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NCAA Basketball News for September 13, 2009
So Many Questions to be Answered...
College football is barely two weeks along, and it’s almost time for coaches and players to take to gyms across the country and prepare for the upcoming basketball season. Like a road sign on a lonely highway assuring you that home is only a few more miles away, the first basketball magazines have hit the newsstands to let us know another hoops season is about to begin. I picked up Athlon Sports and Lindy’s College Basketball magazines for the 2009-2010 season on Friday, and this is what I found most interesting in their team and player rankings:
1. Both magazines picked KU to win it all. This is hardly news since Xavier and C.J. Henry opted to join a loaded KU team. Deep at every position with stars at center and point guard, this could be a year for KU to dominate their opponents and hopefully bring a fourth NCAA championship to Lawrence, Kansas.
Lindy’s ranks the Top 10 frontcourts and backcourts, and KU joined Texas and Purdue as the only teams to make both lists, with KU’s front line ranked second and their backcourt fourth. By position, Lindy’s ranks Cole Aldrich as the number one center nationally, Sherron Collins the number three point guard, and Xavier Henry the sixth best small forward. Three stars in the lineup indicate good things for the Hawks, but much of their success will depend on whether Xavier Henry or Tyshawn Taylor can emerge as a consistent scoring threat in support of Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. Both have the potential to star in 2010. Another question concerns whether one of the Morris twins is ready to consistently help in the paint. Because Aldrich is a force inside they don’t need to dominate, but it’s time (for at least one of them) to step up and be counted as a player.
2. Athlon rates Kentucky 6th, while Lindy’s has them at #8 in the country. This was likely a shock to the Kentucky faithful who pegged them #1 after John Wall joined Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Jon Hood in an elite freshman class. The return of Patrick Patterson was huge, but losing Jodie Meeks kept them from vying for the top spot in November. John Calipari will win games at Kentucky, but even he will need time to put the pieces together. I don’t think they are better than Kansas, but I do believe they will be outstanding by the end of the season and poised to make a run for the NCAA title. Could we see a repeat of 2008, with Bill Self coaching against John Calipari in the title game? You bet.
3. Does North Carolina deserve a #5 ranking with the losses they suffered after capturing the 2009 title? Jayhawk or Tar Heels fans will tell you never to count out a Roy Williams team, but I wonder if they deserve their lofty preseason perch. Yes, Carolina is a monster up front with Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Deon Thompson, and their 6’10” twin recruits, David and Travis Wear. The backcourt is suspect, however, with Larry Drew II more of a Quentin Thomas clone than a viable replacement for Ty Lawson. Marcus Ginyard will be back, but can he be the player he was in 2008 after sitting out the 2009 campaign with an injury? Is there enough firepower in the backcourt to take pressure off their big men? Do they have the depth to maintain the pace that Roy Williams prefers? This is a team that could be pressured, and if opponents can rebound with Carolina they could run on them.
4. Texas is rated 2nd in Lindy’s preseason poll and 3rd in Avalon’s. Looks like another duel between the Jayhawks and Longhorns for conference supremacy, with the only scheduled meeting between the two in Texas. The questions for Rick Barnes’ team include: is Dexter Pittman ready to play hard for the entire season? Can transfer Jai Lucas and super-freshman Avery Bradley gel in the backcourt and give Texas the consistency they lacked in 2009? Damion James will continue to give opponents fits with his hustle and all-around skills. The pieces are there, and if they can fall into place quickly enough, Texas could make the Final Four.
Questions for this season include:
Which “one-and-done” player will be next to get their college team in trouble, knowing that the NCAA can’t punish them if they’re playing in the NBA?
Will anyone realize that a rule forcing kids to go to college and gain some maturity and life experience isn’t inherently bad? Will anyone additionally realize that a rule isn’t bad just because someone breaks it? If someone runs a stoplight, should we decide it isn’t worth the trouble to stop at red lights?
We know from watching Derrick Rose and Greg Oden that a freshman can take a team to the NCAA title game, but can a freshman (with the exception of Carmelo Anthony) lead them to a championship?
Should anyone care that Isiah Thomas is coaching Florida International?
Can North Carolina make a third consecutive Final Four?
Can Louisville push aside all the off-season distractions and focus on basketball?
Can Duke regain their place among the best teams in college basketball after several years of early exits from the NCAA Tournament?
Will Arizona keep their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances alive?
Is there a deeper team than Kansas? If the newcomers develop, KU should be capable of putting 14 different guys on the court who are able to really play. Speaking of KU, will C.J. Henry make an impact after so many years away from the game?
How many teams can put twins on the court together? (KU and North Carolina can…)
How many teams can put brothers on the court together? (With the Henry brothers and the Morris twins, KU can put two sets of brothers out there…How many other teams can do that?)
Which newcomer (freshman, transfer or junior college player) will have the greatest impact on their team?
Which team will have the most second-generation players (players whose fathers were in the NBA)?
This blog used player and team rankings from Lindy’s College Basketball 2009-2010 and Athlon SportsCollege Basketball 2009-2010 Preview. All opinions and analysis in this blog are my own and are not intended to represent those of anyone associated with these publications.
A 2012 Update
Three years after writing this article, I notice that not much changes over the years in college basketball. Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and a few others dominate the NCAA landscape year in and year out. Money is certainly a factor in the dominance of these programs; the cream of the crop have expensive facilities, well paid coaches and the financial resources to recruit on a national level. Is this the only answer, though?
When I think about what keeps the same teams on top every year, coaching is certainly a factor. Roy Williams, John Callipari, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and a few others are well paid for a good reason. They succeed. They succeeded before they were at the top of their profession, and they continued to excel when they reached the top. In truth, many college basketball coaches are ill-equipped to compete on a high level, regardless of how talented their teams might be. This is one reason why the elite coaches win wherever they go. They are simply better than most of their peers.
This isn't the only reason the same teams vie for NCAA championships each season. I believe the best teams are the ones that manage to recruit legitimate centers--big men with a game. There are perhaps 300 Division I schools trying to win with a 6'7" or 6'8" center, and they usually will have no chance. 15-20 schools are able to entice a big man to their campus and teach him to play effectively, and those are the teams that win. Anthony Davis, Jeff Withey or Tyler Zeller will give a team an advantage at both ends of the floor that smaller pivots can't offer. It is telling to note that Indiana University's reemergence as a national power coincided with the arrival on campus of Tyler's brother Cody Zeller. Duke had the Plumlee brothers and Syracuse started Fab Melo. When Texas or Connecticut or Ohio State are able to lure a quality big man to their campus, they elevate their game and compete for championships.
I believe this is a key factor in the success of the "big name" programs, year after year. They dominate interior play on both ends of the floor. We may never see another era where Patrick Ewing, Sam Bowie and Hakeem Olajuwon are all playing in the Final Four, but Davis, Withey, Zeller and the rest are still the difference in the game.
Let's see if this theory holds up. See you all in April after the next NCAA Champion is crowned!
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