- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FIVE TEAMS THAT COULD SURPRISE

MINNESOTA

In case anyone was wondering, Tubby Smith can coach, and those 20 wins in his first year in Minneapolis provide plenty of evidence. Granted, the Golden Gophers are operating in a league with plenty of flotsam and jetsam. But even with the plankton to gorge on, Minnesota’s surge from bottom-feeder to possible NCAA bubble team should not go unnoticed.

SAN DIEGO STATE

When a 20-win team returns all five starters, it merits some sort of mention. So it is with the Aztecs, who should factor into the Mountain West title race with BYU and UNLV before the season is through. Forward Lorrenzo Wade does a little bit of everything for Steve Fisher’s team, and the surrounding talent is good enough to make an NCAA berth a possibility.

VANDERBILT

Remember these guys? Kevin Stallings quietly has things rolling in Nashville, Tenn., with back-to-back NCAA tournament berths. That could become three in a row despite the loss of Shan Foster. The nexus of this team is Aussie center A.J. Ogilvy, who figures to provide a steady presence for the Commodores. Vanderbilt resides in the wrong SEC division, but it might not stop it from making a postseason push.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH

The golden boy of the 2007 NCAA tournament, Eric Maynor, is still plying his trade for the Rams, who enter the season as the CAA favorites. But the guy who could make this season particularly special in Richmond is sophomore forward Larry Sanders. His size — and the rebounding and shot-blocking skills that come with it — have the potential to make VCU a giant headache come March.

WEST VIRGINIA

The Big East’s No. 9 team could have been so much better if Joe Alexander stayed in school. Instead, his dynamite March made him a lottery pick. But talent remains in Morgantown, and few coaches are capable of cajoling more out of what they’re given than Bob Huggins. Consider this a way of saying the Mountaineers easily could make the pundits look silly and go just as far as they did last season.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL DISAPPOINT

ALABAMA

Welcome to college basketball’s answer to “Waiting for Godot.” The Crimson Tide faithful patiently anticipated point guard Ronald Steele coming back at full health, but he didn’t play last year and flirted with the NBA anyway. Unlike Godot, Steele might actually show up. But will he be good enough to send Alabama back to the NCAA tournament and save Mark Gottfried’s job? That’s an ongoing mystery.

ARIZONA

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