Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Tipoff 2001

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's hard not to pick Duke as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The defending national champion Blue Devils have the nation's best player in guard Jason Williams, potential stars in Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy (who hit some of the biggest shots in the 2001 national championship game), and a big-time transfer in Dahntay Jones.

     Whether the Blue Devils are there at the end of the season remains to be seen.

     First, with the college basketball season already upon us, here's a quick look around the nation:

     Cream of the crop

     No use crying over the talent that has left early to the NBA. This is a pretty good first-team All-America squad:

    • Guards: Jason Williams (Duke) and Casey Jacobsen (Stanford)

    • Forwards: Kareem Rush (Missouri) and Tayshaun Prince (Kentucky)

    • Center: Chris Marcus (Western Kentucky)

     Second team:

    • Guards: Troy Bell (Boston College) and Frank Williams (Illinois)

    • Forwards: Caron Butler (Connecticut) and Jason Kapono (UCLA)

    • Center: Lonny Baxter (Maryland)

     Third team:

    • Guards: Juan Dixon (Maryland) and Marvin O'Connor (Saint Joseph's)

    • Forwards: Reggie Evans (Iowa) and Carlos Boozer (Duke)

    • Center: David West (Xavier)


     What about these guys?

     Impress your friends by becoming familiar with these players, who may not be household names:

    • Earl Barron, C, Memphis: Coach John Calipari says the 6-11 Barron will be improved. If Barron plays well, the Tigers will be tough to beat.

    • Udonis Haslem, C, Florida: With all the talk about the Gators' guard situation, it's easy to lose track of Haslem, who is among the country's best centers.

    • Tamar Slay, G, Marshall: He doesn't get a lot of exposure, but this guy's an NBA prospect. UC fans got an eyeful last season when the 6-9 Slay scored 28 against the Bearcats at Shoemaker Center.

    • Darius Songaila, F, Wake Forest: New coach Skip Prosser has to make sure Songaila learns how to stay out of foul trouble. The Demon Deacons' season may go as Songaila goes.

    • David Webber, G, Central Michigan: Yes, he's Chris' younger brother, but he's made a name for himself at the Mid-American Conference school.

     Best of the bunch

     The nation's top five backcourts:

     • 1. Duke (Jason Williams, Chris Duhon)

     • 2. Saint Joseph's (Jameer Nelson, Marvin O'Connor)

     • 3. Maryland (Juan Dixon, Steve Blake)

     • 4. Illinois (Frank Williams, Cory Bradford)

     • 5. Stanford (Casey Jacobsen, Tony Giovacchini)


     The top five frontcourts:

     • 1. UCLA (Dan Gadzuric, Matt Barnes, Jason Kapono)

     • 2. Duke (Carlos Boozer, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy)

     • 3. Kansas (Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, Wayne Simien)

     • 4. Memphis (Earl Barron, Kelly Wise, Chris Massie)

     • 5. Kentucky (Marvin Stone, Jules Camara, Tayshaun Prince)

     Difference makers

     Keep an eye on these freshmen, who should make immediate big-time contributions:

    • Cedric Bozeman (UCLA)

    • T.J. Ford (Texas)

    • Julius Hodge (North Carolina State)

    • Kelvin Torbert (Michigan State)

    • Dajuan Wagner (Memphis)

     Cradle of coaching?

     Xavier fans have a half dozen other schools they can follow where former Musketeers coaches now reside:

    • Pete Gillen, fourth year, Virginia

    • Bobby Gonzalez, third year, Manhattan

    • Louis Orr, first year, Seton Hall

    • Skip Prosser, first year, Wake Forest

    • Mark Schmidt, first year, Robert Morris

    • Jerry Wainwright, eighth year, UNC Wilmington


     For Bearcats fans

     Former UC assistant Larry Harrison begins his second season as head coach at Hartford, where his team is expected to improve upon its 4-24 record last season.

     Western wonders

     You'll hear all about Stanford sensation Casey Jacobsen and UCLA stars Dan Gadzuric and Jason Kapono. But here are five guys from the ''other side'' of the country you won't see much unless you stay up very late watching ESPN:

    • Josh Davis (Wyoming)

    • Dan Dickau (Gonzaga)

    • Melvin Ely (Fresno State)

    • Jerry Green (UC Irvine)

    • Shantay Legans (California)

     Hot seat

     Five coaches who could really use a good season:

    • Murry Bartow (UAB): The Blazers have gone 31-28 over the past two seasons with no postseason bids. They have the talent this season to at least get to the NIT.

    • Bob Bender (Washington): After four consecutive postseason tournament appearances, the Huskies were 20-40 over the past two seasons.

    • Pat Kennedy (DePaul): Yes, four underclassmen have declared for the NBA draft in the past two years, but the bottom line is, DePaul has gone to one NCAA Tournament and one NIT in Kennedy's four years, and last season was a disappointing 12-18.

    • Herb Sendek (North Carolina State): He took the Wolfpack to four consecutive NITs, then last season went 13-16. This is an ACC school that has not been to the NCAA since 1991.

    • Larry Shyatt (Clemson): The Tigers are 42-54 in three seasons under Shyatt. Worse, they have gone 10-20 and 12-19 the past two seasons with no postseason opportunities.

     Good for them

     These guys seriously considered an early jump to the NBA, but decided to return to college for this season, much to the delight of their coaches:

    • Keith Bogans (Kentucky)

    • Sam Clancy (Southern Cal)

    • Jason Gardner (Arizona)

    • Kevin Lyde (Temple)


     Sudden impact

     These players have changed locations, sat out a season and are now ready to help out:

    • Spencer Gloger, who left Princeton for UCLA

    • Dahntay Jones, who left Rutgers for Duke

    • Rolan Roberts, who left Virginia Tech for Southern Illinois

    • Ronald Blackshear, who left Temple for Marshall

     Change of address

     There were close to 50 coaching changes since the end of last season. We find these the most compelling guys to follow:

    • Tommy Amaker, Michigan

    • Bob Knight, Texas Tech

    • Steve Lappas, Massachusetts

    • Rick Pitino, Louisville

    • Charlie Spoonhour, UNLV

     Who's No. 2?

     Speaking of Knight, he enters the season as the second-winningest active coach in the country, with 764 victories (Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary's has 816). But during the season, Knight could be surpassed by Georgia State's Lefty Driesell (762) and/or Fresno State's Jerry Tarkanian (759).

     Searching for stability

     Utah will have Rick Majerus back on the sideline after the veteran coach missed all but one game of last season because of health problems and an ailing mother in Wisconsin. And the Utes could use any advantage they can get. They play five of their last seven games on the road, in part because of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

     Final Four

     OK, back to the original question: Will Duke be there in the end? Duke may not win it all, but we have to put the Blue Devils in Atlanta for the Final Four. Let's send Maryland back, too, for the second consecutive year. We'll toss in Illinois, which is the best the Midwest has to offer. And, how about UCLA, which may be entering an era of stability under coach Steve Lavin?

     We want to pick Duke to repeat. We think Duke will repeat. But it's too easy, too boring, too safe.

     So, let's see a show of hands for coach Bill Self and the Fighting Illini, who have all the ingredients to go all the way. Keep this in mind: Senior guard Cory Bradford has to have a good season for that to happen.


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