Threats to break into the Top 25
We took a quick peek in April, but now that we've discussed each conference's issues in Summer Sessions, it's time to take another look at who we think will be the elite teams in the 2005-06 season.
If you missed it on Monday, here are teams 41-50. Below, we have 10 teams we like to win at least a game in the NCAAs:
|40. North Carolina|
Credentials: It would be easy to put the Tar Heels in the Top 25 since they won the national title ... or decide they're not worthy of any mentions since they lost their top seven scorers. Well, we think ultimately they'll fall somewhere in the middle. The Tar Heels will be one of those teams the local fans fall in love with from the outset. Tar Heel Nation will get a kick out of watching this team develop into an NCAA team throughout the season. The freshmen, led by Tyler Hansbrough, are all impact players. Hansbrough will be a double-figure scorer and should collect his fair share of boards, too. Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard are all players who will contribute. The returnees, like David Noel, Reyshawn Terry and Quentin Thomas, just need a chance to play more minutes.
Reason: Do you really believe that Roy Williams will not get this team prepared for an NCAA run? Trust us here -- the Tar Heels will be in the thick of the NCAA berth chase and possibly will land a top-four ACC finish. UNC will be a work in progress, but the Heels will defend on the perimeter and should be able to score in bunches at at least four of the five positions.
Red flag: We're not sure who the leader will be nor who will take the last shot. The Tar Heels could lean heavily on a freshman such as Hansbrough, but it might have to be a guard -- and if it is, that person is still to be determined. This team could be a lot lower in this poll, but we feel comfortable sneaking the Heels into the back end of our fourth grouping.
Credentials: We could easily put Georgetown in the Top 25 and not feel guilty about it. We're pushing them a bit further down since the Hoyas weren't in the NCAAs last season, but John Thompson III's coaching last year was nothing short of remarkable. He turned the program around faster than anyone could have imagined. Now, he has another season to ensure the Hoyas understand the nuances of his version of the Princeton offense. The Hoyas went 8-8 in the Big East last season and were a few games away from getting an NCAA berth. The core of the team is back, forwards Brandon Bowman and Jeff Green (one of the top freshmen in the country last season) and point guard Ashanti Cook.
Reason: Georgetown was back to being a good watch last season. The Hoyas found ways to score and defended hard, especially inside. Watching Green develop was one of the stories of the year in the Big East. The Hoyas also recruited well, bringing in four contributors: Jesse Sapp, Marc Egerson, Octavius Spann and Josh Thornton. Georgetown basketball is back to being relevant again.
Red flag: Consistency on the road is still a concern. The Hoyas had games last season when they couldn't finish. That should change with more confidence in the system, but they have to get nastier on the road and really go after teams late.
Credentials: Bo Ryan. That could be enough for the Badgers. Somehow Ryan is able to maximize the abilities of his players. The Badgers lost a lot -- namely, Mike Wilkinson, Sharif Chambliss, Zach Morley, Clayton Hanson and Andreas Helmigk -- but there is at least one stud returning in Alando Tucker and once again plenty of role players like Kammron Taylor, Ray Nixon, Michael Flowers, Jason Chappell, Greg Stiemsma and Brian Butch. The Kohl Center is also good for a few wins, considering Wisconsin held a 38-game home-court winning streak before Illinois snapped it last season.
Reason: Just when the Badgers look as though they might take a step back, they surprise you and still contend. If Butch can become a major factor inside, the Badgers should have the balance to contend for a top-three Big Ten finish. Tucker also has to stay healthy. Overall, the Badgers' commitment to their coach and his style makes this team NCAA-worthy.
Red flag: Experience is in question, as are second and third options offensively. Tucker will be the primary scorer, but he needs help. We're not convinced there are stable scorers after Tucker to keep the offense from going dry at times.
Credentials: Once again, we've hit on a team that we could be seriously wrong about in August. We have reservations, though, about the Huskies, after they missed out on top recruit Martell Webster and lost the heart and soul of the team in Nate Robinson, the team's top shooter in Tre Simmons and a key member of last season's Sweet 16 team in Will Conroy. But there is hope, enough that we think the Huskies are worthy of a ranking. Brandon Roy is back to lead this squad; Jamaal Williams will be solid in the post; Bobby Jones is likely to get plenty of points with more shots; Mike Jensen is a solid role player; and Florida transfer Ryan Appleby will be eligible.
Reason: The Huskies are still getting a lot of help from their recruiting class with Jon Brockman, Harvey Perry and Artem Wallace. They will play up-tempo, score points and, if they're committed, play some solid defense. After last year's No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, they also have plenty of confidence.
Red flag: Roy will be the one who moves practice to a higher intensity level. He'll be the one who pushes his teammates on the bench and in the locker room. But is he the player who can change the tempo of the game? Probably not. Robinson's game-changing attitude is too much to replace for this team to duplicate last season's top seed and Sweet 16 berth.
|36. NC State|
Credentials: We know there are a lot of people who really like this squad. But we're a little shy to jump on the Wolfpack bandwagon without Julius Hodge on board. He was Mr. Everything for them last season -- the team's only double-figure scorer, lead ball handler and crunch-time shot-taker. Still, there is still plenty of talent remaining. Ilian Evtimov, Cameron Bennerman, Engin Atsur, Tony Bethel and Andrew Brackman all return, and, as always, Herb Sendek has recruited very well, bringing in Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells.
Reason: NC State rarely beats itself. This is a team that prides itself on taking care of the ball and valuing each possession. The defense is usually decent, but the Wolfpack can have scoring droughts. We still like enough of the talent returning to warrant this team getting back to the NCAAs. This is another squad that easily could leapfrog into the top 20 for stretches during the season.
Red flag: A leader. The Wolfpack have to find someone who has the moxie of Hodge. That could be impossible, but someone has to step up and want the big shot at the most critical time.
Credentials: The last time we heard from Arkansas, the Hogs were turning down an invite to the postseason NIT. Well, if all goes according to plan, they should be accepting an NCAA berth this March. The Razorbacks have athleticism and scoring on the wing with Ronnie Brewer, Darian Townes, Jonathon Modica and newcomers Ryan McBride, Cyrus McGowan and Sean McCurdy. It will be a big plus if they can get Bud Walton Arena back to being one of the hottest home courts in the country.
Reason: Olu Famutimi decided to move on to a pro career instead of returning to Arkansas. Replacing his perimeter shooting won't be easy, but Brewer showed at the U-21 trials that he can hit the 3-pointer. This team has the up-tempo style to score plenty of points. The key will be whether they will defend. This is Arkansas' time under Stan Heath. If the Hogs can't get in the NCAAs with this group, there is something wrong.
Red flag: Winning on the road would be nice. Arkansas had only one SEC road win last season -- at Ole Miss. That has to change if Arkansas is going to be an SEC West and NCAA bid contender. Brewer also has to take over this team. He must be the go-to player and answer the Hogs' search for a leader.
|34. Oklahoma State|
Credentials: This is another team we could be way off on, but it's hard to push the Cowboys too high after they lost so much. The only significant returnee is JamesOn Curry. The rest of the Cowboys' big names will be newcomers like Byron Eaton at point, Kenny Cooper and Mario Boggan inside, Keith Brumbaugh on the wing and Terrel Harris, Roderick Flemings and Torre Johnson coming in off the bench. Oh, and they still have Eddie Sutton saddled on the bench.
Reason: The Cowboys are an NCAA Tournament team. We're just not sure how they're going to get there. There is so much talent coming into Stillwater. Sutton will have his hands full getting all his new players to buy into his defensive theories. If the work ethic is there, the Cowboys should be in the thick of the Big 12 race.
Red flag: Experience. The Cowboys have little of it after having it in bushels for the past three seasons. There will be some bumps early, but this could be one of the better developing stories during the season.
|33. Texas Tech|
Credentials: Bob Knight. Should we go on from there? Knight's progress at Texas Tech has been masterful. The Red Raiders were one of the surprise Sweet 16 teams last season. Sure, they lost Ronald Ross and Devonne Giles, but Knight isn't starting from scratch. The return of Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno and Darryl Dora gives the Red Raiders enough of a nucleus to be a thorn in the side of their Big 12 rivals all season.
Reason: Texas Tech has a decent recruiting class. Well, we don't know for sure, but we're assuming these guys can play because Knight tends to maximize the talent in Lubbock. The Red Raiders' staff thinks Tech got the right players this season for its system. It's hard to argue with the success so far. Texas Tech will get better throughout the season and make a run within the Big 12.
Red flag: We're not sold on who the go-to guy is yet. Jackson is the likely candidate, but this situation will bear watching during the season. Once that is established and another wing emerges as a threat, the Red Raiders likely will plow along at a steady pace.
Credentials: The Tigers easily could move way up on this list -- as far as into the top 20 -- but we'll take a wait-and-see approach. Glen Davis, aka Big Baby, should be the big man on campus in the middle in the SEC this season. Pairing up with newcomer Tasmin Mitchell will take away some of the pain of losing Brandon Bass early to the NBA. The backcourt is solid with Darrel Mitchell and Tack Minor. The Tigers are playing with more purpose and confidence and should be battling Alabama for the SEC West title.
Reason: We love Big Baby's personality and his passion for the game. Once he learns how good he can be, the Tigers will flourish even more. Minor's suspension is only for the first four games of the season, so that won't affect them too much. Coach John Brady's intensity on the sidelines usually is good for a few points. If this team can defend on the perimeter, LSU has a shot to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament.
Red flag: The bench is questionable. The starting lot is fine, but the Tigers will need a few role players to count on early and often. Ensuring that Davis stays healthy and in shape is also paramount to the team's success.
Credentials: John Chaney knew what he was doing in coming back for at least one more season. The Owls have a great chance to get back to the NCAAs. The Owls finished 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 last season and return Mardy Collins, one of the top lead guards in the country. Collins wasn't given much of a chance to make the U-21 team in Dallas in July, but he did because of his versatility. The rest of the team, with the exception of center Keith Butler, also returns. Mark Tyndale and Dustin Salisbery were underrated in the A-10 last season.
Reason: Chaney has always said it takes a few seasons for players to understand his system fully. Well, he has a veteran team, which should help the Owls transition into a more fluid offense. The schedule isn't as brutal as usual, which should allow Temple to save its strength for the A-10. Wouldn't it be more of a story if Chaney went out with an NCAA bid?
Red flag: There are still some distractions with Chaney's future uncertain and Nehemiah Ingram could draw some wrath on the road in conference play, but the Owls' main problem is still their inconsistent offense. Someone else, such as Antywane Robinson or Wayne Marshall, has to be more productive for the Owls' offense to truly sing.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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