All the predictions you'll need for the college hoops season ahead
Posted: Wednesday November 12, 2003 12:20PM; Updated: Wednesday November 12, 2003 1:48PM
The bad news is, nothing about this college basketball season will be determined until at least March.
The good news is, that means none of these predictions will be wrong for at least four months.
Team on the rise: North Carolina. These days, all it takes is three All-America-type players (Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May) and a Hall of Fame coach (Roy Williams) to take a team from the cellar to the top 10 in the course of two years. Runner-up: Michigan.
Team on the decline: Georgia. In the wake of the Jim Harrick scandal, the Dawgs not only lost their coach but star Jarvis Hayes went to the NBA, Ezra Williams graduated, center Steve Thomas was kicked off the team and four committed recruits went elsewhere. Runner-up: Memphis.
Bound to surprise: UCLA. The Bruins' 10-19 record last season wasn't for lack of talent. With the arrival of a more disciplined coach, Ben Howland, and another year of experience for Cedric Bozeman and Dijon Thompson, no reason that record won't be reversed. Runner-up: Vanderbilt.
Bound to disappoint: Indiana. The Hoosiers have one of the nation's best young backcourts with Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland, but the frontcourt -- George Leach, Sean Kline, freshman Pat Ewing Jr. -- will be hard-pressed to produce any offense. Runner-up: Oregon.
Wild card: Maryland. Maryland has lost eight starters in two years and on paper appears down. But one could have said the same thing last year, and the Terps reached the Sweet 16. Jamar Smith and Nik Caner-Medley will have to take on bigger roles. Runner-up: Marquette.
Breakout player: Christian Drejer, Florida. Touted as a possible NBA first-rounder had he bypassed college, the Danish import was hampered by injuries his freshman year. This year, he'll probably make major contributions as the Gators' small forward. Runner-up: Jason Fraser, Villanova.
Player on the spot: Romain Sato, Xavier. A deadly shooter and projected first-round draft pick, Sato benefited greatly the past three years from the inside presence of David West. Now, for the first time, he'll be asked to carry the Muskies on his shoulders. Runner-up: Chris Duhon, Duke.
Coach on the move: Bobby Gonzalez, Manhattan. Now entering his fifth season, his teams have improved every year, culminating in last year's NCAA berth, the Jaspers' first in eight years. Someone is bound to snatch up this 40-year-old recruiting whiz. Runner-up: Jeff Lebo, Chattanooga.
Coach on the hot seat: Mike Jarvis, St. John's. For years the rumor was Jarvis might leave for the NBA. By last season, word was he might be leave with a pink slip. Last year's NIT title granted him a reprieve, but Johnnies fans don't generally accept the NIT. Runner-up: Pete Gillen, Virginia.
Early season game of the year: Duke at Michigan State, Dec. 3. The featured matchup of this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge will pit two of the nation's top three teams in the preseason polls. Runner-up: Arizona vs. Texas, in New York, Dec. 9.
Best midseason game: Connecticut at North Carolina, Jan. 17. A rematch of last year's last-second Tar Heels victory in Chapel Hill, it will be one of the first real tests for the nation's preseason No. 1. Runner-up: Syracuse at Missouri, Jan. 12.
Best late-season game: North Carolina at Duke, March 6. Not only will it be the Cameron Crazies' first crack at Roy Williams, but, for the first time in a few years, there could be ACC title implications. Runner-up: Kansas at Missouri, March 7.
Preseason All-America teams
Emeka Okafor, C, Connecticut
Channing Frye, C, Arizona
James Thomas, C, Texas
Picking the conferences
Connecticut, Duke, Michigan State, Notre Dame (there's always one surprise)
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.