November 15, 2002
What? This is a baseball blog?
I generally try to stay away from non-baseball topics on this website.
Usually the only time I stray from my favorite sport is to talk about something funny.
However, in this case, I just can't help myself.
The college basketball season has officially started!
Over the years my interest in the NBA has almost completely vanished and, while I am big football fan, I have never really been fanatic about it, perhaps because I never played football.
But, after baseball (which will always be #1 for me by a landslide), college basketball is the next best thing.
I don't really have a specific topic to talk about regarding college basketball, but I just wanted to give a few of my thoughts and make some quick predictions...
If you haven't heard of Carmelo Anthony yet, you soon will.
Anthony is a freshman swingman at Syracuse and will soon be a superstar.
He can do it all.
He has good ballhandling skills, is extremely athletic and can even rebound the ball pretty well.
But, the thing that impresses me the most about his game is his mid-range jumpshot.
He can stop on a dime, pull up and sink a 17-footer at any time, and that is a pretty rare skill in today's dunk and 3-pointer game.
Carmelo Anthony made his college debut last night against Memphis.
His line for the night:
11 Rebounds (6 Offensive)
That is a pretty great college debut.
The one weakness in his game (at least last night) appears to be his free throw shooting.
Carmelo went 5-12 on the night, including missing 5 in a row late in the 2nd half.
His free throw shooting, along with a horrible shooting performance by the rest of his team, probably cost Syracuse the win.
Keep an eye out for him and remember the name, he is going to be very special.
To steal a quote from ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, I wish I could buy stock in Carmelo Anthony.
Speaking of special players...
My favorite player in all of college basketball is Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford.
You know that question on personality tests that asks, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"
Well, if I was a point guard, I would be a T.J. Ford, or at least I would like to be a T.J. Ford.
T.J. is the player I tried to be when I was playing basketball.
He is basically an assist waiting to happen.
He doesn't score much (about 10 points a game), but if a Longhorns big man gets open, he will find him for an easy score.
He is fast, extremely athletic, has exceptional ball handling skills and is the best point guard in the country.
Point guards that can score 20 a game are certainly nice, but give me a T.J. Ford, a guy that can run the offense and keep everyone involved, and I will take him everyday of the week and 5 times on John Stockton's birthday.
T.J. Ford is my pick to lead the country in assists this year and he should do it by a pretty large margin.
So, keep an eye on him and remember his name too (along with Anthony's)
I can't do a college basketball column without mentioning a guy that lives on the very same campus that I do.
In fact, Minnesota sophomore Rick Rickert lives in the building right next to mine.
Rickert is the real deal.
At 6-10, he is a phenomenal long range shooter with an improving post game.
He is not a great defender or rebounder yet, but he'll improve with time in the weight room and more games in the Big Ten Conference.
I think Rickert will win the Big Ten Player of the Year and I don't think it will even be particularly close.
I expect him to average about 20-22 points and 8-10 boards this year.
Okay, so those are my 3 "breakout" players to watch this year (and in the future).
Carmelo Anthony is a freshman who is going to be an absolute superstar.
T.J. Ford is a relatively unknown sophomore point guard who is a threat to average 10+ assists a game for a very good Texas team.
And Rick Rickert is a sophomore and Minnesota native that has been spotted by yours truly several times around campus.
Strangely enough, he didn't ask me for my autograph when we ran into each other at Taco John's.
As for my thoughts on teams?
Well, I am glad you asked...
The Minnesota Gophers should have their best season since the Clem Haskins era.
Their front line is the best in the Big Ten and among the top handful in the entire country.
Along with Rick Rickert (14 PPG, .505 FG%) the Gophers also have 6-10 senior Jerry Holman (8.8 PPG, .554 FG%) and 6-8 junior Michael Bauer (9.4 PPG, .431 FG%).
Holman is a great shotblocker with a developing offensive game.
Bauer has been a huge disappointment in my opinion.
He has great talent, but he is basically a guy that likes to hang around the perimeter and shoot jump shots all game, and when he does post someone up, he ends up just shooting a fadeaway jumper.
If he can step up his game a little bit, they will have a dangerous starting front line.
The Gophers also have frontcourt depth off the bench with 6-11 sophomore Jeff Hagen, who redshirted last season and 6-9 freshman Aliou Kane, who is regarded as one of the top first-year big men in the country.
As good and deep as the frontcourt is, the backcourt is almost the exact opposite.
Last year's starting point guard, senior Kevin Burleson, returns, although whether or not that is good news is debatable.
The Gophers should get some help from Ben Johnson, a transfer from Northwestern.
Johnson led Northwestern in scoring while he was there (which is like being the smartest kid in the slow class) and should be able to play significant minutes at both guard spots.
Beyond those two, the guard play is uncertain.
Newcomer Kris Collins, who was supposed to play some point guard, was released from the team yesterday for (apparently) not going to class.
Can you imagine how many classes you would have to miss in order to get kicked off the basketball team before you had even played a single college game?
I am going to go out on a limb and say Collins' issue was not related to alarm clock problems.
Coach Dan Monson is probably going to look to give Collins' minutes to sophomore Aaron Robinson.
Robinson played sparingly and horribly in 2001 and I don't expect much from him.
Incidently, I stood next to Robinson at a bus stop on campus the other day and suffice it to say he is a very little person, no taller than 5-6 or 5-7 I would guess (he is listed at an almost laughable 5-9).
One player that I do expect to step up his game is sophomore shooting guard Maurice Hargrow.
Mo and I went to high school together for 4 years, although I would guess he is completely unaware of that fact.
Hargrow is extremely athletic and fast and has a very good first step.
He isn't a real good shooter yet, but I think he will be a nice surprise for Minnesota this year and should provide some scoring punch off the bench.
The Gophers will go as far as their big men will take them.
I think they have a good chance at winning the Big Ten title, but I predict they will finish in 2nd place (more on that later).
Some other teams I like (or think will surprise) this year...
Yes, I realize how horrible they were last year.
And no, I don't expect them to be great this year.
I do think they will be much improved with a starting 5 that includes 3 much heralded freshmen and 2 very good sophomores who were the lone bright spots on last year's team.
I think UNC will finish in the top 4 of the ACC Conference, which is saying something after they finished tied for dead last a year ago.
The Big Twelve has the most upper level, elite teams in the country, with Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas amazingly all in the pre-season top 5.
I like Kansas a lot, but that isn't really much of a shock.
So, I'll talk a little bit about the Longhorns.
I already mentioned how in love I am with T.J. Ford's game.
I also really like junior forward James Thomas, who is a force inside and is a great finisher (which is key when you have Ford setting you up for easy baskets all over the place).
If Thomas can get some help inside, Texas should be in for a very good season.
Even though they are ranked #5 in the country to start the year, I don't think many people are talking about them as major contenders, but that will change.
Rick Pitino's first season with Louisville was a good one, but not great.
I think the 2002-2003 version will be much improved.
They return almost every important player from last year's 19-13 team, including senior guard Reece Gaines, who is a stud and a good bet to average 25 a game.
Louisville will make the NCAA tourney and it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the Sweet Sixteen.
Now, a team I don't like so much...
The Gators are ranked #7 in the country right now and that simply is not going to last.
They play a pretty soft non-conference schedule, but once the SEC season begins, they will start dropping games.
Florida have absolutely zero frontcourt depth beyond Matt Bonner and David Lee.
I have heard that freshman guard Christian Drejer is the real deal and he better be, because the Gators are going to have to score a lot of points to make up for their lack of rebounding and shot blocking.
Plus, Drejer is going to miss the few couple of weeks with a foot injury.
They'll make the NCAA Tourney, but they aren't going to finish anywhere near #7.
Brett Nelson has got to be the least deserving John Wooden Award candidate (2 years in a row!) in the history of the world.
My official picks for regular season champions (because anything can happen in the conference tourney):
Big Ten = Michigan State.
Always tough, can always rebound and this year they have some good perimeter players, even though Marcus Taylor idiotically left for the NBA (where he got cut!).
ACC = Duke,
They are Duke you know. Only the Dukies could lose Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy and still win one of the best conferences in college basketball. I think Chris Duhon will become a star this year, Dahntay Jones is a solid #2 option and they have a ton of good freshmen.
Big East = Boston College (East Division) and Pittsburgh (West Division).
BC has two great guards in Troy Bell (a Minnesota native!) and Ryan Sidney and I am big believer in guard play being the key in college basketball.
They should have enough to hold off a very good UConn team and St. John's.
I really wanted to go out on a limb and pick Notre Dame over Pitt in the West, but I just couldn't.
Pittsburgh finished 29-6 last year and they return almost everyone.
I think ND will be surprisingly very good, but not that good.
Big Twelve = Kansas.
This is a tough choice, as Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are all possible Final Four teams and even Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State aren't too shabby.
In the end, I think Kansas will win it, with Texas 2nd and Oklahoma 3rd.
They will all be either 1, 2 or 3 seeds in the NCAA Tourney.
Pac Ten = Arizona.
I just don't see how you can go against them. They are not only deep, but they have some star players too, particularly Luke Walton, who will come real close to averaging a triple-double this year. And Jason Gardner (the actual point guard) isn't too shabby either.
SEC = Georgia (East Division) and Alabama (West Division).
You already know I don't like Florida this year, so I will go with Georgia in the East Division. They return almost everyone and Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams are a very good 1-2 combo.
The Gophers play host to Georgia in the 2nd game of the year, which will be a real test for both teams.
I like Bama in the West. They are a good team and Erwin Dudley is a monster inside. It is a shame Rod Grizzard did like Marcus Taylor and went NBAing (and got cut too).
Yeah, I know, I am not exactly going out on a limb with any of those picks.
I think Arizona will probably be a #1 seed and probably Kansas also.
I see Duke as a #2 and Texas as a #3.
So, two #1s, a #2 and a #3, that seems about right to me.
And my national champ...
The Arizona Wildcats.
They were 24-10 last year, they lost absolutely no one and they gained 4 very talented freshmen, including Hassan Adams, who I like a lot.
Look for Bill Walton's baby boy and The White Fox to cut the nets down in March baby!
Did I mention that I am pumped for the season to start?!?!?
By the way, feel free to completely disagree with everything I said in this column because this is, after all, a BASEBALL BLOG!
We'll be back to our regularly scheduled baseball talk tomorrow, I promise.