Friday, November 16, 2007

Here We Go...

If you were to ask most people their favorite time of the year, the answers would likely vary quite a bit. Some might say “the holidays”, presumably meaning any time from Halloween to Valentines Day. Others might say spring time. They enjoy the warmer weather and flowers and the birds and… (sorry I just threw up a little in my mouth). Still others would tell you they like the fall what with the leaves turning colors and football season beginning. But not here in the House that Toast Built. In our little corner of the world, there is no better time than right now—college basketball season. The preseason tournaments have just begun and there will be an NCAA hoops game on the main television in La Casa de Eagan every night of the week from now until late March.

That said, it’s a great time to release our college basketball preview. Dogg and I will be giving you the low down on the key players and teams that you need to know about for the 2007-08 hoops season. Note: we purposefully didn’t include Fuzz because we already made you read his garbage Duke propaganda last week and you, our loyal readers, shouldn’t have to see that trash again. You’ll also be getting the first official TKOT Fantastic 15 Power Rankings, which will be updated every other week. It’s a highly scientific process that we used to come up with the rankings—each guy picked his 15 and we averaged the three sets out for one overall ranking. So, without further ado…

North Carolina
This wouldn't be a very good preview if we didn’t start with the number one team in the land, the Tarheels of North Carolina. Their biggest asset by far is the fact that they have three star players, whereas most top programs have only one or two. Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Tyler Hansbrough are all at or near the top of their positions (point guard, wing, and post, respectively). And that is precisely what makes them so tough. It’s one thing to have three stars, it’s another to have them at each of the key spots on the court. But it doesn’t end there because they have major x-factors in their uber-athletic wings Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green. You can also add Bobby Frasor off the bench as the guy who’s always in the right place, makes no mistakes, and buries 3’s if you leave him open. These kids aren’t spring chickens either. This is virtually the exact same team that went to the Elite 8 last year. In an era where more players are one-and-done than stay until they are seniors, experience is a huge plus. Oh, and they’re playing in a very down year for the ACC. That’s a lot of good on their side. That doesn’t mean they aren’t without their questions though. With the wide variety of options, what kind of style do the Heels go with? Do they slow it down and feed Hansbrough in an inside-out type of game, or fly up and down the court with Lawson, Ellington, Ginyard, and Green? Can they play consistent enough to make a long run in March? Do they have the shooting to punish teams that try to zone them? Only time will answer these questions, but it’s pretty safe to say they’ll be at or near the top all year. (Rankings: Dogg 4, Fuzz 2, Q 1)

That brings us to the most athletic team in the country, the Memphis Tigers. Up and down their lineup, all you see are athletic freaks: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, Antonio Anderson, and Derrick Rose. That’s a lot of talent there, and with the frenetic, up-and-down style that John Calipari has these kids playing, there will be more than enough shots to keep everyone happy. Speaking of which, if you want to see a bunch of smiling faces, just take a look at any Tigers fan after they get a chance to see the super-frosh, Rose. It’s not too often that you get a 6’4” point guard that can both get his own shot and create for others. I hope they enjoy their one year in the sun with him. The best part about this team is the chip that they play with. Despite winning 30 games and being a 2-seed in the Tourney last year, they still have that Rodney Dangerfield mentality: they get no respect. The reason for this (perceived) disrespect? They play in Conference USA, easily the worst of the major conferences. The Classic Lake Conference of the late ‘90’s had twice as much talent as the current group in C-USA, hence the semi-inflated number of wins. But it won’t be the lack of formidable opponents that will be the downfall of this team. If anything can stop them, it’s a simple 2-3 zone. Other than Anderson (and maybe Rose), there aren’t any consistent shooters on this Memphis team. Lucky for them, not many teams can play a zone effectively enough to take advantage of this weakness and the Tigers will stroll into the Tourney as a 1 or 2 seed. (Rankings: Dogg 1, Fuzz 3, Q 2)

In the Year of the Freshman, few have received as much press as the Bruins’ new kid, Kevin Love. He’s one of the most versatile big men to come around the game in some time. He’s big enough to be an absolute scoring and rebounding force inside, will alter shots (or at least a guard’s notion of entering the lane), makes the outlet pass like no other human in history (please note the sarcasm and if you don’t get it, watch one UCLA game on TV and you will tire of it quickly), and is a vocal and emotional leader on the court. That’s a HUGE addition to a team that went to the Final Four last year. While it is true that they lost their best player, Aaron Afflalo, to the NBA, they still are one of the deepest teams in the country. Darren Collison (once he returns from injury) and Josh Shipp give them two outstanding guards, and Love, Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, and Lorenzo Mata-Real give them the best frontcourt in the land. You will not out rebound this team and you will not out-coach Ben Howland. The guy is one of the better basketball minds currently coaching and always seems to make great in-game adjustments that keep his team rolling. The only thing that will derail yet another Final Four run would be injuries. Currently, Collison is out and Shipp has been plagued by the injury bug for his entire career out in LA. If those two stay healthy, this could be the best of them all. If not, they’ll just be in the top 15. (Rankings: Dogg 2, Fuzz 1, Q 3)

It will be tough to gage this year’s Jayhawk team for the first part of the season. They will be without the services of one of their top guards in Sherron Collins. Plus, all-everything guard Brandon Rush is coming off of ACL surgery, so you never know how he’ll react. That will obviously hurt, but will by no means destroy Kansas. They still have Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson to handle the ball and Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur to bang down low. And if you’re looking for a breakout candidate, look no further than Arthur. He showed signs of being a very talented post player while waiting in Julius Wright’s shadow last year. Now all 6’9” of him has emerged and is ready to show the fans in Lawrence that there will be no drop off—at least in the regular season. That brings us to one of their weaknesses. This team always seems to struggle under the big lights of the Dance and ends up losing to teams like Bucknell. Part of that blame went to Roy Williams in year’s past. But now that he’s won a title in Chapel Hill, that burden falls on Bill Self. The bottom line is this: the Jayhawks will have a very successful regular season. They will run through a somewhat depleted Big 12 Conference. They’ll have a very high seed and a lot of expectations heading into March. And then they’ll lose at least a round or two earlier than everyone picked in their office pool brackets. (Rankings: Dogg 3, Fuzz 7, Q 4)

The team that no one knows about and is surprised to see near the top of the rankings is Tennessee. Of course we know all about them and can give you some insight to help you sound smart in front of your buddies. They have first team All-American and Player of the Year candidate Chris Lofton. But everyone who claims to follow college hoops should know that. The kid’s a stud, plain and simple. The reason they have top 5 potential, however, lies in the hands of the Smith Trio. Ramar Smith is a very talented guard who will split time at the point with Lofton and play the 2. Jajuan Smith is a freakishly athletic wing who knows how fill it. Tyler Smith, a transfer from Iowa, will bring some size to a small lineup, some emotion (he’s dedicating his season to his recently deceased father), and a badly needed inside presence. The maturation of those three will determine whether this team can take advantage of a down year in the SEC and roll into the Tourney as a top seed, or be one of those teams who “were also there”. The bet here is that they flourish because of a man by the name of Bruce Pearl. The highly entertaining and excitable coach of the Volunteers will make sure that a lack of height will not deter his team from making a run to San Antonio. (Rankings: Dogg 5, Fuzz 10, Q 10)

We couldn’t dislike a team more than the Hoyas this year. They are getting a ton of media love, presumably because of the return of their seven foot monster, Roy Hibbert. There are a couple of problems though. First is Roy’s supporting cast. He doesn’t have that playmaker that can keep the double and triple teams off of him (like he had in Jeff Green last year). His best options are the erratic Jesse Sapp at point, or tiny, score first guard Jonathan Wallace. Not the best of options. Second, Mr. Hibbert isn’t exactly the scoring machine that one would expect from a guy who’s 7’2”. He only averaged 13 points per game last year; awfully pedestrian for a man of his size. Georgetown is also a very thin team this year. One injury and everything could go awry for them. One reason that might not happen is that this squad is coached by John Thompson III. He’s a very classy and smart coach who should find ways for this team to take advantage of Hibbert’s height and Wallace’s scoring. (Rankings: Dogg 10, Fuzz 4, Q 8)

We are very divided on this year’s Hoosier squad here at TKOT. Dogg absolutely loves the combination of DJ White and yet another stud freshman, Eric Gordon. I on the other hand, think they’ll struggle to play together when everyone is trying to get their own. Dogg will tell you that they have a very talented 6th man in AJ Ratliff and a lot of potential in juco transfer Jamarcus Ellis. I will remind you that it’s two more guys who are going to be looking for their stats. Can they get these ego’s to mesh? Who knows? What we do know is that the Big Ten is very top heavy this year with Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State, followed by a lot of average-at-best teams. This means that they should enter March with a pretty high seed. We can assume that they are going to score a lot, which will make them regulars on SportsCenter all season. Will all of this equal a deep Tourney run? Again, Dogg says yes, and I say no. (Rankings: Dogg 6, Fuzz 8, Q 5)

Washington State
DE-FENSE, clap clap, DE-FENSE clap clap. If Eric Gordon and Indiana are ESPN staples, Washington State is a highlight producer’s worst nightmare. They don’t have the big name star, they don’t have a lot of flash, and they aren’t going to score a ton of points. While the casual fan knows nothing about this team, Dogg and I will be wearing our Cougar paraphernalia to the bar this weekend. We couldn’t be higher on this team. Coach Tony Bennett has his squad playing lockdown D like you won’t see anywhere else in the country. Last year they led the nation in opponent’s ppg (as they have for the past 3 years). But it’s not all D in the upper northwest, thanks to Wash State’s talented guard duo of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. They play with a tenacious style on both end of the court and will surely lead this team into the national spotlight. There are two issues, though. The first is that the Pac 10 should be the deepest and best conference in the country this year (UCLA, Arizona, USC, and Oregon). Makes for a difficult road leading to the Tourney, but should also toughen and enlighten them for it as well. The second problem? That outside of Low and Weaver, the Cougars don’t really have another big time player that could step up if either of those two has a bad night. Regardless, they’ll be a very “loosey-goosey” type team this spring, so learn about them now before they destroy your bracket. (Rankings: Dogg 8, Fuzz 14, Q 9)

I’ll let Dogg tell you about the Cardinals since he has such a strong opinion about them. “This is my least favorite team in the country by far. Their team is trash and so is their coach. Why does Rick Pitino get so much love? He hasn’t done anything in years and recruits sketchy, borderline players. What’s to like about Louisville? I’m supposed to think they’re good because they return a ton of guys? Those guys are still named [Edgar] Sosa, [Juan] Palacios, [David] Padgett, and [Derrick] Caracter, aren’t they? This is a streaky team at best who’ll have a couple of big wins as well as a couple of terrible losses. If you’re a betting man, never bet on this team. They rely almost entirely on jump shots and there’s no telling what night they’ll be hitting and what night they won’t. Louisville sucks.” Well then. (Rankings: Dogg NR, Fuzz 5, Q 7)

Ok, so I’ll keep this fairly short. We here at TK on Toast are huge bandwagon Marquette fans. As you probably figured out from the DFTFC article, we have an “in” with the program and are therefore ridiculously biased. So the most fair, rational analysis I can give you is that this team is very deep, very talented at the guard position, and has some size and rebounding issues. That’s all I got for ya. Don’t worry, there will be a minimum of 15 Marquette related posts throughout the season, so if you want to know more about the Golden Eagles, stay tuned. (Rankings: Dogg 9, Fuzz 9, Q 6)

Michigan State
There isn’t a lot say about this Spartans team. They are somewhat of an enigma entering this season. There wasn’t much expected of them last year and they made it to the Dance as a 9 seed, bounced a far superior Marquette team, and then hung tough with UNC for a while. This year they return one of the toughest players in the nation in Drew Neitzel, who can absolutely shoot the lights out and has enough heart to carry this team to a wide variety of levels. They also have a phenomenal coach in Tom Izzo. But if you want one call from us for this season it’s this: 6’7” combo guard Raymar Morgan is going to have one of the biggest breakout seasons in recent memory. He is going to light up the Big Ten and will be on everyone’s short list for POY by the end of the year. (Rankings: Dogg 11, Fuzz 12, Q 13)

If you care even slightly about the Blue Devils, then click 'Back', scroll down, and rub one out to Fuzz’s A-Z lovefest that almost caused the end of this website. For everyone else, I leave you with everyone’s two favorite words: Fuck Duke. (Rankings: Dogg NR, Fuzz 6, Q NR)

Sort-of sleeper watch alert. I guess you can’t really call a team currently ranked 11th in the country a sleeper. But this team has the talent and the potential to make a push for an Elite 8 type of run. They run a very talented 3 guard combo unmatched by anyone in the country. Tajuan Porter, Bryce Taylor, and Malik Hariston are three of the best guards in the country and will cause serious matchup problems for most of their opponents. They even balance that outside game with a very serviceable big man in Maarty Leunen. The loss of Aaron Brooks will undoubtedly hurt, but Ernie Kent will make sure that this team doesn’t skip a beat and makes a run through the NCAA Tournament. (Rankings: Dogg 7, Fuzz 11, Q 12)

We’re not the first team to sing the praises of this Davidson team, nor will we be the last. We are very much aware that many fans know about them. We also don’t care. This is a team that will need to be reckoned with as this season plays out. Dell’s kid, Stephen Curry, is one of the best players in the country, bar none. He can create, move well without the ball, and most importantly, shoot the freaking lights out. In other words, he’s the man. They are also doing the smart thing in playing a very tough non-conference schedule (UNC, Duke, and NC State) to let their players see the level that they’ll need to play at come Tourney time. Be ready for them as a 6 or 7 seed after they walk through their conference schedule and Mr. Curry is one of the leading scorers in the nation. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Hometown Love—Northern Iowa
The University of Minnesota South has to get a quick shout out from TKOT. They’ll be led this season by soon to be All-Missouri Valley Conference guard Travis Brown, who will take over as the team’s leading scorer during his junior season. They also have two other Minny kids, Kwadso Ahelegbe and Eric Coleman, which will give the Panthers an outside chance to shock the world and make it to the Dance. Be sure to check for them during ESPN’s “Bracket Buster Saturday” as well as live in action during the MVC tournament at the end of the year. They’re comin…

The Highly Scientific TKOT Fantastic 15 BCS-Style Poll Thing
*Note: These rankings are based on the average position of the teams from each of the three TKOT writer’s personal rankings. First place votes in parenthesis.

1. Memphis (1)
1. UCLA (1)
3. North Carolina (1)
4. Kansas
5. Indiana
6. Georgetown
7. Marquette
8. Tennessee
9. Louisville
10. Oregon
11. Washington State
12. Kansas State
12. Michigan State
14. Duke
15. Texas
Also Receiving Votes: Syracuse, Texas A&M, Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio State


Chosman said...

Northern Iowa is off to a 4-0 start as Trav and the Panthers are ready to be atop the MVC. Kwadzo, though, is out for the year with a torn labrum.

Jeff said...

What about 'Zona? Is Lute's indefinite LOA really the death of the program?

Q said...

LO not being there definitely hurts Arizona. The bigger problem is that, other than Buddinger, they have very little high quality talent. Plus, they'll be playing against the likes of UCLA, Oregon, and USC in their conference. I like them as a top 25 team, and as a tourney team, but not as a top 15.

Fuzz said...

To the guy that calls himself Jeff-

I put Arizona 15th in my list but these two other college basketball "experts" did not. I gave them the love that they deserve. I also got vetoed from this article because I think a team with seven McDonald's All-Americans with a good coach in a weak conference is going to be good this year. I don't know what I was thinking with the Duke A-Z list. Anyways, I like 'Zona this year. A guy like Chase Buddsmoker can carry you. I disagree with Q and think they'll be better than USC too. Don't like that team at all. Either way the house that TKOT built is jacked for college hoops...