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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

It Must Kill Long Time Vol and Cardinal Fans to See Memphis #1 Over Tennessee and Louisville

Early 2007-08 NCAA Top 10

By Adi Joseph

Welcome back. No college coach would ever admit it, but a key player deciding to return can mean huge things for a school’s hopes. And with Roy Hibbert returning to Georgetown and Brandon Rush returning to Kansas a few weeks ago, those hopes have NCAA Championship written all over them.

Billy Donovan lost four juniors from his National Championship team, and Florida won’t be able to rebound completely from such losses. Neither will Ohio State from losing four of their top six players. So while a championship rematch is highly unlikely, other teams, such as Kansas, Georgetown, UCLA and UNC will all have renewed hopes of winning their own Championships.

Let’s take an early look at the top teams in the nation.

1. Memphis Tigers

We may be looking at the best team John Calipari has ever coached. Adding top recruits Derrick Rose and Jeff Robinson to a team that is only losing sixth man Jeremy Hunt makes the Tigers the deepest team in the nation, and quite possibly the most talented as well. Rose will supplant Andre Allen and Willie Kemp’s inconsistent play at the point and Chris Douglas-Roberts is a rising star on the wing. The Tigers had one of the nation’s top defenses and nothing should change in that regards, as Rose is an outstanding man-to-man defender. Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey and Kareem Cooper (nevermind Coop has flown the coop, ed.) are a quality group of big men, and this team should certainly be in the hunt for the title.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

With the return of Brandon Rush, the Jayhawks are poised to be a title favorite again in 2008. With most of his pieces returning, Bill Self should have strong depth and a great group of stars. Darrell Arthur showed great promise last season, and the athletic big man will be counted on to replace Julian Wright’s rebounding at the power forward spot. If Rush returns to full health after ACL surgery, the Jayhawks should be a force to be reckoned with. Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins should split time at point guard, and Mario Chalmers will likely continue his ascendance as a rising star in college basketball.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels

As with the two teams ahead of them, the Tar Heels saw their season end in the Elite Eight last year, but are now amongst the favorites to push beyond that. Despite losing Brandan Wright, ReyShawn Terry and Wes Miller, Carolina has great depth and skill. Bobby Fraser, Danny Green and Alex Stephenson should provide outstanding compliments to a great starting lineup. And Tyler Hansbrough is the best player in the nation, to top it all off. Ty Lawson showed great strides in the NCAA Tournament, and his return means another fun season of high-paced that should be able to run lesser teams off the court.

4. UCLA Bruins

Losing a player like Arron Afflalo is a major loss for any team. But overall, Ben Howland should be happy with his off-season. Keeping Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for at least one more season, along with adding prized recruit Kevin Love should enable the Bruins to potentially even improve from last season’s Final Four appearance. Darren Collison is the best returning point guard in the country, and Josh Shipp could develop into a top scoring option as he picks up some of Afflalo’s slack.

5. Georgetown Hoyas

Roy Hibbert was the biggest name to withdraw his name from the draft. And John Thompson III’s summer immediately became a little brighter. Returning the majority of a Final Four team, the Hoyas should be the class of the Big East once again. Dajuan Summers is on the verge of a breakout and incoming freshmen Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will provide great backcourt depth behind returnees Johnathan Wallace and Jesse Sapp. Add into the mix Hibbert, who has made drastic improvement’s each season of his career, and the Hoyas may be able to exceed last season’s end results.

6. Louisville Cardinals

Entering last season with a major identity crisis, Rick Pitino guided his team into the NCAA Tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams, only to fall to Texas A&M in a tough, intense loss. Now, most of the pieces return for Pitino and freshman Edgar Sosa, who emerged late last season as a prime-time-player, will look to build on his developing stardom. Sosa is a gunner in the mold of a mini-Gilbert Arenas, and Louisville is filled with aggressive offensive weapons including another riser, small forward Terrence Williams. If they can control the ball and take smart shots, the Cardinals should push Georgetown for the Big East crown.

7. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee’s season ended with heartbreak, as they blew a massive lead against Ohio State. Chris Lofton and crew return, and the fun-and-gun Vol’s should be back in session. With Florida losing so much to the NBA, Tennessee should be the favorites in the SEC, a conference that may experience a down year this season. Duke Crews and Wayne Chism are a strong young post duo with great potential, and Ramar and JaJuan Smith provide excellent support for Lofton. Glue-guy Dane Bradshaw will be severely missed though, and the Volunteers will need to find another top defender and playmaker if they want to really push through the tournament field.

8. Michigan State Spartans

Once again, the Big 10 is muddled in a down year. However, Michigan State should have big hopes with star sparkplug and, as you know if you read my weekly column last season, one of my favorite players in the nation, senior point guard Drew Neitzel. Neitzel exploded last season and showed the grit and skill that made him a dark horse candidate for Big 10 Player of the Year. He’ll be the frontrunner for that award this season, and Tom Izzo has a very real chance to return to the Final Four after two seasons away. If sophomore Raymar Morgan can continue developing after a strong freshman year, the Spartans could wind up competing for a national championship.

9. Washington State Cougars

The big surprise of last season, Tony Bennett’s Cougars won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season. And while some believed Washington State was an overachiever last season, it seems that with all the key parts returning there is no reason to expect any real fall off from last season. The Cougars should be a real threat in the very strong Pac-10, and while they aren’t very fun to watch, they are so well coached in the fundamentals that the Cougars could prove dangerous in the tournament. Kyle Weaver and Daven Harmeling are intriguing players who may be poised for breakout seasons.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs

By Mark Few’s standards, last season was a down year for the Zags. But Josh Heytvelt’s return, Matt Bouldin’s continuing maturation and Micah Downs’ full season of integration into Few’s system mean big expectations can return to Spokane. Jeremy Pargo is a star waiting to happen and Bouldin should provide an improvement from Derek Raivio in terms of defense and passing. Gonzaga should definitely be more than capable of returning to the nation’s elite after a season on the bubble.

That’s all for this week, but check back in a week for a look at some of the key players of next season.

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