Sunday, November 11, 2007

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 1-6

PHSports RPI Projections by Conference

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 23-31

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 15-22

College Basketball Conference Previews - RPI Rankings 7-14


Big XII Conference

Conference RPI Projection: 6
Projected Champion: Kansas
Player of the Year: DJ Augustin, Texas

Plain and simple, Kansas is expected to dominate. Despite losing Julian Wright to the NBA, Texas (Kevin Durant), Texas A&M (Acie Law IV) and Oklahoma State (JamesOn Curry) absorbed bigger losses. With Wright gone, Brandon Rush must fill the scoring balance and improve upon his 13.8 points per game. To compete for the national title, the Jayhawks will need steady play and a clean bill of health from the big man trio of Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson. Anything less and Rock Chalk will be returning to the Big XII pack prior to the annual Bill Self disappointment in late March. That pack includes Texas, A&M and Kansas State. Texas is a talent factory, but must find a way to fill the void left by Durant. DJ Augustin showed glimpses of being that leader who can rally his teammates. Texas A&M shifts from a guard-oriented squad to the twin towers – Joseph Jones and 7-0 freshman center DeAndre Jordan. Another freshman, BJ Holmes, is likely to take the point guard duties while the team returns guards Dominique Kirk and Donald Sloan as well as swingman Josh Carter. Kansas State is an unknown quantity, as they have a new head coach, standout guard Bill Walker returns from ACL surgery and power forward Michael Beasley (#1 rated prospect according to Rivals.com) is only a freshman. Also, how will he gel with all-conference second-team performer David Hoskins? Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech are likely to contend for at-large bids. If there’s one player to decide which of these teams gets in, it ‘s 6-9, 240 pound Sooner freshman Blake Griffin.

Big Ten Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 5
Projected Champion: Michigan State
Player of the Year: Drew Neitzel, Michigan State

In the Big Ten, all talk has been about Eric Gordon, Ohio State Version 2.0 and the new coaches. No talk has been about Drew Neitzel or his team that returns all five starters and is a year more mature. Okay, there was some talk when the Spartans lost to Grand Valley State in an exhibition. In Bloomington, Kelvin Sampson remains in the news, but not for the right reasons. To me, this conference is filled with questions such as:

• Can DJ White remain healthy for an entire season?
• How will life without Alando be in Madison?
• How early (if at all) will Minnesota and Michigan buy into their new coaches’ systems?

When all of these questions are answered, it comes back to Neitzel, who vastly improved from his sophomore to junior year. His ability to be the go-to guy who actually trusts his teammates adds even more value.

Big East Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 4
Projected Champion: Louisville
Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

According to the experts, Georgetown will win the Big East and they may very well win the regular season title. However, the loss of Big East POY Jeff Green, the team’s best scorer/defender/passer/go-to guy, weighs heavier in my mind than it does in the eyes of others. Roy Hibbert has made strides since he stepped foot on campus and the guard tandem of Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp provide matchup problems. Freshmen guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will push them in practice and learn a lot on the job. However, the challenge for the Hoyas will be production from the forward position and the dates of February 9th and March 8th will go a long way to determine that. That’s when the Hoyas play Louisville, who returns four starters including the electrifying Terrence Williams who came into his own late last season. Rick Pitino won’t have the services of 7-1 center Clarence Holloway, who underwent heart surgery in late September, but he’ll have plenty of depth to suit the frenetic pace that his teams have played for years on end. Of course, players like Derrick Caracter, who often has not lived up to his last name, may drive Pitino nuts before the end of the season. Among the rest, Marquette returns all five starters from a tournament team, but The Stockbroker dealt with plummeting returns on investment in February and March. Frontcourt frailty and Dominic James’s shot selection remains points of contention. Syracuse is stocked with high-profile new recruits (Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn) but their success will hinge upon the emergence of Paul Harris and consistency from Kevin Federline look-alike Eric Devendorf. Why? Try a short bench with guard Andy Rautins sidelined for the season. Meanwhile, UConn, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Providence bring formidable squads that have the capacity to be dancing in March. There may be a surprise in the cards from West Virginia, but I doubt Bob Huggins will excel with John Beilein’s players.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 3
Projected Champion: North Carolina
Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

If North Carolina does not make at least the Final Four this year, then Tyler Hansbrough’s legacy at UNC will be one of disappointment. While the Tar Heels lost Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are a year older and their depth in the backcourt and frontcourt is stellar. Challenging Carolina are Triangle area foes Duke and NC State. The Blue Devils are paced by Greg Paulus, who despite his flopping prowess, is a strong floor general. Instantly, Duke is an improved shooting team with the additions of Kyle Singler, Taylor King and Nolan Smith; however, where will the rebounds come from? A few miles down Interstate 40, optimism runs high in Raleigh with four returning starters. The onus will be on head coach Sidney Lowe to re-establish the Wolfpack’s late February/March form. They can expect great things from Courtney Fells, Gavin Grant, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, but will they find out their starting point guard by the start of conference play? Meanwhile, Clemson, Virginia and Maryland have the potential to display strong teams. Clemson carries the torch in terms of talent but they must demonstrate greater discipline than they showed late in games last season.

Southeastern Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 2
Projected Champion: Tennessee
Player of the Year: Chris Lofton, Tennessee

If you enjoyed watching the Volunteers last year, you’ll like them even more this season. Iowa transfer Tyler Smith joins Bruce Pearl’s group of misfits, who are sure to cause headaches all season in the SEC. For Tennessee to be elite, they must begin winning road games. They’ll have tough tests in visiting Kentucky (young team, stocked with talent and a new head coach), Georgia (four returning starters from a 19-win team) and Florida (infancy to the point that Walter Hodge is the elder statesman), but the sternest competition may come from Fayetteville. Arkansas returns all five starters (including Patrick Beverly), and if John Pelphrey is a stronger X’s and O’s coach than Stan Heath, then the Razorbacks will be dark-horse national title contenders. And in Starkville, despite the Delk transfers, Jamont Gordon leads an experienced Bulldogs squad that has a solid inside/outside balance that can set them apart from other SEC teams. Alabama will also be in the mix, but without Ronald Steele who will be redshirted this season. Another team of intrigue is LSU. They seemed to play their best when Glen Davis was injured. Five-star recruit Anthony Randolph can help fans in the Bayou forget about Big Baby, but the success of this team hinges on the leadership of Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple.

PAC-10 Conference
Conference RPI Projection: 1
Projected Champion: UCLA
Player of the Year: Darren Collison, UCLA

Given my criticism of the Pac-10 over the years, I am shocked and chagrined to announce that the Pac-10 is the cream of the crop in ’07-’08. Why? Six teams are ranked in Blue Ribbon’s Top 25. UCLA, the conference’s best representative, lost just one key player (Arron Afflalo) but in return, they get some love. Kevin Love. The power forward gives the Bruins the frontline scorer that they’ve longed for years. They already have the nation’s best guard in Darren Collison. But it won’t be easy on the left coast. Washington State brings back its core performers from a team that went 13-5 in the conference. Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low lead one of the nation’s best backcourts and the Cougars will always play more disciplined basketball than the opposition – a reflection of head coach Tony Bennett. Oregon will also have a prolific backcourt, led by the speedy Tajuan Porter, but concerns exist with regard to the frontcourt and overall depth. In Tucson, Jerryd Bayless will take the reins at the point and many consider him an upgrade over Mustafa Shakur. Scoring machine Chase Budinger will need to play defense, and if associate head coach Kevin O’Neill has anything to do say about that, he’ll start learning. As for USC, don’t be shocked by their loss in the opener. First, they’re very young (starting lineup has zero upperclassmen). Second, two expected starters did not play against Mercer. Third, Tim Floyd is now 0-3 in season openers with the Trojans. In spite of Brook Lopez (Stanford’s top player) being academic ineligible, Anthony Goods is the heart and soul of the team that not only has high GPAs, but also high hopes for March basketball. In most conferences, Washington (four returning starters who average double digit points) would be an obvious at-large bid candidate, but in the PAC-10 this season, a repeat of their 8-10 record would not be a surprise.

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