Rivals.com Preseason Top 64 Countdown

Rivals.com Preseason Top 64
1. North Carolina
Everything is coming together at the right time for UNC. While the bulk of the ACC teams appear to be regressing eight other teams lost their best player the Heels remain loaded. Going undefeated in ACC play is a reasonable goal. Postseason success will depend largely on outside shooting and defense. If the Tar Heels do a solid job in both areas, they will have their second national title in four seasons. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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2. Memphis
The Tigers are primed for a run at the national title. They have talent, size, quickness and depth at every position. The non-conference schedule is a doozy, but it's designed to push this team in a way that Conference USA has been unable to in the past two seasons. Anything less than a Final Four appearance would be a disappointment. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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3. UCLA
The main difference between the Bruins and the other national-title favorites (Memphis, Kansas and North Carolina) is depth. The Bruins lack it at certain positions. But if they remain injury-free, there's no reason this team can't make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bruins have a difference-maker at point guard, a roster full of players with postseason experience, one of the best coaches in the game and the kind of big man they long have coveted. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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4. Kansas
Kansas coach Bill Self returns an experienced team that boasts as much talent as any squad in the country. The Jayhawks are eyeing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and hoping to avoid another postseason disappointment. Forward Brandon Rush is expected to return from an ACL injury in Dec. 1 to complement one of the nation's deepest and most explosive backcourts. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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5. Louisville
The Cardinals will be up-tempo on both ends of the floor, and they have the horses to pull it off - for the most part. The coach wants his team to be better defensively than it was a year ago (fifth in the Big East in scoring defense), but there's no reason to believe that can't happen. No team in the conference can throw more big, able bodies at you than Louisville. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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6. Tennessee
The Vols appear loaded for a run at the national title. The roster is brimming with great athletes who fit into Pearl's system. The Vols lose only one player from last season's team, which led eventual national runner-up Ohio State by 17 points at the half in the Sweet 16. The only questions are on defense, where the Vols don't rebound well and are devoid of a real shutdown guy. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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7. Indiana
The arrival of five-star recruit Eric Gordon to the Indiana basketball program has Hoosier fans as hyped as ever. The ultra-talented guard is set to make a huge impact the first time he steps on the floor for a team that checks in at No. 7 in our Top 64 Countdown. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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8. Michigan State
Star guard Drew Neitzel carried the offensive load last season, but coach Tom Izzo would like to see his star guard shoot just as much but take better shots and play fewer minutes. That's possible with the depth in the backcourt. There is quality depth up front, too. If the big men can make some strides from last season, this could be a Final Four team. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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9. USC
With as many as three freshmen set to start, a lot of critics like to talk about the Trojans' youth. But this team is oozing with talent. O.J. Mayo is a one-and-done player. Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson will leave for the NBA before their eligibility is exhausted. The backcourt lacks depth, but the Trojans will make a legit run at the Final Four if Mayo stays healthy. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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10. Georgetown
The Hoyas have a chance to return to the lofty heights of last season. They have arguably the nation's best center in Roy Hibbert, and they have a solid backcourt in Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp. Georgetown's success - for our purposes defined as getting at least as far as last year - hinges on DaJuan Summers. He has all of the tools to be the next Jeff Green. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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11. Kansas State
With Bill Walker back from injury and his former AAU teammate Michael Beasley on campus, Kansas State may have the nation's most athletic frontcourt. The Wildcats' biggest question is whether a new coach can capitalize on that talent. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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12. Arizona
The roster is full of talent. Budinger is one of the most gifted players in the nation, and Bayless is good enough to be an instant star. If Hill can make some big strides, Olson will find a way to get back into the Sweet 16. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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13. Stanford
We haven't seen near the best this Stanford team has to offer. Their ultra-young lineup combined for 460 assists and 459 turnovers last season. That's alarming news for the rest of the Pac-10 considering they still found a way to make the NCAA Tournament. Expect fewer mistakes in 2007-08. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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14. Washington State
The Cougars enter the preseason with heavy expectations for maybe the first time ever. The longtime Pac-10 doormat hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game for 24 years until last season. Don't expect them to start another streak like that in 2007-08. As long as they stay healthy, the Cougars won't have any problems getting back into the field of 65. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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15. Marquette
The Golden Eagles have plenty of reason for optimism with the top seven players back from a team that won 24 games. Their guards can play with anyone, so if Ousmane Barro and Lazar Hayward can produce consistently inside, Marquette is easily a Sweet 16 team - and possibly more. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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16. Duke
The Blue Devils have the personnel to start another streak of trips to the Sweet 16; their run of nine in a row came to an end last season. But without an inside scoring threat and a frontcourt full of questions, this team has a ceiling that stops short of the Final Four. We think they'll land a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament, but don't expect them to advance past the second weekend. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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17. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have Elite Eight potential if they can develop a little depth and maintain team chemistry. There will be games when this team looks unbeatable. If it can avoid melting down after losses, Mississippi State should post 23-25 wins and help Tennessee carry the SEC's banner late into March. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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18. N.C. State
The Wolfpack generated a lot of preseason buzz by making a shocking run to the final of the 2007 ACC Tournament. For most of last season, the team looked like a rebuilding project, finishing 5-11 in league play. So, which Wolfpack team will show up in 2007-08? We believe it will be the team you saw in March. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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19. Syracuse
Coach Jim Boeheim will have a young squad, but there's a lot of excitement over the recruiting class, and rightfully so. Boeheim would like to temper the enthusiasm, but Flynn and Greene have a chance to be very good very quickly. Look for them to deliver on their promise and for Syracuse to leave no doubt this season that it belongs in the NCAA Tournament. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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20. Texas
On the surface, it's easy to think Texas will take a big step back without Durant. But the Longhorns were a successful program before Durant arrived in Austin, reaching the Sweet 16 in four of the previous five seasons. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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21. Connecticut
Can the Huskies bounce back from a 12th-place finish in the Big East? The short answer is yes. The talent level hardly has eroded, but there is a bit of apprehension because the talent didn't translate last season. It would be more surprising if this team goes belly up like last year than it would be if it wins 20-24 games and makes a run at the Sweet 16. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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22. Oregon
Oregon's Tajuan Porter will have to shoulder the load of being the Ducks' offensive catalyst this season. With a strong surrounding cast, Porter's ability to step in for last year's star, Aaron Brooks, may be the key to Oregon's return to the regional finals. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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23. Pittsburgh
The loss of inside forces Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall leave Pittsburgh with some question marks, but the Panthers return more than enough to find themselves in the thick of the Big East race once again. A favorable schedule in the conference won't hurt either. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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24. Alabama
When we compiled our Preseason Top 64, Alabama looked like a team with Final Four talent. But the news that point guard Ronald Steele will miss the season changes things for the No. 24 team in our countdown. Coach Mark Gottfried will be forced to rely on young point guards to survive in the SEC West. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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25. Southern Illinois
The expectations again will be high for a team that has made seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Randal Falker, the Missouri Valley Conference's top defender, anchors a solid frontcourt, and the Salukis figure to be as talented as last year's regional semifinalist squad. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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26. Arkansas
After some tumult in securing Pelphrey to be its next coach, the Arkansas program is poised for an uptick. The talent is there to contend in the SEC West with Mississippi State and Alabama. He has athletic wing players who can make plays on defense and get out in transition. If the point-guard play is steady and as a team the Hogs can cut down on their turnovers, they should be playing well into March. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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27. Butler
The loss of Lickliter definitely hurts, but promoting from within should allow for a smooth transition. Stevens also should benefit from the return of Graves and Green in the backcourt. The Bulldogs' combination of strong backcourt play and solid defense should produce another postseason berth. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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28. Kentucky
Expectations always are high in Lexington, and it will be interesting to watch how Billy Gillispie responds to being under the microscope. He has a team chock full of guards, but the Wildcats are thin up front. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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29. Ohio State
Is this a rebuilding year or a reloading year? The Buckeyes will be young, but they were young last season when they made a run to the national championship game. Coach Thad Matta lost a lot from that team, but Jamar Butler, is back and ready to move back to the point. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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30. Texas A&M
With Acie Law IV the playmaker last season, Texas A&M took another giant step forward. But with Law now in the NBA and Billy Gillispie now at Kentucky, the Aggies must continue their successful ways with Mark Turgeon in charge. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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31. Washington
Washington has a veteran point guard who can do a little bit of everything, a great outside shooter and a big man who can control the boards. He may have to go with an undersized lineup - in perhaps the nation's toughest conference - but Lorenzo Romar will find a way to win. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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32. Gonzaga
Gonzaga again will be one of the top teams not in a major conference, though the rest of the West Coast Conference is catching up. Last season, the Bulldogs lost three league games for the first time since 1999-2000. The goals are the same for the Bulldogs: go to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive season and win the WCC for the eighth time in a row. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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33. California
Erase any memories you have of the 2006-07 Bears. That team was badly undersized and woefully unlucky. Five players missed time with knee surgeries, forcing several players to play out of their natural positions. With Hardin and Wilkes back, the Bears won't get crushed on the boards, which was the main source of their problems last season. Anderson looks ready to emerge as a go-to scorer. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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34. Villanova
Villanova is the kind of team that will cause matchup problems - but face them, too. The Wildcats will field a small, quick team that will make the opposition come out on defense. They'll be at a disadvantage defensively against teams with size, but that's nothing new. This will be an exciting team to watch, and it can score with anybody in the Big East. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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35. UAB
UAB is out to prove Conference USA is not all about Memphis. The Tigers cruised to a CUSA title last year, but the Blazers could make it tougher for them. A year ago, UAB effectively had six scholarship players (nine total, minus three transfers sitting out due to NCAA rules). Those three are now eligible along with an excellent freshman class. With more depth and talent, UAB should be a tournament team and a thorn in the side of CUSA-favorite Memphis. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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36. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is carrying a chip on its shoulder after the NCAA first-round exit to Winthrop. Expectations won't be quite as high with Russell Carter and Colin Falls gone, but this is a 20-plus win team that has the potential to last further into March. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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37. Florida
In this day and age freshmen can step right into the college game and make a huge impact, and that's a good thing for the Gators. Florida signed Rivals.com's top-ranked recruiting class, and it needed to because the two-time defending national champ is undergoing a roster makeover. Expect the kids to improve steadily, and by the end of the season Florida will be a viable NCAA Tournament team. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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38. Davidson
A repeat as Southern Conference champ is almost a given. But this team has its sights set on a higher goal, like making it through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats play four teams ranked in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25 (No. 1 North Carolina, No. 3 UCLA, No. 16 Duke and No. 18 N.C. State). Even if they lose all four (and don't bet on it) the experience will be invaluable. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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39. Virginia
Virginia went from rebuilding to a squad with real hopes of getting back into the NCAA Tournament when senior point guard Sean Singletary pulled out of the NBA Draft. But can coach Dave Leitao find enough other pieces to the puzzle around the star guard? [ In-Depth Preview ]
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40. Vanderbilt
There's nothing like senior leadership at point guard. Alex Gordon has started 55 games for Vanderbilt career, and the Commodores are 38-17 in those contests. But the key for Vandy this season could be new big man Andrew Ogilvy, who should supply the inside presence the 'Dores have been missing. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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41. Xavier
There is no question Xavier has the best set of guards in the Atlantic 10. In fact, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell would probably start for many of the teams in the six major conferences. But can the Musketeers answer their frontcourt questions and return to the NCAA Tournament? [ In-Depth Preview ]
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42. Southern Miss
Southern Mississippi made a dramatic improvement last year under Larry Eustachy, and the Eagles should be ready to take another giant step forward. They return their top four scorers from a team that went 20-11 last season and should challenge for an NCAA bid if they can take better care of the ball. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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43. Wisconsin
A healthy Brian Butch returns to lead a Wisconsin team that must overcome the loss of Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker and point guard Kammron Taylor. But coach Bo Ryan doesn't need stars to win, and this year's Badgers should get into the NCAA Tournament with blue-collar effort and a strong defense. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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44. New Mexico State
Don't cry for Marvin Menzies. After New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus left the Aggies for the NBA, Menzies was hired to build on Theus' vision. And Theus hardly left the cupboard bare. Menzies steps in with one of the nation's top recruiting classes and plenty of talent returing from last year's NCAA Tournament squad. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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45. Illinois
Illinois returns some solid veterans from an NCAA Tournament team, but coach Bruce Weber's team faces some question marks entering the 2007-08 season. The Fighting Illini need to stay healthy, mature quickly and perhaps find a little luck along the way to make the field of 64 in March. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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46. Nebraska
Aleks Maric will still be the main man for Nebraska, but coach Doc Sadler hopes the addition of seven newcomers will take some of the pressure off one of the nation's top centers. Finding some outside scoring to go with Maric's strength inside could push Nebraska into contention for a NCAA Tournament berth. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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47. George Mason
Folarin Campbell is one of two veterans from George Mason's 2006 Final Four team who hopes to lead the Patriots back to the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Coach Jim Larranaga has an experienced roster with depth in the backcourt and a strong defense, but the early season schedule could determine whether George Mason can return to the role of the Cinderella team. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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48. Maryland
Big man James Gist gives Maryland the star power and inside presence it needs. Young guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes should improve into a solid backcourt. Add in some chemistry lessons from Gary Williams and the Terps may be a team to watch in 2007-08. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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49. West Virginia
Watching this talented team transition from John Beilein to Bob Huggins will be one of the most interesting stories of the season. Expect this team to run more, pressure like it never has, and still shoot plenty of 3-pointers. If Huggins can strike the right chord, this could be an NCAA Tournament team. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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50. Oklahoma State
With the status of Marcus Dove and Kenny Cooper undecided, it's difficult to predict where the Cowboys will finish. Wthout them, the Cowboys could easily spend another season in the bottom half of the Big 12. The most likely scenario is another trip to the NIT. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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51. St. Joseph's
Inexperience was a valid excuse for the program's downward turn last season as coach Phil Martelli fielded one of his youngest teams during the 2006-07 campaign. Unless they sustain a key injury, the Hawks have no more reasons to miss the postseason. With a schedule that includes games with Gonzaga and Creighton and a probable matchup with Syracuse in the preseason NIT, and the Hawks look like a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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52. Virginia Commonwealth
VCU should continue challenging for NCAA Tournament berths as long as it has Anthony Grant on the bench and Eric Maynor in the backcourt. VCU should fight it out with George Mason for the Colonial Athletic Association title, but we expect both teams to earn NCAA bids. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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53. Georgia Tech
Many experts are expecting Paul Hewitt and Georgia Tech to take a significant step back in 2007-08 after the loss of Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton to the NBA. But the Yellow Jackets are a veteran team loaded with balance, experience and depth, so don't be surprised if they land back in the NCAA Tournament. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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54. Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky will battle South Alabama for the Sun Belt title and the NCAA Tournament automatic bid. Coach Darrin Horn has six seniors, so there is plenty of leadership and experience, but he'd like to play 8-10 guys regular minutes, so some of the younger players will need to progress. If the depth develops and the frontcourt can hold its own, this team should better last season's 22 wins and be playing in the postseason. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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55. Siena
The Saints went 6-24 prior to coach Fran McCaffery's arrival. In two seasons, he has compiled a 35-25 record and a 22-14 mark in the MAAC. Siena hopes to build on a third-place finish last year including two wins over MAAC champion Niagara. If Siena's defense catches up to its offense, the Saints should contend for a MAAC title. They should also be a threat in the conference tournament. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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56. Rhode Island
Dangerous may be the best word to describe the Rams. They are loaded with offensive weapons and experience. But they are full of question marks on defense. If they improve without the ball, they'll contend for the A-10 title and their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999. If not, they might not make any postseason trips. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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57. Georgia
If Mike Mercer emerges from rehab fully healthy, he and Takais Brown could prove to be one of the SEC's best inside-outside tandems. Throw in a solid supporting cast, and you have the makings of a team that could go further than anyone expects. But things will have to break right for this to be an NCAA team in the always-tough SEC East. The Bulldogs are probably headed for another NIT trip. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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58. Purdue
The Boilermakers love their incoming freshmen, but it would be nice to have some pieces with experience to mix with the youthful makeover. Things would have to go almost perfectly to believe this is an NCAA team, but it's possible. We'll say NCAA bubble, but more likely NIT this season. But when this freshman class has a season under its belt, Purdue will be a tough team to beat. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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59. Saint Louis
The Billikens are going to be thin up front, but they are a veteran-laden team. Add Rick Majerus, whose career record is 422-147, to the mix and that could be enough to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Majerus has taken teams with less talent to the Big Dance. At worst, expect the Billikens' first trip to the NIT since 2004. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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60. Auburn
Jeff Lebo has to get his team to play better defense. It doesn't have to be good, just better than bottom three in the league. If that happens, an NCAA bid is a possibility. More likely this is an NIT team that will look improved on the court but maybe not in the standings. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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61. Brigham Young
Brigham Young should challenge for a postseason berth as long as it has Dave Rose, who has been named the Mountain West's coach of the year each of his two seasons at the school. The Cougars also play extremely well at home. Only Memphis has a longer home winning streak than Brigham Young, which has won its last 31 games at Provo. But the lack of experience could cause the Cougars to settle for an NIT bid instead of a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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62. Minnesota
Yes, on the surface it appears a little crazy to take a team that was 9-22 and put it in the top 64. But the Big Ten will be down this year, and Coleman and McKenzie are talented players. This team lost seven games by seven or fewer points. If Tubby is worth 7.5 points a game, that's 16-15. We're not saying this is an NCAA team, but you can put it down for the NIT. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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63. Fordham
No Atlantic 10 team brings back more pieces to the puzzle than Dereck Whittenburg's Fordham squad. The Rams aren't going to blow anybody out, but they have their top seven players back and the best defense in the A-10. It could all add up to a return to the postseason. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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64. Drexel
After being passed over on Selection Sunday last season, Drexel's chances of avoiding a similar fate this year depend on how well it does in conference play. The biggest strikes against them were a loss in the CAA tournament semifinals and a fourth-place finish in the regular season. The Dragons should improve quite a bit over the course of the season, but they'll probably have to settle for a second consecutive NIT bid. [ In-Depth Preview ]
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