Wednesday, October 15, 2008
With practice starting around the nation on Friday (except at Illinois, who got to go early) I figured it's about time to start previewing a little college hoops action. I know it's not as controversial as college hockey or major league baseball, but it's still the main point of this retarded blog.
If you were around last year, you'll remember that I started to preview my top 50 teams, but got tired and bored after doing around 20 of them and quit. I've learned my lesson, I think, so I'm just going to hit on a few of the conferences here and there. I'll get around to the Big Ten eventually and do a bit bigger right up, but for now, I'm going to start with the Big Twelve, which should be a fairly deep and very good conference this season:
A few short years ago the program was in total disarray, to the point that the non-conference season was canceled and people were dying. Then Aaron Bruce showed up and helped bring Baylor back into the national picture, even leading the team to the NCAA tournament last season. Now he's gone, but the team should be even better. The Bears are led on the perimeter by a quartet of awesome guards in Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Henry Dugat, and Tweety Carter. Any of them can score, with Jerrells leading the way and also leading the team in assists. Dunn is an explosive scorer off the bench, and Dugat is a top flight defender. Baylor also has an outstanding inside presence in Kevin Rogers who has a shot at the Big 12 First Team this season after averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last season. Help arrives in 6-9 freshman Anthony Jones, #44 on the Rivals Top 150. He can run, a must on this team, and can score inside and out. This team will score a lot of points. If you can still get them at 80-1 to win the National Championship, do it.
Every year, I'm like, "Texas is losing too much this year" and every year they prove me wrong. So, finally this year, I'm a believer in Barnes, his program, and his system. Even with DJ Augustin bolting for the NBA, the Longhorns are loaded and ready for another run. AJ Abrams is back, and is one of the best shooters in college hoops with a lightning quick release. An interesting wrinkle this season is that Abrams withdrew from the NBA draft after getting feedback that he will need to learn to play the point, so that will be the plan going into this year. All the other pieces are in place, with Justin Mason, Damion James, and Connor Atchley all back, with James an All-American candidate. The freshmen class will help with depth, but everything hinges on point guard play, whether it's Abrams sliding over or one of two freshmen getting up to speed quickly. Without that, they will struggle all year.
Everyone loves Blake Griffin. I don't. And I like his gay brother Taylor even less. Seriously, way to go Griffin parents: Taylor and Blake? Anyway, even though I'm not a fan, he's good, even if incredibly boring. Like a Dusty Rychart with talent basically. Throw in a couple of good, experienced guards in Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson, and a top recruiting class, and they'll be in the Big 12 title hunt and in line for an early exit in March. Their class is highlighted by point guard Willie Warren, the #4 point guard for 2008 and the #10 overall prospect. Not only can he create and play the true PG role, but he can score too, and led all scorers in the McDonald's all star game. This team could be dangerous but probably won't be since their coach is an ex-Dookie.
4. Oklahoma State
It will be interesting to watch this team this season, with Travis Ford taking over for Sean Sutton and changing the team from halfcourt lockdown defense to a more up tempo type team. Almost as a symbol of the change, defensive stopper Marcus Dove is the only major contributor gone from last season's enigmatic squad. Good news for Ford is that the Cowboys strength lies in it's wing players, keys to an up tempo team. Wings James Anderson, Terrel Harris, and Obi Muonelo were three of the top four scorers for the Cowboys, and assuming Harris is let off his suspension they should be solid. The key for the team's success will be point guard Byron Eaton, who averaged over 20 points a game in a five game winning streak towards the end of last season. He's battled weight problems and inconsistency in his career, and hopes to put it all together for his senior season.
National title, yes. Nobody coming back, also yes. Well, except Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Aldrich could end up being the star on this team, breaking Minnesotan hearts all across the land. He looked good against UNC in the final four, and with Danny Manning there to help teach him he could make a big leap this season. Collins is the only returnee who averaged more than 9 minutes per game this season, and it will be up to him to lead Aldrich and a whole mess of newcomers. Of note are freshmen twin forwards Marcus (Rivals #29) and Markieff (#49) Morris and guards Travis Releford (#70) and Tyshawn Taylor (#77), all of whom have a chance to start. The newcomer most likely to make a big impact is junior college transfer Mario Little, the #1 ranked JuCo player by Rivals. Although as I wrote previously, when it comes to JuCo's you never really know what you're gonna get.
This is a weird team. I could totally seem them finishing anywhere between 2nd and 11th in the conference this year. They play the 40 minutes of hell style coach Mike Anderson inherited from Nolan Richardson, and it is as inconsistent as it is fun to watch. A group of trouble-makers are gone, and the team now belongs to senior forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, who can score in bunches. The biggest question is at point guard, with last year's primary ballhandlers Stefhon Hannah, Jason Horton, and Keon Lawrence all gone. Look for freshman Miguel Paul to end up the starting PG, and look for him to do well. Last name Paul? Point guard? Yep, he's Chris Paul's cousin, and if he's even half as good as Paul these guys could really fly. When Baylor and Missouri play, expect the scores to be in the eighties.
7. Texas A&M
I really don't know much about this team. They lost solid guard Dominique Kirk, fat Joseph Jones, and overrated and very tall DeAndre Jordan, and I'm not really sure where that leaves them. Josh Carter is one of the best shooters in the Big Twelve, but without Acie Law IV his accuracy took a huge hit last year. Donald Sloan is back, but he never really impressed me much. The biggest key here is forward Bryan Davis (not the crying dude from Duke back in the day). He's a decent player who is really the only returning big man. He'll need to be more than decent to make A&M at all relevant this year. The most notable frosh is PG Dashan Harris (rivals #93), a true PG on a team lacking one.
8. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders were a perimeter oriented (dominated) team last year, and look to be again this season, except without last year's top player Martin Zeno. Alan "Don't call me Jake" Voskuil and John Robertson are talented guards with excellent outside shots, but who knows where any offense will come from beyond those two. Last season's top inside guy was Trevor Cook who averaged all of 4.9 points per game. They did little to address this weakness, pinning their new guy hopes on 6-8 freshman Corbin Ray, and the nicest thing I can find anybody writing about him was "Plays like Christian Laettner." Hopefully for Tech it's the college version and not the pro version.
Do you know how excited Cornhusker fans were to make the NIT last year? Really excited. How that's how awful their program is there. The NIT is their NCAA tournament, and nothing much looks like it's going to change, with last year's top player Aleks Maric graduating and nothing much coming in to help out. They have four starters back, but really, who cares? There best player is Ryan Anderson, who has the same name as that awesome dude for Cal last year, so I guess that's something.
10. Iowa State
Ouch. Remember Fred Hoiberg? Marcus Fizer? Jamaal Tinsley? Hell, even Mike Taylor before he went all J.R. Rider? The Cyclones have fallen, and fallen hard with mass defections. They continued again this off season, as their top returning player, Wesley Johnson, decided to transfer to Syracuse. Still, there is a little bit of talent here with Craig Brackins, a pretty tough post player, and Diante Garrett, who could develop into a solid pass first point guard. A deep, if not immensely talented freshmen class will help. Look out for freshman Dominique Buckley to make an impact.
11. Kansas State
With Mike Beasley and Bill "Sky" Walker bolting to the NBA, the cupboard is pretty bare at K State. The season hopes rest in the backcourt, with sophomore Jake Pullen and transfer from Miami Denis Clemente. They are definitely fast, and they are definitely streaky. Pullen was electric at times last season, running the break and finding those two awesome forwards on the wings as well as getting his own shot and dropping 20 on Kansas. I love this little dude even though sometimes his decision-making skills rival those of Tavaris Jackson. As far as the front court, there's really nothing to talk about there. Empty and worthless.
What kind of outlook to you have when you go 3-13 in conference last season, and then lose possibly the best player in your program's history in Richard Roby, along with two other starters? I don't know, maybe it's time to defect and head on over to the WAC. The Buffaloes biggest hope is that freshman transfer from Wake Forest Casey Crawford is better than advertised. He's more of a post type banger, not really a program changer type, but still will probably end up as one of Colorado's best players this season along with Cory Higgins (Rod's kid). With a decent recruiting class, highlighted by familiar Austin Dufault, things are looking slightly up at CU, where they can look forward to finishing as high as seventh in the next ten years. With a little luck.
P.S. Cole Hamels is sick good.