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A PRE-PRESEASON LOOK AT COLLEGE HOOPS' TOP TEN
April 11, 2007

SCS.comThe college basketball season has been over for about a week, and NCAA hoops fans are starting to settle in for a long, harsh spring and summer. Well fans take a little solace in the fact that just days after Florida cut down the nets in Atlanta, preseason rankings for next season were already popping up left and right. With the off-season officially underway, now begins the great guessing game. Who will stay? Who will go? Which incoming freshman will have an immediate impact? Those are just a few of the questions that must go into any type of projection for next season.

It’s really impossible to know just how everything will play out with players leaving school early for the allure of the NBA or returning to improve their game or unfinished business. Despite these daunting odds, I have put together my top-10 predictions for next season based on how things stand right now in the college world. Of course some of these predictions could and most likely will change after the NBA Draft this summer.

1. Kansas

The Jayhawks had more young talent than any team in the country last season, and of course the benefit of having so much youth is that most of your team returns the following season. Freakishly athletic sophomore Julian Wright, who would undoubtedly be a lottery pick, has already stated his desire to return for another year in Lawrence. Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur will be back as well. The only player I really see as being a threat to leave is Brandon Rush, who will most likely test the draft waters to see where his stock is.

Assuming Rush does leave, Kansas still has more than enough firepower to make up for his loss and to contend for a national title. If Rush comes back for his junior season, than the rest of the Big 12 is really going to have their work cut out for them.

2. North Carolina

This is another example of a team with plenty of young talent that should be returning most, if not all, of it next season. The biggest question mark for the Tar Heels will be Brandon Wright. If not for the age limit, Wright would most likely have been a lottery pick out of high school, and now he is looking at being a top 5 pick if he comes out this year. Assuming Wright does leave, UNC still will be returning Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, and most likely Tywon Lawson, who said he would be back after the Elite 8 loss to Georgetown.

This team has already proven they are one of the elite in the country, so now add in that they will all have one more year of experience and be more familiar with one another on the court, and UNC could find themselves in another Final Four next year.

3. UCLA

This pick really hinges on Arron Aflalo. After coming so close each of the last two seasons, something in me says that the junior All-American will be coming back for one final shot at a national championship. There is still plenty of talent on board for the Bruins even without their leader though. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp are both reportedly going to test the draft waters, but they will be back, as will Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Michael Roll. Add incoming freshman Kevin Love, considered by some the top prospect in his class, and Ben Howland and the Bruins are looking at a third straight Final Four trip.

4. Memphis

I was very surprised when the Tigers made a run to the Elite 8 this year. After steamrolling through a weak C-USA schedule, I thought they would fall to tougher competition in the NCAA Tournament. They proved me wrong.

Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey will both be back making Memphis very tough on the interior. Jeremy Hunt will be gone, and there is a chance that Chris Douglas-Roberts could be jumping ship early, but the Tigers will be able to fill the void with Derek Rose who will be the perfect player to run Memphis’s high powered offense.

5. Louisville

Rick Pitino did a heck of a job leading this young team to a 22-8 record and a near appearance in the Sweet 16. Now with the whole squad coming back, the Cardinals are looking like a team that will be playing well into March next season.

Assuming Derrick Character can keep himself in check, he could team with David Padgett to form one of the top front courts in the country. Freshman guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith both looked very promising in the backcourt, and leading scorer Terrence Williams will be back bringing his great all-around game to the floor.

6. Ohio State

Greg Oden will not be back; at least I don’t think he will be. If for some reason the 7-footer finds his way back to Buckeye country next season, then move OSU right to the top of this list.

After finishing the regular season ranked #1 and appearing in the national championship game, the Buckeyes are brining back Daequan Cook, Jamar Butler, David Lighty and Othello Hunter. Mike Conley Jr., maybe the best point guard in the country, should be back, but don’t be surprised to see him enter the draft just to see where he stock is. OSU will have plenty of offensive firepower once again on the perimeter, and with Hunter and incoming 7’1” McDonald’s All-American Kosta Koufos down low, Oden’s presence won’t be as sorely missed.

7. USC

This is the riskiest pick out of the list. Lodrick Stewart is graduating and Nick Young is likely gone, but Gabe Pruitt and Taj Gibson will also consider the NBA. I’m going to assume that Young is the only player that opts to leave early, meaning the Trojans bring back their top rebounder and top assist man, both of whom averaged better than 12 points per game.

A huge factor in USC’s play next year will be the production of top flight prospect O.J. Mayo. The 6’4” guard has been considered the top prospect in the class of 2007 for what seems like an eternity. If the McDonald’s All-American can play up to his potential, and Pruitt and Gibson continue to develop, the Trojans could challenge UCLA all season for a Pac-10 title.

8. Tennessee

What’s the only thing scarier than a team that came within 1 point of knocking off Ohio State in the Sweet 16? That same team one year later. Bruce Pearl will have his entire squad back, including SEC player of the year Chris Lofton who I believe will be returning. JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith will join Lofton to form one of the best guard trio’s in the country.

The Volunteers will have more than enough firepower to win the SEC. This is a team that was tops in the conference last year in scoring, steals per game, turnover margin, and 3-point field goals made per game.

9. Washington State

The Pac-10 gets its third team in the top 10 with the appearance of the Cougars. Losing only Ivory Clark will certainly go a long way to ensuring another strong showing from Washington State who was the surprise team of the year this past season.

Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver are a great 1-2 scoring punch in the backcourt, and having a pair of 6-10 post players in Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes will ensure that the Cougars are again a tough defensive team.

10. Indiana

This was a tough spot to fill, but Indiana showed me a lot winning 21 games this past season and giving UCLA all it could handle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway will graduate out of the backcourt, but the Hoosiers will be able to fill those spots. Freshman Armon Basset showed some very promising flashes during his first year, and he will be joined by McDonald’s All-American Eric Gordon, who could lead the team in scoring in his first season.

D.J. White will most likely be back giving Indiana the inside presence it needs to contend for a top spot in the Big 10.

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