Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: Nos. 35-31

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.

35. Illinois Fighting Illini:

Last Season: 20-14, 9-9 (Big Ten)

Head Coach: Bruce Weber

Key Losses: Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Jereme Richmond, Bill Cole

New Additions: Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams, Mike Shaw, Mychael Henry, Devin Langford, Ibrahima Djimde, Sam Maniscalco, Jereme Richmond?

Projected Lineup:

- G: Sam Maniscalco, Sr.
- G: Brandon Paul, Jr.
- G: DJ Richardson, Jr.
- F: Tyler Griffey, Jr.
- C: Meyers Leonard, So.
- Bench: Crandall Head, So.; Tracy Abrams, Fr.; Mike Shaw, Fr.; Myke Henry, Fr.; Devin Langford, Fr.

Outlook: Illinois is in an interesting position this season. On the one hand, they are losing four starters and a key reserve. On the other hand, they are losing Demetri McCamey and Jereme Richmond, two talented head cases that may end up being an addition by subtraction. So while Bruce Weber's team is losing 56.5 percent of their minutes and 59.2 pecent of their scoring, the team chemistry -- which is so valuable and so underrated -- stands to increase without the fights Richmond may or may not have been involved in and the professional career McCamey may or may not have been preparing for. So what's left? Its going to start on the perimeter for the Illini. Juniors DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul should become the first and second options with the ball-dominating McCamey gone. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco -- who is legit -- should slide into the point guard role for a year while freshman Tracy Abrams gets used to the Big Ten. Sophomore Meyers Leonard should be able to provide some solid interior defense and rebounding if he can keep his fouls down while Tyler Griffey gives Weber a face-up four with a dangerous jump shot. Throw in a couple youngsters off the bench -- Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand, Mike Shaw, Myke Henry, Devin Langford, Nnanna Egwu -- and Illinois has a bright future.

34. Washington Huskies:

Last Season: 24-11, 11-7 (Pac-10)

Head Coach: Lorenzo Romar

Key Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Venoy Overton

New Additions: Tony Wroten Jr, Shawn Kemp Jr, Hikeem Stewart, Jernard Jarreau, Martin Breunig, Andrew Andrews

Projected Lineup:

- G: Abdul Gaddy, Jr.
- G: Tony Wroten Jr, Fr.
- F: Terrence Ross, So.
- F: Darnell Gant, Sr.
- C: Aziz N'Diaye, Jr.
- Bench: CJ Wilcox, So.; Scott Suggs, Sr.; Shawn Kemp Jr, Fr.; Hikeem Stewart, Fr.; Jernard Jarreau, Fr.

Outlook: Washington is going to have a lot of important pieces to replace next season. Its starts with the most obvious -- Isaiah Thomas -- but with Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton also graduating, Lorenzo Romar is going to have quite a few minutes to replace. He certainly will have talent at his disposal, however, especially on the perimeter. It starts with Abdul Gaddy, who should be healthy after tearing his acl a third of the way through last season, and stud point guard recruit Tony Wroten Jr, who is the kind of playmaker that can fill the role Thomas vacated. CJ Wilcox and Scott Suggs should be able to provide an offensive pop off the bench. The x-factor, however, will be Terrence Ross. The sophomore wing has had quite a bit of hype throughout the off-season and could end up being a first-team all-conference performer if he lives up to those expectations. The front court will be a bit of a question mark. Aziz N'Diaye is seven-foot shotblocker, but he doesn't provide much offensive pop. Darnell Gant can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot, but he's not much of a banger. Four freshmen -- Shawn Kemp Jr, Desmond Simmons, Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau -- will be competing for front court bench minutes, and Washington is going to need one or two of that group to become impact contributors.

33. Michigan State Spartans:

Last Season: 19-15, 9-9 (Big Ten)

Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Key Losses: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Garrick Sherman, Korie Lucious, Mike Kebler

New Additions: Branden Dawson, Brandon Kearney, Travis Trice, Brandon Wood

Projected Lineup:

- G: Keith Appling, So.
- G: Brandon Wood, Sr.
- F: Branden Dawson, Fr.
- F: Draymond Green, Sr.
- C: Delvon Roe, Sr.
- Bench: Adreian Payne, So.; Derrick Nix, Jr.; Austin Thornton, Sr.; Brandon Kearney, Fr.; Russell Byrd, Fr.

Outlook: Last season was, frankly, a disaster for the Spartans. After being picked as a consensus top five team heading into the season, Michigan State never found that rhythm. There were chemistry issues, Kalin Lucas couldn't get healthy, Durrell Summers couldn't get a shot to fall and Michigan State found themselves knocked out in the first round of the tournament after failing to crack the 20 win barrier. Next season will be an interesting mix. The strength of this group will be the front court. Draymond Green and Delvon Roe (Ed. Note: Only hours after we posted this, news of Roe announced his retirement) are senior leaders that have been through quite a few battles in their careers. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix both have some question marks -- Payne needs Nix to donate him about 30 pounds, among other things -- but if they can put it together, both have the potential to be impact players in the Big Ten this year. Freshman small forward Branden Dawson has drawn comparisons to Raymar Morgan and should fit well with this team. The back court is a bigger question. Sophomore Keith Appling is going to be asked to take over a much more prominent role while senior Valpo transfer -- who, like Maniscalco at Illinois, is legit -- will be counted on to provide some back court experience. Austin Thornton will see minutes, as will Brandon Kearney and Russell Byrd (if he can get healthy), but the only natural point guard on the roster is freshman Travis Trice. Tom Izzo is going to need to turn this group into an old-school, beat-em-up Spartan team.

32. Wichita State Shockers:

Last Season: 29-8, 14-4 (MVC)

Head Coach: Gregg Marshall

Key Losses: JT Durley, Graham Hatch, Gabe Blair, Aaron Ellis

New Additions: Jake White, Evan Wessel, Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker, Carl Hall, Ede Egharevba

Projected Lineup:

- G: Joe Ragland, Sr.
- G: David Kyles, Sr.
- F: Toure' Murry, Sr.
- F: Ben Smith, Sr.
- C: Garrett Stutz, Sr.
- Bench: Carl Hall, Jr.; Demetric Williams, Jr.; Jake White, Fr.

Outlook: The Shockers had some rough luck during the regular season, taking a couple of tough losses that cost them the MVC regular season title and a trip to the tournament. That said, they did make a run to the NIT championship. Wichita State should be able to compete for an MVC title this season based on their back court alone. Its headlined by a trio of talented and unselfish seniors that buy into what Gregg Marshall is selling. Joe Ragland is the point guard, David Kyles is the shooter, and Toure' Murry is the play-maker and the slasher. All three are capable of producing big games, but they also all understand their role within the team. Junior Demetric Williams showed flashes of promise last season, but he will be battling for bench minutes with freshmen Evan Wessel and Tekele Cotton. Where the Shockers have question marks is along their front line. Garrett Stutz, their seven-foot senior center, returns. He is going to need to increase his productivity to make up for JT Durley's scoring and Gabe Blair's rebounding and physicality inside. The undersized Ben Smith will be back, although he tends to spend more on his time on the perimeter. Beyond that, Marshall is going to have a lot of fresh faces manning the paint, but the most interesting are two newcomers. Jake White is a face-up four that had some legitimate high-major interest and Carl Hall is a JuCo transfer that has some hype coming into the program.

31. UNLV Runnin' Rebels:

Last Season: 24-9, 11-5 (MWC)

Head Coach: Dave Rice

Key Losses: Tre'Von Willis, Derrick Jasper, Lon Kruger

New Additions: Mike Moser, Dave Rice

Projected Lineup:

- G: Oscar Bellfield, Sr.
- G: Anthony Marshall, Jr.
- G: Justin Hawkins, Jr.
- F: Chace Stanback, Sr.
- C: Quintrel Thomas, Jr.
- Bench: Mike Moser, So.; Carlos Lopez, So.; Kendall Wallace, Sr., Brice Massamba, Sr.; Reggie Smith, So.

Outlook: UNLV is going to be going through a regime change as the Mountain West goes through a membership change, but there is plenty of talent on this roster to compete with New Mexico in the two-horse race to win the MWC. Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall are going to share ball-handling and playmaking duties. Bellfield is a better shooter and creator than Marshall, but Marshall is the kind of player coaches love. He does seemingly everything well and can be a lock-down defensive presence. Defensive stopper Justin Hawkins and three-point sniper Kendall Wallace, who is coming off of an acl tear, will both be back as well. Don't be surprised is Marquette transfer Reggie Smith works his way into the lineup when he gets eligible in December. Up front, Rice figures to continue the three-man rotation that Kruger had last season. Quintrel Thomas, Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez are all big and strong and do enough well to get on the court but don't do enough to earn a permanent starting spot. UCLA transfer Mike Moser will also see time in the front court, which would allow Chace Stanback to slide over and play some three. The x-factor is going to be Stanback. With much of the MWC's star power gone from last season, he has a real shot at being the Player of the Year in the conference. A 6'8" wing, he can do a lot of different things on the floor -- shoot from deep, score, rebound, defend multiple positions -- but is he ready to become "the man"? Will he take that next step towards being a star? If he does, UNLV has a very good chance of winning the MWC.

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