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November 10, 2005

SCS.com1. Who will go to the Final Four?

My early choices are Texas, Michigan State, Duke, and UConn. Pretty boring, I know, but maybe I will see something I like from a dark horse once the season starts.

2. Will Memphis finally reach their potential?

Survey says "no." The Tigers always have huge preseason expectations that come crashing down in a maelstrom of discontented players, legal run-ins, and general poor play. They did get it going a bit at the end of the last season, so maybe they can prove me wrong this year. I have my doubts about John Calipari being able to hold a team together for five months.

3. Can anyone unseat Kentucky in the SEC?

It does not look likely this season. Alabama has the best chance, but Kentucky looks to have a walk in the SEC East. Florida has some talent, but they lost a lot of experience from last year's team (Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, David Lee). Vanderbilt should be a bubble-type team, but not a serious threat. South Carolina lost some important components as well. Tennessee looks intriguing with Bruce Pearl at the helm, but he is trying to implement a new system. Do check out sharp-shooting guard Chris Lofton at some point this season. Georgia is my pick to surprise some people, but Dennis Felton is probably a year away. The Dawgs should make a quantum leap next season. The SEC looks to be the weakest of the Big Six again this year.

4. Who are the favorites for at-large bids from the non-power conferences?

If they fail to win their conference tournament, Nevada, George Washington, and Northern Iowa all should be good enough to get into the Dance without the automatic bid. Old Dominion, Creighton, and Ohio have decent shots at accomplishing that feat as well. Bucknell and Western Kentucky have outside shots at securing an invite if they win the right games on their respective schedules.

5. Will North Carolina return to the NCAA Tourney and defend their title?

There are at least five ACC teams better on paper than the Tar Heels: Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest, Miami (FL), and Maryland. NC State has as much hope as UNC to make the Big Dance. It is hard to imagine a tourney without Roy Williams, but there is a realistic chance of that happening. For what it's worth, I have UNC in my preseason bracket as an 11 seed.

6. Will Wake Forest underachieve again?

I have never penciled Wake into a Final Four on any NCAA bracket - ever. Skip Prosser will have to prove it to me first. However, with relatively moderate expectations this year, maybe Wake can put it together this season. They certainly have enough talent in Eric Williams, Justin Gray, Trent Strickland, and others to have a successful season.

7. Is Gonzaga for real?

The Zags are on the map to stay, but they have bowed out early in the Dance for three straight seasons. They are for real, but they need to reestablish themselves in the postseason. Adam Morrison is as good as it gets and he has a great supporting cast with fellow big J.P. Batista, and a loaded backcourt including Derek Raivio, Erroll Knight, and Pierre Altidor-Cespedes. Furthermore, coach Mark Few is one of the best in the business.

8. What coach needs to get it done this year - or else?

Woo-Pig-Suey! Stan Heath needs to deliver in Arkansas. The SEC West is down, and the Hogs should be up. He has the SEC's best player in Ronnie Brewer. They will get some good early season tests against UConn and other teams in the Maui Invitational. This is probably a make-or-break year in Fayetteville for Heath. Of course, Indiana's Mike Davis perpetually seems to be on the hot seat, but the Hoosiers should be much improved. If they can get healthy, they should make a return trip to the NCAA Tourney.

9. How many teams will the Big East get into the NCAA Tournament?
Some pundits are claiming that the Big East will make history and send eight or more teams to the Dance. Even with sixteen teams, that will be difficult. Rarely does a team with a losing conference record get an at-large bid (about one team per year on average). The Big East will either need a clear division of a Top Eight/Bottom Eight, or a mass of indistinguishable 8-8 conference records. It is possible, but it is far from being a given.

10. Who will come out of nowhere to make noise this year?

I am going beyond the Bucknells and Oral Roberts here. I am thinking of teams that no one expects to do very well. I like Bradley out of the Missouri Valley as a possible dark horse. Marcellus Sommerville is a top-notch forward, and the Braves (nix that nickname during the postseason) return all five starters from a team that started 9-2 last year before tail-spinning at the end of the year.

11. Years later, America still needs to know: who let the dogs out?

Just making sure you were paying attention. Oh, and it was Tom Niedenfuhr.

12. Who will disappoint everyone this year?

ESPN. Some important games will likely be held hostage by ESPNU in an effort to drive up subscriptions to the relatively new college sports channel. That is going to chafe some backsides.

13. What are some can't-miss games before New Year's Day?

  • Villanova at Bucknell (Dec 6) - Nova goes to the Bison's home court. We will learn a lot about both teams here.
  • Duke v. Texas (Dec 10) - #1 vs. #2 as of today.
  • Louisville at Kentucky (Dec 17) - The best non-conference rivalry in college basketball is always interesting.
  • The Maui Invitational - Rarely has an early season tourney been this loaded (UConn, Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Michigan State, and Chaminade). The possibilities are quite tasty.

    14. Does the Bracket Buster really help its participants?

    Yes and no. Does is help with exposure, recognition, and awareness of good teams whose games are rarely nationally televised? Yes. Will it help these teams get a bid to the NCAA tourney or improve their seeding? No more than winning a big conference game.

    15. Where is Wisconsin in the polls?

    They did lose Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley, and Shariff Chambliss, but they return Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor, and a host of capable role players. If Brian Butch delivers, this team could be as good as any recent Badger team. Plus, Wisconsin is a "system" team. Bo Ryan has made it work for years. The Badgers will still wind up with a good season and good NCAA seed when it's said and done.

    16. How good is Duke?

    I am usually first in line to debunk the Duke hype machine, but this team has two potential first team All-Americans in J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, experienced role players in Sean Dockery, Lee Melchionni, and DeMarcus Nelson (who is a potential star), and a bevy of blue chip recruits. They are the preseason favorite, although I like Texas a lot.

    17. Who is on your First-Team All-America squad?

    Guard: Dee Brown, Illinois
    Guard: J.J. Redick, Duke
    Forward: Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
    Forward: P.J. Tucker, Texas
    Center: Shelden Williams, Duke

    18. What player is the true MVP (most valuable to his team)?

    Adam Morrison at Gonzaga would be my first inclination. Dee Brown at Illinois would run a close second. Nick Fazekas of Nevada also deserves mentioning.

    19. Where are the NCAA Tournament sites this year?

    First and Second Round: Philadelphia, Greensboro, Dayton, Jacksonville, Salt Lake City, Auburn Hills (MI), Dallas, and San Diego
    Regionals: Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Oakland
    Final Four: Indianapolis

    20. How can I most enjoy this basketball season?

    Do not limit your basketball experience to watching television. Find a local college or university and attend some games. College hoops can be a very affordable experience, especially when attending games in non-BCS conferences. Get involved, get out to an arena, cheer for a team, and soak up the game experience. There is much more to the sports experience than fantasy stats and the score crawler at the bottom of the TV screen.

     > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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