- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

1. North Carolina (36-3 in 2007-08)

Upside: Tyler Hansbrough comes back healthy, and a nearly intact Final Four team finishes the job in April.

Downside: The Tar Heels fall apart without “Psycho T” and are a top-10 team rather than unquestioned favorites.

2. Louisville (27-9)

Upside:Rick Pitino puts all the pieces together, and the Cardinals celebrate their first national title since 1986.

Downside: A good - but not great - backcourt slows Louisville in the postseason.

3. Connecticut (24-9)

Upside: Size (Hasheem Thabeet) and vision (A.J. Price) help the Huskies scale the rough Big East.

Downside: Calhoun’s crew isn’t any better than the bunch that muddled through February and March.

4. Pittsburgh (27-10)

Upside: Like every year, the Panthers are big, physical and a threat to make the Sweet 16.

Downside: Howland- and Dixon-era Pitt teams are 0-4 in regional semifinals.

5. UCLA (35-4)

Upside: Point guard Darren Collison is back for his senior year after another Final Four humbling.

Downside: The Bruins will rely heavily on freshmen - albeit extremely talented ones.

6. Texas (31-7)

Upside: Every vital contributor not named D.J. Augustin is back for a title push.

Downside: There is that matter of replacing the nation’s top point guard; A.J. Abrams will try.

7. Michigan State (27-9)

Upside: Mark down the Spartans as perhaps the deepest team outside of Chapel Hill, N.C.

Downside: Tom Izzo’s bunch must improve on 3-6 Big Ten road record to validate early accolades.

8. Tennessee (31-5)

Upside:The Volunteers have no obvious weaknesses, and the SEC isn’t terribly deep.

Downside: Loss of Chris Lofton significantly reduces potency of perimeter game.

9. Duke (28-6)

Upside: Fresh off an Olympic gold medal, Coach K could be primed for his deepest postseason run in five years.

Downside: Can the Miles Plumlee/Lance Thomas/Brian Zoubek troika provide oomph inside?

10. Memphis (38-2)

Upside: Conference USA is abysmal, and talent alone makes the Tigers a top-20 team.

Downside:No team lost a more dynamic duo than Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

11. Gonzaga (25-8)

Upside: Sophomore forward Austin Daye could take a huge leap; if so, the Final Four isn’t a stretch.

Downside: As usual, there isn’t much to learn about the Bulldogs in January and February.

12. Notre Dame (25-8)

Upside: Luke Harangody remains a solid 20-and-10 option, and the Irish survive a deep league.

Downside: Escaping the NCAA tournament’s first weekend isn’t a forte here; that’s how success will be measured.

13. Purdue (25-9)

Upside: After arriving a year early, the Boilermakers contend with Michigan State for a Big Ten title.

Downside: Rebounding was an issue last season and will remain so with a smallish roster.

14. Oklahoma (23-12)

Upside: The answer for nearly all things Sooners is Blake Griffin, regardless of the question.

Downside: Griffin can’t play point guard, while Austin Johnson is far closer to solid than spectacular.

15. Miami (23-11)

Upside: Jack McClinton encounters few cold nights and helps the Hurricanes climb close to the ACC summit.

Downside: Expanded expectations and questions in the frontcourt lead to a so-so year.

16. Wisconsin (31-5)

Upside:The Badgers are the Big Ten’s answer to Pitt - always a top-20 team. Why not again this year?

Downside: Loss of Brian Butch has Bo Ryan seeking a significant inside option.

17. Arizona State (21-13)

Upside: Do-everything guard James Harden and the Sun Devils could have a multi-weekend NCAA stay.

Downside: Size issues will be a hindrance for Herb Sendek’s crew when the postseason arrives.

18. Kansas (37-3)

Upside: Despite all the turnover, Sherron Collins is back to run the point for the defending champions.

Downside: Remember Florida’s nosedive to the NIT last year? It’s a possible fate for the Jayhawks, too.

19. UNLV (27-8)

Upside: It’s a team coached by Lon Kruger, so there’s no question the Runnin’ Rebels will defend like crazy.

Downside: The Mountain West favorites could struggle if the frontcourt doesn’t sort itself out.

20. Florida (24-12)

Upside: The Gators’ post-title recruiting loot carries them back to the NCAA tournament.

Downside: Sophomore Jai Lucas’ decision to transfer proves a costly blow to backcourt depth.

21. Villanova (22-13)

Upside: Scottie Reynolds takes over when his shot is falling, and the Wildcats surge in the Big East.

Downside: Reynolds takes over when his shot isn’t falling, and the Wildcats look lost.

22. Davidson (29-7)

Upside: Stephen Curry shifts effortlessly to point guard, and last year’s darlings create mayhem in March again.

Downside: In a one-bid league, Wildcats have little margin for error without a couple of nice wins early.

23. Georgetown (28-6)

Upside: The freshmen are as good as advertised, and the Hoyas don’t slip as much as expected.

Downside: JT3’s team doesn’t run as smoothly without Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert.

24. St. Mary’s (25-7)

Upside: Patrick Mills, who played for Australia in Beijing, lifts the Gaels back to the tournament.

Downside: Residing in the same league as Gonzaga places a premium on nonconference performance.

25. San Diego (22-14)

Upside: Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare lead the Toreros to another NCAA tournament upset.

Downside: The WCC upstarts might not repeat last March’s magic despite returning nearly everyone.


26. Syracuse (21-14): Eric Devendorf’s return makes the Orange’s potent backcourt even stronger.

27. Baylor (21-11): Shooting guard Curtis Jerrells could be the first Bears player to lead team in scoring four times.

28. Wake Forest (17-13): Vaunted freshman class makes Demon Deacons a boom-or-bust option.

29. Marquette (25-10): Ranked higher elsewhere; not sold on Golden Eagles as a top-15 option.

30. Southern Cal (21-12): Trojans have nation’s top freshman in DeMar DeRozan.

31. Xavier (30-7): Despite losing plenty, the Musketeers reloaded and again will lead the A-10.

32. Kentucky (18-13): For all his schemes, Billy Gillispie still won’t be a national contender - yet.

33. Siena (23-11): The East Coast’s version of San Diego: a team with an NCAA upset to its name and five starters back.

34. Ohio State (24-13): The 2007 runner-up will return to the tournament and perhaps contend in Big Ten.

35. Virginia Tech (21-14): If he matures, Jeff Allen could be variable that determines Hokies’ success.

36. Brigham Young (27-8): Big guard Lee Cummard will have Cougars in postseason contention.

37. Clemson (24-10): For the love of all that is holy, can the Tigers please improve at the foul line?

38. Mississippi (24-11):Someone has to be good in the SEC West; why not the Rebels?

39. Creighton (22-11): Dana Altman’s Bluejays should be the class of an ever-competitive Valley.

40. UAB (23-11): A simple pleasure this season: watching Robert Vaden shoot. And shoot. And shoot.

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