College Basketball: The Spin
The Spin: 2003-04 College Hoops Preview
There are 327 teams with lots in common, if only for a short time. No wins, no
losses and an abundance of hope as the 2003-04 college basketball season is ready
to take flight.
As has become customary over the last decade or so, a good bunch of the young
stars - some of which are still not old enough to legally buy a draft at the local
watering hole - have taken their own hopes and dreams onto the NBA. We hardly
knew ya, Carmelo, but it was nice being along for the ride. But in the end, all
it means is that we've got one more megabyte of memory in our brains we can exhaust
getting to know another kid with hopes of being shown on the tube while "One Shining
Moment" plays over the video.
Just over four months until the Big Dance plays its first song, but which teams
will have VIP access at the party? And which regular attendees could be stood
up this season? Here's my Sweet 16, broken down into two groups.
When speaking of strong candidates to take home the gold trophy, six teams immediately
come to mind. And many of them are the same as you're used to hearing about in
late March: UConn, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Arizona and Michigan State.
Connecticut: Jim Calhoun's Huskies hope to become the first preseason No. 1 to
win the national title since Kentucky in 1996, and they've certainly got the horses
to do so.
Emeka Okafor would be the Clydesdale in the middle for UConn. He's certainly the
greatest defensive force in the college game today, and his offensive game is
rapidly improving. Throw in one of the best pure shooters in the country in Ben
Gordon and the Huskies are loaded. And that's before you get to a bench that could
be the best in the nation.
If there's a possible negative to be found in Storrs, it may be the difficulty
Jim Calhoun could encounter with having so many talented bodies to keep happy.
But he is a master at managing his players and is an outstanding teacher. If Taliek
Brown provides great senior leadership and consistency at the point, the sky's
Duke: Coach K landed the top high-school senior not named LeBron in Luol Deng,
a silky smooth operator who can beat you in a number of ways. Deng is already
being called the team's best player, so imagine how much better he'll make a team
that already features the likes of J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Chris Duhon.
Expect Duhon to bounce back from what many felt was a disappointing junior season.
If the Blue Devils get consistent and meaningful contributions from Shelden Williams
and Shavlik Randolph up front, get out of the way of this buzzsaw.
Florida: Billy Donovan has been outstanding at keeping the cupboard well stocked
in Gainesville, and this season, a trio from his 2002 class should pay even bigger
dividends than they did last season.
SEC Freshman of the Year, Anthony Roberson, will start full-time and should continue
to grow as a player. Matt Walsh started with a bang last season, and his versatility
will cause opponents lots of trouble. And Christian Drejer, who was limited last
season due to ankle troubles, will get a chance to show what all the fuss was
about last year when some preseason publications tabbed the Gators to win it all.
There are plenty of shooters to check, but the biggest question mark is in the
paint, where only David Lee has proven he can handle his business. Donovan is
hopeful that freshman Chris Richard or sophomore Mario Boggan can give Lee some
support and make them more formidable in the paint and therefore, in the national
Kansas: How is it that a program that loses two lottery picks and its highly accomplished
head coach can be considered a title contender? A few very solid juniors, a couple
top-notch recruits and a new head coach with an impressive resume will do the
The Jayhawks return ultra-efficient power forward Wayne Simien, who was having
a great sophomore season before dislocating his shoulder. Simien is a bull down
low, and Keith Langford will give defenses fits with his ability to attack the
basket. Point guard Aaron Miles will need to be an iron man at the point, since
new coach Bill Self doesn't have another dependable option there.
If incoming freshmen David Padgett and J.R Giddens can live up to the hype that
follows them to Lawrence, and Jeff Graves pounds the glass like he did in the
national championship game last season, a return trip with a more favorable result
is certainly not out of the question.
Arizona: Lute Olson keeps losing star players, but the expectations don't change.
Exit Jason Gardner. Enter freshman Mustafa Shakur. Exit Luke Walton. Enter sophomore
Andre Iguodala. Offense will not be a problem for the Wildcats, but if Channing
Frye ever gets into foul trouble, the 'Cats will be hard-pressed to hang on the
boards with many teams. Arizona will play a demanding non-conference schedule
that will prepare this thin, but talented team (only 8 scholarship players) for
the rigors of Pac-10 play and eventually for the NCAA Tournament, where Arizona
hopes to advance further than last year's Elite Eight appearance. An injury to
any starter, particularly Frye, would put those hopes on life support.
Michigan State: What is the one thing each of these Super Six teams has in common?
Outstanding head coaches with proven track records.
What Tom Izzo did last season to lead the Spartans to the Elite Eight was nothing
short of spectacular. And if this team does what last year's didn't - stay healthy
- he shouldn't have to work as hard to get Michigan State back to the Final Four.
Size is a problem, with sophomore Paul Davis as the only proven threat. But the
backcourt is loaded with versatility and potential.
Chris Hill was instrumental in the team's success last season from his point-guard
slot. Alan Anderson has done whatever has been asked of him in his two seasons
in East Lansing, and if former Michigan Mr. Basketball, Kelvin Torbert, can show
the offense that was advertised out of high school, the Spartans will be very
difficult to match up with on the perimeter.
Torbert is the team's best defender, and Izzo hopes freshman Shannon Brown can
be his dynamic self on the offensive end, but takes notes from Torbert on the
defensive nuances by the time Big Ten play rolls around. If there's one thing
we've learned during Izzo's 8 years at MSU, it's never to count his team out.
Who Else Will Shine?
There are so many contenders in this age of parity in
college hoops, but here are 10 others that could throw their hats into the title
picture by the time March rolls around:
North Carolina: No depth, but may have the best starting
five in the land and Roy Williams in the saddle
Syracuse: Sure, they lost Carmelo, but have another star-in-waiting in Hakim Warrick
Missouri: Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson are one of the best duos in the nation
Texas: Physical and skilled; no one will want to face them
Kentucky: Tubby Smith can't be dismissed from championship talk. An elite defensive
force every night
Oklahoma: Like Texas, lost go-to guard, but is tough and talented. Kelvin Sampson
always has 'em ready
Gonzaga: Yep, they're still good. In fact, this could be the best Gonzaga team
Illinois: Bruce Weber inherits a team with plenty of young talent. Dee Brown is
poised for great season
Utah: Frosh Andrew Bogut could be what Rick Majerus needed to get past round two
for 1st time since '98
Providence: You gotta throw a couple surprises in your Sweet 16. Friars have the
role players to do it
Don't miss a chance to watch these guys.
What's a preview without a first, second and third team of the top players in
the country? So many to choose from, here are the best, in one man's opinion:
PF Ike Diogu (Arizona State)
SF Romain Sato (Xavier)
C Emeka Okafor (UConn)
PG Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph's)
SG Rickey Paulding (Missouri)
SF Luke Jackson (Oregon)
PF Wayne Simien (Kansas)
C Channing Frye (Arizona)
PG Raymond Felton (North Carolina)
SG Julius Hodge (NC State)
SF Josh Childress (Stanford)
PF Hakim Warrick (Syracuse)
C Arthur Johnson (Missouri)
PG Chris Thomas (Notre Dame)
SG Andre Emmett (Texas Tech)
And these guys may not be on TV much this season, but if they are, take the time
to check 'em out:
Luis Flores (Manhattan)
Marques Green (St. Bonaventure)
Ricky Minard (Morehead State)
Kirk Snyder (Nevada)
T.J. Sorrentine (Vermont)
Michael Watson (UMKC)
'Til next time, enjoy the start of another great season of college ball!