Category #2: Teams that lost enough key players to make you think they won't be any good, but will simply re-load OR Why we'll still be hearing about guys named Tyler.
~NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Lost: Forward Tyler Hansbrough, guards Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green
Returning: Forwards Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and guard/forward Marcus Ginyard
It's no secret the Tar Heels line-up was gutted post-championship, but Roy Williams still has enough talent and experience to make this team a constant contender. No doubt Williams will be looking to senior Marcus Ginyard to lead this group after sitting out last season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Ginyard's offensive numbers during his first 3 years were nothing special (between 4 and 7 ppg) but he really shines on the defensive end of the floor, garnering All-ACC and individual team honors. Voted a co-captain as a junior, Ginyard should have plenty of leadership to go around. Seven-footer Tyler Zeller should also be back at full strength after missing most of last year with a broken hand (Zeller orginally took a medical redshirt, but gave it up toward the end of last season and played in a few games). I won't guarentee UNC anything yet, but chances are this group will land (as always) in one of the top spots in the ACC.
Lost: Center Hasheem Thabeet, guard A.J. Price, forward Jeff Adrien
Returning: Guard Jerome Dyson, guard Kemba Walker, forward Stanley Robinson
After being run out of the gym by Michigan State in the Final Four (I know, I know, not very objective but I had to throw it in just for grins) Jim Calhoun lost significant size, shot-blocking and rebounding with the departures of Thabeet and Adrien, but don't let that fool you. Long before those two showed up in Storrs, Calhoun's Huskies planted themselves firmly in front of their opponents' hoops, leading the league in shot-blocking for 8 consecutive seasons. With Stanley Robinson as the key returning player in the post, all signs point toward a continuation of that trend. Robinson was somewhat overshadowed by his two teammates last year, but maintained a solid role, particularly at season's end (earning 3 double-doubles in the last 6 games). He should see an increase in both minutes and statistics this season. And although UConn won't have A.J. Price to run the ball, Kemba Walker's flashes of brilliance combined with Jerome Dyson's experience should alleviate any concerns about the Huskies' abilities in the backcourt.
Lost: Guard (and resident bad ass) Jonny Flynn
Returning: Guard Andy Rautins and Forward/Center Arinze Onuaku
I realize it's difficult to be intimidated by a school who's mascot is a large piece of immune system-boosting fruit, but bear with me. Let's be honest--did you REALLY think you would get through a season preview without me finding a way to work in Jonny Flynn? It was a sad day to be an Orange fan when he declared for the draft. I don't begrudge anyone the chance to take their game to the next level, but selfishly I was hoping he would stay one more year. Alas, it was not meant to be. And despite what Jim Boeheim lost along with that 6'0 wonder (6.7 assists per game, leadership, explosiveness, strength and a pure will to win, among other things--Did I mention I like him?) he still has a strong core of vets returning in 2009-2010. Harris and Onuaku give some strength inside, while Rautins will help in pushing the ball up the court. It remains to be seen whether any of them can take over in the same way Flynn did, especially in terms of distributing the ball, but this is another Big East group that should benefit from having most of their key players return.
One area that really needs help? Free throw shooting. I know some people or coaches think it isn't important--I'm NOT one of them. I've given this diatribe before, so I'll spare the repetition, but suffice it to say that when a team like Syracuse finishes 13th out of 16 Big East teams in FT percentage (64.5% to be exact) there is PLENTY of room for improvement.
Lost: Forward Terrence Williams, Guard/Forward Earl Clark
Returning: Sophomore forward Samardo Samuels, guards Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles
This is another team that can always rely on great coaching to keep them in the hunt year after year. Losing Williams (the Cards' top scorer) will obviously hurt, but like any team, there is always be someone to take his place. What will really be key for Rick Pitino's club will be dominance from Samardo Samuels and consistency from Edgar Sosa. Samuels flourished in his one year with Pitino and his international experience this summer playing with Team Jamaica should definitely improve his skills and stats this season. The biggest question mark is Edgar Sosa--known for as much for his flashes of brilliance (hitting the game-winning 3 against rival Kentucky) as he is for his epic choke jobs (going 15 for 15 on free throws against Texas A&M before missing the final 2 that cost Louisville the game in the 2007 NCAA tourney). Louisville will be solid, but Sosa MUST deliver in order for the Cardinals to stand more of a chance.
Unfortunately, the big news about Louisville basketball this summer has nothing to do with what's happening on the court. Rick Pitino's dirty laundry and poor choices are being aired out for all to see and only time will tell if any of this will distract his ball club. One point to consider in this whole mess is the timing. Since the story broke in early August, chances are it may "blow over" after everyone finds a new scandal to latch on to. At the very least, by the time January rolls around and basketball REALLY begins, Pitino's indiscretions may be all but forgotten.
Lost: Forward Jon Brockman, guard Justin Dentmon
Returning: Guards Isiah Thomas and Venoy Overton, forward Quincy Pondexter
Lorenzo Romar's club surprised a lot of people last year by grabbing the Pac-10 crown from its place atop the collective head of the UCLA Bruins. The Huskies may not have that same element of surprise this year, but they have the talent to defend their title, thanks in large part to the return of their leading scorer, Isiah Thomas. Jon Brockman's double-double average certainly be missed (14.9 ppg and 11.5 rpg) but Romar should expect solid contributions from both Venoy Overton and forward Quincy Pondexter, who's numbers will most likely rise now that he's not competing with the voracious Brockman on the boards. The Pac-10 gets overlooked quite a bit by a lot of basketball fans--they're farther away on the West Coast, the games are later, they don't play very much on the major networks, but trust me--don't ignore this team! Lorenzo Romar is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball and I hope he won't stay that way for long. This man is a class-act who knows how to coach. Watch and learn!