June 6, 2007

Mailbag: New faces bring new hopes

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the season and answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.

There is no offseason for college basketball junkies.

Dozens of questions have been pouring in to Rivals.com over the last week, many from fans eager to see what a new coach or new recruits will mean for their school.

With Syracuse bringing in one of the nation's top recruiting classes, what can we expect from the Orange?

Can five-star point guard Derrick Rose lead Memphis to a national title?

What does landing a pair of top-50 prospects in the late period mean for Kentucky and first-year coach Billy Gillispie?

Rivals.com national writer Andrew Skwara answers all those questions and more in the first offseason mailbag:

Inside issues for Orange

Will the Syracuse freshmen make an immediate impact? How far can the Orange go this coming season?

Scott from Orlando

Don't be shocked if Donte Green and Jonny Flynn - the prize recruits in the Orange's six-man class - share the Big East Rookie of the Year award. They are both going to play significant minutes and could start immediately.

Green has the physical tools and upside to be an NBA star someday. The explosive Flynn gives the Orange a true point guard for the first time in several years. Flynn's arrival will also help the development of rising sophomore Paul Harris (8.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg last season), who didn't live up the hype last season. Flynn and Harris were high school teammates.

The influx of talent won't necessarily mean more wins for the Orange, who were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament despite a 10-6 record in the Big East last season.

Jim Boeheim has some big questions to address in the frontcourt. With leading scorer Demetris Nichols and big men Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins (who combined to average 21.0 rpg) having exhausted their eligibility, the 6-foot-5 Harris is the tallest player on the roster with any real experience.

Green is 6-9, but he has a lanky build and is more of a finesse player who excels away from the basket.

Who is going to provide an inside presence? Who can handle the dirty work down low? Right now, the options don't look too promising.

Sophomore Devin Brennan-McBride (6-9) is a raw project, and asking incoming freshman Rick Jackson (6-8) or junior college transfer Kristof Ongenaet to start right away is probably unfair.

The Orange are extremely talented, but until they fix their problems on the inside they won't be anything more than a NCAA Tournament bubble team again.

Memphis loaded for title run

What do you think of Memphis' chances of winning the national championship now that they've added elite guard Derrick Rose?

Terry from Memphis

The Tigers not only have a legitimate chance to win it all, but they might have the best chance of anyone. That includes other preseason favorites like North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas.

The Tigers have more experience than those other programs. Every starter returns from a team that reached the Elite Eight last season. Three of them have played in a Final Four.

No team may have as much balance or depth, either. Memphis has a reliable perimeter scorer in Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.4 ppg), a bruising big man in Joey Dorsey (9.4 rpg), a versatile forward in Robert Dozier and a plethora of versatile guards.

Rose will give them a new dimension. The 6-foot-4 point guard ranks among the most explosive and athletic prospects in his class. He's also highly skilled and a great decision-maker. I would not be surprised if he winds up being the best point guard in college basketball next season (think about where Mike Conley, Jr. was at this time a year ago before you roll your eyes).

The Tigers also possesses another big edge: playing in Conference USA. Some see the struggling league as a drawback, but it virtually guarantees several easy wins and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers also get criticized for playing too recklessly, but I think their 25-game winning streak last season showed they have the kind of focus and drive needed for a national title run. How many teams can go out and beat everyone they are supposed to for three months? The answer is slim to none, even if you are playing inferior teams every night.

Horrid free-throw shooting, not the schedule (which will be full of some quality non-conference games once again), should be the Tigers' main concern. They shot 62 percent from the charity stripe last season. I can't imagine them going all the way without a significant increase.

Illini losing ground?

A lot of people seem to think that Illinois will have another down year even though they return most of their players and add a fairly good recruiting class. Do you think Illinois has a chance to compete for the Big Ten title again this year?

Sam from Fisher, Mich.

The days of Illinois competing for Big Ten titles may be over until they improve on the recruiting front.

Bruce Weber and his staff were never able to capitalize on the Illini's magical 37-2 season in 2004-05. A couple of stellar recruiting classes should have come next. Instead, the talent gap between the Illini and Ohio State has been growing at a rapid rate.

Wisconsin has long been one of the league's elite programs without luring elite prospects, but I don't think you'll see Illinois make the same kind of transition.

Just getting back to the NCAA Tournament next season is going to be a struggle. They are losing two of their top three scorers, possibly all three if center Shaun Pruitt stays in the draft, and that's from a team that struggled to score.

Return to glory for Kentucky?

With a new coach and some huge recruiting pickups in the late period, do you see Kentucky competing for the SEC crown and maybe a Final Four?


Reaching the Final Four is a stretch, but contending in the SEC certainly isn't. Tennessee is the only team in the league that is clearly better.

Nobody in the SEC has a deeper collection of guards with the return of veterans Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley and promising sophomores Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper. Four-star signee Alex Legion will contribute, too.

Much of their success will hinge on how much of an impact five-star signee Patrick Patterson can make. An already thin frontcourt looked almost nonexistent after losing Randolph Morris to the NBA. Perry Stevenson is the only post player back with any experience, but only Patterson is capable of providing a true inside presence. If the 6-8, 230-pounder can be a force on the glass and avoid foul trouble - which is asking a lot - the Wildcats might turn the hunt for the SEC title into a two-team race.

Regardless of how quickly Patterson can develop, expect Kentucky to steadily improve over the next couple of years. Their defense, which was always a strong point under Tubby Smith, will get even better under new coach Billy Gillispie. More importantly, Gillispie will land some highly touted big men soon. With a good foundation already in place in the backcourt, it's easy to imagine the Big Blue contending for a national title by the 2008-09 season.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.


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