McGuire left us with many great sayings but my all-time favorite was this one: “The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.”
It made so much sense when he said it and it still carries a lot of weight in 2007, after we witnessed a college basketball season dominated by young teams. Many of them were led by freshmen. Many of them featured freshmen and sophomores. Some great traditional programs — such as Kansas and UConn — didn’t have a scholarship senior player this season.
If Coach McGuire were still around today, he might have to come up with another saying. That would be: “The worst thing about freshmen is that they turn pro instead of staying in school.”
Many of the top coaches and most of the top teams from 2006-07 are waiting for decisions. Who will stay and who will go? It makes recruiting a nightmare for coaches. And it makes predictions for next season almost impossible for prognosticators.
But that’s the assignment here. So, based on what we know right now (which is very little) and what we hear might happen in the next month, here are the top five teams for next year.
We’ll start at No. 5 and work our way to the top.
5. Southern California. The Trojans are ahead of schedule when it comes to rebuilding under coach Tim Floyd. USC made it to the Sweet Sixteen this season and nobody expected things to turn around that fast. It took a remarkable second-half run by North Carolina to keep the Trojans out of the Elite Eight.
The biggest loss from this year’s team should be senior guard Lodrick Stewart, who averaged over 14 points and was a terrific three-point shooter. That loss will be offset by a terrific recruiting class, led by O.J. Mayo, the 6-5 shooting guard from Huntington, W.Va. If Mayo can behave himself and live up to his potential, he could usher in a brand new era at USC.
The defensive style of Floyd and his ability to recruit will make the Trojans a factor for several years. Next season will be Floyd’s third at USC and that turned out to be a special season for John Thompson III at Georgetown and Thad Matta at Ohio State.
Maybe the Trojans are headed to the Final Four in 2008.
4. Ohio State. Center Greg Oden probably won’t be back, but the Buckeyes proved over and over this season that they are very good without him.
Point guard Mike Conley Jr. is the key. He was asked Friday in Atlanta if he would return to the Buckeyes for next season. “Yes definitely,” Conley said. That’s good news for Matta, who put together one of the top recruiting classes of all time in Columbus this season and got instant, remarkable results.
Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris are seniors on this year’s team. Lewis came up big in the NCAA Tournament and his leadership lesson will serve as an example to the younger players coming back. In addition to Conley, Jamar Butler, Daequan Cook, David Lightly and Othello Hunter should return.
Matta has another top 10 recruiting class coming in, led by Kosta Koufas, a 7-1 center from Canton, Ohio. As long as Matta is around, the Buckeyes are a major national player.
3. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams had his heart broken in the Elite Eight again. But you have to figure that 2008 could be the year of the Tar Heels.
North Carolina has gone through growing pains the past two years with so many youngsters in the program. The encouraging thing is that the roster will be full of juniors and sophomores next season. That is the perfect mix for a championship run these days.
Reyshawn Terry is the only starter who was a senior. Freshman forward Brandan Wright may be a one-and-done player headed to the NBA, although one more season in college would certainly benefit his game and allow him to become bigger and stronger. Tyler Hansbrough is the heart and soul of the Tar Heels and it would be devastating if he entered the draft. He doesn’t possess the athleticism that NBA teams want, so staying another year would be Hansbrough’s best option.
Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson give Williams a potent starting backcourt again. Top reserves Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor are both sophomores.
Williams will be focused bigger things next year. The Tar Heels shouldn’t settle for anything less than a trip to the Final Four — and maybe more.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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