COLLEGE HOOPS 98 - 99
1 DUKE - Last Season: 32-4 elite eight
The '92 Hill-to-Laettner Hail Mary game that catapulted Duke to its second straight NCAA title is a definitive moment in Mike Krzyzewski's career. Last March's rematch, which Kentucky won after trailing by 17, may be another. Make no mistake, Coach K should have been Coach of the Year. The very green Blue Devils had the nation's largest average margin of victory (21.5), and under Steve Wojciechowski's leadership, Duke lost just one ACC game. But against Kentucky, Wayne Turner abused Slo-jo while a handcuffed Krzyzewski (no time-outs) looked on.
With Wojo gone, critics say Duke lacks backcourt depth. Maybe, but soph William Avery and senior Trajan Langdon are an awesome one-two punch. Avery can penetrate and score and still make sure Elton Brand gets his looks. Langdon can shoot the lights out. Inside, Duke is scary. Brand (13.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 21 games) mans the post. Shane Battier (53 blocks, 51 steals) may be the ACC's best defender. Chris Carrawell (10.1 ppg) is clutch. And subs like Nate James and frosh Corey Maggette can twist the knife. K & Co. hope a beefed-up Chris Burgess will do the same after an inconsistent debut. If Duke learned from that Kentucky loss, look for the Blue Devils in St. Pete next March. Only a fool would bet against Coach K then-so long as he can get a TO.
NEW FACE Corey Maggette may be the most athletic wing player at Duke since Grant Hill. The Bellwood, Ill., product is extremely quick, has tremendous hops and can stroke the three. He's one of seven McDonald's All-Americans now playing for the Blue Devils.
FRONT COURT Supremely athletic. Brand runs the floor well, can hit the face-up jumper. Battier pounds glass on both ends. Carrawell is a proven scorer inside and out.
BACK COURT Langdon is cash money from beyond the arc (42% career); he'll serve as backup point. Avery dropped 21 on Arizona; he wants the ball with the game on the line.
BENCH More versatile now. Blue Devils can go big with Taymon Domzalski (6'10", 240) and Burgess (6'10", 250). Or small and athletic with James and Maggette (both 6'6").
SCHEDULE Things heat up early with Michigan State at Great Eight (Dec. 2), Duke-Kentucky III at Jimmy V Classic (Dec. 22). Carolina? Jan. 27 at Cameron, Feb. 27 at Chapel Hill.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Expected starters Avery, Langdon, Carrawell, Battier and Brand shot 48.2%. They're a year older, but no one other than Langdon has more than 26 career starts.
2 UCONN - Last Season: 32-5 elite eight
Five top-10 finishes in nine years-and still Jim Calhoun knows that empty feeling all too well. He vividly remembers the disappointment in the locker room following the Huskies' Elite Eight loss to North Carolina last spring-just like he remembers when UCLA outran his squad in the same round three years earlier, and when Christian Laettner's game-winner kept them out of the Final Four in 1990. The Carolina loss was especially tough, though, and not just because an ill-fated seeding put UConn in hostile Greensboro. The Huskies could only groan as Stanford, a team they trounced by 20 in February, went on to the Final Four.
You get the picture. This is not a team in need of motivation. UConn returns all five starters-and eight of its top nine-from a club that went 17-0 at home. Once again, Calhoun's March prospects depend on soph point guard Khalid El-Amin (16 ppg, 4.2 apg), fresh from gold in the Goodwill Games, and sweet-shooting junior wing Richard Hamilton (21.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), the reigning Big East Player of the Year. Both passed up the NBA to key UConn's high-flying offense and trade-mark suffocating defense.
Calhoun got a good look at his squad during a tour of England and Israel in August, and he likes what he saw. With Hamilton home nursing a broken right foot, 6'7" power forward Kevin Freeman averaged 15.5 ppg, five over his season average. If Freeman becomes the third option that was missing last season-and if 6'11" junior Jake Voskuhl (6.9 ppg,
7.1 rpg) can meet expectations-Calhoun could be wielding some scissors on a Monday night next spring.
NEW FACE Keep an eye on Edmund Saunders, a non-qualifier last year. The 6'8", 220-pound soph was a top-50 recruit from Water-bury and should see quality minutes.
FRONT COURT Hamilton is deadly from the wing. Voskuhl will get more touches in the post. Freeman plays big against bigger foes and has added a mid-range game.
BACK COURT El-Amin and senior Ricky Moore (7.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) combined for 126 steals last season. But the Huskies need to take better care of the ball.
BENCH G Rashamel Jones does what's needed. Albert Mouring can fill it up. And 6'11" Souleymane Wane learned from summering with Senegal's national team.
SCHEDULE Tough non-conference games vs. Washington (Dec. 1 in Chicago), Michigan State (Dec. 5 home) and UMass (Dec. 9 away). But look for that trip to Stanford Feb. 6.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Hamilton should be at full speed by early December. The Huskies had only four more assists than turnovers last season.
3 - STANFORD - Last Season: 30-5 Final Four
Stanford and intimidating. Unless you're talking Fulbright scholars, those words don't meet in the same sentence-until now. With all but one space-eater back on a Final Four roster, Mike Montgomery's team looks as imposing as Duke, UConn or Kentucky. The Cardinal has size, a potent offense, experience and depth. To raise a championship banner, though, they need more. Say, maybe, speed? Arizona showed them up twice last season with pressure D. And, in March, they almost collapsed against Rhode Island's pressure before bowing to Kentucky's draining depth. "I'd be the first to say we got good bounces," says junior forward Mark Madsen.
So Montgomery sent his players off with instructions to diversify their games. In the preseason, he hosted a free-shooting clinic, pleading with players to attack the basket. "He wants us to play more motion, react," says Madsen. Don't expect to find an up-tempo team, but the Cardinal will be more comfortable vs. quicker foes. Guards Arthur Lee and Kris Weems are agile enough to beat the press. Up front, Tim Young, Pete Sauer and Madsen should fill the lanes quicker on the break. Young isn't the world's scariest center-nor the Pac-10's-but he will finish. Sauer can hit the trey. All three bury the 15-footer, and you won't move them off the block. If they play hard, Stanford might just outsmart-even intimidate-the nation once again.
NEW FACE Even with a bum knee, redshirt frosh Jason Collins is a boon compared to departing forward Pete Van Elswyk. Exit one plodding post player, enter a 6'10", athletic, shot-blocking, flushing finisher. If rehab was successful, he gives the Cardinal a big hand on the boards, just like twin brother Jarron.
FRONT COURT No former All-Americas. No present All-Americas (yet). But Madsen's intensity, Sauer's versatility and Young's intangibles are impossible to quantify.
BACK COURT Lee penetrates. Weems hits the three. Lee is a free throw ace. Weems plays great D. Both handle the ball, the pressure and anything else you throw at them.
BENCH Towering twins, a steady point, a shooting forward, a three-point specialist/defender and a combo guard. If only you could teach them to run a 4.5 40.
SCHEDULE Loaded. After preseason NIT, Stanford meets Maryland (maybe GW, too) in the BB&T Classic (Dec. 6-7), then Temple (Dec. 29) and UConn (Feb. 6) in the Bay Area.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Stanford lost only 12 Tournament minutes and one Tournament point to graduation. Did we mention the frontcourt's not very fast?
4 - MARYLAND - Last Season: 22-11 Sweet 16
To play the 40 minutes of take-no-prisoners defense that Gary Williams demands, you need depth and versatility. But since taking over a 9-20 team in 1990, Williams has never quite found the right mix, not even with his '95 Joe Smith squad. Last season, for instance, in a game against Clemson, a good Terps team simply ran out of gas, as the Tigers outscored them 13-0 in OT.
This season, senior swingman Laron Profit-with 184 career steals-returns as one of the nation's best defenders. Senior point guard Terrell Stokes was third in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Senior big man Obinna Ekezie bumped bodies all summer with NBAers. Talented soph forward Terence Morris has inspired comparisons to Len Bias. And seven-foot sop Mike Mardesich showed something by draining 12 big points in last season's upset of North Carolina.
But the key to Maryland making its first trip to the Final Four will be the depth and versatility provided by the newcomers. Steve Francis, a 6'3" guard who nearly took his 43-inch vert to the pros, was rated the second-best juco baller in the nation. Danny Miller, a 6'8" McDonald's All-American, can play the two or three. Lonny Baxter goes 6'8", 225 and was second fiddle to NBA draftee Korleone Young at Hargrave Military Academy. Redshirt frosh Juan Dixon has a great three-point touch.
"A lot more pieces, a lot more parts," says Profit. But do they all fit? Besides Mardesich, Ekezie and Stokes, everyone is basically a swingman. If Williams makes it work, career victory No. 400 is 29 wins away. Maybe in St. Pete.
NEW FACE A watershed recruit, Danny Miller chose Maryland over Duke just when Terps fans felt the big ones were getting away. "I liked the free rein on offense," he says.
FRONT COURT Ekezie has greatly improved, but must rebound (6.5 rpg) as well as he scores (12.8 ppg). Mardesich blocked 20 shots. Morris finished strong last season.
BACK COURT Stokes, the team's only true PG, can be inconsistent. Playing alongside Francis might raise his game-if they can share the rock without pouting.
BENCH Look for Williams to keep Mardesich, Baxter and Miller on the pine. But all three have the goods to crack the starting lineup.
SCHEDULE The '97-98 sked was nation's toughest. Now Terps could see UCLA and Kentucky in Puerto Rico, Stanford in D.C., Kentucky at Rupp-then kick off ACC tour vs. Duke.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Francis has impressed on both ends in preseason, quickly grasping D schemes. Terps shot 34.9% beyond the arc, but half of those points are now gone.
5 - MICHIGAN STATE - Last Season: 22-8 sweet 16
How does this sound? The best point guard in the country leads Michigan State to 20-plus victories and a spot in the Sweet 16. Then he comes back the next season and the Spartans win the whole darn thing. It happened 20 years ago with Magic Johnson. Now Mateen Cleaves gets his turn.
The Big Ten's Player of the Year (16.1 ppg, 7.2 apg as a soph) is one of five starters back, and the return of senior guard Thomas Kelley from a medical redshirt (broken foot) gives this run-and-gun bunch more options. Don't be surprised to see a three-guard offense on occasion. The main question in East Lansing is whether MSU's inside guys can take some of the pressure off Cleaves. "We don't have any true height," says 6'7" sniper Jason Klein, who was good on 41% of his threes.
A pair of 6'8" board-crashers, senior Antonio Smith (8.7 rpg) and soph Andre Hutson (5.2 rpg), need 6'9" junior sub A.J. Granger to help more with the ugly points.
The biggest test will come when State falls behind. Cleaves and soph two-guard Charlie Bell (9.2 ppg) can hold a lead. They couldn't catch up, though, when North Carolina jumped ahead by 14 in the regional semis.
The Spartans were 17-1 last season when entering the second half on top, but just 4-7 when trailing. And then there are all those expectations. No one on the team-including fourth-year coach Tom Izzo-has appeared in more than three NCAA tourney games. Then again, neither had anyone on that Magical '79 squad.
NEW FACE Adam Ballinger has the right pedigree: He's a Mr. Basketball finalist from Indiana. Now all he needs is patience. Izzo will use the 6'9", 225-pounder sparingly this season.
FRONT COURT Led the Big Ten in boards without a regular above 6'9", but Izzo wants Smith (7.9 ppg) and Hutson (7.5 ppg) to score more. Granger has added 15 pounds of muscle.
BACK COURT Although Cleaves and Bell combined for three steals a game, they need to cut down on their turnovers (5.3 per). Soph Doug Davis will spell Cleaves at the point.
BENCH Kelley, F Morris Peterson (8 ppg) and wingman David Thomas are every step as quick as the starters. They're also solid defenders.
SCHEDULE Ouch! At Temple Nov. 20, then Duke in Chicago and UConn at Storrs in the same week (Dec. 2 and 5). But only Indiana and Purdue should give MSU Big Ten trouble.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Kelley could be country's best sixth man. He has great speed and court sense. You can't coach size. Spartans need to control the tempo against bigger foes.
6 - KENTUCKY - Last Season: 35-4 national champ
You're thinking: Wayne Turner is still there? What is he, a seventh-year senior? Well, yes, he's still there, and he's finally a senior. But you're right. The Kentucky point guard and catalyst has shown up in more video clips than Forrest Gump. And if things proceed as usual in Lexington-a stampede through the SEC, then a deep run into the Tournament-Turner will eclipse the NCAA games-played record of 148 set by Christian Laettner, a name that still triggers uncontrollable twitch-ing in Bluegrass country.
Turner (9.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) and fellow seniors Scott Padgett (11.5 ppg) and Heshimu Evans (8.8 ppg) are three reasons the Cats might see a fourth straight Final Four. Once again, Kentucky has the bodies and athleticism to throw 94 feet of shrink-wrap at anybody. When last season's Cats finally got a grasp on Tubby Smith's defensive concepts, they took a half-court stand and rose to championship level.
Big man Jamaal Magloire gets all the minutes he can handle if he avoids fouls-and when he's in the lineup, this team might be better defensively than last year's. Offensively, Kentucky needs a perimeter threat to play along-side Turner. Smith's Cats don't shoot the three like Pitino's did. Kentucky has lost a staggering seven players to the NBA in three years (six first-rounders), but with three stone-cold winners to rely on, there's no reason to mourn for Big Blue.
NEW FACE Tayshaun Prince is the frosh with the highest profile, but Smith might have uncovered a gem in Jules. That would be Souleymane (Jules) Camara, a 6'11" frontliner from Senegal who shoots with either hand, plays three positions and speaks three languages.
FRONT COURT Nazr Mohammed's jump to the NBA was only a flesh wound. If Magloire matures from the neck up, he'll team with Padgett and Evans for a blue-chip front line.
BACK COURT Sophs Ryan Hogan and Saul Smith (Tubby's son) try to fill the void left by shooter Jeff Sheppard, but spindly 6'8" freshman Tayshaun Prince is a better fit.
BENCH Kentucky will run out of bourbon before the Cats run out of players. Smith is two-deep at every spot except shooting guard, where he is zero-deep-for now.
SCHEDULE It'll be a December to remember, even by UK standards: Kansas, Miami (Fla.), Indiana, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Duke and archrival Louisville-all in a row.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Soph C Michael Bradley, maybe the Cats' best passer, is primed for a breakout year. Magloire, Hogan and Myron Anthony will sit two games due to off-season incidents.
7 - TEMPLE - Last Season: 21-9 first round.
John Chaney fought his way up the coaching food chain from the junior high ranks in the mid-'60s to his current status as one of college basketball's most successful coaches. He has taken Temple-an inner-city school near Philly's drug-infested Badlands-to 15 straight postseason appearances and three trips to the Elite Eight ('88, '91, '93). Last season, he saw his work rewarded with the opening of the brand-new Apollo of Temple, a 10,206-seat, state-of-the-art, on-campus arena.
The one thing missing from Chaney's Hall of Fame resume is a trip to the Final Four. Guess what? The Owls return three key starters from their Atlantic 10 East title squad. Add two McDonald's All-Americans, and this could be the year Chaney finally gets to the final weekend. "I've been there so many times as a spectator," says Chaney, who needs 19 wins to reach 600 for his career. "It sure would be nice to get to coach in one."
The frontcourt benefits most from Chaney's recruiting windfall. Mark Karcher, a 6'5" Prop 48 soph, averaged 27.5 ppg as Maryland's 1997 high school Player of the Year. He brings a scoring presence missing last season. Meanwhile, the arrival of Kevin Lyde, a 6'9", 240-pound prize center from Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, will let 6'10" Lamont Barnes move back to the four. The one hitch with big recruits? Big expectations. But hey, there's plenty of room to hang banners in that new arena.
NEW FACE John Chaney is usually guarded when discus-sing newbies, but not with wing Mark Karcher. "In terms of talent and demeanor, he reminds me of Mark Macon," says the coach. "He's not a hand-slapper who celebrates after baskets. He just plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."
FRONT COURT No longer a problem spot, thanks to newcomers Lyde and Karcher. Barnes has NBA potential; the move to power forward will give him a chance to prove it.
BACK COURT Lefties Pepe Sanchez and Rasheed Brokenborough are proven winners. PG Sanchez has quick hands (3.44 steals per); Brokenborough (11.8 ppg) thrives under pressure.
BENCH Temple's bench is usually as short as Ally McBeal's hemlines. No more. Watch for PG Lynn Greer, wing Quincy Wadley, banger Keaton Sanders, frosh C Ron Rollerson.
SCHEDULE Chaney likes to impress the selection committee. Owls face Georgetown, Mississippi, Michigan State, Indiana, Florida State, Fresno State and Stanford before Jan. 1.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Karcher and Lyde give Chaney almost as many Mickey D's as he's had in 16 years (3). Owls milk the clock, meaning Sanchez (32% FG), Brokenborough (36%) force some.
8 - XAVIER - Last Season: 22-8 first round
You'll have to excuse the Xavier Musketeers-they're fairly new at this powerhouse thing. How else to explain that bummer of an ending last season? At one point, they were No. 7 in the nation. Then they dropped out of the Top 25 and were bounced by underdog Washington in the Tourney's first round. "We lost some games where fans stormed the court," says coach Skip Prosser. "Beating Xavier was like Mardi Gras. It was a real eye-opener for our guys."
Three years ago, the Muskies were just 13-15, finding consolation in close losses to better teams. But seniors James Posey, Darnell Williams, Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin take little solace from their 45 wins over the past two seasons. Another Atlantic 10 title won't mean a thing unless this veteran squad goes far. Unfortunately, a torn ACL means that Williams and his team-leading 17.3 ppg won't be back until midseason, if at all. Still, the other three are more than capable of picking up the scoring slack. They combined for 42.4 ppg last season, and the 6'8" Posey is an All-America candidate who plays solid D as well.
Prosser has ample talent on hand, but the departure of top post players Torraye Braggs and T.J. Johnson leaves him zero frontcourt depth. Highly touted recruits Lloyd Price and Kevin Frey will have to contribute right off the bat. Price especially should benefit from Williams' absence. The flashy 6'5" swingman can score from anywhere and has wasted no time establishing himself as a player to watch. With or without Williams, these X-men will be a dangerous bunch all season long.
NEW FACE Rated as high as 11th among preps, Lloyd Price could have gone any-where. Why Xavier? He hails from the same area (Wilmington, Del.) as Lumpkin and Brown.
FRONT COURT Posey, the A-10's top sixth man two years running, is a starter now. Prosser must find another quality big man from jucos Obi Harris and Desmond Walker.
BACK COURT Doesn't get much better than Brown and Lumpkin, though the latter saw his three-point accuracy drop by 10 percentage points last season. Price will play here too.
BENCH Sophomore speedster Maurice McAfee should get ample minutes spelling Brown, Lumpkin and Price. Redshirt frosh G Alvin Brown has a good outside stroke.
SCHEDULE Some holiday. After spending Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico with the likes of Kentucky and Maryland, the Muskies return home for Purdue and Miami (Ohio).
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Brown and Lumpkin could finish their careers among school's top 10 scorers. Promising recruit Aaron Turner failed to qualify academically.
9 - TENNESSEE - Last Season: 20-9 first round
Listen to the buzz on campus and you might not even know Tennessee has a men's basketball program. All the talk is about football (the Vols finally beat hated Florida) and women's hoops (Pat Summitt's squad is ready for a fourth straight title run). Even Jerry Green admits his club doesn't deserve equal billing-not yet anyway. But the coach welcomes back four double-digit scorers from a 20-9 Tourney team, Tennessee's first since 1989. Soph center Charles Hathaway, who redshirted last year due to a blood clot in his right shoulder, is cleared to play. And 6'7" homegrown talent Vincent Yarbrough rates among the nation's top 10 recruits.
Not bad, huh? Well, keep reading. Green also has the SEC's best backcourt: Brandon Wharton and Tony Harris. His Vols go six-deep up front: Hathaway, Yarbrough, Rashard Lee, Isiah Victor, Torrey Harris and C.J. Black. There is balance, the quickness to press and the size to play half-court. Tennessee has had trouble on the boards-opponents averaged an SEC-high 41.3 rebounds-but Hathaway was a glass-eater as a freshman (7.1 rpg), and Yarbrough was good for 14 rpg in high school.
With a little backcourt help from the bench, the Vols could easily eclipse the school record for wins (22) and make some serious noise in March. Along the way, they might even separate Kentucky from the SEC title. What will the folks in Knoxville say then?
NEW FACE Vincent Yarbrough is Del Baker's younger brother, but he stands out on his own. As a McDonald's All-American-and Mr. Basketball for the state of Tennessee- he did it all: scored (24 ppg), rebounded (14 rpg), passed (7 apg) and blocked shots (5 bpg).
FRONT COURT Black (12.6 ppg) is the only sure starter. Hathaway boosts boards. Victor made big strides in off-season, says Green. And Yarbrough is a can't-miss prospect.
BACK COURT Wharton and Harris combined for 29.4 ppg, but each shot less than 40% from the field. Del Baker, Vegas Davis and Aaron Green must step up to give Vols fresh legs.
BENCH Eleven players made at least one start; 10 averaged 14 minutes or more. With Hathaway and Yarbrough in the mix, two Tourney starters might be riding the pine.
SCHEDULE Seven of 11 non-conference games are at home-only one featured a Tourney team: season opener vs. Arizona in BCA Classic (Nov. 13, Albuquerque).
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Vols were second in SEC in blocks-without Hathaway. (He had 10 in five games.) Tennessee connected on only 42% of its shots in '97-98.
10 - UCLA - Last Season: 24-9 sweet 16
Everyone tells UCLA coach Steve Lavin that this is finally his team. Good riddance to Jim Harrick's kids. Welcome to the nation's No. 1-rated recruiting class. Now let's see if you can coach.
Lavin knows better, of course. He knows he would no longer be calling Westwood home if J.R. Henderson,
Toby Bailey and Kris Johnson hadn't responded when he took over in late '96. He knows he can coach. And that makes life all the sweeter when he watches his five freshmen practice (four of them are top-20). "It's the first time entering a season where it's what I imagined coaching would feel like," says Lavin.
It starts with oversized roommies Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Moiso. The 6'11", Dutch-born Gadzuric has rarely faced players as big, but he should still make Jelani McCoy's '97 walkout a distant memory. The 6'11" Moiso, a native of Guadeloupe, is a matchup nightmare-a power forward who can handle the ball, step out and hit the three and swat shot after shot. Then there's 6'6" JaRon Rush, who spent part of his summer making fools of NBA players at Pauley. Ray Young and Matt Barnes aren't bad either.
Leadership will come from sophomore guards Earl Watson and Baron Davis. Watson, the only Bruin to start every game last season, has improved more than anyone. Davis, who tore his ACL in the Tourney, is an open-court terror. Lavin plans on working him back slowly.
Inexperience aside, this team has no weaknesses. The Bruins can run teams right out of the building or kill them with their big men. Either way, Lavin knows everyone will be watching.
NEW FACE The least-touted new guy, Matt Barnes has impressed with a Pippenesque ability to play four spots. The 6'7", 215-pounder has often outhustled the other frosh, too.
FRONT COURT Gadzuric and Moiso are supported by soph Travis Reed, who came up big in March. Rush can score any way you want. Outside threat Billy Knight backs him up.
BACK COURT Watson and Davis are interchangeable parts. Senior Brandon Loyd, slasher Rico Hines, transfer Ryan Bailey (Toby's bro) and the 6'4" Young give Davis time to heal.
BENCH Reed, Hines and Knight were all part of the No. 2-rated recruiting class last year. The surprising Barnes-a stellar prep tight end-may be the Bruins' best athlete.
SCHEDULE Thanksgiving at Puerto Rico Shootout. O.K. State in the Wooden Classic (Dec. 5). Syracuse at Pauley (Feb. 21). Killer Pac-10 sked includes Feb. 11 trip to Stanford.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Lavs is first UCLA coach since Wooden with multiple wins in back-to-back Dances. Twelve of 14 Bruins are underclassmen. Will it matter come March?
11 - WASHINGTON - Last Season: 20-10 sweet 16
Donald Watts has always been confident. You gotta be when your dad's an ex-SuperSonic named Slick. But this season, the 6'4" senior guard (16.9 ppg) is really expecting big things from the Huskies. For starters, they've improved their record during each of Bob Bender's five years. Also, it's the Year of the Big Mac-and as Watts points out, UW's Todd MacCulloch is the biggest Mac around. During a surprising NCAA run last March, the 280-pound seven-footer averaged 21.7 ppg and 12 rpg. That was after connecting on 65% of his shots during the regular season-tops in the nation.
One small problem: Now Big Mac is Washington's only big man. Gone is 7'1" Patrick Femerling, who skipped his senior year to sign a pro contract in his native Germany. So while the Huskies are faster, they're leaning on MacCulloch more than ever. "Todd has to expand his game," says Bender. "He's learning how to read defenses and pass out of double-teams. We're letting him roam out to 15 feet so he won't take as much of a pounding." Bender hopes to give MacCulloch more than 28 minutes a game. The big fella has improved his stamina and should cut down on those pesky fatigue fouls.
With MacCulloch and junior guard Deon Luton (15.4 ppg), Watts has every reason to be confident. "The key is to have that cockiness," he says. "Because this time around, we won't be sneaking up on anybody."
NEW FACE Bender describes 6'4" Senque Carey as a "power guard" who reminds him of Watts, which is a pretty nice compliment for a rookie. The Bay Area product can play one or two, but he'll see most of his time at the point this season. Carey could even challenge Dan Dickau for the starting job.
FRONT COURT MacCulloch and garbageman Thalo Green welcome Greg Clark, a 6'6", 220-pound transfer from Long Beach State who can match up with athletic forwards.
BACK COURT Watts and the streaky Luton are dangerous. Big question for this three-guard offense: How well can soph Dan Dickau handle the point and key the pressure D?
BENCH UW needs solid minutes from frosh PG Senque Carey. It will help if 6'10", 260-pound frosh Marlon Shelton blossoms fast too. (Dad Lonnie was a Sonic after Slick.)
SCHEDULE Pac-10 tuneup includes Hawaii's Big Island Invitational (Nov. 27-29), then a 4,299-mile trek to Chicago for a Sweet 16 rematch with UConn in Great Eight (Dec. 1).
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Watts, arguably the Pac-10's most improved player last season, looks even better. Non-qualifier Doug Wrenn will play for the Huskies next season. The UConn Huskies.
12 - ARIZONA - Last Season: 30-5 elite eight
Because Lute Olson's white hair and stoic appearance make him look professorial, we should pay attention when he delivers a history lecture. Today-surprise!-Dr. Olson wants to talk hoops. In 1985-86, his Arizona Wildcats won the Pac-10 title with two freshmen in the frontcourt. Two years ago, with one returning starter (Miles Simon), they won the national champ-ion-ship. So, do you think Olson is concerned that A.J. Bramlett and Jason Terry are the only regulars back from last spring's Elite Eight team? Naaah. "We have a lot of question marks," he says, "but they're talented question marks."
They'd better be. You don't pop down to the local 7-Eleven for a Simon, a Mike Bibby, a Michael Dickerson and a Bennett Davison. Olson's refills will come from a top-5 recruiting class, one that, in theory, will orbit smoothly around the Bramlett-Terry inside-outside axis. Michael Wright, a 6'7", 235-pound Chicago import, could bump junior Eugene Edgerson at power forward.
And Richard Jefferson, a fleet-footed McDonald's All-American, will challenge soph Justin Wessel at No. 3. The 6'11" Bramlett is a menace in the middle, but he must think about scoring now, too; he averaged only 10.4 per in '97-98.
'Zona's perimeter game isn't nearly as potent, but Terry was the country's premiere sixth man a year ago. He can score (10.6 ppg), assist and defend. "We're still going to run," says Bramlett. "But we have big people who can really move." The future could be great. The present? It won't stink, that's for sure. History tells us so.
NEW FACE Richard Jefferson has fundamentals and attitude. "They've had explosive players here," says the 6'8" forward. "But they haven't seen anybody who can dunk like I can."
FRONT COURT Cats' attack now shifts to paint. C Bramlett is option No. 1, but burly Wright and explosive Jefferson could shake things up. Edgerson is best on boards.
BACK COURT If you can't have Bibby at point, Terry's a mighty fine replacement. Frosh Ruben Douglas and Traves Wilson will play point and wing.
BENCH The most familiar face: Wildcat QB Ortege Jenkins, who also plays guard. F Luke Walton, son of Bill, and F Rick Anderson round out the freshman class.
SCHEDULE Non-conference tilts include Tennessee (Nov. 13), New Mexico (Jan. 16). Biggest test comes Feb. 25-March 6: Cats visit Cal and Stanford, then host USC and UCLA.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Terry had 18 starts as a soph. Bramlett hasn't missed a start in 54 games. 'Zona has lost 66% of its scoring.
13- NORTH CAROLINA - Last Season: 34-4 Final Four
So how will the Tar Heels replace the irreplaceable Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter? How did they replace Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace? J.R. Reid? And, uh, what's his name ... Michael Jordan? Point is, Chapel Hill in '98-99 is a far cry from what it was in '81-82. That's when James Worthy became the first player since Bob McAdoo in the early '70s to leave the program early. These days, replacing early departees is almost an annual ritual.
"You regroup," says second-year coach Bill Guthridge, Dean Smith's sidekick for 30 seasons. For Carolina, that means you roll in new talent and win at least 20. With only two starters back-versatile 6'9" forward Ademola Okulaja (8 ppg) and digitally precise point guard Ed Cota (7.4 apg)-the Tar Heels are counting on three talented freshmen: guard Ronald Curry (who was thrust into QB duty with the football team), wing Jason Capel and 6'10" Kris Lang. If the kids aren't ready, the Heels' 35-year run of top-three finishes in the ACC could end.
Not likely. Not when you factor in sophomore seven-footer Brendan Haywood (91 boards in just 307 mins.) and a pair of players returning from a year off: 6'10" Vasco Evtimov (from the French army) and 6'8" Orlando Melendez (from a foot injury). This team could resemble Dean's last team: The '96-97 Heels lost five of their first eight league games, but won their final eight to finish second. That group made it all the way to the Final Four.
NEW FACE Jason Capel is a 6'8" wing who can do it all. He can create. He can shoot. He can defend. He's a coach's kid. Cota is going to love running with this guy.
FRONT COURT Haywood is prone to fouls, so 6'11" soph Brian Bersticker will get minutes. Mix in Evtimov and you see the makings of a three-headed post player with 15 fouls to give.
BACK COURT Cota makes decisions like an inside trader. He knows when to speed it up, pull it back and keep the rock himself. Capel's father, Jeff, is head man at Old Dominion.
BENCH The Heels go 10-deep. The X-factor may be 5'11" senior Scott Williams, son of Kansas' Roy Williams. Big-time programs are already wooing Scott as an assistant.
SCHEDULE Confidence builders at Hampton, Dartmouth and Middle Tennessee State. The only non-conference games that present challenges: preseason NIT and Dec. 29 at Cal.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS With Cota at the controls, this team is not likely to beat itself. Whenever Carolina talks 10-man rotation, it seems no five players ever find a rhythm.
14 - UMASS - Last Season: 21-11 first round
The biggest news on the UMass campus this season? The Minutemen will actually be there once in a while. Last season, head coach Bruiser Flint took the credo "Any team, Any time, Any place" to the extreme, whisking his youthful Minute-men away from the homey Mullins Center 22 times in 32 games. "I almost forgot where our gym was," he says.
All those UMass zealots craving inter-action with their team will be happy to know that this season's regular schedule features 14 Amherst dates, including whoppers against UConn, Kansas and Atlantic 10 foe Xavier. The fans will certainly revel in watching one of the nation's best centers-6'10", 268-pound senior Lari Ketner (15.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)-manhandle opponents. The imposing Ketner displays New England's finest array of post moves since Kevin McHale.
Overall, the Minutemen return 11 players and add three good ones, which means they might run and press more this season. Just don't expect UCLA East. Defense and rebounding remain Flint's focus. Flint's beefy frontcourt boasts five players 6'8" or bigger.
Offensively, UMass will look inside first-to Ketner or 6'9" junior Ajmal Basit-then go outside to a pair of 6'3" guards, senior Charlton Clarke and junior Monty Mack. The versatile Clarke (12.6 ppg) scores in bunches; the explosive Mack (13.8 ppg) scores when he wants.
Four extra home games may not seem like much, but the Minutemen have only lost eight times at the Mullins Center in seven seasons. That sounds like a pretty good reason to stay home and let others do the flying.
NEW FACE Anthony Oates (6'10", 270 pounds) becomes UMass' first juice in 11 years. He can catch and pass from the pivot and might need double-teaming. He also has a bigger upper body than Ketner and complementary skills. He'll rebound, bang and generally make life miserable for foes.
FRONT COURT Talent, size and depth abound. Joining Ketner and Basit is D-minded starter
BACK COURT Mike Babul, but redshirt soph Winston Smith is a much better offensive threat.
BENCH Clarke handles the point, but soph sub Jonathan DePina is better suited for the position and could see more minutes. Both Clarke and Mack need to shoot better. Prop 48 sop Kitwana Rhymer has a soft touch for a 6'10" guy. Redshirt frosh Ronell Blizzard is a 6'8" slasher. F Chris Kirkland bangs. G Rafael Cruz adds speed.
SCHEDULE UConn (Dec. 9) and Kansas (Jan. 16) at home. College of Charleston (Dec. 1) and Texas (Jan. 31) away. Plus the usual A-10 land mines (Xavier once, Temple twice).
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS The defense can be suffocating: Opponents shot just 40% last season. The Minutemen, at 44%, weren't much better.
15 - OKLAHOMA STATE - Last Season: 22-7 second round
Eddie's Elves? Sutton's Shrimps? Don't laugh. These undersized Cowboys have the talent to make a name for themselves. But enough to be remembered like Rupp's Runts, Kentucky's 1966 NCAA runner-up? "We'd be darn good in a 6'6"-and-under league," says coach Eddie Sutton.
The Pokes play in the Big 12, where the departure of 6'11" center Brett Robisch will sting-just not as much as the loss of Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce at Kansas. In fact, Sutton has his best squad since Bryant (Big Country) Reeves took OSU to the '95 Final Four. Four starters are back from a Tourney team that scared the Blue Devil out of Duke before losing 79-73. And 6'6" junior power forward Desmond Mason (14.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is capable of reducing many opponents to OSU's size. Paddled on the fanny by his high school coach, he has the tough-ness to play in an elbow-nasty league. So does underrated Adrian Peterson. The 6'4" senior guard (17.7 ppg) moves to small forward in Sutton's shorty lineup because-you guessed it-he plays big on the boards (6.7 rpg). And don't forget big-mouth point man Doug Gottlieb. The trash-talking junior led the Big 12 in assists (6.93) as a transfer from Notre Dame.
The wild card is 6'10" junior Alex Webber. He has Reeves' size and country-bumpkin looks. But he has played like Keanu Reeves since back surgery ended his first season. If Webber doesn't get better, Sutton could occasionally go with a four-guard lineup. "Offensively, we wouldn't have any problems," he says. "But defensively ... " Let's just say it's a big risk worth taking.
NEW FACE Another 6'5" gunner? Why not? Arkansas transfer Glendon Alexander, Texas' all-time scoring champ, becomes eligible Dec.12.
FRONT COURT Mason and Peterson play one spot up from natural positions. There is height-6'10" Swede Fredrik Jonzen and 6'10" soph Scott Robisch (Brett's bro)-but it's raw.
BACK COURT Shooting guard Joe Adkins (12.6 ppg) can stroke it, but he's only 6'2". The 6'1" Gottlieb isn't much of a shooter (5.4 ppg), but he plays better than he talks.
BENCH Full of quality situation players perfect for Sutton's relentless, in-your-jock defense. Big juco transfer Roy Candley (7'2", 390) is a project.
SCHEDULE A 78-game home win streak against non-conf. foes gets tested by TCU on Nov. 28. Visits to UCLA (Dec. 5 in Anaheim), UNLV (Dec. 22) could expose small frontcourt.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Gottlieb led the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.75 to 1). He also shot an ugly 48.6% from the free throw line.
16 - PURDUE - Last Season: 28-8 sweet 16
The joke goes like this: The Big Ten should give Purdue the boot because a roster full of gazelles doesn't belong in a conference overrun by bears. Still, after watching Stanford humble his team in the Sweet 16, coach Gene Keady lamented a lack of frontcourt muscle. At his urging, players spent the summer in the weight room. Bulging biceps won't replace center Brad Miller, though. Neither will shot-blocking freshman John Allison. So Keady is counting on threes and fours to help him do the banging. "We're going to throw six forwards at you, and wear you down," he says.
Super scrappy Brian Cardinal (12 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is the role model Mike Robinson and Gary McQuay hope to imitate. They can: a) step up or b) step aside, because Jamaal Davis and Cameron Stephens, two highly regarded Prop 48s, bring a hunger to the court Purdue has been sorely lacking. "We're much more intense and emotional," says Cardinal.
The Boilermakers backcourt lost shooting guard Chad Austin, but Jaraan Cornell is the answer. The junior hit 50.4% of his threes and averaged 12.8 points in 23 minutes, but finished last season on a bum ankle. Senior point Alan Eldridge will get a push from Carson Cunningham, who bolted Oregon State after a stellar freshman season.
Keady's new agita? Finding minutes for 14 players. Keep them all happy and these speedy Boilermakers could easily run deep into March.
NEW FACE At Oregon State, Carson Cunningham challenged Arizona's Mike Bibby for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. A sensational passer, he led the Beavers in points, assists and steals. The transfer had surgery in September to clear out chips in his right elbow, but he isn't expected to miss any action.
FRONT COURT With Cardinal's leadership and a burst of talent from Davis and Stephens, Purdue can hang with the Big Ten's best. But Keady will still wish for a bona fide center.
BACK COURT Bye, bye Austin. Hello Cornell. The junior is due for a breakout year. Eldridge (7.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) returns at point. But will Cunningham be there by March?
BENCH They don't come much deeper. But Keady could use some height. Freshman C Allison is tallest at 6'10". No one else tops 6'8".
SCHEDULE Early tests against Xavier (Dec. 5) and South Carolina (Dec. 22). Then Keady can tinker until February, when the Boilermakers meet Michigan State twice.
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS Cardinal stayed fit this summer by helping the U.S. to gold in the Goodwill Games. NCAA is still looking into recruitment of Luther Clay and Porter Roberts.
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