Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Next Best Major Conference Teams

Pittsburgh: Their non-conference schedule will again provide little illumination as to their quality. Carl Krauser is the most underrated point guard in the country, especially when he acknowledges his limitations. Some of the attention due Krauser goes instead to Chris Taft, who, though undeniably talented, has yet to merit it in full.

NC State: Marcus Melvin will be sorely missed, both for his rebounding and his ability to combine with Julius Hodge in creating matchup problems. Levi Watkins and Jordan Collins could provide help on the boards at the expense of stretching opposing defenses. Freshmen Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman might be able to replace Melvin’s production eventually, but likely not this year. As Hodge attracts more attention and more conventional matchups this season, increased stress will be placed on perimeter shooting from Engin Atsur, Cameron Bennerman, and transfer Tony Bethel.

Michigan State: Drew Neitzel is expected to bring stability to the point guard role, but Michigan State’s primary problem last year was their inability to guard anybody. If Alan Anderson is again stuck guarding opposing power forwards, it’ll be another year since Tom Izzo was a successful defense and rebounding coach.

Texas: Though they’ll also depend on freshmen in key roles, I didn’t include Texas with UConn and Kentucky because they’re not likely to be as good. PJ Tucker was surprisingly effective as a freshman, but his upside is more Melvin Sanders than Desmond Mason or Tony Allen. Brad Buckman looks like he should be good, but hasn’t been often enough thus far. Furthermore, the freshman may struggle dealing with the frequent, inscrutable substitution patterns favored by Rick Barnes.

Wisconsin: I had Wisconsin up with Duke, Arizona, and Maryland before they lost Boo Wade. Bo Ryan and Alondo Tucker are enough to challenge for a second place finish in the Big Ten, but this solid, unspectacular bunch could be looking at another nice season that comes to the end in the second round of the tournament.

Mississippi State: They will miss Timmy Bowers more than anyone thinks. Lawrence Roberts is a nice player, but Bowers allowed him to be compared to better players like Wayne Simien and Hakim Warrick. There are enough decent players around to get Mississippi State into the tournament, but no one to take them very deep.

Stanford: The Cardinal are in the same boat as Wisconsin. They’re too solid and well-coached to have a down year, but will struggle to have more than a nice season. Chris Hernandez might be exposed by the increased responsibilities brought on by the departure of Josh Childress and Matt Lottich even with Nick Robinson picking up some of their slack.

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