Perimeter Shots

Men's College Basketball Preview

November 09, 2008|By DON MARKUS

One-and-dones leave void

Memphis is certainly going to miss Derrick Rose. Same is true for Kansas State and Michael Beasley, Southern California and O.J. Mayo, UCLA and Kevin Love, Indiana and Eric Gordon, Arizona and Jerryd Bayless, Ohio State and Kosta Koufos, Syracuse and Donte Greene.

But the coaches, teammates and fans of these preternatural talents who went straight to the NBA after one season are not alone. The sport will miss them, too, because this year's freshman class - and next year's, according to most reports - is simply not as good.

New York-based recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski believes that having a good but not great freshman class this season might help college basketball.

"Because there aren't as many marquee names coming into the freshman class, there are probably fewer who are going to come out as freshmen," Konchalski said. "They'll stay four years and go to the NBA and probably have more of an impact."

Transition in Tucson

Coaching changes at any school result in uncertainty, but there's a lot more of it at Arizona, where Lute Olson suddenly announced his retirement at the start of preseason practice after his doctors discovered he had suffered a stroke within the past year.

Olson was a polarizing figure - you either liked him or you didn't - but no one can question how he built the program to national prominence in his 24 seasons, winning the national championship in 1997.

The way last season's situation was handled when Olson took a leave of absence for health reasons didn't help.

Former assistant Kevin O'Neill came in, did a decent job getting the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament, but rather than be a coach-in-waiting, left when Olson returned in the spring. Another assistant, Russ Pennell, was named the interim coach for this season.

The current players have put it on themselves to keep up the high standards that Olson set.

"I think us as players have reached this point - this is our team, this is what we have," forward Chase Budinger said at the Pacific-10 media day. "We've all got to stay together, watch each others' backs and take this journey together. That's all we can really do."

Curry's big stage

The most celebrated player going into the season is probably Davidson guard Stephen Curry.

First noticed in the NCAA tournament two years ago when he was making three-pointers in an opening-round defeat to Maryland, Curry helped the little Southern Conference school reach the Elite Eight last season before losing to eventual national champion Kansas by two.

Now comes the hard part: living up to the buzz he has created.

"He's a guard, and a guard has to do everything for us," Davidson coach Bob McKillop told The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer over the summer.

After the graduation of Jason Richards, who led the nation in assists last season, Curry spent the summer playing at various camps run by pro players, including New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash.

"I've learned I can play better defense than I thought," Curry said.

But it's offense - specifically his long-range shooting - that is going to get Curry to the NBA. For now, the 6-foot-3 junior hopes to keep the Wildcats in the spotlight that made them (and him) the darlings of last year's tournament.

"In our system, if the point guard passes it, he moves and finds the ball again in different spots on the floor," Curry said. "I'll have the chance to do the things I did last year. I can still come off a screen and get my shot or have the ball in my hands late in the shot clock. It's a matter of being more comfortable making attack moves."

And the shots will be falling; count on it.

Who's No. 1?

Although there's no disputing that North Carolina is the top team in the country - possibly by a wide margin - which league is the best remains up for serious debate. Good thing is, we have a few months to figure it out.

There's strength in numbers for the Big East, which has 16 teams for basketball and quality depth. But a league that sent three of its nine teams to the Final Four in 1985 had only one team, Louisville, get to the Elite Eight last season and still has a lot of weak programs at the bottom.

The Atlantic Coast Conferece? The Tar Heels are the favorite to win it all in Motown come March, but the dropoff to No. 2 is dramatic. The Pacific-10 was hurt by the loss of Mayo at USC and Love at UCLA (along with sophomore Russell Westbrook), as well as Olson's retirement.

The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference are probably the most balanced, but national champion Kansas lost nearly all of its starting lineup and Florida is still probably one more recruiting class away from filling in the gaps left from its back-to-back championship teams.

The Big Ten is in rebuilding mode nearly everywhere but Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue, and Conference USA is still a one-trick pony, with Memphis not exactly being picked to even get back to the Final Four. The Atlantic 10 had its chance to make some noise with Xavier last year.

So which is the best league this season?

Wait until March.

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