Burlison Countdown: Nos. 10 - 6

The Big East and state of Washington make up 80 percent of the teams in the 10 to 6 spots in the Frankhoops.com. The other member of this group of five is a program that has participated in plenty of Final Fours of late.

We're methodically inching our way to the top of the Frankhoops.com preseason Top 25 teams.


And it's no synthetic hyperbole to suggest that any of the teams rated in the Nos. 6-10 slots could have easily been deposited into the 3, 4 or 5 spots.


But we're not quite ready to tell you who makes up the top five. Of course, if you've charted the first 20 picks that have been revealed, you have a pretty good feel for the very good clubs that haven't made a Top 25 appearance as of yet.


For  now, though, take a peek at a couple of teams from within the borders of Washington, two Big East powers and the best club the Big Ten has to offer this season.


No. 10 Gonzaga

2006-07 record: 23-11

Why this rating? Coach Mark Few has his deepest and most multi-dimensional roster, with proven commodities at every position and promising newcomers either providing solid relief or pushing to carve into the on-court minutes of the returnees. Guards Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin, and 6-11 post Josh Heytvelt are all capable of ending up as the West Coast Conference's Player of the Year,

Potential pitfalls: Hmmmm. Pargo shared playmaking responsibilities with Derek Raivio last season. Can he handle those duties on a pretty much full-time basis this time around?

Get to know: Freshman forward Austin Daye. Landing the 6-10 son of former UCLA and NBA player Darren Daye out of Southern California might have been the biggest recruiting coup ever for the program. He should be the WCC's best player by the time he's a junior.

Watch this game: vs. Connecticut (Dec. 1, Boston). The Hall of Fame challenge will pit the Bulldogs against what should be a vastly improved Huskies squad in a game played in front of a largely pro-Connecticut crowd.

Frank Says: Come April, a legitimate question could be: Was that the best Gonzaga team ever? The Bulldogs could be Final Four-good.


No. 9 Washington State

2006-07 record: 26-8

Why this rating? There wasn't a more surprising team in the country last season (remember, the media experts tabbed the Cougars 10th in the Pac-10). With four returning starters, including two of the best players in the country in Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, and several key reserves back, logic dictates that Coach Tony Bennett's squad should be UCLA's top threat in the Pac-10 and a potential Final Four club. Of course, logic dictated a last-place finish a year ago in Bennett's first season.

Potential pitfalls: Has the loss of springy forward Ivory Clark been compensated for? How much will the ineligibility of 6-11 forward Fabian Boeke (from Germany) impact Bennett's depth and post-season potential?

Get to know: Junior guard Taylor Rochestie. The lefty is a creative offensive player who gives the Cougars a three-prong backcourt attack when he's on the floor with Weaver and Low.

Watch this game: vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 5, Spokane). Gee, who would have ever envisioned this as a matchup between Top 10-caliber programs?

Frank Says: This is yet just another example of a program that doesn't have a roster chock full of McDonald's All-Americans or guys heavily touted by Internet sites as preps but is yet prospering. Amazing!


No. 8 Michigan State

2006-07 record: 23-12

Why this rating? Coach Tom Izzo has a roster that includes five starters returning from a team that won an NCAA Tournament game (one of those an All-American-caliber guard in Drew Neitzel), and four freshmen good enough to take some minutes away from of some of those starters this season.

Potential pitfalls: Besides Neitzel, who will evolve into a reliable jump shoot from mid- to long-range?

Get to know: Sophomore forward Raymar Morgan, who was (relatively) underrated as a high school senior, (relatively) under-appreciated as a MSU freshman and should have a breakthrough sophomore season in which everyone who follows the sports finally fully appreciates how good he is.

Watch this game: vs. UCLA (Nov. 14, Kansas City, College Basketball Experience Classic). This early-season potential Final Four showdown preview takes place assuming the Spartans (most likely vs. Missouri in the semifinals the night before) and the Bruins (ditto vs. Maryland) don't stumble before hand. Better half-court defense will not be played by two teams in the same game the rest of the season.

Frank Says: If the Ohio State Buckeyes' hold on the top spot in the Big Ten Conference is going to be wrestled away, this is the club that's going to do it. After this, OSU – which seems to get a commitment from an elite prospect every week – may stay atop for a long while.


No. 7 Georgetown

2006-07 record: 30-7

Why this rating? Top 10 preseason status was a wrap once center Roy Hibbert decided to become a Hoyas senior instead of a first-round choice in the 2007 NBA Draft. His season- by-season progress has been nothing short of remarkable and he could be a first-team All-American. Three other starters from a Final Four team return, the most notable of those being guard Jonathan Wallace, whose backcourt play embodies the phrase "efficient".

Potential pitfalls: Who assumes the role of 2006-07 Big East Player of the Year (and NBA lottery selection) Jeff Green, who took nearly every big shot needed by the Hoyas over the past couple of seasons or usually made the play that proceeded or led to every other critical shot taken by the team.

Get to know: Freshman Austin Freeman. Ultimately the 6-4 graduate of one of the nation's legendary prep programs (DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md. . . . right in the backyard of the University of Maryland) could prove to be the answer to the aforementioned question.

Watch this game: vs. Alabama (Dec. 5, Birmingham, Ala., Big East-SEC Invitational). The Crimson Tide isn't going to have point guard Ron Steele on the floor this season. But Coach Mark Gottfried still has enough talent – Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee come most immediately to mind – to give Coach John Thompson III's club a tussle.

Frank Says: With the way this program has been recruiting of late (and the recent commitment of 6-10 Greg Monroe illustrates the point exquisitely), the Hoyas aren't going to slip out of the top three spots in the Big East anytime soon.


No. 6 Louisville

2006-07 record: 24-10

Why this rating? Brandon Jenkins gave plenty to Rick Pitino's program over four years but a veteran-heavy squad should keep on ticking all the way to no worse than a top-two finish in the Big East and the second week of the NCAA Tournament. Is it just me, or does it seem as if David Padgett and Juan Palacios starting for the seventh or eighth season for the Cardinals?

Potential pitfalls: Can sophomore Derrick Caracter, once rated on par as a prospect with Greg Oden, finally become a game-to-game, practice-to-practice dominant performer?

Get to know: Guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith were very good as freshman. And they could be sensational as sophomores. Smith could be the team's leading scorer – or at least so from the perimeter.

Watch this game: vs. Brigham Young University (Nov. 23, Louisville). The Cougars are favored to win the Mountain West Conference and have more than enough experience and post and perimeter strength to knock off this team.

Frank Says: I'd feel a little better about Louisville's chances of playing in San Antonio on the final weekend of the season if Pitino has someone on the floor as good as Francisco Garcia was when the program was in the Final Four in 2005.


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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