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/ Jan. 4, 2005

We've wrapped up preseason play, and the conference clashes are under way. Through the first two months of the season, this are the nation's 25 best players. This is based on how players performed in games so far. As the season progresses, plenty of stars have a chance to move up, or down.

InsideHoops.com First Team

G- John Gilchrist, Maryland
G- Luther Head, Illinois
G/F- Rashad McCants, UNC
F- Hakim Warrick, Syracuse
C- Ike Diogu, Arizona State

Though opinions can always differ, I personally feel the first five are pretty much no-brainers.

Gilchrist has been the hardest player to guard this season, and has been putting Maryland on his back. The nation's best combination of playmaking, scoring, defending, and even rebounding. He's become much more efficient with the ball as well, improving his A/TO rate from 1.6/1 last season to 2.4/1 this year.

Head has become the best player on the nation's best team; no wing guard in the nation is currently playing a more complete game than Head, who has become the go-to scorer (as if Illinois has needed one thus far), the defensive stopper, the top perimeter shooter, and much more involved in the ball-handling, even though he plays with a pair of top- flight playmakers.

McCants' numbers are a bit lower than last year, but he'd be averaging well over 20 ppg on most teams. UNC's killing teams so badly, and they're so stacked, that they don't need it out of him, but it's basically common knowledge at this point that he's the best perimeter scorer in the country. He's been superbly efficient.

Warrick has expanded his game, stretching the range on his jumper. He keeps Syracuse nationally prominent when without him they'd be a somewhat normal team.

Diogu is, simply put, the nation's most dominant player. If he was 6'11" instead of 6'7", he'd be a future NBA Hall of Famer. So far this year, he's scored 273 points and taken 124 shots from the field. You do the math.

InsideHoops.com Second Team

G- Nate Robinson, Washington
G- J.J. Redick, Duke
G/F- Kennedy Winston, Alabama
F- Wayne Simien, Kansas
C- Josh Boone, UConn

Robinson is the nation's most explosive player, spearheading one of the nation's best transition offenses. Like Head, he's stepped up his game by going from a freaky athlete on the basketball court to a great basketball player who happens to be a freaky athlete as well.

Redick is leading the nation's best conference in scoring. He's still the nation's top deep threat, but now has a more well-rounded game. His ball-handling has gone from quite deficient to pretty solid.

Winston is much like McCants, in that he's one of the nation's top wing scorers that could be putting up better numbers if he wasn't surrounded by so many good scorers. He's the best player on an underrated 'Bama team that could make some noise again come March- only it won't be a surprise this time.

Simien would be a first-teamer if he wasn't injured. He's become the best rebounder in the country.

Boone's stats are virtually identical to Okafor's numbers last year. He's not nearly as strong as Emeka, nor quite as athletic, but he's on his way to becoming just as effective of a college player. I was skeptical when Jim Calhoun was predicting such big things for him, but he's lived up to his coach's words.

InsideHoops.com Third Team

G- Chris Paul, Wake Forest
G- Deron Williams, Illinois
G/F- Joey Graham, Oklahoma State
F- Ryan Gomes, Providence
C- Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State

Paul was dominated at Illinois and maybe hasn't been as amazing as pretty much everyone - myself included - thought he would be. But he's still been very good by any objective measure.

Same goes for Williams. Hasn't stepped up his game quite as much as many thought he would, but he's still a better player than last year despite a long-range shooting slump (he's hitting 33.3% from beyond the arc). Despite Head's hot start, Williams is still the most important Illini, who are not nearly as good without him on the floor.

Graham, much like Williams and Paul, hasn't quite exploded like some thought he would. But he's still been excellent for one of the nation's top teams since moving from the post to the wing. Despite being upset by Gonzaga (who's pretty damn good), and despite the loss of Tony Allen, the Cowboys are a better team for his move to small forward.

Providence hasn't been very good thus far, but Gomes isn't to blame. He's a returning first-team All-American, and at worst, he's every bit as good as last year. Despite being forgotten about due to Providence being off the radar, I can't drop him much further than this. He's expanded his game even more this year from the little I've seen of him, to the point where I think he can be a small forward at the next level.

Roberts was the SEC's best player last year, and still is this year. He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals, a very well-rounded big man. He's even posted a triple-double.

The rest of this feature comes Wednesday morning. Stay tuned for teams four and five.







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