Return of the Magic Eight
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl answers your college basketball questions every Wednesday. Click here to send him a question.
SEATTLE -- If you want to know how to make predictions in this racket, here are the golden rules: 1) make 'em loud; 2) make 'em smart (i.e., surprising but not impossible); 3) make 'em few and far between (how much mileage did I get out of Duke-Stanford anyway?); and 4) by all means, make 'em memorable (I'll never do better than picking France to win World Cup '98 in the pages of Sports Illustrated -- a call that most of you couldn't care less about but, hey, when did Dr. Z ever get his NFL picks right?)
With that in mind, I present my second annual Magic Eight, the teams from which I absolutely, positively guarantee the national champion will emerge. (This worked last year with Michigan State, so we're doing it again. Credit for the idea goes to 'Bag Hall of Fame member Christopher M. Birth of Baltimore. )
In alphabetical order, then:
ARIZONA: Beyond all the turmoil, the Wildcats still have what it takes to win it all.
DUKE: If Carlos Boozer plays smart and stays out of foul trouble, the Blue Devils are the best in the ACC, which (I can say it, folks) is the nation's best conference this season.
ILLINOIS: The absurd non-conference schedule will pay off in March. For the team to be truly dangerous, though, Brian Cook needs to start playing well enough to earn more than 22.5 minutes a game.
MICHIGAN STATE: OK, OK, I underrated the Spartans at No. 7 preseason. With Charlie Bell running the show, this is the toughest team in the country. Note that I didn't say best -- MSU's perimeter shooting could be an Achilles' heel come springtime.
OKLAHOMA: We had to step out on the limb a little, didn't we? Kelvin Sampson is a proven tournament coach, and the Sooners, like Wisconsin, can frustrate the hell out of teams. OU has potential tourney stars at point guard ( Hollis Price ) and power forward ( Aaron McGhee ), but most important, the Sooners are the anti-Arizona -- in other words, a team whose players know their roles. Beware.
STANFORD: Deep, experienced and talented. Those who belittle the Cardinal's tournament record the past two years forget that Jarron Collins and Ryan Mendez were important parts of Stanford's Final Four run three years ago. It helps that Casey Jacobsen has become the undisputed go-to guy.
VIRGINIA: Forget Tuesday's loss at Wake Forest. The Cavaliers' destruction of Tennessee made a believer out of me, and the ACC will only toughen them up. Besides, Pete Gillen knows tournament success.
WAKE FOREST: I really whiffed on the Demon Deacons in the preseason, leaving them out of my Top 20. We knew Darius Songaila and Robert O'Kelley had the goods. We just didn't know jack about the rest of the team, which can really play.
Naturally, I'm leaving out a few teams, including Tennessee (title contenders may lose games, but they never get destroyed), Florida (wait 'til next year), Kansas (see: Tennessee), UConn (big guys will be a letdown), Seton Hall (poor rebounding will be the Pirates' downfall) and Syracuse (regional-semi loser at best).
On to the 'Bag ...
What is going on with the "Jewish Jordan" Tamir Goodman? I remember that Sports Illustrated did a story on him a while back, and I haven't heard anything about his freshman year.
After getting national pub as an Orthodox Jew who had committed to Maryland, Goodman renounced his commitment in late '99 and is playing these days as a freshman at Towson University outside Baltimore. So far everything is going pretty well for Goodman. He played well enough in the preseason to earn a starting spot, and he has started 11 of 13 games, averaging 4.5 points and 1.9 rebounds a game for a 6-7 team. Last month Goodman had a season-high 16 points in a win against Liberty, and he scored nine in a narrow loss to Michigan on Dec. 27.
Towson has adjusted its schedule to accommodate Goodman, who can't play, practice or travel from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday or on any holiday. For example, all of the Tigers' Saturday and Sunday afternoon home games were moved to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. The only potential conflict right now is if Towson makes the final of the America East tournament, which has an 11:30 a.m. Saturday start.
In any case, Goodman's long, complicated story appears to have turned out for the best, after all, and given the pressure he's had to face over the last couple of years, that's quite an accomplishment.
Up here on the Last Frontier, we are all quite enamored with one Mr. Boozer at Duke. Carlos seems to feast on weaker opponents (11-11 FG vs. Portland) but struggle with top-tier teams (four points vs. Stanford). Rumors of him turning pro keep circulating. What are your thoughts? What one area does Carlos need to work on the most before heading to the NBA?
For the life of me, I can't figure out a single reason why Boozer should turn pro right now. He's a good young player with a lot of room for improvement, most notably in the area of toughness against good, big teams. Remember, Boozer is only 6-foot-9, so if he wants to play in the NBA he'll have to use his body and be a force on the boards. He averages around five rebounds a game for Duke, so he has a long way to go in that area. He'll be making a mistake if he enters the draft.
At this stage of the season, how would you rate the performances of UCLA's Dan Gadzuric and Jason Kapono? Do you think these two players will be less inclined to enter the NBA draft at the end of the year if the Bruins continue their mediocre play? Also, why is it that Albert Lin does not have his picture featured at the top of his column as you and Seth Davis do? Is he just self-conscious or unattractive or what?
I think Kapono is a lot more ready than Gadzuric. Kapono has (along with Jacobsen) the best outside shot in the Pac-10, and he has put on the bulk that will serve him well in the NBA. Gadzuric, what to say? He's a big kid who could still be a project in the league just because of his height. If I was a betting man, I'd say Kapono is gone after this season, no matter how UCLA finishes.
As for Mr. Lin, I'll let him answer that question. From my perspective, he's easily the most attractive New York-based, CNNSI.com college basketball editor. That good enough, Albert?
MICHAEL GRAHAM STILL MISSING!
Our WATN search for the former Georgetown player was spectacularly unsuccessful. No help from readers. No luck on my end, either. After doing battle with Nexis and Google and talking to the Georgetown sports information office, I can offer only a small window onto Graham, the shaved-headed menace who made the 1984 NCAA All-Tournament team when the Hoyas won the national title.
I had forgotten that Graham never played for Georgetown again following the '84 tourney. After going through academic troubles, Graham transferred to the University of D.C. during his sophomore year but entered the NBA draft in '86, where he was taken in the fourth round by the Seattle Sonics. He didn't make the Sonics roster and then began an odyssey through the CBA, playing on several teams, including Phil Jackson's Albany Patroons.
In fact, Jackson revealed in his autobiography that after he cut Graham from the team in 1987, he [Jackson] actually pulled over to the side of the road, stopped his car and cried
Graham's travels get pretty hazy during the '90s, to say nothing of this decade. Any more info on him would be appreciated.
THIS WEEK'S WATN
Where in the world is Aminu Timberlake, the former Kentucky player whom Christian Laettner famously stepped on in the 1992 NCAA tournament?
Have a nice week, everybody.
Click here to send your college basketball question to Grant Wahl.