Burlison: And Then There Were 5

Finding the obvious teams to fill spots 1-5 in the Frankhoops.com preseason Top 25 wasn't hard. Trying to sort through the many strengths and very few weaknesses of each of those clubs and then putting the squads in a pecking order was more than just a bit difficult, though. But we got it done!

If you really study college basketball closely then you shouldn't find much to complain about in the makeup of the top five teams in the Frankhoops.com preseason Top 25.

 

Of course, you may find plenty to fault in the order of those five teams. But let's face it: When we're dealing with teams with this much talent returning from clubs that were so successful last season and, in several instances, have added elite-level newcomers, it's splitting hairs trying to put them into a definitive pecking order.

 

So, here we go: The five best teams in the country as of the second week in November.

 

And I would be surprised if at least three of these clubs aren't spending the first weekend of April in San Antonio:

 

No. 5 Kansas

2006-07 record: 33-5

Why this rating? The Jayhawks lost one sophomore (Julian Wright) to the NBA Draft and probably would have been minus another if Brandon Rush hasn't suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which led to his withdrawing from the draft pool. His recovery is the key in determining Bill Self will be coaching a very good squad or a potential national championship club. Self has a deep and gifted experienced backcourt, and nearly as much depth in the post with a potential star – sophomore Darrell Arthur – there, assuming he show no ill-effects of the broken foot he suffered in July.

Potential pitfalls: What if Rush isn't nearly the player he was before his knee injury? What if Arthur doesn't develop into a consistent back-to-his-back scoring threat that can command a double team whenever he catches the ball down low?

Get to know: Freshman post Cole Aldrich, who could be playing in the neighborhood of 20 minutes per game by the time Big 12 Conference play begins.

Watch this game: vs. Arizona (Nov. 25, Lawrence). Even with the game being played in Allen Fieldhouse, it should be the Jayhawks' most difficult non-Big 12 game during the regular season.

Frank Says: We'll hold off saying this team will be improved over last season until we have a better idea about what Rush will be able to provide.

 

No. 4 Memphis

2006-07 record: 33-4

Why this rating? The Tigers return every key player, except for dependable jump shooter Jeremy Hunt (14.1 points per game), from the team that lost to Ohio State in the South Regional final in San Antonio. And they add three impact newcomers, the most notable of which is someone you've read about once or twice or a 1,000 times, point guard Derrick Rose, one of the five best freshmen in the country. Junior Chris Douglas-Roberts is a Top 50 John R. Wooden Award candidate. And it's likely Rose will be added to the mid-season list of top-flight candidates as well.

Potential pitfalls: How well will they perform if they can't force a lot of turnovers with their pressure defense, and how well will they execute if teams cut off the penetration in their ``penetrate and kick'' half-court offense?

Get to know: Another freshman, 6-5 Jeff Robinson, who'll lead the Tigers in scoring and/or rebounding a few times as a reserve.

Watch this game: vs. USC (Dec. 4, Jimmy V Classic, New York City). Rose vs. O.J. Mayo – ‘nuf said.

Frank Says: It took eventual national title runners-ups (UCLA and Ohio State) to eliminate the Tigers in regional finals the past two years. It may take the team that eventually wins the title to do the trick this time around.

 

No. 3 Tennessee

2006-07 record: 24-11

Why this rating? Coach Bruce Pearl returns an enormous amount of firepower and a deep roster from a team that narrowly lost to Ohio State twice, the second time around in a Sweet 16 game in San Antonio. Swingman Dane Bradshaw was the only key member of that team whose eligibility expired. Sophomore Duke Crews, one of the program's best players and, possible, the rest rebounder in the program, was recently reinstated by Pearl after serving a nearly month-long suspension for off-the-court issues.

Potential pitfalls: The Volunteers do an excellent job with their full-court pressure but need to do a better job with the consistency of their half-court defense.

Get to know: Brian Williams, a 20-year-old, 6-11, 267-pound freshman from the Bronx who will give Pearl a much bigger low-post presence, at both ends of the floor, that he had available a year ago.

Watch this game: vs. Texas (Nov. 24, Newark, Legend's Classic). This projected tourney final brings together programs that combined for 216 points in Knoxville last season, with the Vols coming out on top by six points. Expect something like it this time around as well.

Frank Says: Pearl's third Tennessee team has the ingredients to be the program's best-ever squad  – and to cut down nets in San Antonio.

 

No. 2 North Carolina

2006-07 record: 31-7

Why this rating? Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry were integral pieces of a team that was within a jump shot or two of beating Georgetown and getting to the Final Four last spring. They're no longer wearing Tar Heel uniforms but Roy Williams has more than enough high-caliber players to dominate the Atlantic Coast Conference this season and win another national title. Foremost among those are junior post Tyler Hansbrough – and he should be on every very short list of national player of the year candidates – and sophomore Tywon Lawson, the three-speed point guard: fast, faster and really, really fast!

Potential pitfalls: The Tar Heels need to tighten up their half-court defense and exercise a tad better judgment in the shot selection department (think ``time and score'', guys).

Get to know: Deon Thompson, who should have an ``all-ACC caliber''-type breakthrough sophomore season in the post.

Watch this game: vs. Davidson (Nov. 14, Chapel Hill). No ``easing its way into the season'' for Williams' club, which will open against a team with a reasonable opportunity to win 25 games this season (one or two of those coming in the NCAA Tournament).

Frank Says: With the presence of Hansbrough, anticipated improvement, defensively, and all of those terrific sophomores and juniors, it's understandable why so many folks think the Tar Heels should be favored to be the 2008 national champions. And they were nearly my choice to do so, as well.

 

No. 1 UCLA

2006-07 record: 30-6

Why this rating? It took the ultimate national champion – the Florida Gators, for those of you still dusting off-season cobwebs out of the corners of your noggin – to send the Bruins back to Westwood in each of the past two seasons. With four starters and every key reserve having returned, and quite possibly, the most skilled post player in the world not currently on an NBA roster (Kevin Love) joining the fold, Coach Ben Howland has – at least from the perspective of yours truly – the best team in the country.

Potential pitfalls: An injury that would keep Darren Collison (who should be a key element in every debate about the best point guards in the country) off the floor for any extended period of time would totally disrupt the makeup of the club.

Get to know: Junior wing Josh Shipp, who will assume a lot of the responsibilities that were so ably taken care of by last season's Pac-10 Player of the Year and first-team All-American Arron Afflalo (Detroit Pistons).

Watch this game: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 20, Kansas City, if both teams reach the final of the College Basketball Experience Classic). File under ``potential matchups we could see again in a regional title game or the Final Four".

Frank Says: Barring an inordinate number of injuries (and the Bruins have had a few already) or the reappearance of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green in Florida uniforms, pencil Howland's team into the field in San Antonio. And then wait to watch the Bruins win the program's 12th national championship on April 7.



 

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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