College Basketball Picks 2009: Top 16-1
Georgetown has found its way back to the top 25, and this year’s team certainly has that potential and more. The Hoyas have a three-player nucleus as good as anyone in the Big East with Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Hollis Thompson out of Los Angeles is the best of the incoming class and if he comes as advertised, the Hoyas will have a top-level player. The Big East is down some from a year ago, so the Hoyas are poised to make a run.
The Pac-10 is going to be down this year, but not at Washington as the Huskies will try to build from a 26-win season a year ago. They will add G Abdul Gaddy who should be the top impact freshman in the Pac-10, as well as one of the top freshman in the country. He will team in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas to give the Huskies what looks
like the premier backcourt in the Pac-10. Quincy Pondexter finally displayed his untapped potential last year, giving the Huskies a third option. The Huskies question marks will be under the basket, but if they don’t have a top player, they have a lot of depth and enough to fight California for the Pac-10 title.
The Cardinals looked like a Final Four team a year ago with 31 wins, but Michigan State kept them from punching their ticket. The Cards lost a couple if top players to the NBA and another to graduation, but the cupboard is far from bare. The Cards’ pressure defense will again be a factor with a trio of senior guards in Sosa, Smith and Knowles. Knowles finished second in the conference when he connected on 43.2% of his three-point attempts. Peyton Siva, a McDonald’s All-American will press for time in the guard rotation as well. Samardo Samuels returns inside, and last year was named to the Big East All-Rookie team, and Terrence Jennings provides a shot-blocking presence in the lane. They will be hard-pressed to match the 31-win season of a year ago, but the Cards aren’t going to fall far. There is a lot of experience in the backcourt, and an influx of talent that is ready to contribute.
The loss of Blake Griffin will hurt, but this marks the fourth straight year a Big-12 player was taken first or second in the draft, and the previous three had continued success in the year that followed. Big-12 Freshamn of the Year Willie Warren returns, after many thought he’d enter the NBA draft. His backcourt mate Tony Crocker also returns, and after a late season slump, he dropped 28 against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. Cade Davis and his 42% three-point shooting also returns. The rest will likely be up to Capel’s best recruitting class since coming to the Sooners. Most noteable will be 6-9, 300 pound wide body Keith Gallon, one of the nation’s top center prospects. The Sooners won’t win 30 games like they did a year ago, but the mid 20s seems like a reasonable goal.
Butler lost four starters from a 30-win team a couple years ago, and most thought this team would fall off the face of the Earth last season. Hardly, as the Bulldogs grinded out 26 wins. The bad news for Horizon opponents is that Butler returns all five starters that started in all 32 games a year ago. That list includes the Horizon Player of the Year in Matt Howard. The Bulldogs started three freshamn a year ago that all have a lot of experience and talent. Gordon Hayward was the league’s newcomer of the year, and he and Shelvin Mack led a USA U-19 team to the World Title. The Bulldogs have a shot to crack the top 10 this season, and another deep run in the NCAA Tournament is likely.
What shapes up to be a down year for the Pac-10, will not be the case in California as the Bears appear to be ready to slug it out with Washington for the top spot. The Bears were a 20-win team a year ago, and led by All-American candidate Jerome Randle, 94% of the scoring returns. Patrick Christopher averaged 14.5 points per game a year ago, and Theo Robertson contributed 13.5 ppg, are also on the floor for the Bears again this year. There should be extra motivation for this team that slumped badly down the stretch dropping five out of their last seven, and getting the ouster from the tournament by Maryland. I expect the Bears to rise to the top of the Pac-10 this season. If they put it all together, they could be a top 10 team.
10. WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia may put out their best team since the Jerry West teams back in the late 50s. They return four starters and motivation from a first-round exit from the tournament a year ago. The team is led by book-end forwards DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks. Butler should top the 2,000 point mark this season. Ebanks really emerged laast season and began to take over games and had 49 points in the Big East tournament including 20 in their big win over Pitt. The Mountaineers will have one of the top front-courts in the country. The issues here may come from off-court incidents that forced the suspension of Joe Mazzulla and Daryl Bryant, but Mazulla was reinstated in September, but Bryant is not certain at this time. JUCO Player of the Year Casey Mitchell, should ease the loss of Ruoff. The Mountaineers have a lot of weapons and will be a factor, not only in the Big East, but in the national picture as well.
Scottie Reynolds’ length-of-the-court drive sent an unsuspectig Villonova team to the Final Four last year and he is back to help the Wildcats make another run. The nucleus of players includes four players with starting experience, and when you toss in the fact that Jay Wright is bringing in the top 30 freshman to contribute, the Wildcats are poised to make another run. One of the newcomers Mouphtaou Yarou, is a strong 6-10 shot-blocker that will give the Cats something inside that they have never had. Taylor King will also be eligible this season. King is a sharp-shooting Duke transfer that scored 5.5 ppg at Duke two years ago. If the freshmen live up to the billing and contribute considerably, a return to the Final Four is not out of the question.
The Boilermakers have not reached the final four since 1980 and last year, many thought they’d be close. They went onto win 27 games, but that wasn’t enough to avoid disappointment. The Boilers this year will come down to one key factor, and that is the health of Robbie Hummel. Hummel suffered from bad back a year ago, but appears to be healthy to start the season. Purdue returns its top three players with Hummel backed by Johnson and Moore. The Boilers finished last year in the upper part of most statistical catergories in the Big-10, and every player that made at least three starts returns. If Robbie Hummel isn’t a cheerleader and is healthy, there is no reason why the Boilermakers shouldn’t reach the Final Four.
The Vols were all smiles when Tyler Smith announced, after flirting with the NBA draft for a second straight year, that he would be back. Smith averaged 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game, and dished out 114 assists a year ago. Smith isn’t alone as the Vols entire starting five from a year ago returns in tact. The team will also have more depth than coach Pearl has had in several years. Coming into the fold this year will be Kenny Hall, who was a double-double prep player. The Vols won 31 games two years ago and slipped to 21 a year ago, but the talent and experience is in place so those 31 wins aren’t out of the question this year.
It is hard to even consider a top 10 without Duke, but Coach K just keeps bringing in talented players. Duke’s biggest problem this season will not be talent at the guard position, but depth. Elliot Williams who was a starter down the stretch, left for family medical reasons and Marty Pocius decided to decline a medical redshirt season. The Dukies still have Kyle Singler. The Devils have not been to a Final Four since 2004, but remain a top program, and you can never count out a Coach K team. This one is similar to those of the past…talented, without a load of depth, but like those teams as well, this year’s squad is ready to make a run.
Texas has emerged as an annual power in the world of college basketball, and their 109 wins the past four years proves it. This year will be no different and a Final Four appearance is within their reach. Those expectations heightened when two days before the NBA draft, Damion James announced he would return for his senior year. This will be Rick Barnes’ most talented team, and James is not alone. Dexter Pittman is emerging. At nearly 300 pounds, the once spot-duty player, who couldn’t stay on the floor for but a few minute increments, is much more conditioned for the rigors of NCAA basketball and is ready to be a force inside. The Horns have the complimentary players ready to emerge as well as a top recruitting class loaded with talent. If everything comes together for this team, coach Barnes’ team could be cutting down the nets at the end of it all.
4. NORTH CAROLINA
The Tar Heels have the deepest talent pool in the nation. Despite losing more than any other ACC team, the Heels come back a threat to be the likely winner when all is said and done. Most thought Ed Davis would be a first-round NBA pick if he came out, but he returns. The depth inside is unmatched and there is no doubt enough of that potential will be tapped, to put the Tar Heels in position to win it all again. It will happen if sophomore PG, Larry Drew can get the ball to the talented cast of Heels. There are seven McDonald’s All-Americans on this year’s roster (last year’s team had eight), so what they lost in experience, wasn’t lost in talent. The Heels will be making their presence known come March.
John Calipari at Kentucky is scary. He has been able to recruit the best of the best at institutions without much of a reputation – UMass and Memphis. What can he do at Kentucky? For starters, he assembled by far the top recruitting class in the country, something likely to be repeated year after year. There is a ways to go, as Kentucky saw a streak of 17 straight NCAA bids end a year ago, but that won’t be happening any time in the near future as long as Calipari is there to work his magic. He has Patrick Paterson, arguably the best big man in the SEC, and two other starters returning, but the incoming class is so strong, neither is guaranteed to start. Enter guard John Wall, a likely one-and-done player, and a host of talented impact freshmen. If the Cats get their act together, they will become a very dangerous team in March, one that could leave Kentucky fans smiling when the final buzzer sounds.
2. MICHIGAN STATE
Michigan State made an unlikely run all the way to the Championship game, and the returning cast offers hopes of finding their way back once again. Coach Izzo has taken every four year player to at least one national semifinal in his 14 years of coaching at Michigan State. It starts with PG Kalin Lucas and a healthier Raymar Morgan, who spent much of last year with walking pneumonia and a broken nose. The Spartans will add a wide-body inside in 6-9 285 pound Derrick Nix, who reportedly has trimmed down and could provide help under the hoop. The bottomline here is a very tactical coach that gets the most out of his teams, and with the talent in place, that means another trip to the Final Foour is in order.
The best news for Kansas came when Cole Aldrich and Sheron Collins who both flirted with the NBA draft, decided to return. That immediately made Kansas a viable Final Four candidate. What is scary is the influx of a top notch, stacked recruiting class has many wondering which of last year’s starters will be sitting? Not a bad problem to have – talent, depth and experience, with new faces pushing them. Xavier Henry will demand immediate playing time in the backcourt, and his older brother CJ, is eligle after transferring from Memphis and sitting out with a broken foot a year ago. Jeff Withey, a 7-0 transfer from Arizona will be eligible after the fall semester. The Jayhawks have the inside-out presence of Collins and Aldrich, in much the same way Carolina had Lawson and Hansbrough, and that may lead to the same result. Kansas looks like the most likely team to win it all.