Burlison: Early All-Americans

As the final pages of the 2006 calendar get turned, it's a good time to look back and examine who the best players and coaches were over the first couple of months of the 2006 portion of the college basketball season. Most of the choices will seem obvious to you, if you've paid close attention in November and December.

Oh, my: Where did 2006 go so quickly?

 

As 2007 prepares to descend upon us on Monday, let's pause and reflect upon everything that has happened in the world over the past 12 months.

 

Nah, on second thought, I'm not that ambitious.

 

Instead, here are the players, and coaches, who have impressed me the most over the first two months of the college basketball season:

 

 

Frankhoops.com Early-Season (November/December) All-Americans

 

POINT GUARD

Dominic James (5-11, So., Marquette)

Runners-up: Acie Law (6-3, Sr., Texas A&M) and Mustafa Shakur (6-3, Sr., Arizona)

Just missed: Darren Collison (6-0, So., UCLA)

Frank Says: There were a slew of candidates here. But the nod goes – barely – to James, in large part because of his tremendous back-to-back performances against Texas Tech and Duke in Kansas City in November. Three SEC players, Ronald Steele (Alabama), Taurean Green (Florida) and Tre Kelly (South Carolina), could all be in the mix in March as well.

 

SHOOTING GUARD

Arron Afflalo (6-5, Jr., UCLA)

Runners-up: Chris Lofton (6-2, Jr., Tennessee) and A.J. Graves (6-1, Jr., Butler)

Just missed: Torrell Martin (6-5, Sr., Winthrop)

Frank Says: Lofton is a phenomenal long-range jump shooter – arguably, the best in college today. And Graves has been a standout for the surprise team in the country. But Afflalo earned a slight edge for his tremendous play at both ends of the floor for the top-ranked team in the country.

 

SMALL FORWARD

Alando Tucker (6-5, Sr., Wisconsin)

Runners-up: Kevin Durant (6-10, Fr., Texas) and Jared Dudley (6-7, Sr., Boston College)

Just missed: Morris Almond (6-6, Sr., Rice)

Frank Says: Tucker was a lock for this spot after his performances in impressive victories over Marquette and Pittsburgh. Durant and Dudley will be nipping at his heels for the first-team AA spot come March, though.

 

POWER FORWARD

Mario Boggan (6-7, Sr., Oklahoma State)

Runners-up: Tyler Hansbrough (6-8, So., North Carolina) and Julian Wright (6-8, So., Kansas)

Just missed: Al Horford (6-9, Jr., Florida)

Frank Says: Boggan's play has elevated him to very strong "Big 12 Player of the Year" candidacy. His performances against Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh were overwhelming.

 

CENTER

Nick Fazekas (6-11, Sr., Nevada)

Runners-up: Randolph Morris (6-10, Jr., Kentucky) and Aaron Gray (7-0, Sr., Pittsburgh)

Just missed: Richard Hendrix (6-8, So., Alabama)

Frank Says: Fazekas has an opportunity to make this pick look exemplary with a strong performance Saturday against another of the nation's best post players, Josh Heytvelt of Gonzaga. By March, junior Joakim Noah (Florida) will be in the mix, as will freshmen Greg Oden (Ohio State), Brandan Wright (North Carolina) and Spencer Hawes (Washington), and sophomore Josh McRoberts (Duke).

 

TOP PLAYER

Alando Tucker

Runner-up: Mario Boggan

Frank Says: Tucker and Boggan are easy 1-2 choices here. Most of the guys who got All-American mention above are all capable of closing in on Player of the Year honors in March.

 

TOP COACH

Todd Lickliter (Butler)

Runners-up: Ben Howland (UCLA) and Sean Sutton (Oklahoma State)

Frank Says: He doesn't have a player who is taller than 6-7 and his team was picked by some to finish sixth in the Horizon League. Yet Lickliter's Bulldogs are 12-1 with victories over Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Purdue. That's why he's the Frankhoops.com pick for top coach for the November/December portion of the season. Sutton, replacing his father, has the Cowboys 12-1 with wins over Missouri State, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Howland's program lost three starters who are on NBA rosters. But the Bruins are 12-0 and No. 1 in the country.

 

This Weekend's Games to Watch

FRIDAY

Illinois at Xavier

Frank Says: The Musketeers (8-4) haven't turned in the kind of non-conference resume that would almost assuredly help give them an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. A win over one of the Big Ten's top five teams would certainly strengthen that resume.

 

SATURDAY

Nevada vs. Gonzaga (in Seattle)

Frank Says: Has anyone played a tougher non-conference schedule that have Mark Few's Bulldogs? They've played five games against teams currently in the Frankhoops.com Top 25.

 

Connecticut at West Virginia

Frank Says: The oh-so-young Huskies, after an 11-0 non-conference start, will find out what life is like outside of their state and within the Big East Conference. The Mountaineers are 10-1, despite heavy personnel losses from last season. But they haven't exactly played a Gonzaga-like non-conference schedule, either.

 

Northern Iowa at Wichita State

Frank Says: The Shockers suffered back-to-back losses in Las Vegas last weekend, their first of the season. And things aren't going to get any easier, even at home, when they open Missouri Valley Conference play against a team that has lost just twice (at Washington and Loyola-Illinois).

 

Missouri State at Creighton

Frank Says: The host Bluejays, with a disappointing 5-4 non-conference record, open MVC play and will have to compile a strong conference mark to get themselves into at-large bid territory if they don't win the conference tournament.

 

Stanford at Arizona

Frank Says: In all likelihood, the Wildcats can't afford more than one loss at home in order to keep themselves in strong contention for a title in what figures to be an extremely competitive Pac 10 race. They'll be facing a very young team, with twin freshmen seven-footers Brook and Robin Lopez liable to cause them some problems since they only have on "true" post on the floor most times.

 

Washington State at USC

Frank Says: The Cougars came ever-so-close to stunning UCLA in Pauley Pavilion Thursday night while the Trojans knocked off Washington in double overtime to demonstrate why they will be in the hunt for an upper-division Pac 10 finish. WSU junior point guard Derrick Low is one of the most underrated, nationally, players in the country.

 

Oregon at Oregon State

Frank Says: The Ducks will take one of just four unbeaten records in the country into their Pac-10 opener in Corvallis. Look for the Beavers to try to slow down the rapid pace that the Oregon offense has been able to operate at so far this season.

 

SUNDAY

Washington at UCLA

Frank Says: The Huskies handed the Bruins two of their three Pac-10 losses last season. They could sting Ben Howland's team in Pauley Pavilion again. But they're going to have to avoid the foul issues that derailed them at USC Thursday night. And they're going to have to knock in the jump shots that figure to come their way when Spencer Hawes is frequently double teamed by UCLA.

 

Wisconsin at Georgia

Frank Says: The 13-1 Badgers should be tested in their final game before opening Big Ten play against Minnesota on Jan. 6. And it's their first trek outside of their state in December.



 

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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