TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 17: Jordan Campbell #32 of the Belmont Bruins drives against Jon Leuer #30 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
50 in 50 is a feature here at RCT counting down until the Jayhawks kick off the 2011 basketball season on November first. Got an idea for something you'd like to see featured here? tweet @rockchalktalk or @fetch9 or email me at fetch9 at gmail dot com.
With only two weeks of this extravaganza left, I figure I'd better release my preseason top 25 before it's too late. I want to do it before the AP and coaches polls come out so I'm not swayed by what they have to say. CBS and NBC have come out with theirs already, but I think you all know me well enough to know I won't be influenced by that. Besides, CBS's is so awful that I would resign from RCT if I came up with a similar group.
In any event, here is the first part of my top 25, in reverse order:
Marquette is one of the more underrated teams in the country offensively. They were 3rd in PPP in Big East play last year, and return three starters. Marquette's offense is largely built on not turning the ball over, but it works. On the downside, they have lost a lot of close games recently, which could point to coaching. Or it could point to the fact that they can't grab a defensive rebound late. Who knows.
24. New Mexico
The Lobos have one of the best rebounders in the country in Drew Gorgon, who had the 3rd best defensive rebounding rate in the country last year. And watch for incoming Aussie Freshman Hugh Greenwood, who averaged 17 ppg at the U-19 world championships this summer.
The Gators have a lot of good players back. The problem is, they all occupy basically the same role. Kenny Boynton, , Erving Walker, Freshman Brad Beal and transfer Mike Rosario all need the ball to be at their best. Further, most of Florida's best players are all on the short side, and big man depth is a problem. Everyone loves Patric Young, but talented though he is, he played in just 43% of the Gators minutes last year and while he was an efficient scorer, that didn't come on many shots and he isn't good in any other areas.
22. George Mason
Mason brings back four starters, so even though they lose arguably their best player to graduation, there is enough talent to get Mason potentially to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Other than those four returning starters, look for Sophomore Vertrail Vaughns to expand his role: He shot 49% from three last year in 67 attempts. The lone drawback for Mason? Paul Hewitt is their new coach. Yikes.
I have never really been a huge fan of the Zags program to be honest, but this year's installment looks pretty darn good. Robert Sacre is one of the best shot blockers in the country and I think Elias Harris will be able to shoulder the scoring load. One question will be taking care of the ball: Gonzaga was 161st in terms of turnovers and had no regular player with a TO% under 15%.
Travis Releford's brother leads the Crimson Tide push towards the NCAA tournament, but he'll need some help. Bama was pretty decent at shooting twos, but maybe they should abandon the three, as their 29.8% ranked 330th in the country. Their calling card, though, is on the other end of the court: they were 7th nationally defensively.
The Owls were the 12th best team at taking care of the ball last year, and given that they'll have two Seniors in the backcourt I don't suspect that will change any time soon. They're a bit thin up front, but I think that will have less of an impact on offense, where the guards took most of the shots anyways, than on defense. Temple was 23rd best nationally in 2 point defense, though they struggled mightily defending the three. It's possible this was bad perimeter defense, but I am more wont to chalk it up to luck.
The Wolverines lose Darius Morris, which is a big problem, but bring back a lot of guys who shoot the three at least acceptably well, which is huge for a team that had more of their points come from behind the arc than all but 9 other teams. Michigan's two biggest problems will be finding someone to create shots for others, and finding a second banana.
There's no doubt that Memphis has talent. Josh Pastner has assembled a couple nationally heralded recruiting classes, and they have nearly everyone back from last year's team. The problem is, that team wasn't all that good. They scored just 1.03 PPP overall and .97 in conference play. Their defense was good enough, but there should be gigantic red flags about their offense: only three returnees had an eFG over 50% last year.
I love Belmont. They only had one guy play more than 60% of the team's minutes last year, so regardless of the fact that they lose two starters, they have guys to fill in. Offensively they are ok, as they scored 1.12 PPP last year, but defensively is where they excelled, allowing .91 PPP and forcing more turnovers 27.5% than everyone except for Duquesne. They start with Duke and Memphis, so we'll get to see what they have to offer early.
The Bearcats return Yancy Gates, one of my favorite players in the country, as three other starters. Those guys will have to be better offensively (eFGs of 52.5%, 51.7%, 49.1%, 48.3%) but Cincy gets it done defensively: they were 18th nationally and 3rd in Big East play, allowing .98 PPG in conference.