Since Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot rimmed out, I've been filling my free time with baseball and chocolate milk until the college basketball season was again here. The most encouraging sign of its impending arrival is the preseason top 25, which was announced a few days ago. This year's top teams are ripe with young talent that could overtake the obvious (to me) number one team in the nation, the Duke Blue Devils, who are led by returning seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. But more on them later. Numbers 25 to 17 for now.
25. San Diego State Aztecs (25-9, lost first round to Tennessee)
The Aztecs bring back all five starters from their Mountain West Championship team. They're anchored by beastly sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, who's coming off a stellar 13 and 10 freshman campaign. His game is similar to Providence's Jamine Peterson, who went undrafted after being dismissed by Keno Davis. Leonard combines tremendous rebounding IQ with NBA-level length and athleticism and shows it by pulling down 27% of his team's rebounds. He needs to improve shot selection and either develop a reliable outside shot or stop shooting it because his percentages should be higher. With another good season, he could find himself in the first round, helping out a playoff team right away.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Malcolm Thomas, another efficient forward with more size than Kawhi. They'll both be tough to stop for MWC opponents all season.
Continue to count backwards with me after the jump.
24. BYU Cougars (29-5, lost second round to Kansas State)
In this, their final season with mid-major status, BYU hopes to take advantage of the Cinderella tag one last time. Jimmer Fredette, who scored 58 points in their two NCAA tournament games last March, will be leading that charge. Though Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock will play their supporting parts as returning seniors, Jimmer's the lead, the one with POY aspirations if they end up a top 5 or 10 team. Would that translate into a career in the NBA? He's too small to be a starting two and not equipped with the explosiveness typical of a smaller scoring guard. But he's a smart kid with range for miles and isn't afraid to take it to the basket and absorb contact. Definitely a second round pick but I'd like him to work on his distributing before I can guess if he'd stick on an NBA roster.
Charlie Day Wild Card: 6'6 freshman guard Kyle Collinsworth from Provo who averaged 24, 10 and 7 assists as a high school senior. He's the early pick for conference Freshman of the Year and could steal a starting spot next to Fredette and pave the way for an early exit.
23. Tennessee Volunteers (25-8, lost Elite 8 to Michigan State)
I'm still wrapping my mind around how Bruce Pearl led his band of misfits (cliche'd) to the regional championship, so I'll just chalk it up to tremendous coaching and ready myself for this year where he has one of the deepest teams in the nation. While Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum, and Melvin Goins should step up with bounceback seasons, the guy that could make them a real contender is Tobias Harris. A 6'8 hybrid forward, Harris will win the starting spot from sophomore Kenny Hall and UNC-Wilmington transfer John Fields early on. He's got good handles for a big man and his game lends itself towards the four position at this level and the next. With such a deep rotation and his still developing adult body, Harris isn't likely to go pro after this season.
I also heard that Tobias and Goins will be referred to as "Gobias Industries." As in, go buy us some coffee.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Another 6'6 guard, this time the hyper-athletic freshman from Midway, Georgia, Jordan McRae. With Hopson and Tatum in front of him, there's not many minutes to spare, but he's got unique athleticism that, if harnessed, will make some pro scouts drool onto their clipboards.
22. Temple Owls (29-6, lost first round to Cornell)
After a disappointing end to last season when the Owls were robbed of a better seed and lost to an equally underseeded and tremendously difficult Cornell team, Fran Dunphy will look to his big man Lavoy Allen to lead the team back to the Tourney in his senior year. The Philadelphia product is a 6'9 power forward with NBA role player written all over him. Even going back to high school (rival high school of mine), he always had a problem being assertive. He's the best player on the court most of the time and with his rebounding, improving outside jump shot, and shot-blocking ability, he needs to prove it more. Expect a dozen-plus double-doubles and a late first round selection in 2011.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Argentinian junior point guard Juan Fernandez has shown that he's capable of taking over games. With another year of development under the tutelage of Fran Dunphy, Juan could get some pro looks. He's got range but poor shot selection, and a Chris Douglas-Roberts level of craftiness. Plus, people chant "Ole" when he does something good.
21. Virginia Tech Hokies (25-9, lost NIT to Rhode Island)
Seth Greenberg hopes his returning five starters can rebound from the Selection Committee's VT snub of last year. The only way to do that is if Malcolm Delaney sheds his jersey in favor of a cape. Averaging 20 points per game last season, the 6'3 guard brought the Hokies to the precipice of a tournament appearance, but doesn't have an ideal game for the NBA. While his assist numbers went up towards the end of the season, he is definitely a scoring two that gets his dimes by drawing the double team. Orchestrating an offense is something that, if he can commit himself to a position change, would help his plight of getting drafted. As of now, he's Willie Green. And Willie and I have a history.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Jarell Eddie is a wing coveted by Seth Greenberg. I'm not high on Terrell Bell or Victor Davila, so I'm giving Eddie a shot at the starting lineup because of his intelligence and midrange game. Improve his handles and he's an NBA prospect in a year. Everybody needs shooters.
20. Georgetown Hoyas (23-11, lost first round to Ohio)
I honestly don't think anybody here is a legitimate NBA prospect. Austin Freeman could get a few calls, Jason Clark isn't big or athletic enough to do what he does at a higher level, and we've seen so little of Henry Sims that I don't know what he gives us. Hollis Thompson and Julian Vaughn will both be solid. Freshman big men Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham could show something in limited time. They're a collection of good college players who should get to the Sweet Sixteen and not much more.
Charlie Day Wild Card: If Chris Wright were to go down, Freeman would take the point. But if John Thompson tres was feeling gutsy, a starting role for freshman Markel Starks would keep viable options on the bench. Beloved by Gary Williams, the Hoyas wooed Starks away from College Park and will have himself a nice career in Georgetown.
19. Memphis Tigers (24-10, lost NIT to Mississippi)
The success of this really young team with a really young coach will hinge on freshman shooting guard and preseason All-Conference Second Team pick, Will Barton. He's the third "Will" in the projected starting lineup (a good strategy: confuse the opposition) and is expected to last just one year in Memphis. Aside from the personal problems in the locker room as a teammate and in the classroom, Barton's the total package. Size (6'6), length, and athleticism with a fearless attack-the-basket game and a sweet jump shot, Barton is basically Downtown Anderson from Major League 3. I look forward to watching this kid on a bigger stage. Memphis needs him to bring the team back into the spotlight.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Joe Jackson is the freshman starting point guard for this Memphis Tigers basketball team. He's an undersized scoring point with leaping ability somewhere in between a Louis Williams and Rodrigue Beaubois. If things go sour with Barton, Jackson will be asked to pick up the slack.
18. Washington Huskies (26-10, lost Sweet Sixteen to West Virginia)
With Quincy Pondexter gone, this team belongs to Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy. Since Thomas is 5'8, I'll give Gaddy the best shot at bolting after this season even though he's slated to begin the year on the bench. Coming in with high expectations, the 6'3 guard disappointed as a freshman, averaging under 4 points per game for Lorenzo Romar. Having just turned 18 years old, Gaddy has plenty of time to develop, though an underwhelming quickness and jump shot could hinder his chances. He's a classic point guard that relies on craftiness rather than overwhelming athleticism to get past his man. I like his chances of becoming a great college player over the next two-three years, but his NBA upside is limited at this point. Or, I'm wrong.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Aziz N'Diaye could be some hybrid between Aziz Ansari and Hamady N'Diaye but I don't believe so. He's a 7'0 sophomore center from Senegal with a cliched wingspan and tremendous shot-blocking presence in the interior. With senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning as the only other legitimate big worth giving minutes to, N'Diaye could play a big role in securing a Pac-10 title for UW.
17. Butler Bulldogs (33-5 , lost Championship game to Duke)
The championship runners-up (runner-uppers?) return Matt Howard as their best player from that almost title team. But since Howard is more fit for Europe ball, freshman Khlye Marshall stands to be the most-likely pro prospect out of this group. His strength is in his athleticism, something that separates him from the IQ-oriented Butler team, and should line up at forward next to Howard when the season starts. Everything I've read about him says he's got a great work ethic, so his rawness could turn into stellar play really quickly in the Horizon League.
Charlie Day Wild Card: Brad Stevens. He's probably still eligible (and cute!).
Next time (THERE WON'T BE NO NEXT TIME!) I'll have teams 16 through 9. I expect you'll all be holding your breath. Hopefully you've got an extremely large esophagus and windpipe.