College hoops ready to unleash the madness

Midnight madness, the nocturnal celebration of all things college basketball, took place on campuses from USC to UMD this past weekend, marking the unofficial start of the NCAA season. Lefty Driesell, the legendary Maryland Terrapins basketball coach and founder of the madness that goes down at midnight (or sometimes a bit earlier in the evening), must have been proud – even if, at 75, he isn’t much interested in being party to the madness. So, with the first weekend of October behind us and the rowdy college hoops heads ready to root, root, root for their alma-matter, we thought we’d take a fresh look at the teams and players that will matter in the 2007-2008 NCAA hoops season.

Going into the season, any national championship conversation will need to include the word “Tarheels”, of the North Carolina variety. Despite losing studs Brendan Wright and Reyshawn Terry to the NBA ranks, the ‘Heels return the human blur Ty Lawson at point guard and forward Tyler Hansbrough, who may not become a great NBA prospect, but has a game perfectly suited for the college ranks. If Wayne Ellington at shooting guard and Bobby Fraser off the bench can consistently knock down the 3-ball, North Carolina could easily find themselves snatching the national championship throne away from the Florida Gators.

Along with the Tarheels, here are our picks for the top 5 early favorites to win the 2007-2008 national championship:
1. North Carolina Tarheels – Great point guard play, tough inside play and great coaching leads to a championship recipe.
2. Memphis Tigers – Plays defense and has one of the top, if not the best point guard in the country in Derrick Rose (he could be a top 3 pick in next year’s NBA draft).
3. UCLA Bruins – Despite the loss of Arron Afflalo, the backcourt of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp is top notch. And Bruin fans will find much to like about 6’ 10” freshman forward Kevin Love.
4. USC Trojans – A lot of so-called “pundits” are sleeping on the Trojans, but super freshman OJ Mayo could be their wake-up call. Trojans lose a lot with the departure of Young, Pruitt and Stewart, but Taj Gibson and freshman Davon Jefferson will hold down the front-court.
5. Louisville Cardinals – Coached by Rick Pitino, you know the Cardinals will run on offense and press on defense, and they have the horses and balanced offensive scoring this year to pull off the traditional Pitino gameplan quite effectively.
So, we’ve got our early title favorites, but what about the sleepers? These 5 teams could give the Tarheels and Bruins of the world a lot of headaches.
1. Kentucky Wildcats – It’s tough to categorize the legendary Wildcats as a sleeper, but given their recent lack of success some may have forgotten the team’s storied history. Talented coach Billy Gillespie will change all that. Sure guard play is important, and Kentucky has plenty of that, but in NCAA hoops a good coach can make all the difference.
2. Villanova Wildcats – Villanova had a couple of really great freshman recruits in the two Coreys – no, not the 80s teen idol kind, but Fisher and Stokes instead. Guard Scottie Reynolds will provide the veteran leadership on this perimeter oriented team.
3. Rhode Island Rams – The drive and dish game that the Rams play produces a lot of 3 pointers and players like Will Daniels and Jimmy Baron know what to do with an open look from downtown. If they can get through the A-10, the Rams will give some high-ranked teams fits in the NCAA tournament.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Perhaps you’re picking up on the theme; we like teams with solid point guard play and good coaching. The bulldogs have both in powerful point man Jamont Gordon and coach Rick Stansbury.
5. Southern Illinois Salukis – When does Southern Illinois go from sleeper to favorite? Their 78-26 record over the last 3 seasons make a convincing argument for their considerable talent. The bottom line, however, is that Randall Falker will be tough inside and point guard Bryan Mullins will be one of the best floor generals in Division I, yet some teams will take the Salukis lightly.
Finally, we get to the underachievers. And as an alum of UMCP and fan of the Terrapins, it gives us immense pleasure to be able to objectively place the Dukies and head Devil himself Mike Krzyzewski at the top of the underachievers list.
1. Duke Bluedevils – Will the Blue Devils make the NCAA tournament? Possibly. Will the team led by Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson live up to the “Dukie” tradition of success? Most definitely not. In a down year for the ACC, we foresee a relatively down year for the Blue Devils as well.
2. Washington State Cougars – Led by 14ppg scorer Derrick Low, the Cougars won 26 games last year. Unfortunately, this year they won’t sneak up on the other teams in the Pac-10. Expect a let-down from Tony Bennett’s crew (no, not that Tony Bennett).
3. Georgetown Hoyas – We love Coach John Thompson III, so if he can weave some of his coaching magic we could be eating our words. But, the loss of Jeff Green is too much to overcome for this team, as we don’t see Roy Hibbert stepping up to fill the go-to-guy void. The Hoyas will be hard-pressed to match last year’s Final Four run.
4. Kansas Jayhawks – Given their well documented post-season failures, can we permanently place Bill Self’s Jayhawks on the underachievers list please? Their best player Brandon Rush is coming into the season injured, and the front-court of Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun isn’t as solid as some have predicted. Many expect this to be a Final Four team, but we foresee a second round exit.
5. Florida Gators - This is an easy one. They may have one of the best recruting classes coming in, but even the brilliant coaching of Billy Donovan won't make up for the loss of 4/5 of the National Championship team's starting lineup to the glitter and glory of the NBA.
So, that’s our capsule outlook into the upcoming 2007-2008 NCAA basketball season. The road to the Final Four (with all appropriate copyright due to CBS) starts for most teams in a couple of weeks. Make sure you’re stocked up on your team gear and have a good high-def TV lined up to follow all the twists and turns of the madness that is college basketball.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where are the Texas Longhorns? Sure we lost Durant, but watch out for BIG things from DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams. With those two, the horns won't miss a beat.