Basketball picksNovember 4, 2009

College Basketball Picks 2009: Top 25

College Basketball Picks 2009: Top 25-16

25. UCLA
The Bruins’ program has undergone a resurrgence over the last four years as they have won a total of 123 games, or just about 31 a season. They lost a lot of key players, but won’t drop off the face of the earth this season. While Cal and Washington should battle for the top spot in the Pac-10, UCLA is stil a cut above the rest. The Bruins have reloaded with a lot of future NBA players. Mike Moser and Tyler Honeycutt will give the Bruins a pair of forwards that can play – just need experience. The Bruins, under coach Holland, are going to get after it on defense –
that is a sure thing, and if the young players provide some offensive punch, the Bruins will be knocking on the door of the top 25.

Maryland held its breath as Greivis Vasquez worked out for 25 NBA teams and then withdrew, meaning he will return to Maryland. Last season he became only the sixth ACC player ever to lead his team in points scored, rebounds and assists, while cutting his turnovers down from 149 to 98. Eric Hayes is the long distance connection, and the Terps have Landon Milbourne in the middle to form a tough trio of players. Despite the talent, the Terps need one of the Freshmen to step up and supply some scoring inside and some board help. The ACC is loaded, so they may be a top 25 team, but might only be the fifth-best team in the conference.

Dayton came out of nowhere a season ago to finish 27-8. They return four starters from that team as well as 10 of  their 11 top scorers. Dayton won its NCAA Tournament opener against Big East West Virginia. Chris Wright had a lot to do with that, pouring in 27 points and grabbing 10 boards. The Flyers are 41-10 with him in the lineup and he had 54 dunks last year. The Flyers established a top-notch homecourt finishing at 18-0, now they have to learn to win on the road. The Flyers could be better if they can knock down some threes as they finished at just 32.8% a year ago, No. 11 in the A-10, and improve upon their FT percentage. This team could find its way higher in the rankings if those things happen.

John Beilein had a system at West Virginia that proved to be a winner. He is now into his third year at Michigan with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. It’s been a long time for Michigan to get back into the limelight, and they are getting closer, but they could use a big man under the hoop. The maturation of Freshman PG Darius Morris will be the key to this team. If he struggles, so will the Wolverines. If he comes in and does what they think he can, this team will crack the top 25, but they aren’t quite ready to bang with the elite just yet.

Siena is heads and heels better than any MAAC team, has been to the big dance two straight seasons, and will attempt to become only the second to make it three straight, along with now departed LaSalle. The Saints return four starters, along with Clearance Jackson who was Sixth Man of the year in the MAAC, so they have a lot of experience and talent. They have quality depth, and after the first semester will add more when LaSalle transfer Kyle Griffin becomes eligible. The Saints were a 27-win team a year ago, and should equal or exceed that this season.

Last year the Big East was loaded with great teams. This season there are still a lot of top teams, and Notre Dame could break into that group, especially with the return of Luke Harongody. A six-game losing streak near the beginning of the Big East season really tore the soul out of this team. They add Ben Hansbrough (Tyler’s brother) as he transferred from Mississippi State. They also add another experienced player in Scott Martin over from Purdue, so the Irish have the pieces. The offense was big last year, but it will all come down to their commitment on the other end that will determine their fate.

It seems like the Buckeyes have a never-ending supply of big men and another has arrived in seven-footer Zisis Sarikpoulos. An injury-plagued season set the Buckeyes back to 22-11 a year ago, and first-round exit in the tournament. They will have perhaps the best tandem of forwards in the Big-10 with Evan Turner and a healed David Lighty. The Buckeyes have a lot of perimeter firepower, and if they get anything out of the latest big-man in the middle, the Buckeyes will climb.

Oliver Purnell has put Clemson basketball back on the map. The Tigers made the NCAA tournament back-to-back years, and will likely add a third appearance this season. Purnell has brought in a top-25 recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Milton jennings – the first McDonald’s All-American to come to Clemson in 18 years. Clemson will again be a force inside, but it will all come down to their Achillies heel. Last season the Tigers had just 23 more assists than turnovers and if they don’t get that fixed, what they have inside won’t get them to this level.

The Huskies missed an opportunity to hang a third National Championship banner last season, and perhaps Jerome Dyson had something to do with that. Dyson suffered a season-ending knee injury and was missing in the tournament. Now with a lot of key departures, the Huskies still have a lot of talent, but are just down in experience. Stanley Robinson may be the most athletic player in the country. Towards the end of the season, he finally began playing like it. Dyson and Walker form a top backcourt duo with a lot of speed and Coach Calhoun has some very promising newcomers, especially Ater Majok who flirted with the NBA draft, but will be the next big man to head to the NBA from UConn. If the younger players, and they are good ones, can adapt to the Calhoun system, the Huskies will be dangerous come March.

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 LA, 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.