EARLY 2004-05 V-RANKINGS | April 8
More from Vitale: UConn tops Georgia Tech for national title
Now that Connecticut has celebrated its second national championship under Jim Calhoun, fans all across America are wondering how their teams will do next season. It's a bit early to speculate, especially since we don't know which underclassmen will end up entering the NBA draft. Also, there will be coaching changes that could affect teams vying for a spot in the rankings. With that in mind, let's look ahead at my preliminary Dazzling Dozen teams for 2004-05:
1. North Carolina
|Can Rashad McCants lead UNC to a championship?|
I really feel Roy Williams and company will make a run for the national championship. During the second half of the season his players bought into the system and played better defense. If all of his top talent returns (Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, Sean May), watch out!
Mike Krzyzewski's team will make another push for the Final Four, so what else is new? Yes, the Blue Devils lose their leader Chris Duhon, but a likely lineup of Luol Deng, J. J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph isn't too bad. Then throw in Sean Dockery, and perhaps Shawn Livingston (if he doesn't enter the draft right out of high school), and the Cameron Crazies could be celebrating another big season.
Bill Self's team made the Elite Eight and the potential is there for even bigger things. Wayne Simien, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles have winning experience and that is important come tournament time. J.R. Giddens and David Padgett will be even better with that year of experience.
The national champion Huskies will probably lose Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon to the NBA draft, as well as departing senior point guard Taliek Brown. Jim Calhoun will simply reload and return to prominence with Rashad Anderson, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Boone (who is becoming a superstar on the glass), Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong and company. The addition of impact diaper dandies Rudy Gay and A. J. Price will help.
5. Georgia Tech
Paul Hewitt's team does lose Marvin Lewis and Clarence Moore, but the talent is there to make noise again in the tough ACC. Luke Schenscher will get better and better in the middle, and guard Jarrett Jack showed through most of the NCAA tournament that he's a top-flight leader. B.J. Elder will be healthy and ready to roll and Will Bynum may be even more of a factor next season.
6. Michigan State
Coach Tom Izzo expects better point guard play to be a big factor. This group has experience and has played together so long now that it will be a positive. The key is Paul Davis coming back and not going to the NBA draft. In my mind, Davis needs another year to improve his game. Meanwhile, Chris Hill can flat out shoot and Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert need to step up big and develop consistency.
7. Wake Forest
Skip Prosser's team may deserve to be ranked even higher. His whole nucleus returns and Chris Paul should receive All-America consideration. Eric Williams needs to be a little more consistent inside.
This ranking will depend on whether Andre Igoudala returns or leaves early for the pros. Lute Olson needs a little more depth and his recruiting class will help returning players like Hassan Adams, Mustafa Shakur, Channing Frye and company.
Gary Williams' squad showed a lot by beating the top three seeds in winning the ACC tournament title. This team was so young and green last season that next year could be really special since the only top player gone is Jamar Smith. Expect big things from John Gilchrist and company.
Bruce Weber's team fell to Duke in the NCAA tournament but showed its potential for the future. The backcourt of Dee Brown and Deron Williams is slated to return plus his frontcourt is back in the fold, keyed by James Augustine and Roger Powell.
The Longhorns lost four key veterans in Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey, Brian Boddicker and James Thomas. Rick Barnes has a lot of talent returning, including P. J. Tucker, Brad Buckman, Sydmill Harris, Edgar Moreno and Kenny Taylor. Texas is counting on a premier recruiting class to provide immediate help.
If Devin Harris comes back, the Badgers could be a top-10 squad. They get Brian Butch, a McDonald's All-American who redshirted last season. Wisconsin also adds Shariff Chambliss, a transfer from Penn State who becomes eligible. Alando Tucker comes back from a foot injury which sidelined him most of the 2003-04 campaign. Bo Ryan is a flat-out winner, baby!
Others to watch (in alphabetical order):
Alabama has a solid young team and the front line will get better with experience. Kennedy Winston was All-SEC first team already.
Cincinnati needs some more help at the point, but a front line with James White and Jason Maxiell should be solid.
Florida is expected to have Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and David Lee as the trio to watch.
George Washington could be like St. Joe's and Xavier and star in the A-10. Karl Hobbs is a rising star in the coaching profession and this Jim Calhoun disciple should have a lot to celebrate.
Kentucky has an exceptional recruiting class coming in and will reload in the backcourt. The addition of transfer Patrick Sparks from Western Kentucky will provide an instant boost.
Louisville has Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean leading the returning players. Will Sebastian Telfair jump to the pros or will he make Rick Pitino happy by wearing the Cardinals uniform?
Memphis loses Antonio Burks but Sean Banks should be even better after a tremendous diaper dandy season.
Michigan is on the rise and Tommy Amaker is building a winner. Daniel Horton was super in the NIT.
Mississippi State could have Lawrence Roberts back to lead the way up front. If he returns, this team can compete for the SEC title. Gary Ervin is an up-and-comer to watch.
NC State will be another team to watch in the ACC if Julius Hodge returns. Herb Sendek has shown his naysayers that he can coach.
Notre Dame has Chris Thomas back and hopefully Torin Francis' back won't be an issue. Remember this name: Dennis Lattimore, a transfer from Arizona. He'll be a special player for the Irish.
Oklahoma State loses Tony Allen, but don't count out Eddie Sutton's team. Look for even bigger things from Joey Graham up front.
Pittsburgh lost a lot in Julius Page and Jaron Brown, but Jamie Dixon's team is strong up front with Chevy Troutman and Chris Taft.
Saint Joseph's loses Jameer Nelson, but Delonte West will be the focal point of Phil Martelli's offense.
Stanford will see how Josh Childress fares testing the waters of the NBA draft. Mike Montgomery has Chris Hernandez running the show and Rob Little as an inside force.
Syracuse will be a contender in the Big East if Hakim Warrick returns. Gerry McNamara is one of the best shooters in America and Jim Boeheim is confident that some of his younger players will show even more next season.
Washington made a lot of noise down the stretch this season and Lorenzo Romar has everyone back. Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy and Will Conroy will be tough to stop out West.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.