Friday, November 12, 1999
UConn ... again
Mix in six promising newcomers withBy Pat Bigold
six returning stars and defending champion
Connecticut has a good shot at repeating as
the NCAA men's basketball champion this season
Never underestimate how easily a stress fracture can affect a basketball team's fate.
Michigan State, the preseason No. 1 pick in Dick Vitale's magazine polls, and Fresno State, the Western Athletic Conference favorite, both have supreme guards who have suffered foot stress fractures.
The Spartans' Mateen Cleaves and the Bulldogs' Courtney Alexander will make it back in time for their conference schedules to begin. But a stress fracture is the kind of injury that can recur throughout an intense season.
So the thinking here is, don't count on either of them.
Barring any problems with the NCAA violations committee, the UConn Huskies will repeat atop the NCAA, and the Cincinnati Bearcats will be close behind.
Yesterday's 70-68 upset at the hands of Iowa in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will drop UConn in the polls. But Jim Calhoun, whose team spent half of last season rallying anyway, will adjust and coast through a fairly easy schedule en route to the Big East opener.
"They (UConn) have six newcomers but they have six back so they have a good shot at it," said Hawaii head coach Riley Wallace.
"Cincinnati is there if they get the right chemistry together," he added.
As for the WAC, open the door for Tulsa to go charging in with Fresno State and Jeryl Sasser's SMU Mustangs now just behind.
No. 1 UConnRichard Hamilton is gone to the NBA but the Huskies have three key starters back and some very promising newcomers like Sudan native 6-11 Ajou Ajou Deng.
Deng made an impressive debut on national TV yesterday, blocking three shots. Playmaker Khalid El-Amin, the Big East Player of the Year last season, might be the best passer in the nation, and the Huskies are 66-7 over the past two seasons with him running the team.
There's also fourth-year starting center Jake Voskuhl, one of the best rebounders and defenders in the country even before he received valuable lessons at Newell's Big Man Camp here last summer.
Throw in Kevin Freeman, the Big East Tournament MVP, and there's little reason not to expect UConn to be back in the title game.
That is, unless El-Amin is really in trouble with the NCAA over his use of a 1998 Land Rover registered to a Hartford man, who said in yesterday's News-Times of Danbury, Conn., that El-Amin left him game tickets over the past two seasons.
No. 2 CincinnatiThe Bearcats have four returning starters, led by relentless low post Kenyon Martin and the slashing Peter Mickeal.
Last season's team went 27-6 but this could be Bob Huggins' best team since Nick Van Exel was in town.
Cincinnati will make an appearance at the Big Island Invitational Nov. 28.
No. 3 AuburnThe Tigers were everybody's darlings as they stormed through the Southeastern Conference last season to earn one of the four top seeds in the NCAA Tournament and won 29 games.
This time they have four starters back and they're dangerous. The Tigers could have three NBA first-rounders - Chris Porter, Mamadou N'diaye and Doc Robinson.
No. 4 North CarolinaThe Tar Heels return 10 lettermen and the good news lately is that Ed Cota, who might lead the ACC in assists for a fourth straight season, has been reinstated after being arrested for his actions in a Halloween fight.
Another player arrested, Cota's backup, Terrence Newby, was also reinstated.
UNC, a Maui Invitational invitee, has a threatening front court of Brendan Haywood, Kris Lang, Brian Bersticker and former Iolani Classic favorite Jason Capel.
No. 5 Michigan StateCleaves had surgery on Oct. 25 for a stress fracture and won't return to the lineup until at least the end of December.
But don't cry for the Spartans. They still have forward Morris Peterson and a lot of other weapons. The NCAA restored the eligibility of 6-5 hotshot recruit Jason Richardson, named last year as Michigan's top high school basketball player.
No. 6 FloridaSuperb back-to-back recruiting classes have put the Gators in position to take a bite out of the NCAA pie.
Udonis Haslem, a 6-7 sophomore who played for Miami Senior in the 1997 Iolani Classic, is a preseason all-SEC second team pick along with guard Kenyan Weaks.
Florida will be in the Maui Invitational Nov. 22-24.
No. 7 Ohio StateReaching the Final Four for the first time in 31 years last season, Ohio State should go far this year with the scrappy backcourt duo of Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, the best one-two scoring combination in the Big Ten.
Sophomore guard Slobodan Savovic, younger brother of Hawaii sophomore guard Predrag Savovic, could play a larger role.
No. 8 UCLADan Gadzuric, who was at Pete Newell's Big Man Camp here last summer, provides the Bruins with a very athletic inside presence. He's complemented in the front court by talented fellow sophomores Jerome Moiso and JaRon Rush. The Bruins, who will be in the Pearl Harbor Invitational (Dec. 21-23), will need a solid season at point guard from Earl Watson.
No. 9 TempleThe Owls have one of the best starting lineups in the nation.
Look for forward Mark Karcher to improve his scoring output and point guard Pepe Sanchez to be one of the best floor generals in the NCAA.
No. 10 StanfordThis is power forward Mark Madsen's team and the Cardinal's fate will rely to a great extent upon the play of the only returning starter.
Twins Jarron and Jason Collins will also pose a threat up front. Not to mention that Stanford recruited USA Today's national high school player of the year, Casey Jacobsen.
David Mosely had 20 points from the backcourt in an 80-79 win over Duke yesterday.
No. 11 DukeEven though the NCAA runner-up Blue Devils sent three key players to the NBA, don't forget they're lurking among the best this season. With some help from the Cameron Crazies, one of the best freshmen classes in the country, and Mike Krzyzewski's savvy, Duke should make some waves.
The frontcourt is the Blue Devils' point of stability, where their only two returning starters play: 6-6 Chris Carrawell and 6-8 Shane Battier.
No. 12 GonzagaThe Bulldogs, who will be here for the Rainbow Classic (Dec. 27-20), have seven of 10 players returning from their surprising Elite Eight team.
One of them is brilliant playmaking point guard Matt Santangello. He is paired with Richie Frahm, a dangerous shooter from the perimeter.
Last season's coach, Dan Monson, moved on to Minnesota.
No. 13 IllinoisThe Fighting Illini have five returning starters, including one of the best players in the Big Ten, Corey Bradford. As a freshman, he averaged 15.4 ppg.
They also have superb potential in freshman point guard Frank Williams, who led his high school team to four straight Illinois state titles.
No. 14 ArizonaThe Wildcats benefit from the arrival of 7-footer Loren Woods from Wake Forest.
Michael Wright is the key man in one of the NCAA's better front courts. But with a freshman at point guard (Jason Gardner), the 'Cats could be in for some trouble.
No. 15 KansasThe Jayhawks have more depth, size and talent than last season's 23-10 team. Watch out for 7-footer Eric Chenowith, one of three returning starters. Kansas is so deep that two former prep All-Americans, Lester Earl and Kenny Gregory, might be used in backup roles.
No. 16 KentuckyJamaal Magloire thought about leaving for the NBA but decided to spend his senior year blocking shots for Kentucky. Swingman Desmond Allison is the only returning starter and the best athlete on the team.
Look for 6-8, 268-pound Marvin Stone, a prep All-American from Alabama, to assert his considerable presence.
No. 17 Wake ForestThe Demon Deacons return five starters and have the ACC's top returning scorer in Robert O'Kelley. He may become the team's main playmaker this time around.
The return of explosive wing player Niki Arinze should benefit the front court. Wake Forest will also be in the Rainbow Classic.
No. 18 SyracuseJim Boeheim's Orangemen are a good transition team and can get to the glass. Syracuse has five returning starters but Boeheim looks to heralded freshman DeShaun Williams to give him a guard who can both penetrate and score.
Boeheim thinks 6-8 junior Damone Brown, who scored 9.5 ppg and had 5.5 rpg last season, will be his best player up front.
No. 19 TennesseeJerry Green has led the Vols to back-to-back NCAA berths since arriving in Knoxville. With three returning starters, including talented but volatile point guard Tony Harris, Green hopes to set a school record of 23 victories.
No. 20 UtahThe loss to injury of NBA prospect Hanno Mottola will hurt the Utes. Utah will still be strong but it won't contend for the national title. The Utes have three other returning starters, including 6-11 center Nate Althoff. Alex Jensen, a 6-7 forward who scored 12.1 ppg last season must step it up.
No. 21 GeorgetownThey're young but the Hoyas return five starters and they could be the surprise team of the Big East. The returning sophomore backcourt of Anthony Perry and Kevin Braswell (14 and 13.5 ppg last season) are smarter and improved and 6-11 junior Ruben Boumtje Boumtje of Cameroon is a rising star.
No. 22 DePaulSophomores Quentin Richardson, Lance Williams and Bobby Simmons, who together gave the Blue Devils about 44 points a game last season, will take DePaul places.
No. 23 PurdueThe Boilermakers' three returning starters (Jaraan Cornell, Brian Cardinal and Greg McQuay) all scored in double digits last season and Purdue has depth this time.
Cardinal is a 6-8 scrapper while the 6-7 McQuay is the most talented frontcourt player. If senior forward Mike Robinson can return to his double digit form of two seasons ago, the Boilermakers should be on their way. They will be in the Maui Invitational.
No. 24 TulsaThe Golden Hurricane return four starters. Two of them, Brandon Kurtz and Marcus Hill, scored in double figures last season.
JUCO transfer David Shelton can hit the glass.
No. 25 Fresno StateAlexander, who is due back in a week or so, is the big question in terms of how well he will perform with his stress fracture. His scoring is critical. He is complemented by 6-11 Melvin Ely, a talented shot blocker who is the best center in the Mountain West Conference.
Even without Chris Herren, Jerry Tarkanian's team can be counted on to try to wear down its opponents with quick transitions and pressure defense. The Bulldogs will be here for the HPU Thanksgiving Classic.