#32: Northern Iowa
#39: San Diego State
#40: Northeastern#21-30#21: Arkansas
(18-12, 6-10), SEC Jonathan Givony
The Razorbacks lost very little this offseason and return a terrific group of talent led by the favorite for SEC player of the year and a young, but highly respected head coach in Stan Heath.
This team will likely go as far as potential lottery pick junior Ronnie Brewer
takes them. Brewer is one of the most versatile players in the country, being able to play the point at 6-7 thanks to his terrific court vision, ball-handling skills and feel for the game. Brewer was an underrated player all season last year, but will be under intense scrutiny by both the media, fans and NBA scouts as much of the scoring and leadership responsibilities will fall on his shoulders, while being asked to play 3 different positions for the Razorbacks. In addition, Arkansas returns senior PG Eric Ferguson, senior sharpshooter Jonathon Modica (who regressed severely last season and will absolutely have to return to form), tall and athletic sophomore shotblocking threats Darian Townes
and Steven Hill
and various other role players. In a year that the SEC appears to be severely down, Arkansas has the talent and experience to step up and win the conference if they can play up to their potential. They will be tested early in Maui as they face PG depleted UConn in just their second game of the season.
(13-16, 6-12), Pac-10Jonathan WattersLeon Powe
. With him healthy and playing up to his potential, California is a likely an NCAA tourney team, right alongside Stanford and UCLA. Without him, the Bears simply collapsed last year. That's how good the 2004 Pac-10 freshman of the year truly is. After a year of rehab on his knee and a summer in which he looked every bit the player he was before the injury, Cal is suddenly a true national sleeper.
While the team was certainly bad last season, it's not as though the cupboard was completely bare. Richard Midgley, Marquise Kately
, and Ayinde Ubaka
have a lot of talent, but none have the type of complete game that makes a go-to player. Midgley is your shooting specialist, Kately, if he's around and happy enough to play ball, is your high-rising wing, and Ubaka the explosive floor general. Complementing Powe, all three will look better.
Next to Powe, who should be the best big man in the conference, is Rod Benson
, a double figure scorer and pleasant surprise for Braun last season. There is plenty of depth as well, with Eric Vierneisel and Devon Hardin
both showing promise as freshmen.
Everything hinges on the health of Powe, but suddenly things are looking up for California fans. The future is bright as well, with the Wilkes brothers coming in. Omar, a transfer from Kansas, is a combo guard with polish. Jordan, a freshman center, has star potential. Even after such a down year, this could be a truly complete team. They have plenty of talent, depth, balance, and now star power. Call the Bears just a sleeper team for now, but don't expect that label to last for long...
#23: Wake Forest
(27-6, 13-3) ACCJonathan Watters
The Chris Paul
era came to a crashing halt last march, when the Demon Deacons fell to a scorching hot West Virginia team in a contest that will go down in history as one of the college basketball's all-time greatest games. If that wasn't enough, Skip Prosser also loses three long-time contributors in Taron Downey, Jamaal Levy
, and Vytas Danelius
. Nonetheless, there is enough returning to expect Wake Forest to finish near the top of an ACC that lost a lot of talent this offseason.
Seniors Justin Gray
and Eric Williams
are the two standouts back from last season, and both will be expected to take their game up another notch or two this year. Gray is a combo guard that is most comfortable using his deadly quick release to score points in bunches, but will probably end up doing a lot more ball-handling this season. Williams has steadily improved over the course of his career, and really became a star last season. He deserves to be mentioned in the same class as the ACC's more visible big men like Craig Smith
and Shelden Williams
Other veteran returnees include likely starter Trent Strickland
, a top tier athlete that must continue to polish his guard skills, big man Chris Ellis, and promising center Kyle Visser
The Demon Deacons will have five freshman to fill in the gaps this fall. Combo guard Harvey Hale out of New Mexico is slated to receive immediate playing time in the backcourt, and is somewhat of a sleeper. Combo forwards Cameron Stanley (a redshirt) and Kevin Swinton take the court with some expectations, while point guard Shamaine Dukes was a late signee after Paul headed pro.
There are some serious question marks for Skip Prosser's bunch this season. Last year's offense was so powerful and spread out that one has wonder how Gray and Williams will handle the constant double teams they are sure to be receiving. Players used to more limited roles will have to step up. Still, Gray and Williams are a great one-two punch, and the Deacons should finish in the top tier of the ACC.
(21-8, 12-4) Atlantic 10 Jonathan Watters
Bobby Lutz is riding high in Charlotte, coming off of consecutive NCAA tournament berths and with a roster full of returning talent. The 49ers move from Conference USA to the Atlantic 10 this season, and while teams like George Washington won't go down without a fight, Charlotte has to be considered the favorites heading into the season.
The team's star power comes in the form of Curtis Withers
, a versatile and rugged combo forward. He has the size and strength to play down low, but is just as comfortable using his soft touch and developed skill on the outside. Withers was one of the top performers on the US team this summer in Argentina. He is joined by Oklahoma transfer DeAngelo Alexander, who is expected to be the team's primary perimeter scoring threat. Alexander flashed star potential under Kelvin Sampson, but an underdeveloped offensive arsenal and a steady rash of injuries have kept his explosiveness in check.
Mitchell Baldwin is a speed demon at the point, and has never been given the credit he is due. Lutz will look to a group of young returnees and JUCO transfers to fill the holes left by the graduated Brendan Plavich and Martin Iti
, who transferred to New Mexico State. A loss which might be considered insurmountable is Eddie Basden
s graduation. Basden was one of the best perimeter defenders in America last year and provided solid rebound, all-around scoring and the type of work ethic and quiet leadership that will be almost impossible to replace.
It will be up to Alexander and players like EJ Drayton, LeeMire Goldwire, Mitchell Baldwin, and Jerrell Jamison to make up for Plavich's lost outside shooting presence and the mostly opportunist offense that Basden provided. If somebody can exhibit a consistent stroke, this team could really skyrocket up the polls.
(37-2, 15-1), Big TenJonathan Watters
Illinois loses two thirds of the backcourt that carried the team to the national championship game, but the core of a very good team remains. Dee Brown
and James Augustine
will be required to step into larger roles this season, but they are more than capable of doing just that.
Other than Brown, there is little returning in the backcourt. Richard McBride has to step up and become more than a shooter, while Calvin Brock is expected to come right in and make an impact after a redshirt season. Depth could be an issue here, as freshmen Jamar Smith and Chester Frazier would normally be candidates for a redshirt season.
Augustine has the ability to be a go-to star, but will have to show more of a selfish, aggressive mentality in his senior season. He has the tools to score in a variety of ways, but hasnt always shown to willingness to do so when the going gets tough. With his size, athleticism and upside, he could very well ride a dominant season right into the 1st round of the draft, it really depends on how much he wants it. Dee Brown
on the other hand has the entire package; incredible speed, terrific range on his shot, excellent ball-handling skills and the type of sparkplug pressure defense that could make him an outstanding backup PG in the pros. He will have to show that he is capable of running effectively a team all season long under the intense pressure of the scouts, fans and media, not to mention return from a tough injury straight into the fire, which is easier said than done. How much he misses Deron Williams
and Luther Head
will not be hard to notice early on in the season, and his ability to adapt as the season progresses will likely decide how he starts his professional future. He will be joined by several players we haven't seen much of, including Illinois state transfer Marcus Arnold, combo forward Brian Randle
, and the long, athletic Warren Carter
The Big Ten is a nasty conference this year, where almost everything is up in the air beyond Michigan State starting the season as the favorite. This won't be a team that contends for a national title again, but Brown and Augustine certainly aren't going away quietly. Heading into the season, they are a step above the pack as the second best team in the Big Ten.
#26: Old Dominion
(28-6, 15-3), CAAJonathan Givony
The Monarchs finished last season with a terrific 28-6 record and a NCAA tournament berth as a #12 seed where they lost to eventual Final Four participants Michigan State after taking them down to the wire.
This year, they return all their major players minus their 5th best scorer (who graduated), including Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, Honorable Mention All-American and conference tournament MVP Alex Loughton
. Loughton is an old school Australian 6-9 PF/C who can score inside the post and out and should be on his way to a breakout season nationally that should see him being invited to Portsmouth when it's all said and done. He has a lot to prove to scouts, especially in terms of his athletic ability and the way that might translate to the pros, but could be this years Taylor Coppenrath
in terms of the type of buzz he generates as the big man on campus as well as in the national media should ODU heat up the way many think they can.
On paper, Old Dominion looks to be the top dogs in what could turn out to be the strongest mid-major conference in America this year, the CAA, which has recently expanded to 12 teams after adding Northeastern and Georgia State. Their strength of schedule looks very good early on as they have not shied away from scheduling matchups with respected programs from top conferences across the country, including Georgia, DePaul, Virginia Tech, UAB, Eastern Carolina, Richmond and possibly Wisconsin if both teams advance far enough in the Paradise Jam tournament. Should the Monarchs fare well in their tough out of conference schedule, don't be surprised to see the mass media jump on their bandwagon as well. This team is certainly good enough to be ranked.
(27-7, 11-5), Big EastJ.L. Weill
Why rank Syracuse this high or low? One simple reason: Gerry McNamara
It only seems like the dead-eye shooter has been in college for ten years. The plucky senior has range from the parking lot, a killer instinct and a fondness for stepping up in the clutch, three things the Orange will need a lot of in the post-Warrick era. Its his non-existent defense, highly questionable shot selection and often average playmaking skills that make him both a liability on nights that he isnt on (see: NCAA tournament, Vermont) as well as a very borderline NBA draft prospect. Luckily for Syracuse, the cupboard is far from bare for Jim Boeheim.
A junior class that was rated among the nation's best a few years ago is ready to step in and dominate. The athletic Terrence Roberts
gained valuable experience over the summer and apparently has a chip on his shoulder to prove to America exactly what he can do, while big man Darryl Watkins
may be poised to help the Syracuse faithful forget about the low post tandem of Craig Forth and Warrick if he can get his head screwed on firmly. Depth from talented guard Louie McCroskey and forward Demetris Nichols
will give the Big East fits. Freshman scorer Eric Devendorf
has the goods to step in and contribute immediately.
Everyone knows the Syracuse zone will help level the playing field, so Watkins, Devendorf and Roberts will have to provide the help that McNamara needs if the Orange are to begin to crawl up this list. Syracuse scheduled an out of conference schedule made up strictly of cupcake teams, though, meaning that their will be almost zero room for error once they hit the Big East. #28: Nevada
(25-7, 16-2), WAC Jonathan Givony
If the past few years have taught us anything, it's that the Wolf Pack are a team that must be taken into consideration year in and year out, regardless of the conference they play in.
Nevada returns one of the most talented big men in the country in Nick Fazekas
, a player who was already a consistent 20 and 10 player last year as a sophomore. Much of the offensive responsibility will rest on his shoulders, and he's shown that he is capable of doing it all on the offensive end as long as the spotlight on him isn't too bright. Fazekas is reportedly slowly adding strength to his lanky frame, and if that is true it will undoubtedly make him even more of a multifaceted all-around offensive talent. Now that the cat is out of the bag and many eyes will be on him, Fazekas will have to continue to improve to show that he is capable of being a go to guy night in and night out both inside the post and on the perimeter if hes to entrench himself as a first round talent in the NBA draft this year or next.
Another weapon to look out for and the source of plenty of optimism in Reno is the player who will be distributing the ball for Nevada, Ramon Sessions
. The 6-3 playmaker is tough as nails and can play defense with the best of them. He showed precocious skills as Nevada's starting PG last year already and should improve on his all-around game to compliment his already excellent defense and distributing skills. If he can develop a legitimate jumpshot, he will be a draft prospect as well when it's all said and done.
Nevada has shown confidence in their squad and has scheduled accordingly to show the nation what they have on their hands. Theyll be traveling to meet up with in-state rivals UNLV early on, before heading to Kansas for what will be a fascinating game and then meeting up with UCLA and a primetime Saturday afternoon television slot in the Wooden Classic in Southern California. Winning 2 of those 3 games will likely put them in the national polls and on the radar once again, possibly for good.
#29: Ohio State
(20-12, 8-8), Big TenRodger Bohn
Thad Matta's Buckeyes are coming off of a very strong finish to a 20 win season a year ago, knocking off #1 ranked and previously undefeated Illinois. Again, this year's OSU team will be led by 6'9 PF/C Terence Dials
. Dials, who is arguably the top post player in the Big 10, possesses great hands, a nice jump hook, and a soft face up jumper. At the moment, he is still a bit more of a center then he is a power forward and has had conditioning issues throughout his career. If Terence is able to slim down a bit and continue his development as a PF, there is a good chance we will be talking about him when the 2006 draft rolls around.
Ohio State will also rely heavily upon two junior transfers: Ron Lewis
and Sylvester Mayes. Lewis is a 6'5 G/F transferring in from Bowling Green, where he averaged 17.0 points per game as a sophomore. He boasts a very smooth perimeter game, along with the ability to post smaller guards if need be. Mayes, a JUCO transfer, is a 6'2 scoring point guard who can really fill up a stat sheet. He was widely regarded as one of the top JUCO recruits in the nation at Redlands Community College after ranking 17th in the nation in scoring amongst all junior college players. The final member of the OSU backcourt is J.J. Sullinger, a 6'5 senior SG. Sullinger can absolutely shoot the lights out and is really starting to develop his game off of the dribble. Consistency has been a major issue for him, though.
The emerging program will also look for a significant contribution from 6'8 SF/PF Ivan Harris. Harris, a 2003 McDonald's All American and consensus top 10 player of that class, has never really seemed comfortable within the Ohio State offensive scheme, although he did show flashes of potential against LSU last year where he kicked in 20 points, including 4 three pointers. Ohio State is hoping that will be able to regain his confidence and show why he was so highly touted coming out of high school.
Other contributors will be Matt Sylvester, a 6'7 senior combo forward who has a knack for knocking down big shot after big shot and Matt Terwillinger, an athletic 6'10 PF who only played sparingly last season. Many are expecting the Buckeyes to set the table a year early for their #1 ranked recruiting class headlined by Greg Oden
and make their way to the NCAA tournament after coming off their self-imposed sanctions for NCAA rules infractions.
(21-10, 11-7), MACRodger Bohn
The defending MAC tournament champions The Ohio University Bobcats are coming off of amazing run last season in which they won 8 of their final 9 games to advance to the NCAA tournament. In the first round of the tourney they faced David Lee
, Matt Walsh
, Anthony Roberson
, and the rest of a red hot Florida Gators team which had just won the SEC tournament. After falling well behind, OU was able to cut the deficit to two points within the last two minutes of the game, but bad decisions by talented, but inexperienced players proved to cost them the game.
Last year will be a lesson in the learning process of the Bobcats two top players, sophomores Leon Williams and Jeremy Fears
. 6'8 PF Leon Williams, the MAC freshman of the year and tournament MVP is a monster down low with his great size and developing a face up game. Fellow second year standout Jeremy Fears
, a 6'3 point guard, looks to build on a solid freshman season with his good ball-handling skills and superb quickness and overall athleticism. The pride and joy of Athens, Ohio will heavily rely upon these two to continue to develop their games, as this years team lacks both depth and experience aside from their two leading scorers last year.
Mychal Green is the elder statesman of the team as a senior. This 6-4 combo guard is looking to build off of a season in which he led the Bobcats in scoring (15.0 ppg) and had a very solid outing against Florida in the NCAA tournament. 6-5 junior G/F Sonny Troutman is a smooth left-handed shooter whose playmaking abilities were vital to the success of OU last year. These two will be forced to vocally lead a team who will count on impact performances from two newcomers.
Johnnie Jackson, a transfer from Boston College is a sharp shooter whose range extends well beyond the three-point line. Although he did not produce much at BC, coaches have raved about his great outside shooting ability for a player of his size (66). A player who will shock most is 6-6 power forward Jerome Tillman. While a bit undersized to play the post, Tillman possesses a great body (a chiseled 230 lbs.) and is extremely explosive coming off the ground with a powerful array of dunks and even shows a nice jump shot out to the collegiate three point line. These two, along with the four aforementioned players will make up the nucleus of the early MAC favorite Ohio Bobcats.