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Four Teams on the Rise

 


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/ Oct. 26, 2004

A look at four college basketball teams who failed to qualify for the 2004 NCAA Tournament who should make noise in 2004-05.

Georgia Tech entered last season projected as the No. 7 team in the ACC, having just lost their only two legit big men, Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson, from a team that was mediocre in the first place.

You know what happened next, and no one saw it coming.

Well, if one of these four teams that didn't make the NCAA tourney in 2004 make a huge splash in 2005, don't say you didn't see it coming:

-Michigan (23-11, 8-8 Big Ten in 2004)

Tommy Amacher's team had the NCAA sanctions from the Fab Five's transgressions lifted prior to last year, and his team was expected to hold a Top 25 spot and make some noise in March.

Well, they did make noise in March, but the tune a little of, as they merely landed an NIT spot after a mediocre 18-11 regular season. However, five wins later, an NIT championship could prove to be the jumpoff to bigger things for this athletic squad.

Daniel Horton struggled as a sophomore, after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year over the likes of Dee Brown, Bracey Wright and Paul Davis. However, the 6'3" point guard turned it around late in the year, averaging a team-high 14.8 points in the NIT. If he keeps playing like that, Michigan could end up being the top challenger to Illinois in the Big Ten.

He's joined by former Michigan Mr. Basketball Dion Harris in the backcourt. Harris had a solid freshman year, starting 11 games and averaging 10.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. More will be asked of him as a sophomore as he steps into a full-time starting role.

Bernard Robinson and his all-around game depart from the small forward spot, but 6'6" junior Lester Abram is better. He averaged a team-high 13.1 points, and is capable of even more this year, with his athleticism and long-range shooting (41.2% from beyond the arc). Whereas Robinson just went with the flow, the more aggressive Abram is apt to take a game over.

The X-factor on this team, though, is 6'11" sophomore Courtney Sims. He averaged 7.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in an up-and-down freshman season, but has the ability to become one of the best centers in the nation. His skills- and physical appearance- remind one of Arizona's Channing Frye, and Sims could easily become that good or better.

Sims is joined in the frontcourt by 6'9", 255-pound bruiser Graham Brown, giving this team of runners and jumpers an enforcer to have their backs.

X-factor No. 2 is 6'8" forward Brent Petway, perhaps the best pure athlete in the nation. His leaping ability is simply breathtaking. Since we're going by the Georgia Tech model, his athleticism, ability to attack the rim, and defensive tools could make him the next Isma'il Muhammed.

Amaker appears to have all the pieces, a supremely athletic squad with a little bit of depth. This team's potential is frightening.

-Notre Dame (19-13, 9-7 Big East)

This is the final chance for Chris Thomas, who has scored lots of points and racked up lots of assists in his first three years, but always seemed to be missing that certain something that guys like T.J. Ford and Jay Williams had in college.

He's joined in the backcourt by underrated Chris Quinn, who averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds last season. He's added muscle, so look for him to be more aggressive in taking some of the pressure off of Thomas. Sharpshooter Colin Falls backs up on the perimeter.

Torin Francis, at a chiseled 6'11", 252 lbs, is one of the most physically imposing specimens in college basketball. Francis averaged 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds last year, but missed 12 games with a back injury. (Curiously enough, they played some of their best ball of the year without him.) He's one of the best centers in the nation if the back holds up.

He has front-line help, too. Jordan Cornette, Rick Cornette, and Arizona transfer Dennis Lattimore are all big and physical, all of them being in the 6'8"-6'9", 240-255 lb range. Along with Francis, they could form one of the best rebounding units in the country.

Mike Brey's squad missed the tourney for the first time in his four years in South Bend last year. This year's version of the Irish, though, might make Touchdown Jesus more of a basketball fan than ever.

-Oklahoma (20-11, 8-8 Big XII)

How odd was it to not see Kelvin Sampson's club in the Big Dance?

Well, normalcy returns to Norman this season. They'll be back, led by diminutive- but lightning-quick- sophomore point guard Andrew Lavender. He has that special leadership quality to him that former Sooner guard Hollis Price had. JUCO transfer Terrell Everett, sophomore Lawrence McKenzie (who reminds some of Price) and senior Jaison Williams round out a solid, if not spectacular, backcourt. De'Angelo Alexander transferred, but high-scoring wings with little interest in defense aren't a fit with Sampson. (See: Ere, Ebi.) Alexander won't be sorely missed.

The biggest reason for renewed optimism at OU, though, is the return of 6'8", 260-pound forward Kevin Bookout. Had he not missed 19 games with a shoulder injury last year, Oklahoma would not have missed the tourney. He's joined in the paint by 6'8" JUCO transfer Taj Gray, who Sampson says will impact the Sooners right away.

The Sooners hadn't missed the tournament in a decade before last year. A new streak starts this year.

-Florida State (19-14, 6-10 ACC)

This team loses Tim Pickett, but that's about it. Coach Leonard Hamilton said his team was ahead of his rebuilding schedule, so now is the time. Unfortunately, playing in the ACC makes it tougher to get to the dance than to make noise in it.

Von Wafer steps into Pickett's spot at shooting guard, and while that scoring, defense and leadership is tough to replace, Wafer is bigger, more athletic and has more natural talent. He's a star in the making. Todd Galloway is jet- quick, and should step into the point guard spot ably enough to not be overwhelmed by the legions of great PGs in the ACC. The freshman trio of Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann and Ralph Mims provides depth in the backcourt should Galloway not be up to the job.

The frontcourt is in good shape with 6'8", 240-lb senior Adam Waleskowski and 6'10, 250-pound sophomore Alexander Johnson. Waleskowski averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 boards in only 21.6 minutes a game, and is not only rugged, but versatile enough to step out and hit the three. Johnson was on the All-ACC freshman team last year, and is the team's leading returning scorer at 9.5 ppg, and second to Waleskowski in boards at 4.2 a game, numbers he piled up in just 20.8 minutes a night. If each of these two can handle the full-time minutes, they could combine for around 25 ppg and 14 rpg a game.

The onus for the 'Noles is on senior small forward Anthony Richardson. The 6'7" senior has one last chance to make good on his McDonald's All-American billing, but needs to improve defensively and on the glass to not lose minutes to former JUCO forwards (and '03-'04 redshirts) Antonio Griffin and Diego Romero.

Now, perhaps this piece is misleading; Georgia Tech was a bad team two seasons ago, before making their run to the title game. None of these teams were truly poor last year, just inconsistant; in fact, all of these teams were bubble teams until the very end, so I took the easy road with this. Any of them could have ended up in the tournament.

So if you're looking for a true surprise, perhaps the only legit one to look for is "Other."







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