College Basketball: Five Teams to Watch
Last season, these five schools agonized over whether or not they would be invited to the NCAA Tournament as at-large selections, only to be sorely disappointed and sent packing to the NIT. Come Selection Sunday 2006, however, the only things these teams will be sweating will be their seed.
Barring a late season collapse that saw the Hoyas lose six of their last seven games, Georgetown would have been in the Dance instead of the NIT. Don?t expect a repeat next year. The Hoyas will be back in a big way.
All five starters return, in addition to four highly touted freshmen. Brandon Bowman, a Third Team All Big East selection and last season?s leading scorer (15.2 points per game) and second-leading rebounder, wisely decided to return to school and will be a big part of Georgetown?s return to the NCAA Tournament.
Not that it will be easy in the mammoth 16-team, and ridiculously loaded Big East. The recently released Big East schedule have the Hoyas hitting the road to play potential top five teams Connecticut and Villanova, in addition to Notre Dame and West Virginia, who was one 20-point collapse away from the Final Four last season.
On the plus side, Georgetown will not play Louisville or upstart Seton Hall. However, the elite of the conference ? UConn, Syracuse and Villanova ? will all play each other twice. Louisville will play both UConn and Villanova twice. Welcome to the Big East, Rick Pitino.
So the top teams of the conference may well beat each other up enough to give Georgetown a shot at a winning conference record, while still earning them a high RPI based on strength of schedule. That alone should guarantee the Hoyas an NCAA berth next season, and a return to the national stage that has eluded them since the days of Allen Iverson.
Texas A&M Aggies
Quite a few people who earn their living writing about college basketball will probably claim over the next few months that last year?s incredible run for Texas A&M, while the feel-good story of the year, was simply a fluke. They?ll say that the Aggies will return to their rightful place at the bottom of the Big 12, while their fans will disappear and drift back to passing the time before the start of spring football. Don?t count on it.
Ironically, one of the several ?football schools? in the Big 12 will be lead by two football caliber players. Two-sport star and incoming freshman Martellus Bennett, wisely dropped out of the NBA draft to play both sports for the Aggies and will likely be an instant impact player. He will be joined by 6-9, 260 lb center Joseph Jones, who will be a sophomore.
Then there?s the coach. Billy Gillispie in his first season with the Aggies turned a 7-21 record in 2004 into a 21-10 record and an NIT berth his first year, taking home Big 12 Coach of the Year honors in the process. It was the first post-season trip since 1994 for the Aggies, and they posted their first post-season victory (an 82-74 NIT win over Clemson) since 1982.
Finally, guard Acie Law will provide solid leadership for the young team. Leach?s 2.1 assist to turnover ratio last year lead the team and was sixth in the conference.
So, despite the loss of Antoine Wright, A&M will be right in the Big 12 hunt next season. While beating out Texas and Oklahoma for a Big 12 title might be a bit of a reach, don?t tell these kids that.
Miami, who Duke and North Carolina did not want to join the Conference for fear they would bring down the quality of ACC basketball, compiled an impressive 7-9 record in their first ACC season, and should be even better in 2005-06.
The Hurricanes return four starters, including Guillermo Diaz, the second-leading scorer in the conference last season and named second team all-ACC. Also, they add four freshmen, the #13 ranked recruiting class by Scout.com, that could well represent the best class in Miami?s relatively short basketball history.
PG Denis Clemente averaged 32.1 points a game as a senior, and is the only player at Calusa Prep to actually have his number retired. 6-8 center Jimmy Graham was named an All-Star at the ABCD camp. Forwards Adrian Thomas and Brian Asbury should develop into productive players. Clemente might be another one-and-doner next season ? but that?s a topic for another column.
As usual, the ACC will be loaded. Duke may well be the pre-season #1. Wake Forest will still be tough, even without Chris Paul. Even North Carolina, who lost their top seven scorers from last season, will be a dangerous team due to their outstanding recruiting class.
However, the ACC simply will not be as strong as last season, which featured the national champions, two #1 seeds, and six eventual first round draft picks. This will bode well for the Hurricanes, who will be trying for an unthinkable winning ACC record in just their second season in the conference.
California Golden Bears
Yes the Bears had a miserable year last season, compiling a 13-16 record, including 6-12 in the PAC-10 ? good enough for second-to-last in the standings. But this season promises to be much different.
Cal did not have a single senior on the roster last season, making them one of the youngest teams in the conference. This year, the Bears will have two solid senior starters in center David Paris, who shot 62.1% from the field in conference games, and Rod Benson. Benson averaged 13.7 points and 6.4 rebounds last season, good enough to be among the top 10 in the PAC-10.
Most importantly, the Golden Bears will see the much anticipated return of Leon Powe from knee surgery, the 2004 PAC-10 Freshman of the Year.
In addition, highly touted 6-10 center Jordan Wilkes should contribute immediately as a freshman. Wilkes was rated the No. 5 center in the country by Rivals.com and the No. 76 overall recruit by The Sporting News. He will join his older brother Omar Wilkes, who transferred from Kansas and sat out this past season.
Cal does not have an easy road through the PAC-10, with road games at UCLA and Arizona on the schedule, but they should merit serious consideration for an at-large berth come Selection Sunday.
What do you get when you take a young team that was in the NIT semifinals last season, add the #3 rated recruiting class according to Scout.com, and take away conference powers Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul and Marquette? You get a very good year for the Memphis Tigers.
Rodney Carney and Darius Washington, Jr., second and third team all conference players respectively, will lead a Tiger team that should be considered the class of the new Conference USA. Washington in particular will be especially motivated, with his missed free throw in the conference finals last season still fresh in his mind.
Coach John Calipari?s incoming class includes Memphis native Shawne Williams, an incredible athlete who flirted with the NBA draft before committing to Memphis, and will almost certainly be on the draft board next year. Williams will join prep school teammates Antonio Anderson, Kareem Cooper and Robert Dozier, as well as Chris Douglas-Roberts of Detroit to round out the freshmen class. Four of those five prospects are consensus Top 100 recruits.
Considering they will be playing in a heavily depleted Conference USA, and the C-USA 2006 Tourney will be played in Memphis, it is not a stretch to believe they have an excellent chance to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA?s next season.
Is it too much to expect a team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, based almost entirely on the strength of its freshman class? Isn?t a bit presumptuous to think a group of kids who?ve never set foot on a Division I court will lift Memphis back to national prominence? Of course not.
Ask Coach Jim Boeheim, whose Syracuse team, lead by the freshmen trio of Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Billy Edelin, (along with rising sophmore Hakim Warrick) went from the NIT, and unranked in the pre-season, to National Champions. By the way, their first game that season, and first loss, came to Memphis. Co-incidence? I think not.
Honorable Mention: Florida Atlantic Owls
What has Matt Doherty accomplished since being named head coach just this past April? Only lined up arguably the best recruiting class in FAU history, despite his late start.
Matt Doherty will do wonders for FAU, assuming he sticks around.
–Up next week: 5 Teams On the Way Down
He also thinks highly of Miami…picking them as a dark horse candidate to win the ACC..WOW!!
I just read to we got our first commitment for our 06' class. The kid had looks from steston, jacksonville and TENNESSEE.
Florida Atlantic, The Citadel Score Big
By Dave Telep National Recruiting Director
Date: Aug 18, 2005
Matt Doherty landed his first 2006 commitment and he didn?t have to venture far to get it done. Xavier Perkins will have a short commute to campus at FAU. Meanwhile, The Citadel scored a sweet guard commitment too.
Xavier Perkins, a 6-foot-5 small forward out of Fort Pierce (Fla.) St. Andrew?s, committed to Matt Doherty?s Florida Atlantic program Thursday evening. Perkins had offers from Stetson and Jacksonville while Tennessee showed some early interest.
?They?ve got a great coaching staff and it?s close to home,? Perkins said. ?It?s a nice environment.? Perkins resides 10 minutes from the Florida Atlantic campus.
In speaking of his commitment, Perkins was superfluous with his praise of the coaching staff.
?Everyone is experienced. Coach Doherty is a great coach and a great guy. Coach Walters played in the NBA and Coach Stafford has been around some of the best coaches. They?re all experienced and they?ll push me to the limit.?
Now Perkins gets to become a recruiter for the program. His top two targets? Damien Hollis of Taravella High and William Benjamin of American would suffice.
Lm77 saidNow Perkins gets to become a recruiter for the program. His top two targets? Damien Hollis of Taravella High and William Benjamin of American would suffice.
Does anyone know about these other two guys?