Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hoops Hype

Sports Illustrated, which completely owns college basketball, just released its annual NCAA Men's Basketball preseason Top 20 rankings and scouting reports for each team. Not surprisingly, North Carolina has a stranglehold on the top spot. When Tyler Hansbrough and, to a lesser extent, Ty Lawson decided to stick around Chapel Hill for another year, Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams was pretty much guaranteed a fifth trip to the Final Four. 

Although the Heels are, without question, this year's team to beat, there are a number of teams, primarily Louisville and UCLA, eager to steal the show. Coach Rick Pitino has four returning starters to rely on, and Earl Clark is poised to improve on a pretty impressive sophomore effort. The Bruins, despite losing Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, still have Darren Collison and a highly touted recruiting class to boot. They could make some noise.  

I'm not crazy, though, about Connecticut at No. 3, but Hasheem Thabeet, when he wants to, can be a total beast down low, and there's absolutely no way Jim Calhoun will let his team play as soft as they did last year against the University of San Diego after A.J. Price went down.  Still, No. 3 is a bit generous, I think. 

Duke, meanwhile, comes in at a soft No. 8, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement from the college hoops illuminati.  Let's face it: the Blue Devils are there because they're the Blue Devils. Not exactly a bold pick. 

More interesting, however, is the staff's selection of Purdue and Notre Dame as the No. 5 and 6 teams, respectively, in the country. Purdue looked really good last March and Notre Dame's inside-out combo of Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney, as Grant Wahl rightfully points out, has the potential to be pretty deadly. Both teams should be fun to watch. 

Like Seth Davis, I'm really high on Michigan State. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are always a tough out, and sophomore Kalin Lucas is one of the quickest guards in the country off the dribble. Maybe even faster than Ty Lawson.  Maybe. Look for the Spartans to challenge Purdue for the Big Ten Championship and, later, make it to at least the Elite Eight. 

I'd love to say the same for Georgetown, but I just don't see it happening. Coach John Thompson III lost Roy Hibbert to the NBA and Patrick Ewing, Jr. to, well, the ether, I guess. Even with three serviceable returning starters (DaJuan Summers, Jesse Sapp and Austin Freeman), I'm worried the Hoyas don't have the offensive weapons to put up much of a fight. Greg Monroe, sadly, is still a year away. I'll be pulling for the Hoyas, though, and I hope they prove me wrong.

Really, though, this is the Tar Heels' year. I fully expect them to win it all, but I am going to have a blast, as I do every winter, watching promising young teams try for the upset.           

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