Burlison Countdown: Nos. 15 -- 11

Scout.com's college basketball expert, Frank Burlison, continues with his countdown of the pre-season Top 25 with the schools he ranks between 15 and 11, including one Pac-10 program...

We're systematically chipping away at the Frankhoops.com preseason Top 25 college basketball teams.


Sit up straight in your chair (or slouch, if that is your "posture-be-darned" thing) and take a look at who has been dubbed Nos. 15 to 11.


If you're doing the math, it's "15 down and 10 more to go" before this preview is wrapped up.


And, since we still have a month or so to go in the college football regular season, we'll do a "rundown, BCS-style": BCS conference schools (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) 11, "the others" 4.


In case you want a clue as to what awaits in the Top 10, the final "BCS vs. non-BCS" score will read 19 to 6.


No. 15 Duke

2006-07 record: 22-11

Why this rating? Of the 11 recruited scholarship players, seven are freshmen or sophomores. Shed nary a tear for the Blue Devils, though: eight of the players on Mike Krzyzewski's roster were McDonald's All-Americans. One of the later, 6-8 Kyle Singler, is a strong contender for ACC and National Freshman of the Year honors come March.

Potential pitfall: The Blue Devils were uncharacteristically sloppy (ninth in the ACC in assists and eighth in turnovers) last season and that could still be an issue with three freshmen seeing extensive playing time.

Get to know: Singler. He hasn't garnered quite the national hype of other 2007 McDonald's All-American alumni Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, etc. That might have changed by March.

Watch this game: vs. New Mexico State (Nov. 12, Durham). The Aggies return enough from an NCAA Tournament team to provide more than a reasonable litmus test to gauge how good this team is – at least two weeks into November, that is.

Frank Says: If one of those underclassmen, 7-foot sophomore Brian Zoubek, becomes something approaching a double-figure rebounder, the Sweet 16 will be a reasonable projection.


No. 14 Texas A&M

2006-07 record: 27-7

Why this rating? The coach (Billy Gillispie/Kentucky) and start(Acie Law III/Atlanta Hawks) of the program that has evolved into one of the Big 12's best have departed. But the new coach (Mark Turgeon, who came over from Wichita State) is a proven commodity and Gillispie had stocked the pantry with oodles of other quality ingredients that stayed in College Station.

Potential pitfall: Replacing all of the factors – "X", and otherwise – provided by Law. It will have to be done by committee.

Get to know: Dominique Kirk. A tremendous defender and reliable scorer, he may be called upon to initiate the Aggies' transition and half-court offenses a large percentage of the time. He might be the most underrated player in the Big 12.

Watch this game: vs. Arizona (Nov. 28, Tucson). This may end up being the most intriguing of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series affairs.

Frank Says: Assuming a relatively smooth coaching transition – for Turgeon and his new players alike – this is going to be the team looming the largest in the rearview mirror of the Kansas Jayhawks in the Big 12 Conference.


No. 13 Arizona

2006-07 record: 20-11

Why this rating? The Wildcats lost three starters from a team that didn't guard very well and often took an unhealthy dose of questionable shots. But the returning starters, sophomores Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, were the team's best players for most of the final month of last season. And, as is usually the case, Coach Lute Olson has some high-profile newcomers, the most notable of those being guard Jerryd Bayless.

Potential pitfall: Five freshmen plus three sophomores equal a relative lack of experience. And that could prove tough sledding in a conference as challenging as the Pac-10 this season.

Get to know: The 6-9 Hill. He wasn't as highly touted as most of the other elite freshmen (and there were a bunch of ‘em) in the conference last season. But he could be good for about 13 to 15 points and eight to 11 rebounds per game as one of the most productive post players in the conference.

Watch this game: vs. Kansas (Nov. 25, Lawrence). How ready are Olson's youngsters for the rigors of Pac-10 play? A non-conference schedule that includes four teams that advanced to at least the Sweet 16 last March should give us a clue.

Frank Says: It will be interesting to see if the return of Kevin O'Neill to Olson's staff will help coax the Wildcats into playing the kind of defense the Hall of Fame coach's teams are normally associated with.


No. 12 Marquette

2006-07 record: 24-10

Why this rating? There are five returning starters, including a perimeter threesome of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, that is just about as gifted as there is around this season.

Potential pitfall: Can James have the kind of season as a junior that was expected him out of a sophomore? How much did the lack of interest from NBA talent evaluators during his "testing the waters" period result in his focusing on what he needs to do on the court to be the kind of "true" point guard the team needs to be as good as it can be?

Get to know: McNeal, who can disrupt opposing offenses with his ability to defend on the perimeter. But he's got to cut down on his turnovers and shoot a better percentage from the field (he was at .417 overall and .313 on 3's last season).

Watch this game: EA Sports/Maui Invitational final (Nov. 21, Lahaina). Sure, we're supposing wins over Chaminade and either LSU or Oklahoma State. And we're supposing Round 1 and 2 wins by Duke as well. But the Golden Eagles vs. Blue Devils would be a tasty night-before-Thanksgiving appetizer.

Frank Says: If Tom Crean's backcourt has learned to appreciate better jump-shot selection and his post players continue to improve, this team will be capable of winning three – and maybe four – NCAA Tournament games.


No. 11 Indiana

2006-07 record: 21-11

Why this rating? Among three returning starters from a team that beat Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament is D.J. White, the best post player in the Big Ten. He grabbed 26 tourney rebounds against Gonzaga and UCLA. Oh, yes: top-five in the country freshman Eric Gordon is also wearing a Hoosiers' uniform.

Potential pitfall: It's something in the range of "imperative" Kelvin Sampson can generate enough offense from the perimeter to keep White from being collapsed on too often.

Get to know: Gordon. Barring the unforeseen, Gordon should be a runaway choice as the top newcomer in the Big Ten and might even be the best player, period, in the conference by the time March rolls around – if not sooner.

Watch this game: vs. Xavier (Nov. 24, Chicago). A meeting with a fringe-Top 25 club (favored to win the Atlantic 10) takes place in the Sears Centre if both reach the final of the Chicago Invitational Challenge.

Frank Says: A reasonable person could look at the Hoosiers' schedule and believe that it's a distinct possibility that Sampson's team could take a 12-0 record into 2008 and its Jan. 2 Big Ten opener at Iowa. And, yes, I consider myself "reasonable".


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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