NCAA Preview: Teams 41-50
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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We’ve reached the final installment of HOOPSWORLD’s 2011-2012 team previews. The teams who compromise spots 41-50 all have a strong case to be ranked higher, but in the end this is where they fell. They’re all fully capable of moving their way up the rankings, though, and could do so fairly quickly once the season starts in just over two weeks from now.
41. Washington Huskies
Key Additions: Tony Wroten Jr., Hikeem Stewart,Jernard Jarreau
Key Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday
Outlook: Thanks to the great work of Lorenzo Romar in recruiting, the Huskies are in a position where they may be even better this year than they were last despite some noteworthy losses. Freshmen point guard Wroten Jr. is a dynamic player who partially influenced Thomas to leave because he knew he’d take a good portion of his playing time. In the backcourt with Abdul Gaddy he’ll be hard to stop. Expect the Huskies to once again be one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams that has the potential to go far as long as they rebound at the same rate they did last year when they were ranked 12th in the nation in that department.
42. Missouri Tigers
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
Outlook: A month ago the Tigers were poised to be one of the better teams in the Big 12, then they lost power forward Laurence Bowers to a torn ACL for the year. While they should still be very competitive, the loss of Bowers is one that will be hard to bounce back from. They had very little depth inside to begin with; rebounding will once again be a major problem for them this year. Without Bowers the Tigers are going to be heavily reliant on their perimeter play, which is quite strong. Led by Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon and Kim English the Tigers will play at a high speed and hopefully take care of the boards by committee. Ricardo Ratliffe will have the opportunity to really shine inside the paint as the featured option.
43. Drexel Dragons
Key Additions: Damion Lee, Tavon Allen, Aquil Younger
Key Losses: Gerald Colds
Outlook: Drexel boasts one of their most talented teams in recent memory this season, causing many to view them as the favorites to win the Colonial. Six of their top seven players are back, including Chris Fouch and Samme Givens, the team’s top scorer and rebounder. James Flint has also signed a strong five-man recruiting class with the potential to really add some depth to his regular rotation. The Colonial is going to be an extremely tough league this year, but the NCAA tournament selection committee has started to give them more respect. So, the Dragons aren’t in a position where it’s conference title or bust. They could have benefited from scheduling tougher preconference games, but high-major schools probably weren’t lining up for the chance to play them when they’re so loaded.
44. Northwestern Wildcats
Key Additions: Tre Demps, Mike Turner, David Sobolewski
Key Losses: Michael Thompson
Outlook: Traditionally the Wildcats are not known for their basketball to say the least, but this could be the year where they achieve things they never have previously. The majority of last year’s team is back including leading scorer John Shurna. Shurna regressed a bit due to injuries as a junior, but is reportedly fully healthy now. He won’t have to do everything on his own as he has some nice talent around him in Drew Crawford, Luka Mirkovic, JerShon Cobb and an incoming freshmen class that could also really contribute to the cause. While a Big 10 championship may be out of the question, the Wildcats should definitely set their sights on being a part of the madness come March.
45. Virginia Cavaliers
Key Additions: Malcolm Brogdon, Paul Jesperson, Darion Atkins
Key Losses: Mustapha Farrakhan
Outlook: Inconsistency plagued the Cavaliers last year. That will be the number one thing they have to improve on in order to be a threat in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the home of so many good basketball teams. Luckily for coach Tony Bennett he brings back six of his top seven players from last year along with a recruiting class that includes two top-100 players in Brogdon and Jesperson. The solid balance of experience and youth could be the right mix for the Cavaliers to have a 20-win season, which should get them into the big dance. Their preconference schedule provides the right amount of challenges to have them ready for ACC play.
46. Creighton Blue Jays
Key Additions: Geoffrey Groselle, Avery Dingman, Nevin Johnson
Key Losses: Kenny Lawson, Jr.
Outlook: While there may not have been a lot of eyes on the Blue Jays’ run to the CBI’s championship last year, the postseason experience they acquired was invaluable and has them confident this year is going to be big for them. They return one of the most underrated players in the country in sophomore Doug McDermott, a versatile forward who simply produces. Also back is the core of the Blue Jays’ rotation, minus Lawson, Jr. They were a mediocre 10-8 in Missouri Valley play last season; look for that to drastically improve as they should be in the running for the championship and their 17th tournament appearance in school history.
47. UNLV Rebels
Key Additions: Barry Cheaney, Wade Norman, Bryan Glenn
Key Losses: Tre’Von Willis
Outlook: Along with Willis, the biggest lost the Rebels suffered this offseason was their head coach Lon Kruger. Kruger, who is now heading up the Oklahoma Sooners’ basketball program, was a stellar head coach who will be missed. He’s been replaced by Dave Rice, a first-time head coach who spent 11 years at UNLV as an assistant. It’s always interesting to see how lifelong assistants do in the head spot for a first time. Rice holds a lot of promise and is going after some big recruits for his first true recruiting class. As far as this year goes, he’s got a lot of talent returning and should have the Rebels in contention for the Mountain West crown if they can adapt to his style of play.
48. Miami Florida Hurricanes
Key Additions: Bishop Daniels
Key Losses: Adrian Thomas
Outlook: This year marks the start of the Jim Larranaga era in Miami as he looks to prove he can be just as good at the high-major level as he was at the mid-major level with George Mason. Right now he doesn’t have his guys as the Hurricanes are heavy in upperclassmen recruited by the previous coaching staff, but the talent level is good enough overall to still expect good things from them. This is a team that should be judged more later in the year than earlier, though. Early on they’ll be adjusting to Larranaga’s style of play and anxiously awaiting the return of center Reggie Johnson, who is an NBA prospect recovering from knee surgery that will keep him out until sometime around the beginning of conference play.
49. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Key Additions: Le’Bryan Nash, Cezar Guerrero, Philip Jurick
Key Losses: Marshall Moses, Ray Penn, Matt Pilgrim.
Outlook: Travis Ford is entering his fourth year as the head coach of the Cowboys and the program is really starting to take shape like he wants. In what is expected to be a down year for the Big 12 as a league, look for the Cowboys to potentially be a dark horse if they can get over the losses of Moses, Penn and Pilgrim, three players who they relied on heavily last year. The addition of two top 100 recruits in Nash and Guerrero should really help there. Nash is strong beyond his years and could lead the Cowboys in scoring, while Guerrero is a playmaker who should thrive under Ford.
50. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Key Additions: Teddy Okereafor, Briante Weber,Jarred Guest
Key Losses: Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozzell,Joe Rodriguez
Outlook: The surprise team of the 2010-2011 season, advancing all the way to the Final Four when some experts didn’t think they belonged in the tournament at all, the Rams come into this year much younger and different looking. Bradford Burgess, one of the country’s premier swingmen, is back and expected to have a big year as is Ed Nixon. Outside of those two, though, Shaka Smart will be relying on underclassmen to perform at a high level in order to live up to expectations this year. The recruiting class he brought in is stacked. They contribute right away and the Rams should be able to compete with George Mason and Drexel in the Colonial.
Just on the outside looking in: Harvard, Kansas State, Temple, Long Beach State and St. John’s.