Monday, 13 November 2006

College Basketball Preview: Awards and Predictions

With the college basketball season upon us, it's time for the final installation of my college basketball previews. In case you missed them, here are my other previews:

ACC Preview
Big East Preview
Big 10 Preview
Big 12 Preview
Pac-10 Preview
SEC Preview
Who is this year's George Mason?

So now it's time to move on to my awards and predictions.

First Team All-Americans
Joakim Noah - Florida - Even better defensively than he is offensively.
Tyler Hansbrough - North Carolina - One of the best players in the nation last year as a true freshman.
Glen Davis - LSU - Big Baby is slimmed down and ready to dominate.
Alando Tucker - Wisconsin - Scores in a variety of ways making him nearly impossible to stop.
Dominic James - Marquette - Explosiveness makes him the best PG in the country.

Second Team All-Americans
Nick Fazekas - Nevada - Senior who seems like he's been around forever.
Aaron Gray - Pittsburgh - Him bypassing the draft makes Pitt title contenders.
Jerad Dudley - Boston College - Becomes the leader with the departure of Craig Smith.
Brandon Rush - Kansas - One of the best scorers in the country.
Ronald Steele - Alabama - Extremely durable, reliable in crunch time.

Freshman All-Americans
Greg Oden - Ohio St. - defensive stopper will have huge impact whenever he returns.
Kevin Durant - Texas - good enough to carry the Longhorns at times.
Chase Budinger - Arizona - all-around player will excel in Arizona's system.
Spencer Hawes - Washington - Big man will make huge impact in his one year for the Huskies.
Thaddeus Young - Georgia Tech - Will be the star of an inexperienced but talented squad.

Player of the Year - Tyler Hansbrough - Dominated the ACC as a true freshman, putting up nearly 20 and 10 a night. He's got great awareness and moves around the basket, and is a great finisher near the hoop. He's got a nose for the ball off the glass. Defensively, he's always in solid position. The addition of the trio of talented freshman should help take the pressure and some of the focus off of him, leaving him to put up big numbers.

Freshman of the Year - Kevin Durant - If Greg Oden would be healthy for the whole season, my pick might be different. Then again, maybe it wouldn't. Kevin Durant is probably the second most-hyped freshman after Oden, and for good reason. He's extremely talented, and score from inside or outside. He'll also grab rebounds, play some defense, and pretty much everything else Rick Barnes asks from him. Which will be a lot.

Preseason Top 10
1. Florida - All 5 starters back for the defending champs.
2. North Carolina - deepest and most talented team in the nation.
3. Kansas - right behind UNC in terms of talent and depth.
4. UCLA - one of the best defenses in the country. Josh Shipp's return boosts offense.
5. Pittsburgh - Departure of Carl Krauser was not such a bad thing.
6. LSU - Will be very athletic, and they still have Big Baby to turn to.
7. Wisconsin - Alando Tucker leads solid nucleus.
8. Alabama - Return of Steele and Davidson makes them contenders in the SEC.
9. Ohio St. - even without Oden they're one of the top teams in the country.
10. Texas A&M - there is excitement back in College Station for the basketball team.

Final Four Teams
(1) North Carolina - I just think they'll be too talented and deep to be denied. How do you stop them? Try to shut down Tyler Hansbrough? Then they go to Reyshawn Terry. Or top prospect Brandan Wright. Or top prospect Tywon Lawson. Or one of the many talented guys in the backcourt. Ok, you get the idea.
(2) Kansas - Like UNC, they're just so deep and talented. Brandon Rush is a great scorer, but he'll have lots of help. Julian Wright is extremely versatile. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and frosh Sherron Collins all provide a different look in the backcourt. And the frontcourt, led by Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur won't miss CJ Giles at all. I don't think they'll have any problems getting by Round 1 this year.
(3) UCLA - They lost 3 starters, but they could be even better this year. Darren Collison doesn't have the leadership of Farmar, but he's a great on-the-ball defender and will push the tempo. Arron Afflalo is back and one of the best defensive guards in the country. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should continue his development as a star in Westwood. But the biggest (and most overlooked) story is the return of Josh Shipp. He might have been UCLA's best player last year if he hadn't gotten hurt. He'll provide another scoring punch for this team. UCLA will be a great defensive team under Coach Ben Howland, and should have just enough offense to go along with it.
(4) Texas A&M - Like UCLA, they are very tough defensively. A&M was a late 3-pointer from Darrel Mitchell away from beating LSU heading to the Sweet Sixteen. The same LSU who went on to go to the Final Four. They'll return almost everything for one of the best young coaches in America. Led by Acie Law and Joseph Jones, they have the firepower to make a deep run. They have the depth, the defensive tenacity, the experience... it's all in place for a deep run.

National Championship
North Carolina over UCLA - Too much talent for Roy Williams to be denied his 2nd title in 3 seasons.

What are your predictions?