Happy to be an Associated Press Top 25 voter again this season. Our preseason Top 25 and five-man All-American team is due by Friday. The first AP Top 25 will be released on Oct. 31, with the All-America team moving on Nov. 3.
Here's what I'll be submitting:
San Diego State
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
I’ve never particularly liked the Wisconsin men’s
basketball team. Just hasn’t been very aesthetically pleasing over the years, a
bit too … boring, we’ll say. Yeah, boring.
But the Badgers won me over last season, led by big Frank
Kaminsky and dynamic Sam Dekker (who’s anything but boring). Now, pretty much
everyone’s back from last year’s Final Four team that fell a few points short
of a date with UConn in the national championship game. That’s why I’m picking
them as my preseason No. 1.
It seems most people are going with Kentucky, the team
that beat the Badgers in last year’s Final Four, after all. The Wildcats have a record
nine McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, including key players from last
year’s runners-up like the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) as well as Willie
Cauley-Stein (whose injury for the national championship game undoubtedly helped
But Kentucky also loses key players like Julius Randle
and James Young. They’ve got great freshmen coming in, led by Karl Towns, but
so often we’ve seen teams with great newcomers have trouble jelling and,
I'll side with teams like Wisconsin -- veteran, experienced teams who truly love being in college and value their entire collegiate experience -- over teams stacked with talent but, too often, have too many guys with one eye on the next level and perhaps aren't buying into the whole team concept.
Sure, every now and then there’s a team like 2012
Kentucky, which rolled to a national title behind freshmen and sophomores, led by Anthony Davis. But look no
further than 2014 Kentucky. Remember, some pundits were predicting an
undefeated season for a team led largely by freshmen? The Wildcats wound up disappointing through much of the season and were a No. 8 seed
for the NCAA tournament. Kentucky started to come together at just the right
time, of course (John Calipari deserves a lot of credit there) and wound up in
the national title game … where it fell to UConn.
Ah yes, UConn. What to do with the Huskies? It’s funny to
look at the preseason coaches’ poll and see four of the teams UConn beat in
last year’s NCAA tournament (Kentucky, Florida, Villanova and Iowa State) all
ranked ahead of the Huskies. But it’s somewhat understandable.
The graduation of Shabazz Napier is huge. Yes, Ryan
Boatright is a terrific player who really matured last season – particularly in the postseason – as a true point guard, a leader and a defensive whiz. Yes, Amida Brimah should be one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. Yes, Rodney Purvis
, Daniel Hamilton
and Sam Cassell, Jr
. are outstanding additions. Yes,
Terrence Samuel boasts championship pedigree, and if Omar Calhoun can turn things around
… watch out!
But it’s hard to quantify just how much Shabazz meant to
this program that past couple of seasons. There were so many games in which his
late heroics saved the Huskies from defeat. Never mind the obvious ones like
Florida and Indiana last season; don’t forget South Florida on the road, where Napier
delivered an inspirational halftime speech (after the Huskies had played their
worst half of the season and trailed by six), then scored 11 of UConn’s final
14 points in a 61-56 win. Or how about against Quinnipiac in the 2012 Paradise
Jam, when he scored 23 of his 29 points in the game’s final 3 ½ minutes of
regulation and two overtimes? Those are just two of too many other examples to
I like UConn this season. There’s a lot of talent, but I
see it taking a while for it all to jell together. It’s going to take a couple
of months for guys like Hamilton, Purvis and Cassell, Jr. to learn how to play
together, share the ball and do what’s best for the team. I don’t worry about
Boatright – I think he knows he’s got to prove to NBA scouts that he’s a
distributor and that he can make his teammates better. He’ll do that. But there
are a lot of shots to go around, and it’ll be interesting to see how everybody
co-exists. It’ll also be interesting to see if UConn still has some
long-distance threats now that Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey are
gone. Early returns are that Cassell may just be that guy.
So, I like the Huskies more than some (for instance, Lindy’s
magazine has them ranked No. 36. Even though I did the UConn and AAC season
previews for this edition, I’ll take no blame for that low ranking. Wasn’t me).
However, it wouldn’t shock me at all if SMU beats out UConn for the AAC
championship. If Emmanuel Mudiay had stayed at SMU rather than zipped off to
China, that might be a no-brainer. Even without Mudiay, however, the Mustangs
return just about everyone from last year’s 27-10, NIT runners-up, including
all-AAC picks Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, former McDonald’s All-American
Keith Frazier and talented Xavier transfer Justin Martin. And, let’s not
forget, SMU beat UConn last season both times they met. This Larry
Brown guy can coach a little bit.
In fact, I was prepared to rank SMU even higher and pick
it to win the AAC until reports the other day that Kennedy may be sidelined for at least the early part of the season due to academic issues
. If Kennedy misses
part (or all) of the season, it’s a big blow to the Mustangs.
Labels: Amida Brimah, Daniel Hamilton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Georges Niang, Larry Brown, Markus Kennedy, Montrezl Harrell, Omar Calhoun, Rodney Purvis, Ryan Boatright, Sam Cassell, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel