Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2010-11 Preseason Top 25

Posted by Marc Daley
  1. Duke. The J.R. Ewing of college hoops is back to defend their title with Paul Bettany playing the role of Kyle Singler while Jennifer Connolly stays home to watch the kiddos. Nolan Smith steps out of the shadows of Jon Scheyer to become the prominent backcourt stud while the Plumlee brothers add intangibles up front. If Seth Curry provides 75% of the scoring he did at Jerry Falwell Tech and Kyrie Irving lives up to the Lady Gaga-like hype the Devils should be as good as advertised but it doesn't look like there'll be a dominant force in the 2010-11 college hoops galaxy.
  2. Michigan State. Continuing a familiar theme in East Lansing, the Spartans look to go back to the Final Four for a third straight year. A lot of it depends on Kalin Lucas' health but at least Tom Izzo came to his senses and realized he didn't want to endure a season of being Not Hot in Cleveland. Derrick Nix, Garrick Sherman and frosh Adreian Payne are frontcourt factors who could tip the scales in a championship matchup with the Dookies.
  3. Kansas. Bill Self wakes up with nightmares of Ali Farokhmanesh draining a jumper from Dolly Dagger-land but the security blanket that is Marcus Morris should send him back to a peaceful slumber. Josh Selby's eligibility is the X-factor. If he gets to play pencil in the Jayhawks for a trip to Houston. Without him, they are probably second to the in-state rivals who ply their trade in the Little Apple.
  4. Ohio State. This might raise some slight eyebrows, and if Robbie Hummel hadn't become college hoops' answer to Greg Oden the Boilers would be the Big Ten representative in the top four. Don't discount the Buckeyes. Evan Turner is dazzling in Philly now but Buford, Lighty and Lauderdale will form an incredible five-man unit with Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. They just need a conductor to run the show.
  5. Villanova. Speaking of things cheesesteak-related, the Two Coreys (not those guys from the 80s who had a creepy fondness for Michael Jackson) will actually have a frontcourt to feed the orange to. Pena, Yarou and Sutton are joined by JayVaughn Pinkston, who gives them a tailor-made small forward. Don't be surprised to see these 'Cats in the Final Four for the second time in three years.
  6. Purdue. I'm not sure if someone is sticking pins in a Robbie Hummel doll. He seems like a nice kid. Stop it. Anyway, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson form a stellar inside-outside combo. Terone Johnson might be counted on to run the show from day one but a deep bench is ready to help fill in the blanks. They should contend with the Columbus crew and the East Lansing elite for Big Ten honors.
  7. Pittsburgh. Much like the city where they ply their trade, the Panthers aren't always pretty to watch. When you play them, you will leave battered, bruised and likely humbled. One has to wonder if they'll finally break through to elite status and get themselves off the list of the best programs to never make the Final Four. Look for Dante Taylor to possibly follow teammate Ashton Gibbs as the most improved player in the Big East.
  8. Florida. It's been a while since the Gators found themselves in the rarefied air. Honestly, if Billy Donovan hadn't gone back-to-back someone else would probably be leading the troops in Gainesville. Now they're poised to take back the SEC. All five starters come back but one or two freshmen need to step into primary bench roles if the Gators are truly going to come back to the forefront.
  9. Kansas State. I like the beard (not on me. Beards on bald guys makes it look like they have hair on upside down). However, without super-speedster Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen will be a huge focus of every rabid backcourt defender in the country. The locals in Manhattan are counting on Freddy Aspirilla to add frontcourt presence but Rodney McGruder or Will Spradling might prove to have more impact on the Wildcats' fortunes.
  10. Missouri. Lurking in the shadows of the plains is a team that was moribund (aka piss-poor for those of you scoring at home) for much of the first decade of the new millennium. Mike Anderson has the Tigers roaring again. If one of Paul Pressey's kids can contribute to a lineup that has great inside-outside balance they could equal their 2009 Elite Eight finish. Unlike Pittsburgh, who are also trying to get to the rare Final Four air, this team is one where you have to save the bathroom breaks until the commercial break as they are fun to watch.
  11. Kentucky. Remember the last Memphis team John Calipari had? (I would hope so, it was only two years ago.) They ripped through Conference USA only to lose to (cue eerie music) Missouri in the Sweet 16. Like this year's Wildcats, they had a heck of a recruiting class. This year's Wildcats reminds me a lot of that Memphis team. Enes Kanter is being compared to Nelson Mandela by rabid UK fans (a bit much, if you ask me) and is the obvious X-factor of a talented, but inexperienced bunch.
  12. Syracuse. Fab Melo tries to the second "Fab Melo" in recent Orange history. If he lives up to expectations he could be better than Rony Seikaly (at the very least he'll be better than Craig Forth or Andre Hawkins). Andy Rautins is gone but Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and Mookie Jones still form a solid backcourt. Jim Boeheim will continue to look miserable as he nears his 850th win.
  13. Illinois. Every year it seems like a team that was hanging out in the netherworld of the NIT makes a huge jump back into the good graces of the college hoops galaxy. I know some people are thinking the Tar Heels, but the Illini look more poised to make the return. Six players who started at least 14 games come back and are joined by a top recruiting class which includes the younger brother of Champaign legend Luther Head.
  14. Memphis. Josh Pastner has wanted to be a top coach since he could utter the word "coach" from his drool-stained toddler lips. Congrats, Josh, you've come a long way from looking like Mike Bibby's tag-along friend in 1997. They got snubbed by the committee last year but a monster recruiting class combined with underrated veteran Wesley Witherspoon means a likely return to the Dance.
  15. Gonzaga. Wasn't last year the year the Zags were supposed to fall? Somewhere Mark Few is laughing along with the rest of the Spokane Hippie Brigade. Seriously, these guys look like a bunch of heads who got bored after a Widespread Panic concert and decided to shoot some hoops but Steven Gray, Elias Harris and Co. will once again vie for the title of the best program in the West.
  16. Baylor. OK, they have a guy who is considered by some pundits to be the best player in the college hoops galaxy. But that same player is dealing with some off-the-court issues and the only other proven scorer didn't start a game last season. Top-10 recruit Perry Jones could be this year's Ekpe Udoh and will likely bolt for the pros as well after one year. It all depends on how long (or if) LaceDarius Dunn will be out of service.
  17. Tennessee. They might be the surprise team this year. They finally broke through to (somewhat) elite status last year and return one of the best frontcourts out there, bolstered by the addition of phenom Tobias Harris. Scotty Hopson is a one-man backcourt gang but doesn't have to be thanks to a deep bench. Now if Bruce Pearl can just stay legal for less…
  18. Virginia Tech. Malcolm Delaney starred in relative obscurity in the college hoops galaxy (think of him as Pluto in this scenario) and he's joined by the rest of the starting lineup from last season. Florida transfer Allen Chaney and heralded recruit Jarell Eddie add depth to a team that probably won't challenge Duke for top Tobacco Road honors but should finish a solid second – as long they can shoot straight.
  19. Brigham Young. Jimmer Fredette introduced himself during the NCAA tournament and then Mormon nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when he announced he was coming back. (I know the Osmonds' oxygen intake caused a slight gale force wind when Fredette made the announcement). The Cougars need someone to step up in the frontcourt (where's Michael Smith or Shawn Bradley when you need them?)
  20. Washington. Abdul Gaddy was supposed to be the perfect complement to Isaiah Thomas last season. Like the rest of the Pac-10 he fell way short. I don't see that happening again. Matthew Bryan-Amaning looks ready to explode this year in the pivot and Tyreese Breshers could be the Huskies' answer to Rick Mahorn if he can keep his emotions in check. Another Sweet 16 finish, unlike last season, won't be a surprise.
  21. Butler. They'll miss Gordon Hayward a lot. Ronald Nored and Zach Hahn simply aren't going to provide the offense to keep teams from doubling up on Shelvin Mack. Matt Howard and his awful facial hair will keep frontcourts honest but a return trip to the championship game would be much more miraculous than last year's run.
  22. North Carolina. I don't see why everyone is suddenly celebrating the Tar Heels' return to glory. John Henson and Larry Drew still need to show me consistency night after night, though Harrison Barnes looks like the best candidate to take Freshman of the Year honors in the college hoops galaxy.
  23. San Diego State. The Mountain West is actually better than some BCS conferences (say, Pac-10?). Part of the proof is the Aztecs, who look primed to actually win an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history. Four starters come back but the key will be last year's sixth man Chase Tapley, who steps in as the new starter.
  24. Minnesota. Tubby Smith likes to use nine or ten players but may not have that luxury this season. Still, the six that are likely to play the bulk of the minutes have all proven they can play in the Big Ten. The freshman class doesn't look spectacular, but Smith has never been a recruiter of studs and still manages to find one or two in the bunch.
  25. Georgetown. Yeah, they lost Greg Monroe. Yeah, they got blitzed by a bunch of outside shooters from Athens. Yeah, they'll be back this year with a vengeance. Unlike past Hoya teams, this team usually shoots exceptionally well and Austin Freeman will carry the torch for diabetics that Adam Morrison used to carry before he warmed the bench and got a championship ring.