College Preseason Top 25: Nos. 25-21
A look at team’s 25-21.
With the NBA Draft long over and Midnight Madness still several months off, we have reached the doll drums of the college basketball calendar. So with that in mind, why not start taking a look at which teams will be dominating the national scene come the ’09-10 season? Over the next couple of weeks SLAM will be bringing you it’s preseason Top 25 in the college game. Today we start the countdown with numbers 25-21—a group of teams with a heavy southern emphasis, particularly in the always powerful ACC.
25. Florida State
The ‘Noles were big and athletic last season; not much should change this year. Yes, the loss of Toney Douglas is not one that will be filled by one player this year, that would be asking too much, but there is still plenty of talent returning or arriving in the Sunshine State this year.
Starting inside, FSU will be anchored by 7-1 sophomore Solomon Alabi who made a good impression on basketball pundits during his first season at the college level. The Nigerian native is incredibly long and athletic, but still has a long way to go in his development. His per-40 numbers last season were outstanding (15.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) and with more playing time this season expected after the departure of Uche Echefu, Alabi could emerge as a force in the ACC. Another big youngster who oozes potential is former blue chip prospect Chris Singleton. The 6-9 forward underwhelmed during his freshman season after high expectations, but with the type of freak athleticism he possesses, it is only a matter of time before he becomes a major impact player. He’s quick enough to beat other forwards off the dribble, but his handles need to improve a good deal. Surprisingly enough, as far as the numbers go, Singleton was at his most effective in spot up situations where he could catch and shoot, something that likely won’t continue to be true this season. Sophomore center Xavier Gibson, a 6-11 tree, saw limited playing time last season but should contribute at a great level this season and rotate through the frontcourt. Florida State will welcome in 6-7 power forward Terrence Shannon, a product of Georgia, to the roster. Though he is undersized and very raw, he will bring the type of toughness and hustle that will be needed in order for the team to compete in the ACC.
The backcourt is where the most questions will be raised, the most pressing of course will be, can All-American Michael Snaer help to fill the void left by Douglas? Based on what he showed at the high school level, it would seem that the Rancho Verde HS product will be an excellent replacement. At 6-4 and possessing tremendous explosiveness, Snaer can get to the basket at will against most defenders, able to hang and finish amongst bigger players. On nights where he can’t penetrate the lane though, his perimeter shooting is more than good enough to allow him to fall back on that and light teams up from the outside. Junior guard Derwin Kitchen missed the early part of last season, but showed flashes during the ACC schedule, including a 19-point showing at Virginia Tech. The 6-4 Florida native is a fairly good perimeter shooter, rebounds well for a guard and can distribute the ball when needed. He will have to step up his production this season in order to provide Snaer with some firepower on the perimeter.
While FSU was a trendy pick to go far in March last season, they may be flying under the radar a bit this year given what they lost to graduation and the NBA. Still, don’t sleep on the Seminoles who have enough talent on the roster going into the season to be right back in the national picture for a second straight year.
Sure, it’s been two years since Billy Donovan has taken the Gators dancing and all of the talk in Gainesville these days seems to center on what Tim Tebow has eaten for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean Billy’s Boys won’t make some waves of their own in the SEC this year. Aside from the loss of Nick Calathes to Greece and guard Walter Hodge to graduation, Florida returns its entire roster and adds a pair of blue chip freshman as well. Florida has very quietly been hording a lot of underrated talent and this is the year that that talent will unleash itself on the rest of the conference.
In the backcourt, UF will have a dynamic pairing in sophomore Erving Walker and incoming All-American Kenny Boynton Jr. Walker, a 5-8 lightning bolt, emerged as a very solid contributor in his first season with the Gators, finishing third on the team in scoring. The Brooklyn product is extremely quick and has outstanding ball handling skills, something he has exhibited since his high schools days. He is a deadly three-point shooter and proved he can score against stiff competition; netting 17 points on the road at Vanderbilt and 16 at home in a loss to Tennessee. Boynton is fresh off a prep career that netted him McDonald’s All-American honors and left him as the third highest scorer in Florida high school history. He can play either guard position and with his incredible knack for finding his way to the basket, it is very likely Donovan will start him off the basketball, at least in the early going. Having talked with Boynton a little over a week ago though, it sounds like he has been working hard at his point guard skills with Walker during summer open gyms. Regardless of where he lines up on the court, Boynton will be one of the top impact freshman in the SEC come the start of the season.
The real intrigue with Florida this season lies in the frontcourt which is loaded with size and potential, but is equally as ripe with question marks. For starters, the one proven commodity is junior power forward Alex Tyus. The 6-8 big man has respectable numbers of 12.5 ppg and 6.2 rpg, but did that in less than 30 minutes of playing time. He is a workhorse on the offensive glass, is a scoring threat in transition and scores at a good rate in the post. He has also shown some ability to step away and shoot from the mid-range. After Tyus though, nothing is a guarantee. Combo-forward Chandler Parsons presents all kinds of matchup problems for defenders, standing at 6-9, possessing good athleticism and the ability to operate on the perimeter. He has a pretty good looking stroke and will hit from beyond the arc if left open, but he needs to improve his handles and get much stronger. The junior packs just 215 pounds onto his frame – at the end of last season that is – so a summer in the weight room would serve him some good. Power forward Kenny Kadji likely doesn’t need to spend much time getting stronger, but his game has a long way to go before it can be described as complete. He isn’t a super athlete, but showed a good ability to clear space and finish on the offensive glass during the limited minutes that he saw. Kadji came in as a highly touted prospect last season and with more playing time he could start to develop into an impact player inside. Perhaps the biggest wild card of this group is sophomore Eloy Vargas. A highly rated recruit when he arrive on campus last season, the 6-10 big man missed a good amount of the season with an ankle injury and then saw little to no playing time when he was healthy. There have been questions about the sophomore’s attitude and toughness – the latter having to do with his slight frame – but there is no doubting the athleticism of the big man and he could contribute in spot situations next season. Then there is the addition of Erik Murphy, a top-40 power forward who may be more of a sure thing than Vargas or Kadji. The Massachusetts product is a physically tough player with an exceptionally high basketball IQ. He can a pretty polished post game at this point and is a good passer from the block as well.
This is a pick that is being made based on the assumption that the majority of the questionable players on Florida’s roster will develop and be able to contribute with more playing time this season. There is plenty of potential and a ton of size, particularly in the frontcourt. Add in a pair of talented, speedy guards, and the Gators have the look of a team that will be dancing once again come March.
Everyone is quick to point out that the Tigers lost K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby for the upcoming season and that the team will lack perimeter shooting come the fall; that’s the great thing about recruiting classes, you reload.
Clemson was one of the teams that benefited from the scandal that rocked USC basketball, as former Trojan commit Noel Johnson eventually landed in South Carolina when the dust settled. The 6-6 shooting guard is one of the best shooters in his class, with range well beyond the arc and an equally devastating mid-range game. Johnson has an advanced skill set when it comes to shooting off the bounce for a player at his stage of development. Blue chip recruit Milton Jennings will also help the kids in orange spread the floor out. The All-American is a versatile power forward who likes to operate on the perimeter and is definitely capable of doing some real damage from beyond the arc if left alone on the outside. There are some question marks surrounding his toughness on the block at this point, but Jennings is the biggest recruit to sign with Clemson in the last ten years and will absolutely be a big time producer from the early going.
While there may be some concern about the 6-10 Jennings operating so much on the perimeter, the Tigers will still have things under control in the lane thanks to the return of powerhouse forward Trevor Booker. Forget about the fact that he’s only 6-7 and that he still has a tendency to make poor decisions offensively, the reckless abandon that the senior plays with makes him the closest thing to a poor man’s Tyler Hansbrough the ACC will feature this season. Now, before Tar Heel nation rises as one to slay me, the Hansbrough comment is merely meant as a reference point to how hard Booker works inside and how much he overachieves as a result of his fantastic motor. The addition of Booker’s younger brother Devin will add a little more bulk inside as well. Listed at 6-7 and 215 pounds – almost identical to big bro – the younger Booker is also a hard-nosed player interior presence who relies on his effort to make things happen around the rim.
Clemson will have to get increased production from a few other individuals, but there was definitely some promise last season. Junior guard Demontez Stitt showed the ability to be a playmaker last season, dishing out nearly four assists per game and posted a few impressive scoring performances including 21 at Wake Forest and 18 at Illinois.
Don’t necessarily expect Oliver Purnell’s squad to challenge for an ACC title in the upcoming season, but they should start the season hot as they have for the past few seasons.
There have been some who have categorized the Fighting Illini as “offensively challenged” after the team averaged less than 65 ppg last season. With that label attached, most would not consider three of the top four scorers returning for Illinois next season to be anything to get excited about; it is though. The trio of Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale all showed flashes of bigger things to come, no matter how inconsistent the juniors were last season.
The 6-3 McCamey was second on the team in assists last year and had nearly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was at his most effective in isolation situations where he was able to rely on his quick first step and crafty handles. This is also where he has his most success as a distributor, showing a real knack for knowing when to drive and kick to open teammates. McCamey can put up the points as well, going for 20-plus last season in games against Vanderbilt, Clemson, Illinois and Wisconsin. Kentucky transfer Alex Legion will have his first full season for Bruce Weber’s squad this year after sitting out the first half of last season while awaiting his fall grades to be posted. The 6-5 guard was a top-30 player in his class a couple of years ago and is an excellent athlete. He possesses a very strong mid-range game and can do damage from beyond the arc if given space; he will be a major factor when Illinois runs in the open floor this season. Perhaps one of the biggest keys for the upcoming year will be a new addition in the backcourt, shooting guard D.J. Richardson, a top-50 recruit out of national champ Findlay Prep. Richardson is 6-3, athletic, long and is a tremendous on ball defender. He will be an immediate help on that end of the floor, likely taking some of the tougher defensive assignments during the year, while also bringing a pretty well developed offensive game to the court as well. Brandon Paul, another incoming shooting guard, is a freak athlete who will give the Illini a real attack player off the dribble.
The frontcourt will be anchored by returning junior Mike Davis, a 6-9 power forward who was a major double-double threat last season. He excelled in the paint and in transition and hauled in more than eight rebounds per game, unfortunately for Illinois, that is more than double the next highest average amongst returning players. Again, Davis is another returner who showed major flashes last season, going for 28 and 8 against Clemson, 22 and 10 against Michigan and 22 and 8 at Ohio State. Seven-footer Mike Tisdale may be the key to the entire season for Bruce Weber and co. next season, needing to step up his production on the glass if nothing else. He posted four games of 20 or more points last season, but reached double figure rebounding totals just twice and averaged a paltry four rebounds per game in a little under 25 minutes of playing time. If Illinois wants to stay competitive in what will be a very good Big Ten, they will need to get better production from their massive center. Offensively he didn’t get a ton of touches, but proved to be very good at finishing in the post and was better than average in spot up situations when he stepped away from the immediate vicinity of the basket. Joining the frontcourt as well will be Taylor Griffey, a versatile 6-9 power forward. Griffey can take defenders off the dribble and with his solid mid-range shooting ability will be able to spread the lane a little more for Davis to operate.
The Illini aren’t going to suddenly start posting 80-point totals on a regular basis (they only did that twice last season), but they should score a little closer to 70 on average. Defense and rebounding will once again be key for Illinois, and with a seasoned trio of talent leading the way for a strong recruiting class, Bruce Weber will have the right combination to finish near the top of the Big Ten again.
21. Georgia Tech
People are quick to point out the fact that the Yellow Jackets finished dead last in the ACC last season at a rather paltry 2-14. What they don’t touch upon though is that fact that Tech returns a pair of studs in Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert and welcomes in one of the top recruiting classes in the country, featuring four top-100 players including Derrick Favors, arguably the top player in his class.
Shumpert will anchor the backcourt after a strong sophomore campaign in which he emerged as a very strong playmaker, averaging five assists per game. Offensively he is a an average player at best, proving to be strongest in spot up situations, and once in a while will go off for a big game, like the 22 points he hung on North Carolina State. Overall though, Shumpert will be expected to distribute first, shoot second. Joining the backcourt will be Mfon Udofia, one of the top point guards in the 2009 class. Despite being a bit tiny at 6-1, the Georgia native is a big time scorer thanks to his quickness, explosiveness and excellent handles. With the kind of size Paul Hewitt’s club will have inside, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that Udofia and Shumpert could be on the floor at the same time for stretches during the season.
Where Tech is going to win games this year is in the paint where they will feature likely the top big man duo in the conference. Returning junior Gani Lawal exploded as a sophomore and after flirting with the NBA, decided for one more year in Atlanta. The 6-9 jumping jack nearly averaged a double-double and swatted more than a shot per game on his way to one of the better seasons by a Yellow Jacket forward in quite some time. Even when the competition got tougher during conference play, Lawal still excelled, posting seven double-doubles, including a 25 and 10 showing in a win over Wake Forest. While the junior loses running mate Alade Aminu to graduation, he adds an even better one in Derrick Favors, the McDonald’s Game MVP. Favors was a man amongst boys in high school at 6-10 235 pounds, and has the potential to do the same at the college level. He is a tremendous defensive presence and will combine with Lawal to make life in the paint very rough on opposing teams. Favors still needs to work on developing his offensive arsenal, but his tremendous strength and athleticism will allow him to still operate effectively while he develops. Two more top-100 big men will be joining the frontcourt as well: power forward Kammeon Holsey and center Daniel Miller. These two will likely be rotational players when Lawal and Favors need a breather, but Holsey could be an interesting pairing with either of those two thanks to his ability to face up and beat defenders off the dribble as a 6-8 four. Miller is more of a traditional post player, possessing a soft touch and the size (6-10) to be a defensive presence from early on.
It will be a fairly young team once again this season for Georgia Tech, but with a stellar recruiting class and a pair of talented veterans to help them adjust, Yellow Jackets fans can certainly expect more than two conference wins in the future.