- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PRESEASON ALL-AMERICANS

G Sherron Collins, Kansas

Those who remember the Jayhawks’ title run two years ago probably wouldn’t think Collins was one of the nation’s top guards. But he developed into a star last year in Lawrence, and his decision to return (along with junior center Cole Aldrich) basically established Kansas as the preseason favorite. Collins’ scoring and distribution will prove crucial for one of the nation’s deepest teams.

G Evan Turner, Ohio State

One of the most enjoyable players in the country to watch, Turner has a bit of former Louisville jack-of-all-trades Terrence Williams to him. In the absence of a significant point guard, Turner probably will have the ball for most of the Buckeyes’ vital possessions. But he’s also a heck of a scorer, and Ohio State’s chances of an extended March run are deeply connected to the junior.

F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

As good as Patterson was a season ago, he’s about to get even better. Reason No. 1: New coach John Calipari’s system will make Patterson even more dangerous in the open court. Reason No. 2: John Wall’s arrival means an elite point guard will run that system. No longer confined to the low post, Patterson could be frighteningly productive as a junior.

F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

Forget for a moment that Notre Dame fell apart last year or that Scott Martin’s injury already knocks expectations down a peg this year. Harangody was and remains a low-post monster, averaging 23.3 points and 11.8 rebounds as a junior. Whether the Irish thrive or fade, count on Harangody earning All-America honors for his steady work when the season is complete.

C Cole Aldrich, Kansas

After offering a glimpse of his talent in the Final Four in 2008, Aldrich was simply dominant as a sophomore. The decision to come back should help him fine-tune his skills even more, and using a place on a championship-caliber team as a platform is never a bad decision. Between his rebounding and his shot blocking, Aldrich might be the best defensive option among the nation’s elite players.

Second team

G John Wall, Kentucky

G Willie Warren, Oklahoma

G Greivis Vasquez, Maryland

F Kyle Singler, Duke

F Craig Brackins, Iowa State

Third team

G Kalin Lucas, Michigan State

G Scottie Reynolds, Villanova

G James Anderson, Oklahoma State

F Tyler Smith, Tennessee

F Matt Howard, Butler

Fourth team

G Devan Downey, South Carolina

G Manny Harris, Michigan

F Robbie Hummel, Purdue

F Damion James, Texas

F Greg Monroe, Georgetown

Fifth team

G Talor Battle, Penn State

G Avery Bradley, Texas

F Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia

F Ed Davis, North Carolina

F Larry Sanders, Virginia Commonwealth

FIVE TEAMS THAT COULD SURPRISE

Mississippi

The Rebels could stake a claim to the most injury-riddled team of last season. By Christmas, three players were done for the season, and coach Andy Kennedy was embroiled in legal issues after his arrest after an altercation with a Cincinnati cab driver. But here’s a taxicab confession - at full strength, Mississippi could win the unimposing SEC West.

Missouri

Sure, the Tigers won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight last season. But the departures of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons will depress expectations in Columbia. There are two great teams and a lot of good ones in the Big 12, but don’t count on Missouri to get lost in the shuffle. The early schedule is relatively manageable, meaning another NCAA berth could be in the offing.

Oregon State

President Obama’s favorite team was a surprise winner in the CBI, a second-tier postseason tournament that permitted the Beavers to climb to 18-18 after a rebuilding season. Coach Craig Robinson has done well in recruiting, especially for a program that has wallowed in irrelevance since Gary Payton departed nearly two decades ago. A tournament appearance is possible, as is emerging as a factor in the Pac-10.

Seton Hall

Combustible coach Bobby Gonzalez managed 17 wins with a short-handed roster in the rough-and-tumble Big East last year. Now he gets talented transfers Keon Lawrence (Missouri) and Herb Pope (New Mexico State) to add to the nucleus of last year’s team. The Big East isn’t quite as strong, and Gonzalez certainly can coach up a team. This bunch has bubble-dwellers written all over it.

Utah State

The Aggies won 30 games last season and bring back four starters. Hello, ranking-worthy mid-major. Stew Morrill’s program churns out 20-win seasons, but most folks don’t seem to notice. No matter. Tuck away the name Jared Quayle for March; the do-everything guard will ensure Utah State is around to create headaches when the NCAA tournament begins.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL DISAPPOINT

Florida

From back-to-back NCAA titles to three straight trips to the NIT? It’s certainly possible in Gainesville, where things aren’t so much bad as not nearly as good as they once were. The Gators would have started the season in the top 20 had Nick Calathes returned. But he didn’t, and Billy Donovan might have the fifth-best team in his division. Pencil in the Gators for 20 wins, plus whatever they can get in the NIT.

Kansas State

The Wildcats compiled a gaudy record but upended virtually no one of merit to earn a one-way ticket to the NIT. The nonconference schedule is a bit better, but so is the Big 12. Sure, former Miami guard Denis Clemente can provide instant offense, and recruiting has gone well by historical standards. But this isn’t a top-25 team, and no one should expect as much.

Memphis

Perhaps “disappoint” is the wrong word here. First-year coach Josh Pastner inherits an incredible brand name, minus so many of the stars that made the Tigers a spectacle over the last few seasons. Memphis won’t fall far in Conference USA - behind Tulsa and maybe Houston - but the league wasn’t much anyway. It’ll be a while before Memphis makes it back to the Elite Eight and beyond.

Notre Dame

Much is expected of a team with one of the nation’s best players (Luke Harangody) in a league that will take a significant step back from last season. Realistically, the Irish’s upside is somewhere around a team that makes a cameo in the NCAA tournament. Scott Martin’s injury hurts, but many of the best pieces from last year’s underachieving team are gone. It might be another NIT season in South Bend.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons started 16-0, then merely went 8-7 down the stretch. The final two losses hurt a ton - the receiving end of a Gary Williams coaching clinic in the ACC quarterfinals and then a no-show in the NCAA tournament against Cleveland State. James Johnson and Jeff Teague are gone, and what’s left probably isn’t good enough for a top-25 team. An NCAA berth? That remains a possibility.

FIVE COACHES WHO NEED TO WIN

Matt Doherty, Southern Methodist

Remember him? Once handed the keys to the North Carolina kingdom, he flamed out in Chapel Hill, then bounced to Florida Atlantic and then to SMU. The Mustangs have regressed from 14 victories to 10 to nine, a fact exacerbated by the reality Conference USA is far from redoubtable. Yes, this was a rebuilding job, but the Mustangs need to show some progress this season.

Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech

Hewitt possesses a favorable contract signed just after the Yellow Jackets’ run to the 2004 national final, so there’s a reason there hasn’t been much noise after three losing seasons in four years. But expectations are exceptionally up, with freshman Derrick Favors joining holdovers Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert. The talent is there, and there will be few excuses if Georgia Tech doesn’t win its first NCAA tournament game since 2005.

Karl Hobbs, George Washington

There was a time in the not-too-distant past Hobbs had a bright future. The Jim Calhoun disciple built a top-25 program in Foggy Bottom, churning out NCAA tournament trips and conference titles. But the Colonials haven’t made the A-10 tournament the last two years, and Hobbs’ deal is up in 2012. GW needs to show progress instead of looking like a punch line this season.

Ernie Kent, Oregon

There are lots of issues in Eugene, where the Ducks dramatically regressed last season. A new arena opens next season, and X’s-and-O’s guru Mike Dunlap was added to the staff in the offseason. Kent found himself in trouble just three years ago, only to pull out an Elite Eight performance. There isn’t enough talent for that, but he still would be wise to make a surprise NCAA tournament trip after last year’s 8-23 cratering.

Jerry Wainwright, DePaul

Nothing is sure to put a major college coach on the spot like going 0-for-conference play. Sure the Blue Demons beat Cincinnati in the bloated Big East tournament, but that 0-18 mark isn’t going away. With one winning season in four years and fertile recruiting grounds in Chicago, someone should be able to make DePaul relevant again. Chances are that task will fall to someone other than Wainwright next year.

FIVE DIFFERENCE-MAKING NEW COACHES

Tony Bennett, Virginia

The Cavaliers have won precisely one NCAA tournament game in the past 14 seasons and have ousted three coaches in that stretch. Bennett, with his emphasis on defense and precision, will need some time to reshape Virginia, but the Cavaliers will be much different from the rest of the ACC. Bennett soon could author a Herb Sendek-like run in Charlottesville, which would be vast improvement over the recent past.

John Calipari, Kentucky

Whether you think Calipari is a misunderstood relationship builder, a silver-tongued fellow whose talents would best be utilized in a revival tent or merely Lucifer in a nice suit with a whistle, the fact remains the guy builds juggernauts. He did it at Massachusetts and Memphis, programs without the inherent advantages and rabid fanaticism of Kentucky. Calipari will get it done in Lexington; how he does so might end up being a question for NCAA investigators.

Anthony Grant, Alabama

After a three-year stay at Virginia Commonwealth, Grant rolled out of Richmond to return to the SEC. It is a favorable landing spot; the Crimson Tide aren’t too far removed from success, and they play in what is easily the weaker of the league’s two divisions. Grant is precise and patient, two traits certain to help him out in Tuscaloosa. Maybe the turnaround doesn’t come this year, but it will come soon.

Sean Miller, Arizona

The Wildcats will deploy their fourth coach in as many years, though Miller can be counted upon to stick around awhile. He amplified Xavier’s steady program after taking over for Thad Matta and looked like he might be content for a long-term stay. However, Arizona promises the opportunity for better recruiting, more of a spotlight and greater potential, and Miller eventually should capitalize.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

Sure, the start was a little bumpy, considering the exodus of talent after John Calipari’s departure. But Pastner’s relentless recruiting, coupled with the addition of former Duke guard Elliot Williams, means things won’t be down for long. In reality, the Tigers could win Conference USA easily and secure a fifth straight NCAA appearance. But if not, they’ll still collect 20 wins under one of the nation’s youngest coaches.

INSTANT IMPACT FRESHMEN

John Wall, Kentucky

Remember Derrick Rose? Well, John Calipari begins his tenure in Lexington with a more athletic version of the freshman point guard who drove Memphis to the national finals two years ago. Blindingly quick with the tightest handle and best hops of any freshman in the class, Wall is a one-and-done lock with the highest ceiling of any incoming player. A transition terror, he still needs to polish his halfcourt decision-making and jumper.

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech

The superb post player really jumps out because he’s equally advanced on both ends of the floor. He can dominate as a shot-blocker and rebounder on one end, cover the floor in five strides and showcase his offensive skills in the post on the other. He needs to add muscle to play power forward in the NBA.

Avery Bradley, Texas

A true throwback player with his sensational midrange game and defensive intensity. Offensively, this Las Vegas prospect instantly can stop, rise and pop from around the foul line. More of a combo guard than a pure shooter or point guard, Bradley could be a multiyear star for the Longhorns while he hones the passing and floor-leadership skills he will need to succeed as an NBA point man.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky

The low-block brute compensates for his marginal quickness (for a top-10 recruit) with exceptional size and strength. This Birmingham, Ala., native should mesh nicely with returning Kentucky frontcourt star Patrick Patterson as the latter tries to focus on improving his face-up game.

John Henson, North Carolina

A tantalizing prospect because of his perimeter polish and strong face-up game, Henson combines exceptional length with rare dexterity and touch both in the low post and facing the basket. Though he’s stronger than his skinny build would imply, his extreme lack of bulk could result in this Florida product needing several seasons in Chapel Hill to fill out his frame.

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