ESPN.com 2005-06 preseason Top 25 (11-25)
Not satisfied with just the top 10? Here are the other 15 teams that cracked our preseason top 25 (capsules written by ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz).
For a look at each individual expert's rankings, please click here.
To go back to the top 10, please click here.
|11. Kentucky (28-6)|
Summer update: As of Friday, we're still waiting to see how long Randolph Morris will sit this season. He didn't pay for all his expenses up front during his NBA draft experience. Morris and plenty of others were interviewed on the subject, so the investigation is over. Now the school is simply waiting for a ruling. Meanwhile, backup big man Shagari Alleyne had hernia surgery in August but was expected to be fine once the season started.
Identity: This team will center around the backcourt. Rajon Rondo was sensational this summer in playing for the USA U-21 team, especially defensively. Patrick Sparks, Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Adam Williams give the Wildcats plenty of perimeter options. This squad will get after it defensively, especially on the perimeter.
Go-to guy: Rondo. He'll continue to emerge as the marquee player for this team as the season progresses. The Wildcats have traditionally had a wing who serves in this role but Rondo can create his own shot and finish fine in the lane. Sparks is a threat from the perimeter but he'll defer to Rondo when needed.
Glue guy: Bobby Perry. He always seemed to be in the right place last season. He does the little things for the Wildcats and rarely gets the credit he deserves. He appears to be a solid locker room presence, too.
Our concern: The post is an unknown with Morris' situation still in flux. Alleyne and Lukasz Obrzut aren't advanced enough to feel too comfortable. The potential is there but this position is hard to project.
Schedule matters: Kentucky is almost mandated to play a solid non-conference slate. The Wildcats play North Carolina, Indiana, Louisville and have a shot to play Iowa, West Virginia and/or Texas in the Guardians Classic in Kansas City after a pair of supposedly easy early games. The Wildcats also play a dangerous Ohio squad in Cincinnati and play at Kansas three days before opening the SEC. It's easy to give Kentucky the nod for having, perhaps, the toughest schedule in the country.
Fran Fraschilla's take: If there is one guy Tubby Smith will have trouble replacing, it will be Chuck Hayes, maybe the most underrated player in the country last year. His toughness will be sorely missed.
The backcourt of Patrick Sparks and Rajon Rondo, however, is rock solid. Sparks was clutch for the Wildcats last season and Rondo is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country. Throw in Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford and this is where Smith can hang his hat. The big question will be: who can score inside? Will it be JUCO transfer Rekalin Sims or the disappointing Randolph Morris -- if he regains his eligiblity?
|12. Stanford (18-13)|
Summer update: Dan Grunfeld is back after ACL surgery. He's on target to start practicing, albeit in a limited form. Grunfeld was the team's leading scorer last season. Point guard Chris Hernandez declared for the NBA draft but withdrew. Then he and forward Matt Haryasz won the gold medal at the World University Games in Turkey. Haryasz came home with a bad case of plantar fasciitis, a nagging soreness of both his heels.
Identity: This will be similar to a year ago. The Cardinal will focus on getting Hernandez in the lane to drive and dish to Grunfeld and Haryasz, Grunfeld on the perimeter for a trey or mid-range shot and Haryasz inside. The Cardinal made too many unforced errors early in the season before cleaning up their act in the Pac-10, only to get drilled by Mississippi State in the second half of their first-round NCAA Tournament game.
Go-to guy: Grunfeld, when he's fully back. Grunfeld has the pull-up game and can pass well. He's not the only late-game option, as Hernandez and Haryasz are just as reliable, but Grunfeld has the give-me-the-ball attitude when the game is on the line.
Glue guy: Jason Haas. He has served as Hernandez' backup the past few seasons. His minutes continue to rise -- from seven to 10 to 17 a game the past three seasons. He's not an imposing figure at 6-2, 190, but he still can make plays for this squad to give Hernandez necessary breathers. The Cardinal need Hernandez on the floor in the final minutes but they need him to be fresh so he doesn't break down. Haas can afford him that opportunity.
Our concern: Depth. Outside of Haas, the experience is young behind Hernandez, Grunfeld and Haryasz. Freshman guard Mitch Johnson, the apparent replacement for Hernandez, will play and needs to contribute. That said, the Cardinal will need its big three to log the majority of the minutes and produce the most for this squad to live up to expectations.
Schedule matters: The Cardinal went a bit light in the nonconference. The toughest game doesn't come until February, when the Cardinal play at Gonzaga. Playing Virginia Tech in Las Vegas won't be a walk. The only other road games are in December, at Montana and at UC Davis. Expect Stanford to have a gaudy record entering the Pac-10.
Doug Gottlieb's take: Forget what you read about any other point guard in the country. Chris Hernandez, for my money, is the best pure lead guard in the land. Hernandez continues to improve as a scorer, is strong as an ox and has a great feel for when to create for his teammates. The issue is that he is yet to be healthy for an entire season for the Cardinal.
Assuming Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld are healthy and Matt Haryasz continues to flourish inside, this is a veteran team with plenty of scoring. An outstanding freshman class of Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill and Mitch Johnson will be the key. They are all impressive athletes who might allow this team to defend farther out on the court and that, more than any other fact, improves this team's NCAA Tournament viability.
|13. Memphis (22-16)|
Summer update: Memphis coach John Calipari dismissed Jeremy Hunt for his latest escapade. Last season, it was two games for an alleged assault. This time, he was gone for his role in an alleged bar fight after saying he broke his hand catching a ball. Darius Washington was humbled after being cut from the USA U-21 team that convened in Dallas in late July.
Identity: Washington will ensure that this team runs and uses its athleticism. Rodney Carney is one of the fleetest of foot from end to end. Joey Dorsey is a beast in the paint but still can get out on the break. Calipari is raving about Chris Douglas-Roberts and fellow freshmen Robert Dozier and Shawne Williams. This could be Calipari's most athletic squad since he's been at Memphis.
Go-to guy: This is Washington's team all the way. Sure, Calipari wants Washington to be more of a distributor, but he also wants Washington to be assertive. If the game is on the line, from the 3-point line, free-throw line or baseline, then Washington is going to make something happen.
Glue guy: Carney. He never has complained about Washington taking over the leadership of this squad, or at least the perception that he is the main man on the team. Carney is a hard worker who understands he has to perform for the Tigers to make a serious run.
Our concern: Depth in the backcourt is inexperienced. Freshman Antonio Anderson will back up Washington now that Hunt is gone. Douglas-Roberts will play wing but there aren't many others in the traditional off-guard role.
Schedule matters: Classic Cal here by scheduling plenty of tough games, like at Cincinnati, Providence and Ole Miss, and Louisiana Tech and Gonzaga at home before rebuilding Purdue and then Texas comes calling. Winthrop won't be a walk and neither will Tennessee in January. C-USA won't have the same power in March, so beefing up the nonconference slate once again was a must.
Jay Bilas' take: Over the last few years, Calipari has lost recruits to the NBA draft more often than anyone. As a result of some of the defections that Memphis has had, the Tigers have put younger teams on the floor, and have had problems with continuity. This year, Memphis has a quality class that is deep and talented and should stick around for awhile.
Last year, Memphis had a solid season, but fell down at key times and could not rack up enough quality wins to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. This year, Memphis should have Conference USA to itself, and while there will be tough games, the difficulty will be finding quality wins to impress the RPI and the selection committee.
Leading the way is sophomore All-American Darius Washington, one of the quickest and fastest point guards in the country. Washington (15 points, 4 assist and 2 steals per game) is great in transition and almost impossible to stay in front of. His specialty is getting into the lane but he can also shoot the ball off the bounce.
Running alongside Washington is arguably the best athlete in the nation in Rodney Carney. No player in America is faster than Carney, and he is a magnificent run-and-jump athlete. Carney looks to attack the rim, but also can hit perimeter shots. Although streaky and vulnerable to taking some bad ones, Carney can go for 30 or more if you let him get going.
Joey Dorsey is a solid interior player who can really rebound. He needs to improve his post moves, which are limited, but he has really good ability and should be expected to do more. Waki Williams has shown flashes inside, but has been very inconsistent.
The key to the season will be the newcomers, who will have to contribute for Memphis to be as good as expected. Several of the incoming players were teammates at Laurinburg Prep and know each other well.
The best of the bunch is Shawne Williams, an athletic player who can get to the rim and has a solid shot. He is a good passer, but needs to rebound at a higher rate and learn to play much harder. Chris Douglas-Roberts is a thin combo guard who has point guard skills and can get to the rim. He can finish around the basket but needs to improve his shot. Robert Dozier is very athletic, can handle and pass and can defend inside or out. Kareem Cooper is 6-10 and lefthanded, but a project. Antonio Anderson is an outstanding athlete who can handle the ball like a point guard and get to the rim like a wing. He can guard people and is very competitive.
As the freshmen develop and provide help to Washington and Carney, Memphis has the chance to beat most anyone. But can the Tigers be consistent at the highest level?
|14. Alabama (24-8)|
Summer update: JC transfer Ray George, singled out by coach Mark Gottfried as a potential starter, failed to qualify academically. Jermareo Davidson came to his senses and withdrew from the NBA draft before it was too late. Davidson has the potential to be an all-SEC player now that he has returned. Gottfried also got a mega-contract: a million-dollar-a-year deal through 2011.
Identity: The Tide will be a quick-strike offense behind Ronald Steele at the point, but mostly looking to do the damage inside with Davidson, Chuck Davis, freshman Richard Hendrix and senior Evan Brock. The frontcourt of Davidson, Davis and Hendrix should be as good as any in the SEC. Steele is considered one of the top point guards in the country. Senior Jean Felix and freshman Alonzo Gee can't be underestimated. The word out of Tuscaloosa is both will play major roles on this team upfront, as well.
Go-to guy: We're going with Steele here. The sophomore point guard should increase his production from 7.9 points to somewhere in the teens. His assists at five a game could also jump up another two or three.
Glue guy: Davis. He's a senior and not well-known nationally. His scoring average has jumped each season, from 1.5 points per game as a freshman to 11.5 as a sophomore and 13.9 as a junior. His rebounds continue to climb as well (1.3 to 5.9 to 6.8 a game). Davis must mentor Hendrix early. If he does, this trio, with Davidson, should be tough to beat out in the post in the SEC.
Our concern: Perimeter play away from the point will be a major issue, especially without George. The Tide are incredibly thin in the backcourt, with true freshman Greg Cage, Brandon Hollinger, sophomore Brandon Davis and redshirt sophomore Justin Jonus as the only other guards on the roster outside of Steele. Alabama will have to play small forwards in the traditional wing positions.
Schedule matters: Gottfried knows the rules of the game: play quality teams. Alabama likely will play Memphis in the Preseason NIT second round, probably in Memphis. Win that and possible games against UCLA and Duke could occur in New York. Playing Louisiana Tech is no gimme and neither is Notre Dame at home. Temple (on the road), NC State (at home) and Oklahoma (away) are all physically tough teams to face, let alone potentially ranked.
Fran Fraschilla's take: Earnest Shelton and Kennedy Winston's 34 points a game will be sorely missed, but Mark Gottfried still has reasons to be optimistic.
Sophomore point guard Ronald Steele didn't get the credit fellow classmates like Texas' Daniel Gibson and Memphis' Darius Washington received, but he certainly is a rising star. The inside combo of Jamareo Davidson and Chuck Davis is the best in the SEC right now. Freshman sensation Richard Hendrix is a load inside, as well. A proven outside scorer would solidify another NCAA bid.
|15. West Virginia (24-11)|
Summer update: Kevin Pittsnogle withdrew from the NBA draft in time to enjoy his summer. The buzz is about Penn State transfer Robert Summers, who is ready to make a major splash in Morgantown. Luke Bonner's decision to transfer to UMass cut down on the Mountaineers' interior depth.
Identity: What else? Shooting 3s, a tough offense to guard and a just-as-sophisticated defensive zone. West Virginia coach John Beilein used his personnel as well as any other coach last season. Plenty of his colleagues were praising him after preparing to play the Mountaineers and studying them on tape. Sure, the Mountaineers could be ranked too high here based on last season's 8-8 Big East record, but the run to the Elite Eight wasn't a fluke after WVa made 42 3s in four games.
Go-to guy: Even though Pittsnogle isn't in a traditional big man role, he will be the primary scorer. He averaged only 11.9 points a game but will be called on this season to be an inside threat as well as a 3-point scorer. There are other options, like Mike Gansey and Joe Herber on the perimeter and J.D. Collins at the point, but Pittsnogle must be the first option.
Glue guy: Collins. He runs one of the more complicated offenses in the country. He didn't have any problems ensuring the offense was flowing smoothly last season. He also has to be the point man in West Virginia's zone. Look for Collins' assists to rise this season.
Our concern: Pittsnogle doesn't like to hang out inside, which means Summers and Frank Young must be factors in the post in the absence of Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer. If the Mountaineers can get serviceable post play and a presence from Pittsnogle closer than 19 feet, the Mountaineers have a legit chance to hang in this range.
Schedule matters: Beilein took advantage of West Virginia's newfound fame. The Mountaineers play Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, host LSU in a return game and picked up a made-for-TV affair at UCLA in January. Those are three tough games outside the Big East slate.
Doug Gottlieb's take: John Beilein has long been revered in the Northeast college coaching circles for his 1-3-1 zone, his teams' offensive execution and his coaching staffs' ability to get more out of their teams than personnel would dictate on paper.
The secret is now out nationally and until Louisville used its size and length to switch every screen in the Elite Eight, teams were unable to contain the likes of Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Patrick Beilein and the rest of the Mountaineers.
West Virginia plays LSU and Marshall (who beat them last year) at home, and are at Oklahoma, UCLA and St. Bonaventure (traditionally a tough roadie). If they get into an offensive rhythm, they will shoot well and they will win, if not, well at one time they were 12-7 last year. We will see.
|16. Iowa (21-12)|
Summer update: It was a pretty uneventful summer for the Hawkeyes, which is good news. The Hawkeyes are excited about the return of one of the most veteran lineups in the country.
Identity: This will be a older team that doesn't make many mistakes. The squad will have the look of a machine, methodically putting away its points throughout the course of a game. The Hawkeyes have depth along with a jolt of youth. They're over dealing with the Pierre Pierce debacle, so there shouldn't be any distractions. Expect this team to shoot well from the perimeter, work the ball into the right hands and play some tough, hard-nosed defense.
Go-to guy: The Hawkeyes have a solid starting five in seniors Greg Brunner, Erek Hansen, Jeff Horner and juniors Mike Henderson and Adam Haluska. Haluska will likely have the ball in a tight game. He's the team's best shooter and probably has the most moxie of the group. Don't sleep on Tony Freeman, either. Steve Alford was pumped up about his progress this summer as a backup guard.
Glue guy: You could go with either Horner or Brunner here. Both guys are solid, lunch-pail players who don't mind doing all the little things and picking up a few floor burns in the process.
Our concern: Athleticism on the wings defensively could be an issue. Sometimes you wonder if this squad can consistently last in games in the 80s. Iowa doesn't have a superstar but does have plenty of solid role players. That can work to its advantage or deeper into March be a negative if the Hawkeyes don't have that one breakout player to get them 20.
Schedule matters: The Hawkeyes could end up playing Kentucky, Texas and/or West Virginia in the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. Playing two of those three will give them plenty of power rating points. An ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against NC State is a quality draw, as well. Road games at Northern Iowa and Iowa State could be a pair of Ls and a home game against Arizona State won't be a walk.
Jay Bilas' take: Steve Alford has an experienced and versatile team back in 2006, led by a trio of seniors -- Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska.
Brunner is a typical Iowa power forward who has size and versatility, plays hard and is productive and efficient. Brunner can post or face-up and always outworked his counterpart in leading the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounding (almost 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game).
Horner is among the best perimeter shooters in college basketball. He has NBA range. He also can handle the ball and distribute it, but when he spots up and has a split-second to pull the trigger, he can knock down shots from anywhere on the floor.
Haluska is the most athletic of the trio and can hit from deep or put the ball on the deck and attack the basket.
Mike Henderson provides athleticism and defense on the perimeter, Doug Thomas is an outstanding rebounder that has a chance to remind some of Reggie Evans, and Erek Hansen is a terrific shot-blocker who needs only to stay out of foul trouble and have his offensive game match his defensive ability to be worthy of All-Big Ten notice.
If Iowa gets improvement from its younger players like J.R. Angle, Seth Gorney and Alex Thompson and contributions from newcomers Kurt Looby and shooter Tony Freeman, the Hawkeyes will be in the thick of the Big Ten race and back in the NCAA Tournament.
|17. Maryland (19-13)|
Summer update: Losing incoming recruit Shane Clark (academic issues; likely ending up at Villanova) hurt the squad's depth. But the best news was learning that D.J. Strawberry was good to go following knee surgery last season.
Identity: The Terps were an odd bunch last season, losing games they shouldn't and then pulling off wins they maybe weren't expected to, either. This group should be defined by a stronger commitment to defense and perhaps more of a fluid offense after the departure of the erratic John Gilchrist. Gary Williams always will have this squad prepared for the stretch run and there's no reason to believe the Terps won't make a case for a bid this season.
Go-to guy: Nik Caner-Medley should handle this role. He craves the ball and wants to assume more of a leadership role. He has the ball skills to be a premier ACC player. Having Strawberry as the primary point should draw some attention off of him. Look for Travis Garrison, James Gist, Chris McCray, Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones to have their moments as potential breakout scorers, but Caner-Medley should be the most consistent.
Glue guy: Ibekwe plays hurt and does plenty of the little things that Williams craves. He should be one of the most valuable players on this squad by season's end.
Our concern: Sometimes when you return most of the team from a squad that missed the NCAA Tournament, that isn't always the answer. Williams must ensure that this squad has the intensity and consistency from day one. Having two new assistant coaches could also mean a bit of an adjustment period, even if one of them is Michael Adams.
Schedule matters: Maryland will get plenty of challenges in Maui, starting off with Gonzaga before a possible game against Michigan State and then anyone from the other bracket -- Connecticut, Arkansas, Kansas or Arizona. Drawing Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is a tough get. So, too, is playing rival George Washington less than a week later.
Jay Bilas' take: Gary Williams has experienced players back and his returnees have a chip on their shoulders to play at higher level and challenge for the upper echelon of the ACC.
Missing the NCAA Tournament last year really stung this bunch, as did the criticism that the Terps were not a close group with John Gilchrist at the point. Now, with Gilchrist gone, the seniors can take over.
Nik Caner-Medley, Chris McCray, Travis Garrison, Ekene Ibekwe, Mike Jones and D.J. Strawberry are the team's best players and leaders, but the key will be the point guard position. Sterling Leadbetter returns and should play a role at the point, but don't be surprised if Strawberry logs a lot of time running the team. Whomever the point guard is, he needs to bring stability and consistency.
One thing is for sure, Maryland will be a more together group, and the Terps will be back in the NCAA Tournament.
|18. Syracuse (27-7)|
Summer update: Terrence Roberts had his coming out party with USA Basketball. Roberts had never been on any national team and seemed to find himself during the trials in Dallas. Making the team gave him oodles of confidence for this season. Meanwhile, Gerry McNamara usually goes fishing for the summer. He got his water time in prior to going to Turkey and winning the World University Games gold medal. He's ready to assume the point full time.
Identity: This will be McNamara's team from the perimeter and, at times, the top of the zone. But what you get with Syracuse is the 2-3 zone. That identity isn't changing much. The offense will be a work in progress outside of McNamara as Jim Boeheim works in four new starters (although they've all tasted the spotlight at times) in juniors Roberts, Demetris Nichols, Louie McCroskey and Darryl Watkins. Boeheim can't say enough positive things about freshman Eric Devendorf. He's already predicting that the shooting guard will be the Big East freshman of the year.
Go-to guy: McNamara. He'll take every big shot and probably make them, regardless of the distance. He's as gritty, tough and reliable a big-game player as there is this season.
Our concern: Syracuse doesn't rely on too many players off the bench. Regardless, the bench is inexperienced. Boeheim will be building confidence in this group throughout the season to get ready for a run in March.
Schedule matters: Syracuse should get to the Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals in New York where Florida, Texas Tech and Wake Forest likely will await. The rest of the slate is in New York, but the Orange at least play a few squads who will give them a game. Bucknell is a dangerous home game. Manhattan, TCU and Davidson won't be a walk. Kent State, and especially UTEP, are tough guarantee home games. The Miners are capable of pulling off the upset.
Doug Gottlieb's take: Did I miss a memo? Is Paul Harris (for my money the best overall recruit in the country for next year -- yes, that includes Greg Oden) coming to Syracuse this year? Gerry McNamara is an incredible competitor and shooter, when he is hot, but without Hakim Warrick and Josh Pace, how good will this team be?
With the next great wing at SU Eric Devendorf helping McNamara in the backcourt, a newly minted Hall of Fame coach and the Orange only leaving the state, in the nonconference, for a road game at Towson (they also do play in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic), there is potential there for success.
I think this ranking is more than a bit high; remember that the Orange is at a huge disadvantage in conference this year, matching up twice with Cincinnati, Villanova and Connecticut while playing Pittsburgh and Georgetown only on the road. Have faith Syracuse fans.
|19. UCLA (18-11)|
Summer update: It's been a rough summer for the Bruins, especially if we can include the early fall. Forward Josh Shipp, one of four returning starters, had shoulder surgery and is out possibly until the Pac-10. And then on Wednesday, news broke that freshman Alfred Aboya underwent knee surgery. Meanwhile, center Michael Fey has been battling a nasty groin injury and potential starter Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was diagnosed with a sprained right shoulder and is day-to-day, leaving the Bruins potentially with only eight players to start practice. The good news is that Cedric Bozeman, who was out last season with a knee injury, is back and ready to play.
Identity: The Bruins still will be centered around its backcourt of Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. This tandem should be one of the top backcourts in the country and the Bruins' offense will be run through these two. The Bruins will play at a much faster pace this season. So, too, will the Bruins' defense, which needs this pair to ensure that UCLA applies the appropriate pressure.
Go-to guy: Farmar. His role dramatically increases with the departure of Dijon Thompson. He not only has to be a playmaker but also a scorer. He's being hyped up all summer but now he has to deliver on being the complete player. The Bruins' staff expects him to become a tougher defender.
Glue guy: When Shipp gets back, he's got this category to himself. He's considered the Bruins' best all-around talent. Until then, we might go with Ryan Hollins. The staff says he has improved his weight, strength and added a jump hook to be more productive in the post. If the Bruins can get reliable points in the paint from Hollins then they've got a real shot to hold down this ranking.
Our concern: It's not just ours but the Bruins' staff, too -- that this team is young and the depth is inexperienced. The injuries (even though it's early) to Fey, Aboya and Mbah a Moute will slow down the development of the bench. UCLA plays early in the Preseason NIT, meaning it can't afford to be too far behind in developing a rotation.
Schedule matters: UCLA won't have a walk in a possible second-round game against Temple in the Preseason NIT. Possibly playing Duke, if it gets to New York, should be a wake-up call. The Bruins didn't take the Wooden Classic scheduling lightly, either, by inviting Nevada. A return game to Michigan ends what should be a tough stretch in late November and early December for the Bruins.
Jay Bilas' take: Ben Howland guided a young UCLA team back to the NCAA Tournament. Now, with four returning starters and a solid recruiting class, UCLA is looking to solidify its rebuilding efforts and become an annual contender again.
Howland returns the Pac-10 rookie of the year in Jordan Farmar, and he is the undisputed team leader. Farmar may not be the team's best player or best athlete, but he knows how to play and how to win. Farmar averaged 34 minutes, 13 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game, and led the team in free throw shooting and steals.
His running mate is Aaron Afflalo, who played 31 minutes per game and averaged just under 11 points per game to go along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Afflalo is an excellent defender and was named to the Pac-10 all-freshman team. Josh Shipp chipped in just under 10 points per game and over 5 rebounds and played major minutes. With that trio, along with big men Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins, the Bruins can be competitive.
Fey is a solid big man who can take up space and rebound. Hollins is a terrific run-and-jump athlete who needs to be tougher and more assertive to be successful. Lorenzo Mata is talented, but spent most of last season injured. Also back from injury will be 6-6 guard Cedric Bozeman, who has versatility, ballhandling and passing skills. Bozeman likely will play off the ball, but can bring it up when needed.
The difference in this year's Bruins will be the recruiting class Howland put together. Five top-flight players will come in and add talent, toughness and depth. Ryan Wright, a 6-8 Canadian star, heads the class. He is a big-time jumper who can hit shots and rebound. He also is a tough inside player who dishes it out hard, and UCLA needs that.
Power forward Alfred Aboya is a 6-8 wide-bodied rebounder and shot-blocker who is very raw on the offensive end, but plays hard all the time. He had preseason surgery and will miss critical time in his development. Darren Collison can play the point as a reserve, and can defend. Michael Roll is a tough, solid guard who can shoot it, and Luc Richard Mhah a Moute is long and athletic with good skills. As UCLA's young talent matures, the Bruins will be very good.
|20. Wake Forest (27-6)|
Summer update: Eric Williams declared for the draft and seriously considered staying in before withdrawing. He decided to sit out the USA Basketball hoops action while Justin Gray went along to Argentina with the U-21s and was the team's glue guy with his experience, knowledge of the game and overall locker room attitude.
Identity: This will be a true inside-out squad, with Gray working the perimeter and Williams owning the paint inside. Chris Paul dominated last season's team, but it was really more of a perimeter-based offense with Paul, Gray and Taron Downey. Two of the three are gone, meaning this squad won't look to push as much as it did a year ago.
Go-to guy: This is a tough call between Gray and Williams, but we'll give the nod to Gray here. He's going to play the point for about 30 minutes a game while freshman Shamaine Dukes will log the other 10. Gray struggled to bring the ball up at times this summer during the U-21 trials and he can't let that distract from his scoring responsibilities. Williams should be a lock to produce in the post.
Glue guy: The edge here goes to Kyle Visser over Trent Strickland. Visser has gone through a physical change by hitting the weights. The combination of Visser and Chris Ellis as alternatives to Williams inside should give the Deacs hope.
Our concern: If Gray is at the point, then who is shooting from the perimeter? The Deacs don't have a stable 2-guard when Gray is handling the ball. Strickland might slide down to this spot, but someone has to emerge as another capable 3-point threat.
Schedule matters: Wake Forest could get Texas Tech, Florida and/or Syracuse in New York for the Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals/finals. Drawing Wisconsin for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge yet again will be another strong test. Playing DePaul, Richmond and Princeton are all good system tests (to see how to handle other styles of play) but the Deacons should win these games, leaving this schedule lighter than in years past.
Fran Fraschilla's take: How does Skip Prosser replace All-American Chris Paul? Well, it helps to have senior Justin Gray ready to slide over from his shooting guard spot.
One of the best shooters in the country, Gray's quarterbacking abilty will be the biggest determinant of the Demon Deacons' success this year. At 6-9, 280, Eric Williams should have a dominant senior year and could find himself on some All-America teams at the end of the season. Prosser needs to find a third reliable scorer to make a lengthly run through March.
|21. Indiana (15-14)|
Summer update: The late addition of JC transfer Earl Calloway could be a big boost for the Hoosiers. So, too, was the pick up of Cem Dinc (pronounced "Gem Dinch"). The 6-10 forward could play some perimeter for the Hoosiers while Calloway could find himself starting at the point at times because of his jet speed.
Identity: The Hoosiers will be defined by their inside play. Indiana has one of the best frontcourts in the country with D.J. White, Marco Killingsworth, Dinc, Ben Allen, James Hardy, Sean Kline. Move Robert Vaden to more of a small forward spot and the Vaden/White/Killingsworth trio can score and board with any threesome in the country. Mike Davis also plans on running more than ever with the depth in place. Calloway will help set the pace. So, too, will Auburn transfer point Lewis Monroe.
Go-to guy: It will either be White or Killingsworth. Both have the capability to deliver in key situations. Killingsworth came to Indiana after declaring for the 2004 draft for the specific purpose of being the BMOC in the Big Ten. He said from the day he transferred that Davis' offense was perfect for him. If that's the case, he could be a high-teens scorer on a regular basis.
Glue guy: The nod goes to Vaden. He does a little bit of everything for the Hoosiers. He can play any of three positions -- the 2, 3 or 4. Most of the attention will shift to White and Killingsworth but teams can't sleep on Vaden.
Our concern: Vaden will need help in 3-point shooting -- and that means A.J. Ratliff and Marshall Strickland must make shots. Strickland will be relieved of ballhandling chores with Monroe and Calloway, so he should be a more effective shooter.
Schedule matters: Indiana hasn't shied away from tough games under Davis. Duke comes calling in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in the marquee game. Playing Kentucky in Indianapolis and Charlotte on the road should be two more barometer games for the Hoosiers. There is plenty here to work with to get power rating points to diminish Big Ten pressure for an NCAA bid.
Doug Gottlieb's take: The talent inside is deep and athletic, but with the loss of Bracey Wright and without anyone with real ability to penetrate the defense, I am not so sure this is a great team.
On the inside, Robert Vaden, Marco Killingsworth, Ben Allen and D.J. White can all score in different ways. Twenty-four-year-old senior Auburn transfer Lewis Monroe will compete with Marshall Strickland for point guard duties. Neither will set the world on fire but their play may be more important than that incredible interior line-up.
Indiana played an incredible schedule last year and did not win any of its big nonconference games. That must change. The Hoosiers also cannot get blown out in big opportunity games like the Big Ten tourney debacle against Minnesota.
Mike Davis has gone from the NCAA finals to the brink of losing his job. His team may not be perfect, but they have the talent to dance and get their coach a contract extension as a reward.
|22. Iowa State (19-12)|
Summer update: Not getting heralded recruit Theo Davis eligible was a hit. The Cyclones were counting on Davis to be a potential starter in the post. The rest of the squad kept a low profile this summer but word has it they were in the gym cranking on their games and ensuring that the Cyclones are a legit Top 25 team (good sell, right?).
Identity: The Cyclones' staff says this will be a pressing and trapping team. Coach Wayne Morgan wants to continue to open up the offense. When Jake Sullivan was playing, there were a lot of set plays, but since Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock took over, the emphasis has been on more freelancing.
Go-to guy: Stinson. He's as talented a lead guard as any team has in the country. He has the toughness and moxie that will keep the Cyclones in any game. He's not one-dimensional. He can get after it defensively. Expect this squad to funnel through Stinson.
Glue guy: The coaches can't say enough about forwards Shawn Taggart and Rahshon Clark. These two, along with guard Tasheed Carr, are the unsung players on the squad. If Iowa State is going to make a top-four run in the Big 12, players like this trio will be difference makers. The sleeper in the bunch is Czech center Jiri Hubalek, who has been the biggest surprise in the preseason with his ability to come in and help right away.
Our concern: As much as we're singing the praises of these frontcourt players, they still need to go out and prove it on the court. This squad will be judged by how much the frontcourt produces and defends on a nightly basis.
Schedule matters: Iowa State should be able to enter the Big 12 with a nifty record. The Cyclones host Northern Iowa in a grudge game as well as Iowa. Playing Ohio State in Des Moines should be a win while the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii isn't too stiff. The toughest game could be in the second round against Oregon State before a possible matchup with host Hawaii in the final.
Fran Fraschilla's take: Any team that returns a backcourt of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock can do damage in the NCAA Tournament. The juniors don't get nearly the respect nationally that they should, but they combine for 30 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in more than 35 minutes a game apiece. Stinson, "Mr. Blue Collar," returns after finishing in the Big 12's top 20 in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and field goal percentage.
Sophomores Tasheed Carr and Rashon Clark are ready to step up and provide more support on the perimeter for the Cyclones. The key to any kind of NCAA run in March, however, will be finding a replacement for the departed Jared Homan inside. The most likely candidate is 6-10 freshman Shawn Taggert.
|23. Illinois (37-2)|
Summer update: Dee Brown returned after breaking his foot during the Chicago pre-draft camp in June. Brown will be practicing this week but the coaching staff still will tread lightly and not push him out there too soon. Brian Randle is back after sitting out last season with a broken hand. Bruce Weber coached the Big Ten all-stars in Europe. We just thought we'd mention that Weber seemingly never has down time and actually requested that assignment.
Identity: Well, it won't be the same as last season. The Illini won't be a push-and-run team that could stamp an embarrassing amount of points on a team (see rout of Wake Forest). The Illini staff expects this squad to be a defense-oriented bunch. They'll have to make up for their offensive questions by ensuring that they can stop teams. Brown has to be the focal point of the defense at the top of the perimeter. James Augustine has to play stronger and taller in the post.
Go-to guy: This one is Brown all the way. He played off of Luther Head and Deron Williams the past three seasons, but we can't forget that Brown -- not Head or Williams -- was the Big Ten player of the year. He's still one of the most elusive guards to put away and push out of his comfort zone. He'll handle the ball more, which could mean he'll be even faster to the rack.
Glue guy: The early vote is for Warren Carter. The 6-9 forward must be a force for the Illini if they're going to deserve this kind of ranking all season. Carter has to be this season's Roger Powell and early indications are that he's doing everything the coaches are asking and then some.
Our concern: Redshirt freshman guard Calvin Brock, freshman Chester Frazier, junior guard Richard McBride and Illinois State transfer forward Marcus Arnold either didn't play last season or held a limited role. They'll all have to be counted on a bunch if Illinois is going to be a Big Ten contender.
Schedule matters: Weber went lighter, as he should, after losing three starters for a national finalist team. Illinois plays at North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, gets Xavier in Chicago, plays Georgetown at home, Oregon in Portland and Missouri in St. Louis. Four of the five are potential tournament teams, but none of the squads are intimidating, leaving Illinois a viable Big Ten contender.
Fran Fraschilla's take: How do you top the Illini's great national finals run of a year ago? And how does Bruce Weber replace departed seniors Deron Williams, Luther Head and Roger Powell? It will be a monumental task. If Dee Brown is healthy -- he broke his foot at the NBA predraft camp in June -- he's an excellent starting point.
Brown put his ego on hold while Wiliams and Head shared a great deal of the credit -- and the ball -- in Weber's "team first" system. If all goes well, he should be a first-team All-American.
Big man James Augustine is building block No.2. The 6-9 senior is vastly underrated and could play himself into NBA first-round contention by the end of the year. Illinois State transfer Marcus Arnold needs to contribute right away.
Right now, Illinois is a bubble NCAA team.
|24. Nevada (25-7)|
Summer update: Richard Phillips got hurt and ineligible all in the same summer. But the Wolf Pack were thinking ahead and locked in JC transfer Demarshay Johnson to alleviate the hit from losing a frontcourt recruit. Nick Fazekas played on the USA U-21 team this summer. He struggled on 3s (2-of-10) but still found a way to board consistently, which has been his forte over the past two seasons.
Identity: The Wolf Pack will find ways to score, mostly in the lane, but the identity of this squad of late has been its defense. Nevada gave up a stingy 61.7 points a game last season, outrebounded teams by an average of seven boards a game and kept teams shooting 30.5 percent.
Go-to guy: Fazekas. He wants the role, too. Fazekas is the kind of player who needs multiple touches on successive trips. As USA coach Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's said, Fazekas likes being the guy, instead of a guy. Nevada coach Mark Fox concurred. Fazekas has the ability to be a 20-and-10 player this season in the WAC. He has more help with the return of Marcelus Kemp after a torn ACL kept him out last season as well as shooting JC transfer forward Denis Ikovlev and the return of veteran guards Mo Charlo and Ramon Sessions. Having Lyndale Burleson, a redshirt freshman, get necessary minutes on Nevada's spring trip to Italy was a must.
Glue guy: Mo Charlo could be solid choice in this spot. The senior forward was a WAC all-newcomer last season with 9.4 points and 2.1 assists a game. Charlo can play a myriad of positions, which helps him be the player Fox can lean on in times of need.
Our concern: 3-point shooting. The Wolf Pack were 325th in made 3s per game. That has to change for Nevada to duplicate a second-round NCAA appearance. Making only 2.7 and shooting 27 percent on the shot isn't going to cut it again. Fazekas, Kemp and Ikovlev will be the primary shooters.
Schedule matters: Nevada's name matters now. They got UCLA to play them in the Wooden Classic. The Wolf Pack has a brutal road slate, going to Vermont, UNLV, Kansas and Pacific all in a row. Nevada corralled Georgia to play in Reno and the Pack play a dangerous game at Saint Mary's on New Year's Eve.
Doug Gottlieb's take: I called three of the Wolf Pack's games last season, and each time, this team had made incredible improvement at the offensive end. Mark Fox has an absolute gem in Nick Fazekas, who scores both inside and out to 3-point range.
Nevada went 8-0 on the road in conference play last year, which is important because they play a killer road non-conference schedule this year, including Kansas, Pacific, UNLV, St. Mary's and UCLA in Anaheim.
Fazekas is tremendous but the improvement of forward Mo Charlo and WAC freshman of the year Ramon Sessions at the point are the real reason this team improved steadily last year. Their continued improvement is a must to repeat as WAC champions.
|25. Kansas (23-7)|
Summer update: It was an eventful offseason. Freshman Alex Galindo, who helped the Jayhawks beat Georgia Tech on New Year's Day, split for Florida International. J.R. Giddens got in a bar fight, needed stitches for a knife wound in his leg and then split from Kansas, apparently amicably for New Mexico. Center C.J. Giles had a real shot of making the USA U-21 team but a hip injury slowed him down. Meanwhile, Kansas picked up the biggest catch of the summer when Brandon Rush decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and chose Kansas over Illinois. Rush is a potential first-round pick in 2006 and will immediately help the Jayhawks' offensive execution.
Identity: This is a good question. This team will be young and quicker, but possibly unsure of its next step. There are so many fresh faces. As many as four freshmen could start --- Rush, Julian Wright, Micah Downs and Mario Chalmers. There is oodles of talent, like Giles along the backline, Sasha Kaun in the post with Darnell Jackson as a backup, stable journeyman forward Christian Moody, backup point Russell Robinson and veterans Jeff Hawkins and USC transfer Rodrick Stewart. Putting these pieces together will be Bill Self's toughest coaching job in years. This team might look to run a bit more to take advantage of its athleticism.
Go-to guy: Giddens thought it was him before the knife incident. That leaves a freshman, and it could end up being Rush or Wright. Since Rush will probably have the ball more than Wright, we'll give the nod to Rush. That's a lot of responsibility to bestow on a freshman but he's talented enough to carry the load.
Glue guy: Moody. He's the former walk-on who earned a scholarship and continues to do all the little things. He has no business starting games but he might again because of his experience and leadership. He won't be more talented than the freshmen coming in but he'll know the intricacies of the offense and when to take chances defensively.
Our concern: This team could end up being a real force in March, but we just don't know how the freshmen will handle all the pressure of being the heralded recruiting class at a school like Kansas. If the Jayhawks can get over the inexperience issue by January, they could be sitting on a potential deep run come March.
Schedule matters: Self doesn't have much choice but to throw the young team against Arizona in Maui, with a possible matchup with Connecticut or Arkansas and then Gonzaga, Maryland and/or Michigan State on day three. We should know on Dec. 1 if Nevada deserves to be ranked ahead of Kansas after the head-to-head matchup. The Jayhawks also play Saint Joseph's in the Jimmy V Classic in New York, and in what could be one of the better games in December, the Jayhawks host Cal in Kansas City. A late December home game against New Orleans was a nice gesture but the Privateers have a real shot to give Kansas a game. And don't forget Kentucky is on the schedule on January 7.
Jay Bilas' take: Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee are gone. All those four did at KU was win -- and win big. Replacing their production will not be easy. In addition, Alex Galindo transferred, and J.R. Giddens parted ways with Kansas. A lot of uniforms were available after the KU banquet.
However, there is real talent in Lawrence and Bill Self will work hard with it. Returning are sophomores C.J. Giles, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson. Giles is a long, low post big man that can run, rebound and block shots. He is an improved post player and has a chance to be very good. Kaun is raw but good around the basket and can run the floor. He reminds you a little of David Padgett, now at Louisville.
Jackson is a tough inside player with good hands who can explode to the hole with his big frame and finish. Robinson is a New York City point guard who can compete and score, but lost his confidence last year. He is much better than he showed his freshman year, and should be in a much better frame of mind now that the job is his for the taking. Junior Jeremy Case can really shoot it from range, but is small and vulnerable on the defensive end. Stephen Vinson played in only five games last year but is capable.
Bill Self is an outstanding recruiter, and he has brought in another great class to KU. Micah Downs is a very talented shooter with a soft touch and really good skills. He understands how to play, but is very thin and needs to get stronger or he will get bounced around in the Big 12. Mario Chalmers is a big time scorer from the wing, and he can play the point. He is athletic, plays with great change of pace and change of direction and can get to the basket.
Julian Wright is a complete player in every respect, except that he is not a great shooter. He has an unorthodox stroke, but is a long-armed athlete who is multitalented and versatile. He can play all over the floor, has a great feel and can drive the ball. USC transfer Rodrick Stewart will be eligible in the spring semester. He is very athletic and can take the ball to the basket.
The newcomers will have to play major roles and the sophomores will have to take over leadership roles for Kansas to challenge for the Big 12 title.
Others receiving votes (in order of votes received): George Washington, NC State, Washington, Ohio State, Texas Tech, Charlotte, Florida, Oklahoma State, Georgetown, Miami, Old Dominion, LSU, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Temple, Houston, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Ohio, California
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