Preseason Top 25: All about Heels and Gators
April 5, 2006
By Gregg Doyel
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Sometimes do I exaggerate? Maybe a little. Am I exaggerating the following statement? Not a bit:
The 2006-07 college basketball season could be the best we've had in many, many years.
Could be, because underclassmen need to return to make it happen. But if they're back at places like Florida, UCLA, LSU and Kansas, next season will be so good, the Sweet 16 will look like one enormous Final Four.
Here's CBS SportsLine.com's first Preseason Top 25, which will be updated later this spring after the NBA Draft pool is set.
1. North Carolina: Other than David Noel, everyone of importance returns from a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament -- and the freshman class is considered by some analysts to be the best in college basketball history. The analysts could be right. Power forward Brandan Wright, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and point guard Tywon Lawson are at least as good as the exalted ex-UNC trio of Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton. It would take something extraordinary to unseat defending national champion Florida if every Gator returns. UNC will be extraordinary.
2. Florida: Call me naïve, but I've got all four UF sophomore stars -- Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green -- coming back. Lee Humphrey also is back. That's the starting five from the reigning NCAA champion. A solid recruiting class is coming in, too. If it's possible to be underrated at No. 2, here it is.
3. UCLA: NBA scouts say sophomore PG Jordan Farmar would be a late-first round pick in 2006, but wouldn't play much as a rookie. By returning for his junior season and building up his body, Farmar would play his way into the 2007 lottery ... and lead UCLA back to the Final Four.
4. Ohio State: With a straight face, basketball insiders say freshman C Greg Oden could be the 2007 national player of the year. They say he could average 15 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots. Imagine that. And imagine him being surrounded by Jamar Butler, Ron Lewis, two more McDonald's All-Americans (PG Greg Conley and SG Daequan Cook) and two more ready-to-play recruits in SF David Lighty and PF Othello Hunter.
5. Texas: Even if sophomore PF LaMarcus Aldridge turns pro, the Longhorns will be loaded. Freshman Kevin Durant was the best player in the McDonald's All-American game, and guess what? He plays Aldridge's position. We're assuming junior P.J. Tucker and sophomore Daniel Gibson will return rather than become second-round NBA Draft picks. Throw in McDonald's All-American PG D.J. Augustin, plus returning contributors A.J. Abrams and Mike Williams, and Texas is the best-looking preseason No. 5 team I've ever seen.
6. Kansas: And the No. 6 team doesn't look bad, either. Holy cow, all those freshmen are going to become sophomores. Brandon Rush already has said he's coming back. We're guessing one of the following underclassmen will turn pro -- Mario Chalmers, C.J. Giles, Julian Wright or Sasha Kaun -- but if so ... so what? There's still plenty coming back, and Sherron Collins will be the country's best freshman PG.
7. Wisconsin: Awfully high for Wisconsin, right? Nah. If junior Alando Tucker doesn't get a yen for Portuguese basketball, every Badger returns but PF Ray Nixon. We're guessing C Brian Butch will be an All-Big Ten player. We know the Big Ten will be easier. And Wisconsin will get another scorer in freshman SG Jason Bohannon.
8. Georgetown: Lots of senior losses for the Hoyas -- Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and Darrel Owens -- but their best players should be back (Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert) along with veteran G Jonathan Wallace and a fabulous foursome influx of Indiana transfer Pat Ewing Jr. and freshmen DaJuan Summers, Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers.
9. Memphis: Even if Shawne Williams and Darius Washington turn pro -- we're guessing Williams will, Washington won't -- the Tigers are loaded with young talent, and another deep recruiting class is on the way. Stop us if you've heard this before. (Not a ringing endorsement of Cal's history of retaining top recruits, ed.)
10. Pittsburgh: Once center Aaron Gray decides it's in his best interests to return, the Panthers will be a Top 10 team. Sophomore Levance Fields can step in for Carl Krauser, whose absence will allow Pitt's young talent to expand their offensive impact. And defense will never be a problem for a Jamie Dixon team.
11. Georgia Tech: Absolutely, Georgia Tech. Did you watch the McDonald's All-American game? Two of the most impressive players were 6-8 SF Thaddeus Young and 6-5 PG Javaris Crittenton. Both are going to Georgia Tech, which returns a good young core of talent led by Jeremis Smith, Anthony Morrow, Ra'Sean Dickey, Zam Fredrick and Lewis Clinch. The 2007 Final Four is in Atlanta, you know. Just saying.
12. LSU: We're guessing PF Tyrus Thomas turns pro. We're assuming C Glen Davis returns. Marquette transfer SG Dameon Mason becomes eligible, and PG Tack Minor returns from his knee injury. LSU has all the makings of another awesome team.
13. Duke: With Josh McRoberts, without him, Duke will find a way. Freshman SG's Gerald Henderson and Jonathan Scheyer will contribute immediately. If McRoberts turns pro, can 7-0 freshman Brian Zoubek play right away? Can Duke come up with another ACC-ready big man on the recruiting trail? Coach K will have answers.
14. Syracuse: Wait a minute. Gerry McNamara is gone. Does this mean freshman SF Paul Harris is that good? Yes ... he's that good. He'll need some help, though, and that means a return to school for knucklehead SG Eric Devendorf and F's Terrence Roberts and Demetris Nichols.
15. Tennessee: Losing PG C.J. Watson and PF Andre Patterson will leave a mark, but fine pieces return -- mainly Chris Lofton -- and UT fans will love freshman PF Duke Crews. He tries to dunk everything, including the poor sap guarding him.
16. Washington: The Huskies lose a ton (Brandon Roy, Jamaal Williams, Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen), but they return enough parts to surround incoming freshman center Spencer Hawes. How good is Hawes? Maybe the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year. Not just freshman. Player.
17. Villanova: 'Nova fans, please don't e-mail with anger. This is love for your program, OK? Losing two All-American guards, and still making the top 17? Lots of love. PG Kyle Lowry needs to return, and SF Curtis Sumpter needs to stay healthy. If those two things happen, 'Nova's not leaving the Top 25.
18. Southern Illinois: All five starters are back from a 22-9 team. You can't name them, but that's OK. If this is next year's George Mason -- and it could be -- there's plenty of time.
19. Louisville: Here we go again, falling for another sexy recruiting class. But it's damn sexy. C Derrick Caracter is a bonehead, but he's a huge, skilled bonehead. PG Jerry Smith and SG Edgar Sosa one day will be an upgrade over Taquan Dean and (returning) Brandon Jenkins. And 6-9 SF Earl Clark is sublime. Plus, David Padgett and Juan Palacios return. Lots of pieces here.
20. Wichita State: Everyone's back from the Shockers' Sweet 16 team but Paul Miller, whose minutes will go to Colorado State transfer Phillip Thomasson. G's Sean Ogirri and P.J. Couisnard are as physically talented as any twosome anywhere.
21. Xavier: The same group that won the A-10 Tournament and nearly beat Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament is back, and Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender is an upgrade at the point. In other words, Xavier started winning big when it went small, and is about to go smaller. Small is big nowadays.
22. UConn: Even if every underclassman that can leave, does leave -- and we think Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Marcus Williams are gone -- the Huskies will be formidable. Great recruits are on the way, most notably Stanley Robinson, Curtis Kelly, Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins. PF Jeff Adrien could be a 15-and-10 guy. Jim Calhoun will get it done. I'll find something to gripe about, but he'll get it done.
23. Gonzaga: Without J.P. Batista and Adam Morrison, the Zags still will have one of the best starting lineups out West, especially if fully healed C Josh Heytvelt can turn his enormous athletic ability into enormous production.
24. Hofstra: The best three-guard lineup you know nothing about -- Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera -- returns from a 26-win team. The Pride must develop a big man or two, but will. As for George Mason's absence from the Top 25: The Patriots lose three of their top scorers from their Final Four team (Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, Lamar Butler). They'll be good, but not great. Good isn't bad.
25. Virginia Tech: Bite me. I'm telling you, the Hokies will be good. Everyone's back from a team that underachieved under the stress of massive off-court heartache. A year heals a lot of wounds, and the addition of Nigel Munson means another guard for one of the country's deepest backcourts.