2008-09 Men’s College Basketball Preview

Garrett Ley

It’s never too early for a little bracketology. As the men’s NCAA season kicks off, early favorite North Carolina has been plagued by injury, while Hasheem Thabeet has been the talk of the town in Storrs. Tom Izzo and Michigan State are hoping to make a trip back to the Final Four, improving on last year’s promising season. But the powerhouses are the powerhouses. It’ll be no surprise to see Coach Calhoun and Coach Williams in March, but the real questio is who is this year’s Davidson? Where will we find Stephen Curry? Who wants to put on Cinderella’s glass shoe? Who, like Kansas, has the ability to march into March and lose to a Patriot League team? Can a Manhattan beat a Florida? Can a Bucknell beat a Kansas? The Maroon-News walks you through this year’s college basketball preview.

Final Four:


Picked as the nation’s No. 1 team by pretty much everyone, the North Carolina Tar Heels have unquestionably the best mix of talent and experience of any team in the country. They return all five starters–who combined to average 67.2 and over 25 rebounds a game–from a team that advanced to the Final Four last season. Add senior sixth-man Danny Green, who scored 11.5 points per game last season, to the equation and it would appear that the Tar Heels would steamroll through the ACC. However, health is an issue. Senior forward Marcus Ginyard, the team’s best defensive player, is out with a foot injury. More importantly, three-time first-team All-American Tyler Hansbrough, known to many as Psycho T, is nursing a shin injury that has kept him from playing in the team’s first two games. Until North Carolina can get Hansbrough back, their No. 1 ranking is in jeopardy.


Sophomore Kalin Lucas, a lightning quick guard who Michigan State coach Tom Izzo compares with Chris Paul, looks to lead the Spartans to their fifth Final Four appearance in 10 years. Lucas will take over full-time point guard duties from the graduated Drew Neitzel, and has a strong supporting cast that includes junior forward Raymar Morgan and senior center Goran Suton. Morgan has poured in 20.5 points through the Spartans’ first two games, and Suton is back after averaging 9.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season. After a run into the Sweet 16 in 2008, the Spartans look poised to take it a step further in 2009 with four returning starters. A December 3 match-up with No. 1 North Carolina will be a good early-season indicator of just how good this team is.


Expect UConn to come out with a vengence this season after last season’s Final Four bid was thwarted in the first round by San Diego. In that game, the Huskies were missing guard A.J. Price, who played just nine minutes against the Toreros before tearing his ACL. This season expect Price, a fifth-year senior who finished second in the Big East with 5.8 assists per game last year, to lead the Huskies deep into to the NCAA Tournament. Joining Price is power forward Jeff Adrien, a 6’7″ senior who led UConn in scoring and rebounding last season, and 7’3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who made the front page of last week’s Sports Illustrated. UConn will engage in a season-long battle with Pittsburg for Big East bragging rights, and come tournament time, the Huskies will ride Price all the way to the Final Four


The Longhorns return four starters from a team that was knocked out of the Tournament by eventual champion Memphis, and look to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2003. Though Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin–both of whom should be juniors–left early for the NBA, coach Rick Barnes has plenty of depth and talent to work with. Damion James, a 6’7″ junior who played on the low blocks in his first two seasons, will move out to the small forward position, where he is capable of doing even more damage. Senior guard A.J. Abrams, the top returning scorer in the Big 12 after pouring in 16.5 points per game last year, returns as well. Waiting to be seen is whether the Longhorns’ long-range shooters, who combined to set a school record with 284 three pointers a year ago, will be affected by the extended three-point line this season.

Sleeper: St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s College, located a few miles south of Orinda, Calif., is a well-kept secret gem of college basketball. The school of 2,500 is a perennial contender in the Western Athletic Conference, but has yet to break out of rival Gonzaga’s shadow. This could be their season. Sophomore guard Patrick Mills, the Australian native who torched Team U.S.A. for 20 points in the Summer Olympics, was tabbed a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated and is off to a hot start (21 points, 5 steals per game). His strong performance in the Olympics even prompted U.S.A. guard Chris Paul to say “man, he’s fast…faster than me.” Joining Mills are three other returning starters, including senior forward Diamond Simpson, the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots, and center Omar Samhan, who is averaging a double-double. The Gaels will be put to the test on January 29 at No. 9 Gonzaga, but anything short of a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a disappointment.

Overrated: Tennessee

Tennessee was overrated last year, when they somehow earned a second seed in the Tournament and ended up being eliminated by Louisville in the Sweet 16. Now without Chris Lofton, who carried Tennessee on his back with his three point shooting, and JaJuan Smith, the team’s second leading scorer, the No. 13 Volunteers are in trouble. Two freshmen are projected to make up their starting backcourt, which always spells trouble, especially come March.

Dark Horse: OSU

The reigning NIT Champions are looking to play in a more preferred postseason tournament after just missing out on March Madness a year ago. The success of the Buckeyes hinges on point guard Jamar Butler, who not only dished out 5.9 assists per game, but also led the team in scoring. 7’1″ freshman center B.J. Mullens looks to emulate former Buckeye star Greg Oden, who led Ohio State to the 2007 National Championship game against Florida.

Rule Change

This year the men’s three-point line has been moved back by a foot. Many coaches and players have speculated about the effect that this will have on the league. Many believe that this will favor powerhouses. Teams that can shoot will still be able to shoot, but mid-majors may struggle with the added foot.