Tuesday, November 14, 2006

College Hoops '06-07 Preview:
Champ Pick: Florida Repeat
Final 4: G'town, Wisco, Georgia Tech

No, I will not let a "Dancing with the Stars" finale breakdown -- no matter how accurate my predictions have been or how relevant it is to sports fans -- stay up here for the afternoon.

Instead, I will attempt to wade into the new college basketball season.

Today's topic? Final Four picks.

Florida will repeat as national champs. I was on the record with this about a nano-second after the Gators' Big Three (Noah, Horford, Brewer) announced they would be returning to Gainesville for a title defense.

That meant the Gators would return all five starters from a national championship team -- plus the key frontcourt and key backcourt reserve. Keeping count? That's the Top 7 back on a defending champ.

The frontcourt of Noah, Horford and Brewer -- all NBA Lottery-quality picks -- is arguably the best in college hoops in the last 25 years. I've been racking my brain for another contender, and the best I could do is the Fab Five's Webber-Howard-Rose/Jackson. But those guys never won a title. (Got any other nominees? Augmon-LJ-Ackles? Remember: To win the argument, your pick really should have NBA-level talent across the line AND a championship.)

Many top college teams have a quality inside player. Hansbrough at UNC, Wright at Kansas, Oden at Ohio St, Big Baby Davis at LSU, Hibbert at G'town and McRoberts at Duke come to mind.

But how many have TWO? (In hindsight, that was one reason LSU emerged last season: The tandem of Davis and Tyrus Thomas was unstoppable.) Two that are as athletic or multi-skilled as Noah and Horford.

I go through the other contenders, and I can't find a team that can match up – player for player – with the Gators, across the starting five and first subs off the bench. (And that's BEFORE I layer in the championship experience, where the Gators have a vast advantage over every other contender.)

Here's the other reason to like Florida, even if you would otherwise be inclined to hate them: In this era where you can't go a season without complaining about players -- yours or simply the national "stars" -- leaving for the NBA early, isn't it unprecedentedly refreshing to see three players forego the NBA (Lottery, mind you) for a chance to repeat as college champs? How can you begrudge that? (Especially if you consider yourself a college hoops "traditionalist.") How can you not root for that?

(What: Instead you'll stand behind UNC, whose title team stars from 2005 chose to leave en masse for the NBA? These Gators have shamed that UNC team and set a new example for future college stars that ultimately can do more for college hoops than any artificial NBA draft age-limit or high school "developmental" program. Again: They have made it easy to root for them, even if you reflexively hate Florida or reflexively hate defending champions. I'll settle for intensely begrudging respect.)

So, anyway, I think it's the Gators to win the title, and everyone else is playing for the chance to round out the Final Four.

(If I had a hesitation, it's that the Gators started last season unranked, showing you how much the "experts" know. And even heading into the Tournament, they weren't given much of a shot. If that isn't a cautionary tale about making predictions, I don't know what is.)

Who is this year's Florida? It's hard to make a direct comparison: No unranked teams have the talent that the Gators had last season. Kansas is intriguing: Two straight Tournament flame-outs beget the experience that could drive a young (but maturing) team to a four-game run in March.

But Kansas isn't exactly an unknown: They're ranked no. 3. Further, we can see just how well (or poorly) they match up with Florida – they play each other in two weeks in Las Vegas. (VERY Final Four-ish.) And, of course, there's no guarantee they won't "SELF-destruct" in March... again.

UNC? Balancing too many sick freshmen with sophs who are probably more mentally ready to contribute in March. Of course, these sophs were the same losers who lost to a vastly less talented George Mason team. Motivation or foreshadowing?

Ohio State? Too young without enough upperclassmen balance. Too bad Oden and Cook won't be around to try again as more seasoned sophomores.

Pitt? Please. Aaron Gray? There's a reason he pulled out of the NBA Draft. UCLA? Final Four experience, but not without steady PG Jordan Farmar. LSU? Smacks of a "dream run" one-year wonder a year ago.

But as we continue down the Top 10, I see two teams that I like to do damage in March:

Georgetown, the only team to give Florida a game in last season's NCAA Tournament (and knowing precisely what it takes to beat them), and Wisconsin, another team that plays deliberately enough to keep them in most games, particularly in March. (Plus, they have one of the Top 10 players in the country in Alando Tucker, who makes my first-team All-America list. That's coming later this week.)

My fourth Final Four team? I want to say Kansas but I'm scared off by Bill Self's recent Tournament coaching performances. He's shown he can eff up even the most sure-looking thing.

My pick: Georgia Tech, which combines a sick freshman class ("Fab Three?" Eh. Needs work.) with enough upper-class experience to reverse last season's 11-17 record into a dramatic March run. (Now, please don't blitz me for being internally consistent in touting GA Tech's youth but discounting the same factors for UNC.)

National Champs: Florida
Rest of Final Four: Georgetown, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech

Comments Question: Who's your pick to win the college hoops national title? Who else is in your Final Four? Which team aren't we talking about that we SHOULD be? Which darkhorse team could be this year's Florida? Which darkhorse team could be this year's George Mason? And which "contenders" are overrated?

-- D.S.


Kurt said...

"Again: They have made it easy to root for them, even if you reflexively hate Florida or reflexively hate defending champions."

What if we just reflexively root against your picks?

Anonymous said...

no matter how accurate my predictions have been or how relevant it is to sports fans

I'm curious as to WHY you think a dancing show is relevant to sports fans.

Please don't tell me you actually enjoyed it when the MNF crew spent about the entire second quarter interviewing Emmitt Smith during the Giants/Cowboys game.

You did, didn't you?

BLUE said...

The UNLV group was a better group then florida, by leaps and bounds. Throw in Greg Anthony who had a long NBA career, Grandmama was cut short because of injuries but he was a beast when he played, and the plastic man was one of the best defensive players in the league for a long time. I'd also throw in UNC's group with Felton, May, McCants, Marvin Williams as a better group. And even though I hate Duke, the bobby hurley, laettner, grant hill, thomas hill teams were more talented.

pv845 said...

Let me start by saying I am a Kansas fan, but that is irrelevant to the fact that Florida will NOT repeat. It does not matter who they return. Teams don't repeat in college basketball. Too many games, injuries, cold nights, hot nights by unknowns for a team to repeat. I do admire and thank the team for returning to college, but as Matt Leinart knows, returning isn't always what it is cracked up to be.

Sheldiz said...

I think Georgetown will fizzle... no, wait, as a Villanova fan/alum, i HOPE georgetown will fizzle....

I have a hard time seeing Georgia Tech in the final four b/c its going to be tough for a 'sick freshman class' to have enough poise all at the same time to get through the tournament unscathed.

I'll give you Florida in the final four, but don't think they'll ultimately win. (although, i am a little bitter due to a shitastic Villanova showing against them in the tournament last year...)

I like Wisconsin and think they'll be solid. They could definitely be a contender.

I always have special place in my heart (and my tournament pool) for the Salukis and would love for them to emerge as a late season powerhouse.

Josh said...

Can't believe the way you just tossed Pitt aside, Dan. Our weakness has always been considered our weak non-conference schedule. Jamie has taken steps to fix that: Washington, Wisconsin, Okie State, UMass, and Florida State are just some of the games we will experience outside of the best conference in the nation.

We have more depth than Florida. You dismiss Gray, and I'll grant you that he's probably not going to be anything spectacular in the Association. But we counter with Kendall (a classic guy who will 6 years down the road sign a $40 mil NBA deal and jaws drop in surprise); great guards in Ron Ramon, Levance Fields, Graves and Benjamin; greatly improved Sam Young and Ty Biggs to fill the 3-4 spots; and our secret weapon, Mike Cook, transfer from ECU, who will fill it up from the wing. We are gonna prove you doubters wrong.

Perks said...

I can easily see Florida losing to a team with just one GREAT guard, or two REALY GOOD backcourt players. Who exactly? No one knows yet-- but I could see it happening.

Brian in Oxford said...

The measure of a great team is not necessarily whether or not they win the Championship.

I think it's short-sighted to count out the UNLV '91 team and GTown '85 teams among the great.

A measure of a team's greatness COULD be argued by the size of the upset it takes to beat them. ('Nova shooting 80% and STILL only winning by 2?)

When the original Fab 5 (not the Tractor-Traylor knockoffs) went to back-to-back championship games, they weren't stunners when they lost. Duke was the favorite in '92, and UNC was certainly not too prohibitive an underdog in '93.

My guess is Florida will putz around a few times during the season, lose 7-8 times....look good in the SEC tourney, get a 2 seed and make a pretty good run. Yeah, they can win it all, but Donovan's own admission that re-playing the tournament probably gives you 4 different final teams....the nature of the CBB beast is that something fluky will happen and doom them short of the final four.

Jared said...

I like Duke's team this year. 3 key guys returning, and a star freshman class. Redick, as great as he was, wasn't built for the tournament because one bad shooting night would send Duke home. This year the focus will be on an improved McRoberts.

And I think Florida will prove they're a good, not great, team that got hot at the right time.

TJ said...

Biggest. Jinx. Ever.

If the only thing you have against OSU is that they lack upperclassmen, what about Florida last year. It's hard hard hard to come up with a decision tree or a set of rules to determine a champ. Every year the new champ gives us a completely new conventional wisdom.

BLUE said...

As much as I like college basketball and believe it is a much better entertainment then the NBA, the end story is that one great player can beat a "team" any day. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird didn't have NBA talent around them. Even Carmelo didn't have NBA talent and he led his team to the championship. That's what makes the NCAA so great is it's unpredictablity, and if you don't realistically think that Florida could put up a stink fest in the 2nd round and go home, well you don't know Billy Donovan's history very well.

MoonHopper said...

Oh there is a negative to returning so many from last year that might doom Florida. You briefly touched on it mentioning Georgetown, but I think it may matter more. You can spend months watching a lot of film of Florida from last year and learn exactly what it takes to beat them. Not as easy to do when teams have significant turnover. So maybe lean towards a good team from last year that added a few new pieces, even if they lost one two from last year.

But no, I have no guess.

Sean said...

I'm looking forward to Dan admitting his screwup when Florida doesn't even make the elite 8. I love this blog...but I tire of the reak of Florida (hell , even my weblinks are orange and blue).

I like UNC and Pitt.

Carolina has a strong soph class and a GREAT frosh class...a good combo to go the distance.

Pitt "lost" (finally got rid of) the ball hogging point guard that brought them down (Carl Krauser) with the rest of the team remaining in tact. Trust me, they are a MUCH better team with Krauser and it will show when they make a tourney run with less than 5 losses.

G-Town will be there toughest compo...

Greg said...

im going to follow the beach boys advice and "be true to (my) school". uconn is young, but jeff adrien is back, aj price is finally off the bench, and our new center is 7"3". look for storrs to make an impact come tourney time.

Unknown said...

Fellow TERP FAN here Dan

I'd like to point out (even for then non-terp fan) that MARYLAND's sched is pretty wierd.

You know how yuo always hear that no BIG BOYS will play mid-majors cause they are scared? Check UMD's Sched. They play these teams who you've seen on your bracket but aren't "bcs conference" teams

Florida A&M
Missouri-Kansas City
Siena (in a winner of play-in vs. #1 seed rematch from the year of UMD's title)

I'm not sure what that's about, but it's interesting

jhawkjjm said...

Unfortunately the KU-Florida game will NOT show how well KU matches up with Florida. One of Kansas' big men, 6'11" Sasha Kaun, will not play in that game because of a knee injury. So KU won't match up as well down low. But can Florida match up with KU's guards and wings? It should still be a phenominal game however.

This is a bit of a cop-out, but the team that cuts down the nets in April is the team that catches a few breaks in the tournament. Talent alone does not guarentee anything... as seen by KU the last 2 years, UConn, etc...

K-State is not a factor in the Big 12. Huggins has never won a big game. Those great Cincinati teams came out of a weak conference USA, not the Big East where Cinncy now is. His teams always were said to underachieve in March, but it really was the fact they were overrated going in.

I really was pulling for Michigan to beat Ohio State because I don't like OSU, but after reading some things here I'm not so sure I want them to win anymore.

Unknown said...

I normally don't go after people and i'm not going to be overinsulting or anything but......


WE GET IT. You like football. That's great please litter us with your commentary on the football threads. I enjoy your comments most of the time. THIS IS VERY SIMILAR TO YOU INSISTING NOBODY CARED ABOUT LOUISVILLE VS. WEST VIRGINIA. Your username says it all. You are a Michigan football fan. That's great. Other people like other teams. Other people LIKE OTHER SPORTS and now that basketball is the 2nd most popular team sport in the world (2nd to only soccer) saying that it is a niche sport is simply short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, there.

Carmelo, Warrick and McNamara. It's not about NBA-caliber talent level, or our national team would blow by every country in the world. It's about complementary players, one clutch season and luck. The three SU players above had it all together, as much as Florida. If they repeat, then we can talk about greatness.

Players who impress in one tournament don't often repeat (which is why Melo was smart for leaving and McNamara wasn't).

Everyone seems eager to discount the Big East, which is odd, since they have so many recent champions and final four members. So: Pitt, UNC, Duke, Fla final four. I doubt this, actually, because a West team has been crashing the final 4 consistently. So let's add Texas and subtract Duke.

StartVinceYoung's list is excellent. Much better memory than I have.

OH, and "maninghams"? This blog is FREE! Just don't read the basketball posts. How hard is that to figure out?

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

Florida will not repeat. Why? Because for a team to win six games in a row requires a measure of luck, and there are a lot of other teams that can just as likely heat up at the right time. Picking a team to do it two years in a row, well, that's precisely why it doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

I should add that I'm not discounting Dan's statement that Florida could be the best team this year.

But the best team doesn't always win the tournament, that's all.

Unknown said...

Last year I saw Florida play Syracuse at MSG in the coaches vs cancer tournament I believe. Syracuse played as well as they could play in the first half and they led slightly at halftime. Syracuse went cold for a few minutes in the second half, Florida stayed hot and Syracuse was never back in it. I thought that Syracuse played one of its best games of the year and still lost but at that time, nobody realized how good Florida was. Turns out, pretty damned good.

Also I agree, how can anyone vote any other team #1 when the national championship team returns all 5 players.

Pete said...

No love for the Spartans of MSU??? Just you wait- Izzo will get those lads up and going real quick!

SF said...

How about MJ, Worthy and Perkins for the 81-82 UNC team? That is a pretty good combo...

Alan said...

1) Florida - Easily the best team in the country.

2) UCLA - Maybe not in the nat'l title game, but Darren Collison now starting in place of departed Jordan Farmar isn't too big a drop off. Farmar was a better passer, though. Plus, they get Josh Shipp back.

3) Wisconsin - Returning their entire starting five, including perhaps the best player in the conference, Alando Tucker. Big Ten will have them battle-tested.

4) North Carolina - They're a favorite, sure, but I don't particularly rate them any much higher than several other teams. This is a wild card spot and could just as easily be claimed by Arizona, Georgetown, or (darkhorse) Boston College. The brackets will determine everything, of course.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...


when you say that florida wasn't the best but that they took care of buisness that confuses me

are all the teams that were better than them acually better if they can't take care of buisness?

also i think that they have a better than 0% chance. even if they have the same chance as the 324 other teams that's still a 0.3076923% chance they win it all.
or were you just rounding down?

also your statement about "carolina" winning it all confused me.

Did you mean North Carolina? Maybe North Carolina State? Possibly North Carolina at Ashville? You could have meant Coastal Carolina or maybe North Carolina at Wilmington. It's also conceivable that you were referring to East Carolina. Dare i discount the possibility you meant South Carolina State? I think not. I also refuse to ignore North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (more commonly known as North Carolina A&T). South Carolina also crossed my mind, as did Western Carolina. But North Carolina at Greensboro has to be a contender as well.

In the future, please clarify your posts.

Sean said...

Um..yeah, Ohio State is too young. The same way Syracuse was too young. What a lame excuse for why they won't win.

As for the frontcourt: How about Shane Battier, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette. That's a good front court. Boozer might have been on that team, too.

Dan Shanoff said...

Yeah, that Duke frontcourt was SO good that they lost to a team with a two-man frontcourt of Kevin Freeman and Jake Voskuhl.

(By the way, I covered that title game -- 1999 -- up close, so I'm particularly enamored by UConn's effort. That was the moment I had the epiphany that Coach K is not an exceptional game coach. Calhoun out-coached him every which way you could. It was particularly telling that the only player who was doing damage against UConn was the uber-athletic Maggette, who Coach K inexplicably benched for the majority of the game...I believe it was because Maggette took ONE ill-advised shot early in the first half...which he was entitled to, given the way he presumably figured he was dominating the UConn players. Anyway, Coach K put his faith in his sentimentality for senior Trajan Langdon, rather than his sensational freshman, and it cost him the national title. The only time Coach K has won titles is when his team was SO much more talented than their opponent that he couldn't HELP but win. Otherwise, he regularly takes amazing talent and it manages to underachieve when it counts.)

marcomarco said...

Just thought I'd spam you!