Amazingly and thankfully, the NCAA Basketball season is approaching quickly, which is good because it's the sport I enjoy most. So like the my NBA previews right before this and College Football Preview, it's time to look at the major conference previews. No rest for the weary!
Player of the Year: For the most part, this is a league of skilled big men (and great freshmen, as we'll learn later). Any discussion here starts with Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, who might the favorite for National Player of the Year. He averaged 19 and 8 as a true freshman, and has just a great feel around the basket. Next in line is Jerad Dudley from Boston College. He's been great alongside Craig Smith, but now is his time to shine. He can play inside/outside, rebound well, and he's an excellent passer. Another skilled big man with a chance is Josh McRoberts of Duke. He flirted with the NBA before deciding to come back, and he's the best ballhandling big man in the country, and extremely athletic. And with Greg Paulus out to start the year, they'll need him to have a big impact early. Other candidates are Al Thornton of Florida St., Reyshawn Terry of North Carolina, and JR Reynolds of Virginia. However, when it comes down it, I don't think anyone will be able to beat out Tyler Hansbrough.
Freshmen to Watch: Well we have to start at North Carolina, where they grabbed what were considered the #1 HS prospects at PF, SG, and PG with Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington, and Tywon Lawson respectively. All three should contribute in some way to an already young and talented Tar Heel squad. Not far behind UNC's class is Duke's, which features SF Gerald Henderson, SG Jon Scheyer, and late signee Lance Thomas. With the departures of Shelden and JJ, as well as the injury to Paulus, these guys will be looked on early as well. And the trifecta in the ACC as far as good freshmen go is Georgia Tech, led by Thaddeus Young. and Javaris Crittenton. Both were top 15 prospects, though Thaddeus Young is consensus top 10. At 6'8'', he can create shots for himself and should immediately be a very solid scorer.
Breakout Players: There are a couple of guys I really like off of Boston College. One is Tyrese Rice, who was the backup PG last year, but assumes the starting role with Louis Hinnant gone. Rice is a dyanmic scorer with a very quick release on his jumper. Next is Sean Williams, a beast of a man down low. He's exceptionally athletic, which makes him one of the best shot blockers in the conference. Here's something I wrote after the BC Sweet 16 game last year:
Human beings are just simply not supposed to do what Sean Williams did to block Kyle Lowry's shot at the end of regulation. He came from the other side of the lane to block that thing. One of the better blocks I've ever seen.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. North Carolina
2. Boston College
4. Georgia Tech
6. Florida St.
8. NC State
9. Wake Forest
11. Virginia Tech