Thanks to reader "Southern" for the heads up on a story from Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News (Depending on your age, you might remember that DeCourcy covered the Tigers as a beat writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal before leaving for Cincinnati about ten years ago, ed.).
Five squads in position to win it all
Georgetown, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, UCLA favorites for title
By Mike DeCourcy
Updated: 7:30 p.m. CT Aug 17, 2007
I know something you don't know.
I know the identity of Sporting News' preseason choice to win the NCAA championship.
And so, in the space of those two sentences, I progressed from kindergarten to college.
My inability to tell you which team we picked is not about playing school-kid games, but to keep intact the mystery that will be revealed when the Sporting News College Basketball yearbook arrives in October and Sportingnews.com rolls out its preview package.
However, I think it's fair to reveal our choice came from a short list of five candidates. Alphabetically: Georgetown, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, UCLA. All of those teams have the goods to win the championship if they improve in certain areas, avoid injury, build momentum through their schedules and get the right breaks in the tournament draw.
There is another, shorter list, of teams that have championship ability but must make greater progress or overcome more significant obstacles: Louisville, Indiana and maybe (heavy on the maybe) Tennessee.
Here's what went into the decision:
Required NBA-type talent: C Roy Hibbert, SF DaJuan Summers, SG Austin Freeman, PG Chris Wright.
Perimeter shooting: Absolutely. For a big freshman, Summers did a nice job in this department. Jonathan Wallace is accurate and makes them under pressure. But no one else is a volume shooter.
Size and power: Starting with 7-2 Hibbert, maybe more than any other contender.
Breakdown scorer: Georgetown did not have this sort of player last year, although Jeff Green was very clever at creating opportunities because of his ballhandling skill. Freeman might be the guy.
Point guard play: Not a strength. The Hoyas rely a lot on the Princeton system, which does not demand the point guard be creative. But if Wright can squeeze into the lineup crowded with Wallace and Jessie Sapp, he might provide this kind of spark.
X-factor: Can you win a championship playing Princeton ball? Well, yeah, you can win the Ivy League. And Georgetown proved you can win the Big East. Can you win it all, though? Or does the system ultimately stifle the greatest talents?
Required NBA-type talent: PF Darrell Arthur, SF Brandon Rush, SG Mario Chalmers, PG Sherron Collins.
Perimeter shooting: Rush and Chalmers both hit above 40 percent last year from 3-point range. Rush's percentages are so high -- 44.6 for his career -- it's still a wonder he doesn't take more threes.
Size and power: In addition to Arthur, the Jayhawks can rely on 7-footer Sasha Kaun and veteran Darnell Jackson.
Breakdown scorer: No team has more. Rush, Chalmers and Collins all can beat defenders to the lane.
Point guard play: This is the trickiest area for the Jayhawks. Russell Robinson has been sound and is a terrific defender, but he is not a natural at this spot. Collins can be incredibly dangerous attacking defenses, but only if he's in shape and at the top of his game.
X-factor: A lot of Jayhawks offseason improvement was lost to injuries. Arthur was doing great for the U.S. U-19 national team before being forced out with a stress fracture. Rush might not return until December because of knee surgery -- although he might not have been in the program if he hadn't gotten hurt while preparing for the NBA draft.
Required NBA-type talent: SF Chris Douglas-Roberts, PF Robert Dozier, C Joey Dorsey, PG Derrick Rose, SG Antonio Anderson (perhaps?)
Perimeter shooting: This could be the Tigers' area of concern. They relied a lot on former wing Jeremy Hunt for big shots, especially in the NCAAs. Reserves Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack could fill that role if they prove worthy of the minutes. The best solution would be for Antonio Anderson to locate his wayward touch.
Size and power: Dorsey might be enough by himself, but the addition of Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart provides another big option.
Breakdown scorer: That's like asking if Southern California has quarterbacks.
Point guard play: The Tigers already were in nice shape with Kemp, and yet he'll be lucky to get 10 point-guard minutes a game with Rose around. That's how good Rose can be.
X-factor: The Tigers have shown they can continue to improve against Conference USA competition that isn't stellar. However, just because the Tigers can improve while competing against C-USA opponents doesn't mean they will. They have to continue to concentrate even if games are getting out of hand. Remaining disciplined and committed will make the difference.
Required NBA-type talent: C Tyler Hansbrough, PF Deon Thompson, SG Wayne Ellington, PG Ty Lawson.
Perimeter shooting: Ellington has great potential as a shooter, but he has to be more aggressive and confident. Lawson could excel in this area. The Heels also need Danny Green to remember why UNC recruited him.
Size and power: The three-man rotation of Hansbrough, Thompson and Alex Stephenson can match just about anybody's.
Breakdown scorer: Ellington is not just a shooter. He can manufacture a shot. Lawson can get to the lane whenever he wants, although he could show more creativity when he gets there.
Point guard play: Lawson is a favorite of pro scouts because of his speed and strength. There was an element of his game that seemed to be missing during his freshman year, but that could have been a matter of him not feeling entirely in control of the team - something becoming a sophomore could cure.
X-factor: One problem with UNC's championship hunt last year was that using two low-post scorers in tandem stifled Hansbrough. He is best when overwhelming a single defender, and the second low-post scorer clogs up the lane. It might be up to Hansbrough to improve his face-up game enough to draw defenders away from Thompson.
Required NBA-type talent: C Kevin Love, PG Darren Collison, SF Josh Shipp, SG Russell Westbrook, F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Perimeter shooting: The Bruins lost their primary force, Arron Afflalo. Shipp will have to be busier from long distance. It's great that Darren Collison can make a shot, but probably it'd misdirect the offense if he attempted more than the three per game he did last year.
Size and power: The Bruins don't have a traditional big, shot-blocking center, but Love gives them a wide presence in the post. He'll make them a better rebounding team, as well. Last year, Mbah a Moute's 7.4 per game made him the only UCLA player to average more than six.
Breakdown scorer: Shipp has done a nice job getting to the rim on bad hips. His second offseason surgery should help make him more of a threat to attack. Westbrook is a terrific athlete. Mbah a Moute is a strong ballhandler who could be more useful in this deparment.
Point guard play: Collison dazzled with speed, efficiency and shooting last year. Playing with Love, an astonishing outlet passer, could make Collison's wheels even more valuable. The Bruins still aren't in the best position for backups, though.
X-factor: UCLA might run the same offensive system, but everything really will be new. Installing Love down low changes everything -- creating more scoring opportunities inside and more open perimeter shots as defenses collapse to contend with him. But the Bruins will have to grow comfortable with playing a different type of game.
Love must handle the burden of being a revolutionary UCLA big man. He'll receive many comparisons to his predecessors. That's a lot to handle.
© 2007 The Sporting News