Friday, September 30, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: Nos. 30-26

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

30. Creighton Bluejays:

Last Season: 23-16, 10-8 (Missouri Valley)

Head Coach: Greg McDermott

Key Losses: Kenny Lawson Jr, Kaleb Korver, Darryl Ashford, Wayne Runnels,

New Additions: Grant Gibbs, Geoffery Groselle, Avery Dingman, Nevin Johnson, Austin Chatman, Mogboluwaga Oginni, Alex Olson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Antoine Young, Sr.
- G: Jahenns Maginat, So.
- F: Grant Gibbs, Jr.
- F: Doug McDermott, So.
- C: Gregory Echinique, Jr.
- Bench: Ethan Wragge, So.; Josh Jones, Jr.; Will Artino, Fr.

Outlook: The Bluejays are, without question, the most talented team in the Missouri Valley. There's an argument to be made that they have the best player in the conference at three positions. Antoine Young is a playmaking point guard that also happens to be a lock down defender; Greg Echinique, a transfer from Rutgers, is a massive presence in the middle; and Doug McDermott is a potential all-american and will likely be the pick for MVC Player of the Year by many, if not all, publications. That core alone makes this team one to keep an eye on, but what makes them scarier is that they are deep. Junior Josh Jones and sophomore Jahenns Manigat both showed flashes of being quality scorers in the MVC as well. Throw in redshirt freshman center Will Artino, Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs in the back court and a quartet of incoming freshmen, and McDermott has as deep of a roster as anyone in the conference. He'll be looking to increase Creighton's aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, so don't be surprised to see the Bluejays in and around the top 25 all year.

29. UCLA Bruins:

Last Season: 23-11, 11-5 (Pac-10)

Head Coach: Ben Howland

Key Losses: Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee

New Additions: David Wear, Travis Wear, Larry Drew II, Norman Powell, De'End Parker, Khalid McCaskill, David Brown, Nick Kazemi

Projected Lineup:

- G: Laz Jones, Sr.
- G: Larry Drew II, Sr.
- G: Tyler Lamb, So.
- F: Reeves Nelson, Jr.
- C: Josh Smith, So.
- Bench: Travis Wear, So.; David Wear, So.; Jerime Anderson, Sr.; De'End Parker, Jr.; Brendan Lane, Jr.; Anthony Stover, So.; Norman Powell, Fr.

Outlook: Ben Howland has an interesting team this season. Their strength is going to be in the front court, where they will be as deep as anyone in the country. Reeves Nelson is an aggressive and athletic four that sets a tone for this club. He's aggressive around the rim and a monster on the glass. If he can add a consistent perimeter jumper, he's got a chance to be a first-team all-league player. And he's not even their best big man. Josh Smith is. But Smith's issue is that he can't stay in shape. He ended the year weighing over 300 lbs and reportedly put on weight this summer, which isn't a good thing. Even with the weight, he's a best on the block. The question is whether or not he'll be able to stay on the court for an extended period of time. Throw in the Wear twins -- sophomore transfers from UNC -- and returners Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover, and minutes in UCLA's front court will be quite valuable and hard to come by. The perimeter is the question mark for this team. There are three point guards on the roster, and none of them blow you away. Laz Jones will most likely be the primary option, but he can be inconsistent at times. Larry Drew and Jerime Anderson were hyped recruits that fizzled in their three years in college. Will Tyler Lamb develop as a sophomore? Can De'End Parker and Norman Powell -- who got a concussion late in September and is reportedly unhappy already -- fill the void left by the departures of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt? Finding consistency on the perimeter will be the difference between UCLA being a tournament team and a legitimate threat in the Pac-10.

28. New Mexico Lobos:

Last Season: 22-13, 8-8 (MWC)

Head Coach: Steve Alford

Key Losses: Dairese Gary

New Additions: Demetrius Walker, Dominique Dunning, Hugh Greenwood, Kory Alford

Projected Lineup:

- G: Jamal Fenton, Jr.
- G: Kendall Williams, So.
- F: Philip McDonald, Sr.
- F: AJ Hardeman, Sr.
- C: Drew Gordon, Sr.
- Bench: Cameron Bairstow, So.; Demetrius Walker, So.; Tony Snell, So.; Hugh Greenwood, Fr.; Dominique Dunning, Fr.; Alex Kirk, So.

Outlook: New Mexico has a chance to be very good this season. They return all but one player from last year, although that one player is a big one -- Dairese Gary, their star point guard. That will hurt, but there are pieces in place to help weather the blow. Sophomore Kendall Williams has a chance to be a big time player for Steve Alford's club. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 4.0 apg and won the MWC Freshman of the Year award while playing as the third and fourth option offensively. Gary missed the final two games after hurting his knee, and Williams stepped up and scored 18 points in both games. Throw in junior Jamal Fenton, who had 12 assists and just four turnovers in those two games, and the Lobos should be fine in terms of playmaking. They should also have one of the best big men in the conference in Drew Gordon, a double-double machine that should become a monster playing a full season. New Mexico will also be quite deep this year. Seniors AJ Hardeman (at the four) and Philip McDonald (at the three) should fill out the starting lineup. Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk -- if he comes back from back surgery in August -- are talented sophomores in the front court, while classmates Demetrius Walker -- a transfer from Arizona State -- and Tony Snell will provide depth on the perimeter. Don't be surprised in a couple of freshmen see minutes as well. The Lobos will compete for the MWC title and should be in and out of the top 25 all year.

27. Temple Owls:

Last Season: 26-8, 14-2 (A-10)

Head Coach: Fran Dunphy

Key Losses: Lavoy Allen, Craig Williams

New Additions: Will Cummings

Projected Lineup:

- G: Juan Fernandez, Sr.
- G: Scootie Randall, Sr.
- F: Ramone Moore, Sr.
- F: Rahlir Jefferson, Jr.
- C: Michael Eric, Sr.
- Bench: TJ DiLeo, Jr.; Khalif Wyatt, Jr.; Aaron Brown, So.; Will Cummings, Fr.

Outlook: Once again, Fran Dunphy has his Temple team in a position to make a lot of noise in the Atlantic 10. On the perimeter, the 2011-2012 version of the Owls is loaded. Point guard Juan Fernandez, who feels like he has been in college for a decade, returns for his senior season. His numbers dipped a bit as a junior, but don't be surprised when he has a big senior year as this team's leader. Ramone Moore turned into the Owl's go-to scorer as a junior, and should once again fill that role as a senior. Throw in a healthy Scootie Randall, talented junior Khalif Wyatt and a couple of hungry and capable youngsters in sophomore Aaron Brown (who performed well when moved into the starting lineup to replace the injured Randall late in the season) and freshman Will Cummings, and Dunphy will have plenty of options at his disposal. I would go as far as to say Temple has one of the best perimeter rotations in the country. Up front is a bigger issue, as Temple will have to replace Lavoy Allen, who was so important to this team's defensive attack. Michael Eric should be healthy and will be counted on for a big season defending the rim and cleaning the glass. Rahlir Jefferson should also see a bump in production as a junior and will be a factor rebounding the ball. Depth is the biggest issue on the front line. Behind Jefferson and Eric, Dunphy only has two big men in Anthony Lee and Jimmy McDonnell, both redshirt freshmen that still need to add weight and strength. Even with the front court question marks, Temple should give Xavier a run for their money at the conference title.

26. Michigan Wolverines:

Last Season: 21-14, 9-9 (Big Ten)

Head Coach: John Beilein

Key Losses: Darius Morris

New Additions: Carlton Brundidge, Trey Burke, Max Bielfeldt

Projected Lineup:

- G: Zak Novak, Sr.
- G: Stu Douglass, Sr.
- F: Tim Hardaway, So.
- F: Evan Smotrycz, So.
- C: Jordan Morgan, So.
- Bench: Matt Vogrich, Jr.; Jon Horford, So.; Carlton Brundidge, Fr.; Trey Burke, Fr.

Outlook: Had Darius Morris decided to return to school instead of enter the NBA Draft, the Wolverines would have been a borderline top 10 team instead of a borderline top 25 team. Morris was that perfect point guard for the system that John Beilein runs. But the great thing about a John Beilein offense is that the sum is greater than the parts, and while having a playmaking point guard like Morris -- a kid that can pass and score -- makes the offense that much more dangerous, its not essential. Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will be the elder statesmen, the seniors tasked with leading a team made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Both are quality players that do a lot of things well, but they are going to have to up their production next season to help make up for the loss of Morris. Junior Matt Vogrich will provide some shooting off the bench, while Carlton Brundidge and Trey Burke -- who may end up taking over the point guard spot -- should have an impact playing a role. The x-factor of this team will be Tim Hardaway Jr, a 6'6" sophomore wing that became a dangerous scorer at the end of his freshman season. He reminds me a bit of Mike Gansey, who played for Beilein at West Virginia. The front court could end up being an issue. Jordan Morgan had a couple big games as a freshman, but he got overwhelmed at times against bigger front lines. Fellow sophomore Evan Smotrycz should see more minutes as a stretch four-man, but he will be counted on for more contributions on the glass. Keep an eye on Jon Horford. He's put on some strength this off-season as he's now listed at 250 lb. And breakout sophomore years run in his blood -- his brother, Al, went from a seldom used freshman to a potential lottery pick as a sophomore.


Anonymous said...

Dude, Temple's going to be was better. Lavoy Allen wasn't that big of a loss.

Anonymous said...

Temple 27th is a joke.

Karl Korver said...

Creighton at 30? You must be high on rock cocaine!

Todd Bozeman said...

If Morgan State isn't #1, you can take this goddamn sandwich and shove it up your ass, Dauster.