College Basketball Preview: The Contenders

At the beginning of the college basketball season, there are so many questions and so few answers. Even the most involved fan has to wait at least a month to really know a little of what to expect for this season of college hoops. However, the one question that can probably be, at least, discussed is which teams have a legitimate chance to win the whole thing. As Memphis coach John Calipari always says, at the beginning of every year, there are about 30 or so teams that think they can make the Final Four, but only about 6 or 7 that think they can win the national title. We here at Broad Street Believers have picked 8 that we think have a legitimate shot to cut down the nets in San Antonio next March.


If Kevin Love becomes the force in the paint that many people predict, this team will be 2008 NCAA National Champions. With that said, I think he will be and I think that this team is going to cut down the nets in San Antonio in April.STRENGTHS:

Balance. The Bruins are the most balanced team in the country. Despite the loss of Arron Afflalo to the Detroit Pistons, the backcourt is one of the best in the country. The sharp-shooting son of two world-class sprinters, Darren Collison (who actually ran a 40-yard dash faster than the fastest time at the NFL draft combine) may be the best point guard in the nation and a healthy Josh Shipp (which has rarely been seen) is a certifiable star at the SG or SF position. And, if Love can collisoncarry the scoring in the frontcourt, the rest of the Bruin bigs will take care of everything else. Cameroonian native, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute might be the nation’s best defender and Lorenzo Mata-Real (the center formerly known as simply Lorenzo Mata, I guess he got married in the offseason and kept his name) is a blue-collar rebounder, shot-blocker and presence in the middle.

-Depth. Coming off the bench, UCLA has guys like Michael Roll, Alfred Aboya, Russell Westbrook and highly-touted Nikola Dragovich. And, most of the major players on this team can play a variety of positions. Not only does this give Coach Howland great in-game flexibility, but he can juggle his starting lineup and crunch-time lineup depending on situation and matchups.

Experience. UCLA is probably the most experienced team in the country this year. Yes, the loss of Afflalo hurts, but most of the pieces are back from a team that has won 9 NCAA tournament games in the last years en route to their back-to-back Final Four appearances.

Coaching. Though I am not ready to make this claim myself, I would not argue vehemently with anyone who wanted to tell me that Ben Howland is the best coach in the country. The man simply wins. He won Big East titles at Pittsburgh with marginal talent and now he is on his way to winning national titles with great talent at UCLA. He preaches a methodical, calculated defensive brand of basketball, but somehow does it without sacrificing efficient offensive sets. Despite his slow, defensive-minded approach, somehow Howland keeps offensive stars bought-in to the system and keeps them happy on both ends of the court—something that is not easy to do with this generation’s superstars.


  –Freshman Love? Quite possible the biggest question mark of the entire season in college basketball this year revolves around the #1 ranked high school recruit, Kevin Love. If Love can adjust to the college game as well as everyone seems to think, this team has no holes and no real reason not to win the title. Love is not only a great scorer (33 points per game his senior year of high school in Lake Oswego, OR), but his passing ability has drawn comparisons to Wes Unseld and Bill Walton. Apparently, this kid is a can’t miss player. If so…wow, this team is good.

Lacking a True Small Forward? As it stands right now, it looks like the most probable starting lineup will be Collison, Shipp, Mbah a Moute, Mata-Real and Love. This means that Mbah a Moute will have to play the small forward position. This is not a problem on defense because he can guard just about any position on the floor, but offensively if really limits UCLA’s ballhandling ability. Collison is terrific and Shipp is adequate with the ball, but if a team can press effectively and get the ball into the hands of Mbah a Moute or Mata-Real, there are possibilities for turnovers.

Free-Throw Shooting? Aside from Collison and Shipp, this team has seriously struggled at the charity stripe, particularly Mbah a Moute (57%) and Mata-Real (37%–yes, 37%). This could really hurt them in tough games down the stretch.


I can honestly say that I have officially become a fan of Tennessee basketball. They play an exciting brand of basketball with an outgoing, but down-to-earth coach and a quiet superstar. And, though the future looks incredibly bright for this program, the days of looking ahead to better times are over. On Rocky Top, the future is now, and this team might be the best team in the nation. Yes, let me repeat that, in my opinion, the Tennessee Men’s basketball team might be the best team in the nation. And, if I had any guts, I would pick them to win it all.STRENGTHS: 

Chris Lofton. Unless they scrimmage an NBA team, every game the Volunteers play this year, they will have the best chris loftonguard on the court. Chris Lofton is a bona fide superstar and this, his senior year, he will be something special.

The Smiths. Last year, PG Ramar Smith and SG JaJuan Smith were spectacular. This year, Tennessee added Iowa-transfer, Tyler Smith to the equation. Tyler Smith, who got the NCAA to waive the requirement of sitting out a year after a transfer because of personal hardship, was a third-team all-Big Ten selection a year ago—as a freshman—when he led Iowa in rebounds and steals and was second on the team in points and assists. A complete player with incredible athleticism and worldly talent should fit right in to this already stacked team.

Depth, Athleticism and Sheer Talent. The only loss from last year’s team was Dane Bradshaw, who was a gritty and hard-nosed player, but had relatively minimal talent for the SEC. With everyone else back and the addition of Tyler Smith, this team has incredible depth and should be able to run teams out of the gym with their superior speed and athleticism.

Coaching. Bruce Pearl is a terrific coach, who gets the most out of his players, from the Blue Chippers to the walk-ons. This is his finest team ever and we will see this year whether he has that second gear in coaching that enables coaches to take loaded rosters and make them champions.


Defense and Physicality? This team struggles to stop other teams at times, and tends to get pushed around physically. They do have some strong bodies down low, in Wayne Chism and Duke Crews, but they do not always like to play incredibly physical and sometimes shy away from the strong rebound. The incredible athleticism, high-scoring offense and lack of physicality on the defensive end often results in a lot of wins in December, January and February, but rarely in sustained success in March. In reality, it is not a lack of “guts” that has me not picking Tennessee to win it all (against my strong desire), but it is actually a lack of proven ability on the defensive end and the boards that won’t allow me to pick the Vols. Then again, this team is a year older with a good coach, so there’s no reason to think that they won’t get better—I just have to see it to believe it.


The two best words to describe the 2007-08 Memphis Tigers are: absolutely loaded. Though no one knew it until March when their resume garnered a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, Memphis was an elite team last year, with a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four. This year, people will know if from the very beginning because, well, they have basically the entire team returning. Oh, and by the way, they added two blue-chip freshmen (including the #1 ranked point guard) and an extremely solid 6’11″ Big XII transfer. Yes, this team is really, really good.STRENGTHS:

Depth. Memphis returns 7 of its top 8 scorers, including all 5 starters. The only real loss is in sharp-shooting guard Jeremy Hunt, but they brought in two star freshman guards, including the highly-touted point guard, Derrick Rose, who will probably start for this team by the time conference play begins—if not right away. And, depth is extremely important for the Tigers because of the system that Coach John Calipari incorporates. It is a speed-oriented offense that aims to wear down the opponents, causing turnovers, missed shots and defensive fatigue—and they certainly have the horses to do that this year.

Experience. Many people might not realize it, but this team will be trying to make their third consecutive elite eight appearance this year, and as mentioned above, nearly everyone on this roster played big roles in last year’s run. Not that they looked intimidated or overwhelmed en route to the elite eight a year ago, but further seasoning cannot hurt a group that, because of the conference in which they play, does not appear on ESPN every night.

Confidence. Maybe it’s Calipari, maybe it’s the increased expectations, maybe it’s the recent success, but no matter calipariwhat it is, this team truly believes that it is one of the odds-on favorites to cut down the nets in San Antonio this year. And this probably wasn’t the case for their last two elite eight teams. In 2005-06, the team was just catching on to the coach’s system and they hadn’t had enough consistent success to truly understand just how good they were. And, last year, they had to replace over half of their minutes, so it was a relatively new group of players at the start of the year, who did not really know what to expect. This year is different. Many “experts” have Memphis in the Final Four—and for all the right reasons. It’s hard to imagine the players are not believing their own hype.


Chemistry? There are a lot of star players on this team that may feel that they deserve major minutes. And there are only so many of those minutes to go around. Because of the immense talent on the roster, Calipari’s biggest task may be keeping everyone happy. This could be particularly challenging if it becomes clear that Rose is ready to start. Both of last year’s point guards, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen, averaged over 20 minutes a game last year and they are both back this year. Even in a three-guard lineup, the addition of Rose and other highly-touted freshman guard, Jeff Robinson, will probably mean less minutes for last year’s guards. Obviously, this is a good problem to have, but it still may bring with it some issues nonetheless.

Attitude? Though the loaded roster and the uptempo, run-and-gun style of play lends this team to anonymity, with success inevitably comes the rise of stars. Other than Rose, who has never played a college game, this team’s two biggest stars have contrasting attitudes—at least in their public perceptions. SG/SF Chris Douglas-Roberts is perceived by the media as a class act, a hard worker and a warrior on the court. PF/C Joey Dorsey is perceived as a bit of a slacker and an egoist who tends to run his mouth at inopportune times. Obviously, Dorsey’s actions prior to the tournament game against Ohio State last year may sway this public perception in the wrong direction, but it should still be interesting to see which of these “perceptions” plays out on the Tiger team, as a whole. It could go a long way in determining just how far this team can go this year.

Size and Shooting? And, then there were the on-the-court questions. Because they are so talented, these questions may just be grasping for something, but there is reason to believe that what this team has in athleticism and ability, it may lack in size and outside shooting. Dorsey is a beast inside, but fellow big-man Robert Dozier only carries around 215 pounds on his 6’9″ frame—and he has a tendency to drift to the outside on both ends of the floor. This should be alleviated by the addition of a 6’11″ Iowa State transfer, Shawn Taggart. Taggart will probably be the first (and maybe the only) big guy off the Memphis bench and will play an essential role on the team this year. He is probably an upgrade from what they had last year, so it should not be that big of a concern. The other real concern is the hole left by the graduation of Hunt. Though he was not a starter, Hunt was second on the team last year in scoring at over 14 points per game—most of which came from the perimeter. The Tigers have the capability of making up for these outside shots with sophomore Doneal Mack and Kemp, but the rest of the guards—Antonio Anderson, Kemp, Allen, Robinson, and even Douglas-Roberts and Rose—are all much more comfortable going to the basket than they are shooting it from the perimeter. It should be interesting to see if this hurts them come March when they are going to have to beat very good teams in very short periods of time.


Probably the most popular pick to win it all, I think there are just too many question marks on this team to put them ahead of UCLA, Memphis and even Tennessee, in terms of likelihood to cut down the nets. That being said, it would not surprise me in the least were that to happen because this team is loaded.STRENGTHS:

Tyler Hansbrough. Simply the best college basketball player in the country. Period. As my esteemed colleague, Dan Doogan, pointed out, Hansbrough may have reached his peak—but, with all due respect to Mr. Doogan, I believe that that peak is higher than anyone is going to reach this year. Hansbrough averaged 18.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last year and he turned down a chance to play on the U.S. Pan American team this summer because he thought that he would not have enough time to work on his game. Not enough practice time with the national team? Though he may not ever blossom into an NBA star, this is the sign of a man possessed, and I think that he will reap the benefits this year.

Ty Lawson. Another guy who could have turned pro, but chose to stick around to try and win a national title. Lawson is as fast as anyone in the country and does not turn the ball over nearly as much as one might think of a high-speed, young point guard. And, Lawson is a hounding defender on the other end. Easily one of the top two or three point guards in the country, this team will probably go as far as Lawson can take them—and that might be all the way.

Roy Williams. A tireless worker and a great coach, Roy Williams got the monkey off his back in 2005, when he won the title in his second year at his alma mater. Williams had been known as the best coach never to win the big one and now he’s just known as a great coach. He’ll have this team ready to play—on both ends—every night.


Help for Hansbrough? The main reason why I do not think that this team is the favorite to win the title this year is because Brandon Wright is gone. Wright was the most active, athletic and possibly the most talented front-line player on the team last year (as evidenced by the Charlotte Bobcats selecting him with the 8th overall pick in this year’s NBA draft). Wright changed the game on the defensive end with his 7’4″ wingspan and on the offensive end with an innate ability on the offensive boards and an astounding 65% shooting percentage from the floor last year. Obviously no one thinks that sophomore Deon Thompson will be able to fully replace Wright, but I don’t know if anyone realizes just how good Wright was and, regardless of how much Thompson has developed, just how much of a loss Wright will be to this team. Other than Hansbrough, there isn’t a proven interior scoring threat on the entire roster.

Depth? Roy Williams decided not to add any scholarship players to this year’s team, despite losing about 60 minutes off of last year’s team with the departures of Wright, Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller. All the talk from Chapel Hill seems to think this was a good decision because it give Williams the ability to get some talented, but formerly under-utilized players more minutes, and therefore more acclimated to the system and the environment of ACC basketball. However, I am not convinced that the ability of these other players isn’t being a little overstated. Other than Hansbrough, Lawson and profoundly talented Episcopal-product, Wayne Ellington, UNC’s rotation at 4 through 10 will consist of Thompson, Marcus Ginyard (a truly great defender and role player), Danny Green, Alex Stepheson, Bobby Frasor, Quentin Thomas and red-shirt freshman William Graves—all of which are nice complementary players with talent, but they are unproven and untested. The one key to this season, in my opinion is for 2 of these 7 players to step up and have high-caliber years. This would change it all around. If it will happen, look for it to be either Thompson or Ginyard in the frontcourt and Thomas or Frasor in the backcourt. These four have been around and have incredible talent. It is finally time to turn that talent into numbers.


Though very few people know it because of a rash of unfortunate injuries over the past couple of years, the Louisville Cardinals may have amassed a more talented roster than any team in the country entering the 2007-08 season. If everyone plays at 100% and under control, this team may be the best team in the country.


Immense Talent Everywhere. Edgar Sosa, a star in the making, will start at the point guard. His scoring talents are so great, that sometimes it affects his ability to be a great point guard. That is where Coach Rick Pitino comes in. He has pulled in the reins on Sosa, and he’s ready to become a superstar. Despite the incredible talent in the Big East, headlines by Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert and Marquette’s Dominic James, it would not surprise me at all if Louisville’s SF Terrence Williams is named the Big East player of the year come March. He is an unbelievable talent, who has been slowed by injuries in his first two years in Louisville. And, Sosa and Williams are not even close to the whole story. Sharp-shooting sophomore Jerry Smith may emerge as a superstar under the Pitino system, and the frontcourt rotation of seniors Juan Palacios and David Padgett and sophomores Derrick Caracter and Earl Clark is one of the deepest and talented rotations in the country. This team is flat-out loaded.–Coaching. No, Pervis Ellison isn’t walking through that door. Kenny Payne isn’t walking through that door. Francisco Garcia isn’t even walking through that door. But, head coach Rick Pitino does not need any of those guys because (a) he has a stacked roster this year, and (b) he simply knows how to win at the college level. He has built this program from a couple floundering years and now they are a consistent title contender. And, this may be his deepest and most talented Louisville team yet.


Health? Edgar Sosa, Terrence Williams, Juan Palacios, David Padgett, Derreck Caracter and Andre McGee. Though this sounds like a list of the most important Louisville players for the upcoming season, it is actually a list of Louisville players that have missed significant time in the past year or two because of injury—six of the top eight guys in the Louisville rotation. Only Smith and Clark have been injury-free. There is no reason to believe that these injuries will strike again, but in order for Louisville to truly compete this year, they need to stay healthy.

Attitude? Despite Pitino’s no-nonsense style of coaching, this team has had its fair share of attitude and control problems in the past. There is no big-ger question mark about character than Caracter. He has had serious weight problems in the past and has also had his fair share of personal issues, as well—being suspended by both the NCAA and the team for separate violations last year. Also, Sosa is not always the most under-control point guard on the court. These issues, on and off the court, have the potential of clouding a very talented team that has the chance to do something real special this year.

Consistency? A lot of people talk about winning the NCAA tournament with 6 straight survivals, instead of 6 straight victories. One bad game can end a season that otherwise may be remembered forever. On any given night, this Louisville can beat anyone in the country, but because of their reliance on the three-point shot and lack of any emotional on-court leader, they often lack consistency. It will take consistent effort on a nightly basis for this team to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Probably more than any other team in this preview, the regular season will be of the utmost importance to this team. They have to find a rotation that gels and they really need a high seed in the tournament because they would really benefit from easier match-ups in the first round or two because they could be primed for an upset if their inconsistent shooting shows up in March.


If Julian Wright had decided to come back to school, this team would probably be my pick to win the title. Then again, the same can be said for North Carolina with Brandon Wright, Georgetown with Jeff Green and UCLA with Arron Afflalo. The only difference here is that the departure of Julian Wright was a bit of a surprise, despite his clear NBA-ready ability. Regardless, this Jayhawk team is deep, talented and the class of the Big XII. They have a great chance to give Coach Bill Self his first trip to the Final Four—and possibly the national title.


Backcourt. Coach Self will probably continue to use predominantly a three-guard lineup and there still isn’t enough room in the starting lineup for Sherron Collins, an immensely talented point guard who was voted to the first-team all-Big XII freshman team a year ago. Kansas will start Russell Robinson at the point. Robinson has been voted “Mr. Jayhawk” two years in a row by his teammates, for the team’s most important player. Joining Robinson in the backcourt is future NBA-lottery pick, Brandon Rush (when fully healthy) and possibly the best defensive player in the country, Mario Chalmers. Oh by the way, Chalmers average 12.2 points per game, so he can get it done on both ends of the floor. Because of their depth, experience and talent this year, the Jayhawks can probably boast the best backcourt in the country.–Depth, Experience, Balance, Unselfishness. All of these things may be a direct result of the coaching style of Bill Self. Despite his surname, this premier basketball mind preaches a style of selflessness that his players have bought into, now, at three separate schools. Self is one of two active coaches (Rick Pitino is the other) to have guided three separate schools to the Elite Eight—Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas. And, he has done it with unselfishness and team play. Because of this, his players seem to stick around longer than other programs, giving them the experience and depth that cannot be achieved when recruiting the “one-and-done” high school players. Granted Self only plans to run a 9-man rotation, all nine of them can play major roles, believe in one another and truly buy into the system. That is a recipe for success on the college level.


Health? The aforementioned depth and balance will truly be tested right out of the gate for this team. Brandon Rush, who’s recovering from off-season knee surgery, will probably not be fully ready to play until December 1, but Kansas was prepared for that. However, something for which Kansas was not prepared for happened just as this preview was being written. Sherron Collins, who has replaced Rush, aside Robinson and Chalmers in the 3-guard starting lineup of Kansas, will be out for 6 weeks now after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture on his left foot. Collins has been the Jayhawks leading scorer in their first two games. Though both Rush and Collins will probably be back by the time the Big XII gets underway, there is no telling when they will be at 100%. This will test that aforementioned depth of the Jayhawks right away.

Free-Throw Shooting? Outside of Chalmers, the best free-throw shooter among Kansas’s projected starters is Rush who only shot 68% from the line last season, and Sasha Kaun, the starting center, shot right at 50%. The Jayhawks, as a team, ranked 11th in the Big XII last year with a 66% mark from the line. This will cost them a couple games down the stretch—KU fans just have to hope that the games that are lost are not played in March or April.

Foul Trouble? With the backcourt the main strength of the team, the frontcourt will not be relied on to put up that many points. However, defensively, the front-court will need to step up if this team is to compete for a national title. And, a big problem is foul trouble. The two starting big men, sophomore Darrell Arthur (who has the task of replacing Julian Wright in the starting lineup) and senior Sasha Kaun are both know for silly fouls and having to sit a lot of minutes because of them. Fortunately, there is depth in the frontcourt with backups, Darnell Jackson and Cole Aldrich, but Jackson is a step down, talent-wise, and Aldrich is a pure freshman, so it is essential for the Jayhawks that Arthur and Kaun are available in crunch time of big games.


I do not think Georgetown will return to the Final Four this year. I think that Big East player of the year, Jeff Green, meant too much to this team and they will not be able to repeat the magical run they had a year ago. That being said, they have to be in the discussion for national title contenders because they are experienced, smart and hard-nosed—attributes directly attributable to their superstar head coach, John Thompson III.


Coaching. Thompson’s system is different than just about any other big-time program in the country. Son of the fiery John Thompson, Jr. and tutored by the legendary Princeton coach, Pete Carril, Thompson combines the best elements of his two mentors into his own personal style. He combines the slow, methodical, boring offensive mentality of Carril with the hard-nosed, in-your-face defensive mentality of his father. And, this approach has enabled him to build Georgetown into a national power once again.–Experience. They return 4 starters from the Final Four team of a year ago and replace the missing Green with Patrick Ewing, Jr, a 5th-year senior from a basketball family. Two of the seniors, PG Jonathan Wallace and C Roy Hibbert have started every Georgetown game since arriving on campus—a period of great transition—so they have seen it all. There is nothing that you can throw at this team for which they will not be ready. This experience will serve them extremely well, come March.

Depth. There is really no room for any more talent in the backcourt. Wallace and Jessie Sapp will start at the guard positions, but when they need a breather, Georgetown will not lose much with experience guards Jeremiah Rivers and Tyler Crawford ready to step in. Plus, Thompson brought in two 5-star recruits from the D.C. area to play guard—Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Both Freeman and Wright will not only push Rivers and Crawford for second-string duties, they may even take some minutes from the starters—they are that good. The frontcourt is not quite as deep, but start to familiarize yourself with the name Vernon Macklin. Macklin was a blue chip recruit last year who just could not get any minutes behind Hibbert, Green, DaJuan Summers and Ewing. But, now, with a year of experience and an open spot in the frontcourt, Macklin should see some quality minutes with which he can show the world his skills.


The Go-To Guy? Is Roy Hibbert (a.k.a. “Big Bird”) really an elite college player? Jeff Green may have been the most valuable player in the country last year because he did it all. And, one of the main things that Green did was that he took all the defensive attention off of Hibbert. He was able to float around the basket, unguarded, sometimes because of all the attention paid to Green. Plus, this year, Georgetown cannot afford to have Hibbert get into foul trouble. If he is their go-to guy, he must stay on the floor down the stretch of key games—something he didn’t always do a year ago. And, he has to score. Granted, when you are 7’2″ tall, it does not take elite skill to be a big-time college player, but is Hibbert ready to be the guy on a championship contender? That remains to be seen.

Backcourt Scoring—Any Scoring, For That Matter? There is no question that Georgetown will be one of the most formidable defenses in the country this year, which will, by itself, win them their fair share of games and may even win them the Big East. However, in order to win the whole thing, Georgetown is going to have to find some offensive punch. Even if Hibbert develops into the big-time scorer that he showed the potential to be at the end of last year, where is his scoring help going to come from? Much of the answer to this question will come from the backcourt. Jonathan Wallace has developed into a deadly shooter, he just has to learn to create for himself instead of teammates. DaJuan Summers may step up this year in the scoring category, but can you count on Summers when you need a big basket? We shall see. Someone will have to help out Hibbert with putting points on the board for the Hoyas—they will not need many, but they will need some.


Is there a return to the glory years of just a decade ago in East Lansing? Well, two things will decide the fate of the 2007-08 team: (1) the emergence of the youngsters will determine whether this team will compete for the national title, and (2) Drew Neitzel (and his jumpshot) will determine whether this team will win the national title.


Neitzel. A preseason first-team All-American (which I cannot say I fully endorse), Neitzel will have every chance to be as big of a star at the college level as he was at the high school level. Neitzel, who compares his game to that of Allen Iverson (again, I cannot say I fully understand that one, either), is a smart, athletic, sharp-shooting guard, who has spent his whole life until last year playing the point. When he was asked to move to the 2-guard because they needed his scoring, he responded with 18.1 points per game and all the accompanying praise heading into this year. Though he will, again, be the best player on the Spartans, he will not be the only star player on the Spartans. He should get some serious help from emerging star, SF Raymar Morgan, the do-everything guard, Travis Walton and a trio of strong frontcourt players in thus-far underachieving Marquise Gray, low-post scorer Goran Suton and the great interior defender, Drew Naymick. And, then the freshmen…

The Young’ins. Izzo did it again on the recruiting trail. He brought in three big-time recruits that should give Michigan State the depth and talent that they need to make a serious run in March this year. Guards Chris Allen and Kalin Lucas, if they stay at Michigan State, will be one of the best backcourts in the country in a couple years. And, forward Durrell Summers, who may be the best of the three, has been receiving Jason Richardson comparisons for a couple years now. If they are ready to play, they will add incredible depth off the bench for this team.

Coaching. In my opinion, Tom Izzo is the best coach in the country who has a last name that everyone can spell. He may even be better than that guy in Durham because he often does it with less talent and less resources. Izzo’s teams always play defense, and they always rebound. Last year, they held opponents to 38.1% from the floor—the best in the Big Ten—and just about every year of Izzo’s tenure has his team been among the best in the nation at rebounding margin. He tends to get every drop out of the talent he has on his roster, which is why, despite not having quite the talent this year of the other teams mentioned in this preview, the Spartans have to be considered as a title contender.


Neitzel? Last year’s team (until February) was not very good, and being the go-to-guy on a young, struggling team is a lot different than being that guy on a team predicted to make a serious run at the national title. Yes, Neitzel will get a lot more help this year with the talent around him, but is he really one of the five best players in the country? Isn’t is possible that all the hype surrounding him came because he was the best player on a team last year that only really played well for 6 weeks? Are his defensive deficiencies too much to take his team to the next level? Winning one tournament game is one thing—and quite an accomplishment last year—but is he really good enough to lead this team to 6 tournament wins? Yes, I may be a little harsh with these questions, but bear in mind, the only reason that Michigan State even appears among the teams with a legitimate shot at a title is because of Neitzel. He’s great —I just don’t know if he’s quite great enough.

Enough Talent? This team has the pieces, but when it comes down to it, do they really have the talent in the right positions? They should win the Big Ten, but do they have the talent to win 6 straight tournament games—several of which will probably be against teams with better overall talent? We shall see.

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6 Responses to College Basketball Preview: The Contenders

  1. Doogan says:

    Reactions to some of your points:

    -I totally agree that UCLA is the favorite. All that talent, with Howland, and the experience of having been in the Final Four the last two years.

    -Memphis and UNC are easily better than Tennessee.

    -Here’s the thing with Hansbrough: when he goes out and puts up his 18 and 8 every game, he very well might be the best player in the country. But I don’t think that’s going to be enough to win him the POY award. Look what happened last year, he was a unanimous pre-season All-American, went out and had an amazing season, but didn’t end up a first-team All-American and didn’t win ACC Player of the Year. Someone is going to put up much more impressive ‘numbers’ and get all the accolades.

    -I totally agree about Hibbert. I’ve seen people pick him for POY and I don’t get that. The only time he’ll be a dominant player is when they play small conference schools that don’t have any size at all in non-conference.

    -Look for Darrell Arthur to have a break-out year for Kansas. He showed some flashes last year of being really good.

  2. Stockman says:

    Who wrote this? Cimorelli? Where are the Hoosiers? I ask again, where are the Hoosiers? They have arguably the best freshman in the nation, Eric Gordon, a legit big man, D.J. White, a great point guard, Arman Bassett, and a coach who cheats. I don’t think anyone, outside of Michigan State maybe, will challenge them in the Big Ten. They’ll get a 1 seed in the Midwest and cruise on home with a 6th NCAA Championship.

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