williams, though.

The key character: Chris Douglas-Roberts. His freshman averages (8.3 points and 3.3 rebounds) could double this season.

Early game to check out: vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 21, Maui Invitational, assuming Nov. 20 wins by Tigers over Oklahoma and the Yellow Jackets over Purdue). The score shouldn't be in the 60s.   


21. Hofstra

Why the Pride is here: Two of the club's 26 victories came against Final Four club George Mason in Colonial Athletic Association play. Maybe Tom Pecora's team should have picked up one of the 34 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.

The key character: Six-nine sophomore Chris Gadley, who blocked seven shots in the team's exhibition game with New York Tech.

Early game to check out: at Charlotte (Saturday). A win in North Carolina will be a big step in justifying this rating.


20. Marquette

Why the Golden Eagles are here: Dominic James could be the best point guard in the country but there are two other exceptional sophomores on the perimeter in Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal. Now, if Tom Crean can get some consistent production from the posts.

The key character: Dan Fitzgerald. He could prove to be the team's most reliable inside presence.

Early game to check out: vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 20, if the Golden Eagles and the Red Raiders win their first two CBE games in Milwaukee and Lubbock, respectively).


19. Wichita State

Why the Shockers are here: We've deposited them into this slot because, despite the loss of the MVC Player of the Year (Paul Miller), they are better than the team that knocked off Seton Hall and Tennessee in the NCAA Tourney last March.

The key character: Six-seven Colorado State transfer Phillip Thomason averaged 13 points and seven rebounds in the team's two exhibition games.

Early game to check out: at LSU (Nov. 25). Playing a non-conference game at a Top 10-ranked opponent is tantamount to ``playing with house money".


18. Nevada

Why the Wolf Pack are here: Nick Fazekas may be the only player that much of the college basketball-viewing public is aware of. But Coach Mark Fox has quite the cast surrounding his 6-11 senior, most notably Marcelus Kemp, Kyle Shiloh and Ramon Sessions.

The key character: The above being conceded, Fazekas still has to be listed here. He'll distort most opposing defenses because of his inside/outside skills.

Early game to check out: vs. Cal (Dec. 3, Oakland, Pete Newell Challenge). Nevada should take a 6-0 record into a game against the Pac-10's most underrated club.


17. Boston College

Why the Eagles are here: Coach Al Skinner has three starters from his 28-victory, Sweet 16 team, including one of the ACC's – and the country's – best forwards in Jared Dudley.

The key character: Sophomore guard Tyrese Rice. He's got to take care of the ball and deliver it where it needs to go.

Early game to check out: at Kansas (Dec. 23). A favorable schedule means Eagles could be 9-0 going into Lawrence.


16. Syracuse

Why the Orange is here: This should easily be Jim Boeheim's best team since Carmelo Anthony was in the lineup during the national championship season of 2002-03. Four starters return from the team that won four consecutive games in the Big East Tournament.

The key character: It's the one newcomer in the starting lineup, Paul Harris, who will be the Big East Freshman of the Year.

Early game to check out: vs. Wichita State (Dec. 2). This will be the best team the Orange plays until – maybe – taking on Hofstra in the Carrier Dome 20 days later.


15. Creighton

Why the Bluejays are here: There are four starters back but the kicker is the addition of Nate Funk, an All-American candidate (and the best player in the conference), sidelined with a bummer of a shoulder last season.

The key character: Point guard Josh Dotzler. If his knee is something approaching 100 percent after surgery, this will be one of the best offenses in the country.

Early game to check out: vs. Xavier (Dec. 9). The Musketeers are a fringe Top 25 team and the best the A-10 can serve up this season.


14. Washington

Why the Huskies are here: The overall talent and depth, mostly in the freshmen and sophomore classes, means there isn't going to be much slippage after back-to-back runs to the Sweet 16.

The key character: The next time you read some pundit mention National Freshman of the Year candidates and 6-11 Spencer Hawes isn't included, have yourself a hearty chuckle because the pundit is clueless.

Early game to check out: at Gonzaga (Dec. 9). If the Huskies escape Spokane with a W they will likely take a 12-0 record into a New Year's Eve Pac-10 game at UCLA.


13. LSU

Why the Tigers are here: Tyrus Thomas and Darrel Mitchell have departed but there is a load of talent still around, most notable in the presence of last season's SEC Player of the Year, Glen Davis.

The key character: Tack Minor – or whoever else John Brady might entrust the playmaking duties to.

Early game to check out: vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 5). The Aggies came within Mitchell's jump shot of beating the Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Tourney.


12. Duke

Why the Blue Devils are here: Assuming he's healthy (he had surgery on his back in the summer) and has ratcheted up his assertiveness, Josh McRoberts will be a factor in the ACC and National Player of the Year voting.

The key character: Sophomore Greg Paulus. He has to recover in full from his foot injury and he's got to stay healthy the rest of the season. There is no other viable "point guard" on the roster.

Early game to check out: vs. Georgetown (Dec. 2). In case you've forgotten, the Hoyas beat the Blue Devils in the District of Columbia last season.


11. Ohio State

Why the Buckeyes are here: Two words "Greg" and "Oden". If the big guy recovers from his wrist surgery without a hitch and is in full-speed-ahead shape for the start of Big Ten play, the conference battle with Wisconsin will be nails.

The key character: Guard Jamar Butler. How quickly and smoothly will he and freshman Mike Conley jell in the backcourt?

Early game to check out: Whichever game Oden finally makes his college debut in.


10. Texas A&M

Why the Aggies are here: Their NCAA Tournament performance (a win over Big East Tourney champ Syracuse and a last-second lost to eventual Final Four team LSU in the second round) and the wealth of talent back means they've arrived as a national presence.

The key character: Guard Acie Law. Dollars to donuts he's the Big 12 POY in March.

Early game to check out: at LSU (Dec. 5). They'll take a 7-0 record into Baton Rouge. Then we will have a pretty good feel for how good they are.


9. Georgetown

Why the Hoyas are here: Things got a bit wobbly for a while but John Thompson III is rapidly returning this program to the "among the best in the country" status his dad brought it to. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert make up quite the formidable high-low combination.

The key character: Jonathan Wallace. If he's steady with the ball and gets it where it is supposed to be at the right time, the half-court execution could impeccable.

Early game to check out: at Vanderbilt (Nov. 15). The Hoyas suffered a home loss to the Commodores last season. If they're this good right now, they should win in Nashville.


8. Wisconsin

Why the Badgers are here: The Badgers clearly have the deepest Big Ten roster in terms of veteran talent, led by All-American Alando Tucker. Whether that is enough to hold off a young but extremely gifted Ohio State team might not be known until March.

The key character: Guard Kammron Taylor. If he plays like one of the nation's best point guards, the Badgers could be Atlanta-bound.

Early game to check out: vs. Pittsburgh (Dec. 16). If the Badgers can hold off Marquette in Milwaukee seven days earlier, they could be 10-0 for this one.


7. Alabama

Why the Crimson Tide is here: There is quite the arsenal returning from the team that beat Marquette and came really close to knocking off eventual national title runner-up UCLA in the tournament last March.

The key character: Sophomore Alonzo Gee. If he converts a lot of Ronald Steele passes into 3-point jump shots, Coach Mark Gottfried's team will be Florida's top SEC challenger.

Early game to check out: at Notre Dame (Dec. 7). This could prove the toughest obstacle to taking a 12-0 record into SEC play.


6. Arizona

Why the Wildcats are here: There is depth and experience galore, and a couple of newcomers (most notable red-shirt sophomore Jawann McClellan and freshman Chase Budinger) who will help make the run for a Pac-10 title a three-team race with UCLA and Washington.

The key character: Mustafa Shakur. If he proves clearly the best point guard in the conference the Wildcats could end up atop the Pac-10 standings.

Early game to check out: at Virginia (Sunday). This shapes up as the best match-up of the opening weekend of the season


5. Pittsburgh

Why the Panthers are here: Experience? Check. Depth? Check. Inside strength? Check. Skill on the perimeter? Check. An All-American presence? Check. Coach Jamie Dixon's club would appear to have all of the Final Four ingredients this season.

The key character: Aaron Gray. If he powers in all of the close-in shots he missed last season, he's liable to shoot something like 75 percent from the field.

Early game to check out: vs. Florida State (Nov. 24). A potential ACC at-large team comes to town.



Why the Bruins are here: Their half-court defense and offensive execution made for a lethal combination last season and a more potent full-court offensive attack could be added.

The key character: Center Lorenzo Mata. He's recovering from October knee surgery but if he is healthy throughout the season, the Bruins should repeat as Pac-10 champions.

Early game to check out: vs. Kentucky or DePaul (Nov. 21, second round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational). And a Nov. 15 homer opener against BYU isn't going to be a breeze, either.


3. Kansas

Why the Jayhawks are here: There is a plethora (I love that word) of experienced talent on the perimeter. If freshman Darrell Arthur can average 10 points and 8 rebounds and play solid post defense, than this could be nearly as solid a choice as North Carolina to be the team with the best shot of unseating Florida.

The key character: Junior point guard Russell Robinson, a sound defender and decision maker.

Early game to check out: vs. Florida (Nov. 25, in Las Vegas). Not a lot of hype needed for that one, eh?


2. North Carolina

Why the Tar Heels are here: Coach Roy Williams had four lottery selections on the 2005 national championship team. And this club may be even more talented than that one. No kidding!

The key character: A fellow named Tyler Hansbrough. He's dang tough to stop down low.

Early game to check out: vs. Winthrop (Nov. 15 in Charlotte, Preseason NIT Tip-Off). This one may be much tighter than the fringe college basketball fan would assume.


1. Florida

Why the Gators are here: One is tempted to pick North Carolina or Kansas, since winning back-to-back titles is such a chore (winning one isn't exactly easy, either, by the way). But picking against Florida right now requires more moxie than I am in possession of at the moment.

The key character: Joakim Noah. He's the best player in the country. Game, set, match.

Early game to check out: vs. Kansas (Nov. 25, in Las Vegas). See the comment about this game in the Kansas profile. Why mess with perfection?


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, 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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