Not slighting Roberts, Mississippi State

Updated: July 30, 2004, 3:10 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

ESPN.com's Andy Katz answers a few questions found in his Inbox this week:

Why is Mississippi State not getting more preseason hype? We did lose Timmy Bowers and Branden Vincent, but Lawrence Roberts is the ONLY Wooden Award finalist returning this year. Add him with Ontario Harper returning, and a decent recruiting year ... I would think we would be worth a mention other than "Also invited to Wooden Classic" or inserting Lawrence on the bottom on your Wooden top 50 column. Where's the love?

Greg,
Nashville

Greg,
Chill. If you noticed, I did my Wooden Award ballot based on the alphabetical order of the conferences. So, I'm not slighting Roberts. I expect him to be one of the player of the year candidates and a first-team all-American. And trust me, we'll give Mississippi State plenty of love throughout the season. The Bulldogs should be the team to beat in the SEC West, ahead of Alabama.

How can Michigan State be considered as a preseason No. 1 last year and this year, after only losing one player to graduation, be ranked 15th? Do you think that without all of the preseason pressure and hype that the Spartans might be a little more lax? Could this be the Spartans year to cut down the nets?

Thanks,
Dave,
Lexington, Ky.

Dave,
Who had Michigan State as a preseason No. 1? I don't remember the Spartans being considered for that spot in the polls. Michigan State had a brutal non-conference schedule and then couldn't stay consistent in the Big Ten, leading to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans should be a co-favorite with Illinois to win the Big Ten and have to be considered a candidate to advance to the Sweet 16. Trust me, Tom Izzo is driven to get this program deep into the NCAAs every season. It was only two seasons ago that they were in the Elite Eight.

I have written to you before, but either you didn't receive it, or you ignored my letter. I want you to save this e-mail and read it at the end of the season. The Oregon Ducks will contend for the Pac-10 title. You said they will finish fourth in your Sizzling 50 article. You are underestimating Aaron Brooks to begin with. If you didn't watch them closely last year, that is easy to do because he missed a big portion of the season. When he returned, he was dynamite, and another offseason with the national team has helped. The frontline consists of four 6-foot-10 to 7-foot posts, with the most impressive one of the bunch being 7-1 Ray Schafer, a redshirt freshman who sat out last year to become familiar with a college setting (he was home schooled in high school). You add Malik Hairston, and the top shooter in all of California in Bryce Taylor, and you have a dynamic team with depth. Sure, Luke (Jackson) is gone, but they have added more talent than ever before! So Andy, file this away, and feel free to e-mail your apologies to me and to Ernie Kent as the season goes on. Thanks.

David Kahn,
Hanford, Calif.

David,
I love the enthusiasm for the Green and Gold. Mac Court is one of my favorite stops in college basketball. You're probably not going to like this, but I got plenty of flak for having Oregon that high. Coaches in the Pac-10 thought Cal, ASU and USC had just as much a right to be in the top four in the Pac-10. Brooks didn't make the USA team, but did play well when I saw him in New Jersey two weeks ago. I'm a fan of Hairston's ability and do expect the backcourt to be one of the best in the West. I'm still not sold on the inside game, and that's why I'm reserving judgment and not putting the Ducks higher. But I won't be surprised if they make a run to the NCAAs.

I recently surveyed your summer top 50 and noticed that you had not included the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. Most likely, this is a clerical error rather than an omission, but in the unlikely event that you deliberately chose to exclude them, allow me to portray their resume:

2003-2004 final record: 20-13
Returning starters: 3 (one of the graduating seniors, Axani, split time)
Returning PPG as a percentage of average PPG '03-04: 67%
2003-2004 postseason: NIT finalist (Michigan, the champ that won a competitive contest, is No. 29)

Should RU be in the top 25? No. Top 35? Probably not. But 50? Come on, Andy. Where's the respect for Dick Vitale's one-time employer?

Tom,
New York

Tom,
That's quite an argument. I did give Rutgers consideration. The Scarlet Knights were on the bubble for me, just like they were a year ago. Losing Herve Lamizana will be a hit. Lamizana led the Scarlet Knights in blocks and rebounding the past two seasons. He didn't have as good a shooting year last season on 3s, but his overall importance to the squad will be hard to replace. I chose to take a wait-and-see attitude on Rutgers.

In your breakdown of the top 50 teams for the upcoming season, you write reasons why each team won't reach their potential. For Arizona, you flippantly state, "Because it's Arizona." What? You mean because they've gone to the NCAAs every year for two decades, because they've been THE PAC-10 for two decades, because they have a national title? Last year they played with half a team, no leadership and a pouty shooting guard, and they still managed a 20-win season. I don't see you writing that North Carolina will fail "because they're coached by Roy Williams," who has a history of flopping in the NCAAs. However, it seems like a couple of disappointing results in the NCAAs in the '90s are your sole reasons for knocking Arizona. I guess ESPN's pro-ACC meter got knocked out of whack by your flattering article on Arizona last week. Have to keep those contracts happy, huh?

Kim Doss-Cortes
Tucson, Ariz.

Kim,
I wasn't indicting Arizona's program. I was merely referring to last season's Arizona team that was one of the most flaky Lute Olson has coached. Talk to the coaching staff and they'll tell you that they had a hard time coaching last season's team. The core of the team returns and a similar challenge exists for the staff. I'm one of the few national reporters who believes the Wildcats could be a Final Four team and deserve to be in the top 10. This has nothing to do with the Pac-10 on FSN. You should know that I'm a big proponent of the Pac-10 and would love it if it were on ESPN.

I'm certain you've received many blistering e-mails from SIU-C Saluki fans about leaving our beloved Salukis off of your preseason top 50 list. On the face of it, your move doesn't look too smart. We we've won the MVC title three years in a row, have the Player of the Year (Darren Brooks) who is also the Defensive POY, a veteran squad (only lose three players), a member of the all-bench team, three members of the all-defensive team, etc. My question is what criteria did you use to eliminate SIU, the overwhelming preseason MVC No. 1 pick?

Marvin L. Courson,
Carbondale, Ill.

Marvin,
This was another close call that I debated with friends and colleagues. In hindsight, I could have easily made the case to put them in the top 50. I expect the Salukis to once again be the favorite to win the MVC and get back to the NCAAs. But having its third coach in as many seasons could disrupt the success.

Is Jason Conley going to be a junior eligibility-wise this fall or a senior? With all the technicalities that seemed to go into his transfer to Missouri, I've lost track. He sounds like a good kid, but all the controversy surrounding his recruitment doesn't sound worth it if the Tigers will only have him for a season and a half.

Gregg Palermo,
Ft. Myers, Fla.

Gregg,
Missouri listed Conley as a junior last season. Remember, he played three semesters at VMI before transferring to Missouri. You can't transfer and be in the same class at the new school as you were in the old one.

Loved the preseason top 50 you have already put out. It's hard to find out what's going on in the college basketball world in the offseason online without paying for it. This isn't a question so please forgive my bias toward UK, but you left out Patrick Sparks, who is fired up and a HUGE outside threat which should put UK in the top 10 even with the young guys coming in. Tub's will get them playing D by the tournament.
Thanks,

Eric,
Louisville

Eric,
This is unbelievable. I wrote a story on Sparks about how everyone forgot about him. And then I did too. I'm confident that Sparks will be an integral part of the Wildcats the upcoming season. If he doesn't start, he'll be one of the first players off the bench. He'll bring experience and toughness to the Kentucky backcourt.

I want to know why you don't have Nevada in your Top 50 for the 2005-2006 season. They are the defending WAC champions with the best front line in the league returning and the best front line on the West Coast. You didn't give them any respect during their tourney run, and you aren't giving them any now. What's up?

Rita,
Reno, Nev.

Rita,
Once again this was a close call. In my discussions with coaches in the WAC, the consensus was UTEP would be the team to beat. I thought about putting Nevada in there as well, but losing Kirk Snyder and Trent Johnson means the Wolf Pack will have to prove themselves yet again. I fully expect Mark Fox to keep this squad competing for a WAC title and, of course, for an NCAA berth. But I wasn't ready to commit a top 50 spot to Nevada just yet.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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