NCAA Preseason Top 40: #1-10

NCAA Preseason Top 40: #1-10
Oct 10, 2005, 03:08 am


#11: Alabama
#12: Washington
#13: Memphis
#14: UCLA
#15: Louisville
#16: Kentucky
#17: Kansas
#18: Texas Tech
#19: Iowa State
#20: George Washington


#21: Arkansas
#22: California
#23: Wake Forest
#24: Charlotte
#25: Illinois
#26: Old Dominion
#27: Syracuse
#28: Nevada
#29: Ohio State
#30: Ohio

#31-40: #31: Indiana #32: Northern Iowa #33: Georgetown #34 Michigan #35: LSU #36: Miami #37: Wisconsin #38: Florida #39: San Diego State #40: Northeastern


#1: Duke (27-6, 11-5), ACC

Jonathan Watters

Coach K isn't new to lofty expectations, and those put on his team this year will be about as high as they could possibly get. Duke returns two All-American candidates and the majority of it's rotation from last season, and welcomes one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. It's the recipe for a preseason number one ranking, if there's ever been one.

This team will go as far as JJ Redick and Shelden Williams take them. Redick is the most feared long range bomber in the nation, though this team struggled in March when Redick's shot abandoned him. Williams will continue to provide unrivaled toughness, rebounding and shot-blocking ability in the paint. If Williams can show the face-up game expected of NBA power forwards that we’ve never had the chance to see out of him, he looks like a good bet to be the 1st senior taken in 2006 NBA draft as well. At 6-3, things will be a little tougher for Redick, but another excellent college season should secure him in the 1st round.

The newcomers of note are pure PG Greg Paulus, who is already drawing comparisons to such past ACC standouts as Bobby Hurley and Steve Blake, and the number one incoming freshman in the nation, Josh McRoberts. McRoberts has grown into his 6'11 frame, has textbook fundamentals in the paint, and feathery touch on his jumper. He will be thrown into the fire early, with Shavlik Randolph's head scratching decision to turn pro.

There is a nice stable of roleplayers here too, such as Sean Dockery, DeMarcus Nelson, Lee Melchionni, and Jamal Boykin.

Any way you look at it, this team is primed for a dominating season. The only real question mark here is whether Reddick will regain his shooting form in clutch situations, after continuing to struggle this summer in Argentina. There might not be a team in the entire nation that matches up with this group, let alone a watered down ACC.

#2: Oklahoma (25-8, 12-4), Big 12

Jonathan Givony

Sporting what appears to be the best frontcourt in the country, terrific depth in the most important places, and one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA in Kelvin Sampson, the Sooners are in prime position to land in the final four for the second time in the past four years.

Starting in the post we have 6-8 senior shot put champion Kevin Bookout, a rugged old-school big man who likes to mix it up and can score with either hand or a hook shot in the paint. 6-9 senior power forward Taj Gray wasted no time showing the country that he is one of the best big men in the country in his rookie season in the NCAA after transferring out of a JUCO school. Gray is a versatile and skilled power forward who is just as comfortable using power spin moves in the paint as he is throwing no-look passes to Bookout from the high post. He loves to run the floor and will likely show his face many times this season on the various nighttime highlight reels.

Running the point will be highly underrated 6-4 combo guard Terrell Everett. Everett is a super long and athletic type who loves to lock down his man, push the tempo and get his teammates involved. He got very little love last season or this summer from the media for putting up 12 and a half points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists on excellent percentages in his rookie NCAA season after also transferring from JUCO. With the maddingly inconsistent Drew Lavender finally out of the mix, Everett will be OU’s starting PG from day one and will be looking to prove that he should be considered one of the top PG’s not only in the Big 12, but possibly in the entire country.

Completing the frontcourt will be UC-Riverside transfer Nate Carter, 6-6, 220 pound swingman who is getting a lot of hype early on after averaging 15 and a half points in his first two NCAA seasons before transferring. Another possible starter on the wings is 6-3 shooting guard Michael Neal, yet another highly regarded JUCO player that Sampson managed to pluck for OU.

Providing depth will be long, athletic and extremely raw 6-11 center Longar Longar, 6-3 athletic JUCO guard Chris Walker, and 6-5 junior David Gobold, amongst others.

All in all Oklahoma has the perfect mix of athleticism, experience, depth, defensive ability and toughness to make a deep run in the tournament.

#3: Michigan State (25-6, 13-3), Big 10

J.L. Weill

After outlasting Kentucky to reach the Final Four in '05, the Spartans comes into the '06 campaign with some added pressure. Luckily for them, they also come into the season with a load of talent and experience, led by skilled big man Paul Davis and the scoring of Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown.

For Davis it’s really now or never to finally live up to the early hype and claw his way back into first round consideration after a disappointing junior season, which finished encouragingly with a few strong performances in March. Ager will also be fighting for draft positioning in his senior season, scouts are already in love with his freakish athleticism, much improved perimeter shooting and lock-down defense, it’s his ball-handling, in-between game and consistency that need the most work. Shannon Brown is a hot name once again after a fantastic NCAA tournament. The 6-4 junior shooting guard hopefully will be able to show some type of playmaking skills off the bounce and better perimeter shooting and shot selection to compliment his excellent defense and athletic ability.

Tom Izzo's bunch will benefit this time around from throwing water bug point guard Drew Neitzel into the fire last year, and the supporting cast of big Drew Naymick and newcomers Maurice Joseph and Travis Walton will help turn Izzo's constantly rotating substitution patterns into a weapon.

An improved Big Ten should also prove valuable, both in terms of RPI, seeding and experience. Folks in East Lansing have come to expect a lot from Izzo's Michigan State teams, and this year is no different. However, the pieces are there to make a deep run in March, and if any active coach knows how to get there, it's Izzo.

#4: Texas (20-11, 9-7), Big 12

Jonathan Givony

Featuring one of the most talented rosters in the country, the Texas Longhorns will be looking to rebound off a disappointing season marred by injuries, lockerroom conflicts, the loss of PJ Tucker to academic ineligibility and eventually a first round exit from the NCAA tournament at the hands of Nevada.

Headlining that effort will be the aforementioned and recently reinstated Tucker, a 6-5 combo forward who is somewhat of a NCAA version of Charles Barkley with the way he plays. The junior Tucker is already one of the toughest matchups you’ll find in college basketball, a fundamentally sound basketball player with an awesome motor and great toughness and touch in the post. His perimeter skills showed great improvement in the first semester of his sophomore year before becoming ineligible, and it will be his consistent leadership and energy that will likely decide how far the Longhorns go this year.

Joining him in the frontcourt will be 6-11 big man LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the more highly touted centers to test the NCAA waters in recent years. Aldridge had an up and down freshman season that ended prematurely because of concerning back problems. His mobility and perimeter skills have never been questioned, it’s his toughness, strength and back to the basket game that scouts will be closely monitoring. Starting next to him in the paint will be rugged 6-8 big man Brad Buckman, an excellent role-playing type who does his fair share scoring and rebounding down low.

At the point will be 6-3 athletic scoring extraordinaire Daniel Gibson, a potential future lottery pick (like Aldridge) in his own right. Gibson struggled at times running his team effectively in the absence of Tucker and Aldridge, and it will be his playmaking skills and shot selection in particular that need the most improvement for him to live up to his full potential as a player. Gibson was one of the best outside shooting freshman in the country last year, he’ll likely swing over to the off-guard spot at times to make room for senior Kenton Paulino.

All in all this has the making of a special team, but there is also a fair amount of concern regarding how well this team will mesh chemistry wise with so many players who will want to have the ball in their hands in order to impress. Not to mention that they once again are lacking depth both in terms of quantity and quality, especially in the backcourt.

#5: Villanova (24-8, 11-5), Big East

Jonathan Watters

Jay Wright took the Big East by storm in 2002, bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. However, the cupboard was nearly bare at that point, and it's taken 3 seasons for those one-time freshmen to develop into a group that truly deserved the hype they received before setting foot on campus. Even without the services of Curtis Sumpter, the Wildcats made a sweet 16 run this past March, nearly defeating the eventual national champs. With everybody back this fall, Villanova's time to truly contend has arrived.

While the health of Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser is important, it probably isn't as necessary as it might be on other teams when you consider the four guard rotation Wright will roll out every night. Allen Ray and Randy Foye are the senior leaders - scrappy, tough, scoring guards. Both were scintillating in international competition, with Ray leading the US team in scoring at the U21 World Championships in Argentina. Mike Nardi is the closest thing to a pass-first, "true" PG on the roster, while Kyle Lowry's emergence as a legit penetrator seemed to be the spark that took Villanova over the top late last season. There are no positions here, just get the ball to a guard and attack. There might not be another team out there with such a unique and versatile group of guards.

Sumpter, a versatile combo forward that will beat you from the outside or blow past you on the fast break for a dunk, is coming off of a knee surgery. Former McDonald's All-American center Jason Fraser is seemingly in surgery every other week, and this offseason was no different. Any contribution from Fraser puts the Wildcats into an entirely new class. The team also will have the luxury of a bit more depth this season, with several of the incoming freshmen being very capable of carving out a role.

#6: Connecticut (23-8, 13-3), Big East

Jonathan Watters

One of the biggest dilemmas facing anybody trying to put together a list of the top teams in the nation is what to do with the Huskies. More specifically, what kind of outcome can we expect from the Marcus Williams and AJ Price legal situation? Without the two PG's, Jim Calhoun's team is a bit undermanned in the backcourt, and definitely slides down a notch. However, we would be surprised if either player was actually kicked out of the program. At least one and possibly both will probably receive early season suspensions, and be ready to go for the Big East slate.

Assuming a full roster, Connecticut comes into 2005-2006 as one of the few national heavyweights. Forget about Jim Calhoun losing 4 players to the NBA draft lottery in the last two seasons - this program doesn't rebuild, it reloads. The Huskies could easily make it 6 lotto picks in 3 years if everything goes well for Josh Boone and Rudy Gay. Boone missed international competition this summer with a back injury and Gay was somewhat disappointing in Argentina, but both are expected to take major steps forward from last season.

The star power doesn't stop with Gay and Boone, however. Williams came back from academic troubles to become a major catalyst, while Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson are trademark UConn talents at the wing. Frontcourt reserves Hilton Armstrong and Ed Nelson are go-to players on many D1 teams. The freshmen will be role-players, but are capable as well.

While it's tough to get too optimistic about this team with the "Laptopgate" developments swirling overhead, this might be the one team that, on paper at least, has the horses to truly challenge Duke for the number one spot.

#7: Gonzaga (26-5, 12-2), WCC

Jonathan Watters

With all the money running through college basketball these days, it's somewhat startling to see a mid-major program like Gonzaga develop into a true high major powerhouse. Mark Few still doesn't recruit like a Pitino, Williams, or Krzyzewski, but he gets those types of results out of the talent that he does land. With an outstanding group of returning talent, expect more of the same out of Spokane this season.

There aren't many teams capable of running up the score like Gonzaga will this season. It all starts with Adam Morrison, perhaps the best returning all-around scorer in the nation. He is a danger to put the ball in the hoop every time he touches the ball, no matter the situation. Derek Raivio will be feeding him all season, though Raivio is somewhat of an accomplished marksman himself. JP Batista, Sean Mallon, and redshirt freshman Josh Heytvelt are all capable of creating their own shot in the paint.

Ronny Turiaf has graduated, and with him goes the heart of a team that was already a bit on the soft side when it comes to defense. He provided a spark on that end of the floor and on the glass, and won't be replaced. Reigning WCC defensive player of the year Erroll Knight is due for a breakout season, but look for this team to have a bit of trouble when teams are able to slow the game down.

Many people have the misconception that because the 'Zags play in a smaller conference, they have less talent than many other teams near the top of the polls. Rest assured that this is not the case in 2005-2006.

#8: Stanford (18-13, 11-7), Pac-10

Jonathan Watters

Every year, it's seems like Stanford's run of luck is up. After losing Coach Mike Montgomery, star Josh Childress and several other key contributors, it was thought that the Cardinal might take a step back last season. However, new head coach Trent Johnson kept this group together, and like always seems to happen at Stanford, the role-players stepped up and became stars. With the majority of last season's team back, the Cardinal could be the class of the Pac-10 in 2006, if they are healthy that is.

This team is led by three seniors, in point Chris Hernandez, wing Dan Grunfield and big man Matt Haryasz. None will blow you away athletically, but they shoot the ball so well that teams have no choice but to pay extra attention to them. Hernandez runs an offense to perfection and Haryasz can score in all sorts of ways, whether he's facing up for the jumper or playing with his back to the basket in the mid-post.

The Cardinal do need to replace the physical presence of graduated senior Rob Little. Two sophomores, Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt, will be the latest Stanford role-players presented with the opportunity to develop into standouts. Sophomore Tim Morris and freshman Lawrence Hill will also get a chance to contribute on the wing.

It's easy to underrate this team, as they don't have that star-type presence that will knock people's socks off. But don't be surprised when this team is rated in the top 10 come March. This is exactly the kind of smart, skilled, trigger happy and experienced roster that can mesh early and never look back in today’s version of college basketball.

#9: Arizona, (30-7, 15-3), Pac-10

Jonathan Watters

Lute Olson returns three starters and brings in a touted freshman class, but just how tough is it going to be to replace Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye? While the two seniors were the true difference makers on this team last year, this team has enough talent coming back to expect another season at or near the top of the Pac-10.

Stoudamire's shooting presence is irreplaceable, but Hassan Adams will attempt to fill in as the team's new go-to scorer. He struggled with his outside shooting and overall guard skills last season, but showed signs of life in March. He will be joined in a loaded backcourt by the inconsistent Mustafa Shakur, and promising sophomore Jawann McClellan, if he can get eligible that is. Even more so now, combo guard Chris Rodgers will be looking to put 3 seasons of disappointing basketball behind him and cash in on some of that potential.

The frontcourt lacks the ability and depth of the backcourt, but Kirk Walters may finally be ready to step up and give some major minutes. He joins Ivan Radenovic in the starting frontcourt. Isaiah Fox, Mohammed Tangara, and freshman Fendi Onobun will fight for the backup minutes.

While Stoudamire and Frye won't be replaced, there is more than enough talent here to keep the Wildcats in the Pac-10 title hunt.

#10: Boston College (25-5, 13-3), ACC

J.L. Weill

The ACC's newest member comes with a bite. Boston College moves into the nation's highest-profile league with a lot of firepower, especially in power forward Craig Smith and the multitalented Jared Dudley.

Al Skinner will also return two starters who provide the intangibles that drive the Eagles in Louis Hinnant and Sean Marshall. After that, however, things get a little dicey depth-wise. Akida McLain and new faces Tyrese Rice and Evan Neisler will need to step up if the 2005 Big East champs are to make a run at all similar to last year's remarkable 20-0 start.

The at least temporary loss of Sean Williams hurts, but Skinner has a talented roster, and if the shots fall, the paint will open up for Smith, who is a bear down low. There will be bumps in the road, and an undefeated run like last year’s seems unlikely given the talent level of the ACC. But the Eagles have strong parts and experience, not to mention the chip on their shoulder of their parting with the Big East. Sometimes, a little grit can go a long way. At the very least, BC will have two legit college stars in Smith and Dudley to fall back on.

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