Im beginning the latest installment of my Top 25 countdown with a team that should benefit greatly from the addition of a former Missouri standout:
No. 15 Memphis Tigers
Last season: 31-5 (16-0 Conference USA), lost to Michigan State in Round of 32
Player to watch: Mike Dixon appeared primed for a big senior season last year at Missouri when he was suddenly suspended for an undisclosed reason only a short time after the start of practice. He spent more than a month with his status in limbo until within the span of three days, two allegations of rape made against him one from 2010 became public and the school announced Dixon would seek a transfer. It wasnt until June that he ended up at Memphis and not until the beginning of this month that he learned hed be eligible to play right away from the Tigers. No matter what one thinks about Dixon off the court, he has the potential to be a difference-maker on it and was a clutch performer during a junior season that saw him average 13.5 points, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals and win Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Outlook: Memphis has improved every season under 35- (soon to be 36-) year-old coach Josh Pastner and is coming off a 31-5 season that saw it go 16-0 and win its first NCAA Tournament gave in four years. The Tigers are going to have be better than ever before, though, if theyre going to be contenders in their new league the American Athletic Conference with defending national champion Louisville sticking around for this season and Connecticut and Cincinnati seemingly in it for the long haul. But Memphis roster looks like its build to hang with that kind of competition. Dixon bolsters an already talented and experienced backcourt led by senior guard Joe Jackson, who averaged 13.6 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from 3-point range. Hes surrounded on the wings by Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson, who each averaged 10.4 points a season ago. Pastner could opt to try to playing all four senior guards together, especially while he figures out what he has to work with in a young frontcourt that lost starters D.J. Stephens and Adonis Thomas and reserve Tarik Black. Stephens, the teams top rebounder (6.6 rpg), exhausted his eligibility, Thomas left early and went unpicked in the NBA draft, and Black transferred to Kansas for his senior season. The Tigers do bring back promising 6-foot-9 sophomore Shaq Goodwin and are adding George Washington transfer David Pellom and a talented freshman class of six top-100 recruits, including power forward Austin Nichols and center Dominic Woodson, who should contend for time in the frontcourt.
No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels
Last season: 25-11 (12-6 ACC), lost to Kansas in Round of 32
Player to watch: Most expected swingman P.J. Hairston to be the focal point of the Tar Heels offense once he opted to return to school for his junior season. He did, after all, average a team-high 14.6 points last season and got better as the season progressed, scoring 21 or more points in four of the last seven games and averaging 19.4 during that stretch. He made 89 3-pointers and shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. While his talent is undeniable, there are questions about when and how much Hairston will play this season after he was suspended in July. Hairston was arrested in June and charged marijuana possession and driving without a license charges that were ultimately dropped but was also cited for reckless and careless driving in July. The NCAA in also looking into his relationship with convicted felon Haydn Fats Thomas, who rented the car Hairston was driving during the first incident.
Outlook: North Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in mid-August that Hairston would play this season but not all the games. Assuming he comes back, the Tar Heels wont be a team opponents are looking forward to face. Junior James Michael McAdoo couldnt meet the lofty expectations set for him during his first season as a starter, but the 6-9 forward still averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds. Hell give Coach Roy Williams team as good anchor in the frontcourt that will also include sophomores Brice Johnson and Joel James, defensive-minded junior Desmond Hubert and freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige should benefit from the seasoning he got after being thrust immediately onto the court as a freshman and averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 assists. Senior Leslie McDonald gives the Tar Heels another experienced player on the perimeter, but the team dont have a lot of depth there with Hairstons status up in the air and after losing sharp-shooter Reggie Bullock early to the NBA draft.
No. 13 Oregon Ducks
Last season: 28-9 (12-6 Pac-12), lost to Louisville in Sweet 16
Player to watch: Mike Moser is arriving at Oregon for his final college season after a disappointing junior year at UNLV alongside No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. He averaged 7.1 points and 6.1 rebounds and shot only 36.9 percent, but the 6-8 forward was good for 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game the year before while making a much more respectable 45 percent of his field-goal attempts. If he can regain that form, it will go a long way toward helping the Ducks replace starting big men Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods.
Outlook: Coach Dana Altman took the same strategy at Oregon that Frank Haith did at Missouri when constructing his program, relying heavily on transfer players to quickly build the Ducks into a defender, and hes continued with the same approach even after getting his team to the Sweet 16 last season. Moser is just one of the most recent wholl be featured this season in green and yellow or whatever other colored uniforms the team happens to be wearing that day. Hes also hoping 6-9 junior college transfer Richard Armadi, who originally signed with Iowa State but never suited up for the Cyclones, can plug another hole along the frontline, and Houston transfer Joseph Young could provide a lot of scoring from the wing if the NCAA allows him to play right away this season. Young, who averaged 18 points as a sophomore with the Cougars, decided to leave Houston after the school demoted his father, Michael Young, from his post as the teams director of basketball operations, and has requested a waiver to play immediately because hes already served a forced redshirt year in 2010-11 after backing away from a signed letter of intent at Providence so he could join the Cougars. Even without Young, the Ducks have some talent on the perimeter with returning sophomore guards Damyean Dotson, a 6-5 shooting guard voted to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team last season when he averaged 11.4 points, Dominic Artis, a 6-1 point guard who averaged 8.5 points and 3.2 assists but missed nine games in the middle of the season with a foot injury. They also have 5-8 senior Johnathan Loyd, who filled in Artis while he was injured and later scored 19 points in his teams victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament final.
No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Last season: 27-9 (12-4 Atlantic 10), lost to Michigan in Round of 32
Player to watch: Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon wont be VCUs first, second or probably even third option on the offensive end, but his presence at 6-8, 240 pounds gives the Rams the big-bodied forward it didnt have last season to pair with and take some of the pressure off Juvonte Reddic holding down the interior. Shannon averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds last season before completing his degree so that he would be eligible to play immediately at his new school.
Outlook: High-major schools came after Coach Shaka Smart again this offseason, wanting him and his Havoc system to transform their programs. Its one thing for Smart to have said no to an overture from a middling Big Ten program such as Minnesota, but he also spurned the advances of college hoops heavyweight UCLA. That might be the strongest indication one could find of what Smart thinks of the players hes assembled in Richmond. They could form a team as formidable as the one that reached the Elite Eight in 2011. Junior swingman Treveon Graham is a dynamic scorer capable of adjusting his approach to the player whos guarding him. He shot a solid 36.6 percent from 3-point range but was better as he got closer to the basket, overpowering smaller guards or using his quickness to exploit bigger defenders. He went for 20 or more points seven times and averaged 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds. Reddic is among the best forwards in the Atlantic 10 and averaged 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting a career-best 56.9 percent from the floor. Senior guard Rob Brandenberg provides another proven perimeter scorer and averaged 10.4 points. Junior Briante Weber will try to fill the role of departed point guard Darius Theus. Weber has already proved he can thrive in Smarts high-pressure system and came up with 2.7 steals per game last season. The Rams, who finished second to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 last season, seemed positioned to move on top, especially after the league lost Butler and Xavier to the Big East, Temple to the American Athletic Conference and Charlotte to Conference USA.
No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last season: 29-8 (13-5 SEC), lost to Wichita State in Elite Eight
Player to watch: DeShaun Thomas was one of the countrys most potent scorers last season, averaging a Big Ten-leading 19.8 nearly double the next closest scorer on the OSU roster. Coach Thad Mattas team is going to have to have someone emerge to come close to filling his shoes and the most likely candidate seems to be junior forward LaQuinton Ross, who brings similar skills and size (6-8, 220 pounds) to the court. He only averaged 8.3 points but averaged 17.7 during the Buckeyes last three games against Iowa State, Arizona and Wichita State.
Outlook: Mattas had plenty of experience replacing elite talent, whether it was Greg Oden and Mike Conley or Evan Turner or Jared Sullinger. Hes recruited well enough over the years that hes usually had someone ready to fill in and take on a bigger role for the Buckeyes. They did slip into the NIT after Oden and Conleys departure but have made the NCAA Tournament every other year theyve been eligible during his tenure the school faced a postseason ban in his first season in 2005. The team doesnt just get in, either. It typically sticks around a while, making at least the Sweet 16 in four straight years. Senior point guard Aaron Craft is a good bet to lead them there again. One of the nations best defensive guards, Craft also averaged 10 points and 4.8 assists and hit some big shots, including a game-winning 3-pointer against Iowa State in the Round of 32. He and junior Shannon Scott (3.8 apg) give Matta a pair of excellent ball-handlers and playmakers who work well together. Lenzelle Smith Jr. averaged 9.2 points third on the team playing on the wing last season. Smith shot 37.4 percent from 3-point range. Junior Sam Thompson and Amir Williams have both proved they can be prominent parts of the frontcourt rotation, but Ohio State needs both to increase their production, especially on the boards. The 6-7 Thompson averaged 3.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. The 6-11 Williams, who had 50 blocked shots, only grabbed 3.9 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game.
Source : http://www.columbiatribune.com/article/20130924/Blogs/309249811