#23: Wake Forest
#26: Old Dominion
#29: Ohio State
#32: Northern Iowa
#39: San Diego State
#40: Northeastern#11-20#11: Alabama
(24-8, 12-4), SEC WestJonathan Givony
This is a team that will most likely be slept on by the mass media, but definitely not by people who watched them last year and know what kind of talent they return and bring in.
First off, they are led by one of the quietest and most steady PGs in America in Sophomore PG Ron Steele
, an absolute necessity for any contending NCAA team. Steele brings terrific size, athleticism, intelligence and the type of savvy and consistent playmaking skills that almost every team in America would love to have on it's roster. Steele was more of a reluctant scorer last year, but still put up decent numbers in a very efficient manner when he wasn't racking up assists.
Alabama returns a talented and versatile frontcourt in Chuck Davis
and Jermareo Davidson
, backed up by freshman stud Richard Hendrix
who looks to have the body and mindset to put up numbers right off the bat in the physical SEC. Their biggest question marks will be on the wings, and the loss of their top recruit Ray George hurts more than ever because of that. Still, if Coach Mark Gottfried can get this team playing tough defense and fighting on the glass, which is not a give-in unfortunately, this team will compete for the SEC Championship. On paper they appear to have the most talent.
(29-6, 14-4), Pac-10Jonathan Watters
Much like their Pac-10 rival Arizona, Washington loses several crucial players from last season's successful team. You can't replace Will Conroy
, Nate Robinson
, and Tre Simmons
. There is still enough returning for Washington to remain near the top of the conference, however.
Key to this season's success for Lorenzo Romar
is the health and development of Brandon Roy
, who should have developed into a star by now. He has the ability to score in a variety of ways, but the lack of a consistent outside shot and a continuous string of injuries have held him back. With his backcourt counterparts moved on to the professional ranks, this is Brandon Roy
's year to shine.
Also returning are key contributors Bobby Jones
, Mike Jensen, and Jamal Williams
. Jones is a great physical specimen that has become the team's defensive specialist, while Williams put up points in bunches down low last season. An unfortunate injury will keep Jensen out of the Huskies out of conference schedule, but he will return in December or so for the bulk of Washingtons important Pac-10 schedule.
A heralded recruiting class lost a bit of its shine when Martell Webster
decided to enter the draft, but McDonald's All-American Jon Brockman
is going to provide a level of toughness and depth in the paint that hasn't been seen since Romar has coached the Huskies. Jensens injury means that he will need to step up that much sooner, but the Washington native has the polish and especially the motor and mindset to do the dirty work in the paint that his team will sorely need.
It's tough to project how this team does in a loaded Pac-10 this season. The catalysts in Washington's frenzied, 4-guard system are gone. The ability to play a more conventional, post-oriented game is now there, with this new roster makeup. It will be interesting to see what Lorenzo Romar
does with this group.
(22-16, 9-7), C-USAJonathan Givony
Playing in a conference that looks to be a shadow of it's former self after being ransacked by the Big East, Memphis is the lone top gun left in a now extremely watered down Conference USA that appears to be ripe for the Tigers to take and dominate.
Led by arguably the best PG in the country in Darius Washington
, and one of the most explosive players in America in Rodney Carney
, Memphis should be getting up and down the floor plenty and filling up the scoreboard to capacity if Coach Calipari can get them to play up to their potential. If history is any indication, this is easier said than done, though.
Freakishly athletic sophomore Joey Dorsey
could be on the verge of a breakout season, while Memphis is expecting great things out of highly recruiting wing players Shawne Williams
and Chris Douglas-Roberts
So with good depth in all the right places, all the talent is in place for them to make a run, and if they can escape from their tough out of conference schedule without taking too many hits (as opposed to last season which proved to be a disaster early on), Memphis should be a regular fixture in the top 25 if the national media will still bother to look towards what now appears to be just another run of the mill mid-major conference.
(18-11, 11-7), Pac-10 Jonathan Watters
While it's not exactly the good old days just yet, Ben Howland has this program rapidly turning the corner. After a season in which Howland was able to land the best area talent, coax something out of Dijon Thompson
and get the program back to the NCAA tourney, the expectations will be ramped up another notch heading into the fall.
While Thompson has graduated, last year's heralded freshman backcourt trio returns. Jordan Farmar
should develop into the next Deron Williams
, while wings Aaron Afflalo and Josh Shipp
provide the toughness that this team lacked under Steve Lavin. Shipp has undergone hip surgery but should be back during the Bruins Pac-10 schedule.
Post play remains a bit of a question mark, as senior center duo Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins
always manage to underachieve. Young players like Lorenzo Mata, Ryan Wright, and Alfred Aboya provide depth that wasn't there last season, and should force the seniors to earn their playing time.
This team remains very young and must replace its go-to scorer, but there is no reason to think that significant improvements won't be made. Jordan Farmar
will continue to dominate the game as a coach on the floor, and a very nice recruiting class adds the luxury of depth. There are a lot of teams that will scrap at the top of the Pac-10, and UCLA is certainly one of them.
, (33-5, 14-2), Big EastJonathan Watters
Things finally came together for Rick Pitino at Louisville last season. Riding a group of experienced veterans, he reached the final four yet again, and officially put this program back on the "national powerhouse" list. While several key cogs from last season's lineup are gone, the talent level continues to rise with every season. While this is somewhat of a transitional season, don't expect Louisville too far from the top of the new Big East.
Of the returnees, silky smooth combo guard Taquan Dean
remains the most important. Despite battling mono for much of last season, Dean was still one of the most feared shooters in the country. He will do a lot with a little space, and he's unstoppable once he gets a few open looks.
Also back is Columbian forward Juan Palacios
, who was a major contributor in his freshman season. Despite suffering a serious ankle injury this summer, Palacios is expected to really break out this year. It will be interesting to see where his game develops, whether it be at the SF or PF positions. He will be joined in the frontcourt by big time transfer David Padgett
and touted frosh Brian Johnson, who redshirted a season ago due to injury, and continues to battle injury problems to this day.
The backcourt will feature all sorts of green underclassmen, but players like Andre Mcgee, Bryan Harvey, and Terrence Williams
are most likely up to the task, with Williams being the most explosive and possibly the most intriguing of the bunch. Coming off of a final four and with recruits lining up at the door for a chance to play for Rick Pitino, it's obvious that this program is back where it belongs.
(28-6, 14-2), SEC EastJ.L. Weill
Loaded with backcourt depth and blessed with a defense that can suffocate lesser teams, Kentucky enters the fall with high hopes and big questions. Led by gritty senior Patrick Sparks and rising star Rajon Rondo
, the Wildcats will be hyped to reach the pinnacle of college hoops after suffering a heartbreaker of a loss in the Elite Eight.
Rondo showed a lot in his summer stint with the U-21 team, but didn't show he could hit an open jumper. Enter talented sophomores Joe Crawford
and Ramel Bradley, who will both be asked to provide clutch outside shooting and added energy.
What keeps UK from being further up this list is the frontcourt, which is still awaiting word on the status of undrafted Randolph Morris
. The enigmatic Morris has a lot of potential, but has been dogged by questions of toughness. His presence would bolster a frontcourt that is tall, but lean on game experience. Skyscraper Shagari Alleyne
has shown flashes, but is raw, while undersized forwards Sheray Thomas and Bobby Perry have skills but have not yet shown the complete package.
For the Wildcats to come together, a lot of these questions will need to be answered. It says here Tubby Smith, one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the college game, will find a way.
(23-7, 12-4), Big 12Jonathan Givony
Coach Bill Self wasted no time reloading after losing three fantastic seniors in Wayne Simien
, Aaron Miles
and Keith Langford
, amongst others. He's brought in what looks like possibly the best recruiting class in the country to fill their many holes especially on the wings, highlighted by potential future lottery picks Brandon Rush
and Julian Wright
, along with athletic scoring PG Mario Chalmers
and lanky forward Micah Downs
. The extremely athletic USC transfer Rodrick Stewart will become eligible in the Spring.
In the post, Self returns some serious talent in CJ Giles, Sasha Kaun
and Darnell Jackson
, along with the player who was possibly the top walk-on in the country (but is now on scholarship) in Christian Moody. The biggest question marks revolve around how quickly Self will be able to mold this terrific group of talent into a real team, featuring no less than 10 freshman and sophomores on the roster.
The Jayhawks will start off with a fairly tough out of conference schedule before heading into one of the toughest Big 12 conferences in recent years. There will be little room for error, but the Jayhawks have the talent and then some to be a top 10 team when it's all said and done this year.#18: Texas Tech
(22-11, 10-6 Big 12) Jonathan WattersBob Knight
continues to do more with less. His Red Raiders made an appearance in the sweet sixteen, thanks to a second round upset over Gonzaga. While senior leader Ronald Ross
is gone, several key contributors return. A very nice recruiting class should increase the program's overall talent level over the next several years. Jarrius Jackson
made an immediate impact as a freshman, and continued to improve as a sophomore. He is your prototype Bobby Knight-coached lead guard. Martin Zeno
was a big hit as a freshman, and looks like he will develop into a legit wing scorer. Also returning is versatile big man Darryl Dora.
The freshman class is big on numbers, led by combo forward Dior Lowhorn
and wing Terry Martin. The two top 100 recruits are the highest rated newcomers Knight has landed in quite some time.
This team might not jump out at you on paper, but it's foolish to bet against Bobby Knight. Several of the traditional powers have lost a lot of star power, and Texas Tech will be there to pick up the slack. Knight has done quite well with a lot less than what he has this year, that's for sure.
#19: Iowa StateJonathan Watters
After a rough start to the Big XII slate last year, the Cyclones turned things around in a big way by winning nine of their last 11 conference games, and even picking up a win in the NCAA tournament. Curtis Stinson
and Will Blalock
both return, and that means more wins for Wayne Morgan in 05-06.
Blalock and Stinson are as tough and gritty as they come, both relentless off the dribble and unwilling to back down from anybody. Neither shoots the ball particularly well, but that's where sophomore tandem Tasheed Carr and Rashon Clark comes in. The four guards might make up the top backcourt in the Big XII.
Things get dicey in the frontcourt, where Morgan must find somebody to replace post warrior Jared Homan
. There are no returnees, but some nice incoming talent. Shawn Taggart
is an athletic post, while JC transfers Jiri Hubalek
and Jessan Gray come with a few accolades.
While post play is somewhat of a question mark, Stinson and Blalock are two of the best lead guards in the country and will keep this team near the top of the Big XII.
#20: George WashingtonJonathan Watters
The Colonials took a major step forward last season, becoming media darlings after upsetting Michigan State and Maryland in the preseason, and then reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. With four of five starters returning and a couple of other players more than capable of starring in the A-10, George Washington looks primed to fight it out with newcomer Charlotte for the conference championship.
No team in the conference has a better group of returnees, with Carl Elliot and JR Pinnock leading the way in the backcourt. Both are explosive athletes capable of putting points on the board in a hurry. Pinnock in particular looks ready to explode, but the number of offensive options on this team may keep him under the radar for at least one more season. The frontcourt will be anchored by Omar Williams
, Mike Hall
, and the returned Pops Mensah-Bonsu
. Hall and Mensah-Bonsu both found a lukewarm reception when they declared for the draft, but are impact college level players.
As far as new contributions, sophomore Maureece Rice
is slated to step in for the departed TJ Thompson as a scoring guard. Rice is Philadelphia's all-time leading prep scorer, and should make Karl Hobbs' high-octane offensive system that much more potent. The key newcomer is LSU transfer Regis Koundjia
, a highly sought prep recruit. He's got NBA size and athleticism, and could develop into a star if he gets his head into place and GW can coach him up to it.
If we are judging off of individual talent alone, it's hard to imagine the Colonials outside of the top 25. There isn't a team in the conference that has the star power of this group's seven man rotation. However, GW didn't always play up to their potential during the A-10 slate last season. Like many teams that attempt to play a fast-paced style, problems with taking care of the ball, shooting too quickly, and defensive focus made nearly every game an adventure for Colonial fans. This team now has another year of experience under its belt, but needs to show a bit more consistency before they are truly capable of making a big splash in March.