Four Teams on the Rise
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."