No 8: These Are The 3 Seeds
Our Bold Prediction No. 8 is a breakdown of the four teams that will be on the three line in our Preseason bracket.
The formula for success in East Lansing has been the same for over a decade. The Spartans are built on solid, smart point guard play and a grind-it-out, crash-the-boards style that make them a tough match-up for anyone they play. The 2007-2008 edition of Michigan State basketball is no different, and that why expectations are understandably high on campus. Drew Neitzel is the best guard in the Big Ten and brings a toughness that can’t be overlooked. His backcourt mate, point guard Travis Walton, is cut from the same cloth. The kid can run an offense, too; he averaged an impressive 5.5 assists as a sophomore last season. That duo, along with Raymar Morgan at the small forward spot and a lot of height to choose from inside, gives the Spartans balance and depth. Indiana may be better than Michigan State on paper, but not by much, and both of them are head and shoulders above anyone else talent-wise in a weak Big Ten. The Big Ten champ will get a two seed, and the runner up a three seed. Right now, that three seed goes to MSU.
The Cougars are living proof that preseason polls (and preseason bracketology picks for that matter) don’t mean squat. Picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 before last season, Washington State exploded onto the national scene, winning 26 games and earning Tony Bennett national Coach of the Year honors. The Cougars won’t sneak up on anyone and can anticipate everyone’s best shot this season, but with the players they return, that shouldn’t temper expectations in Pullman. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver are back for their senior seasons, and combine to form one of the better backcourts in the country. Robbie Cowgill is a tough match-up inside, and the rest of the Wazzou roster is full of complimentary players on the front line and on the perimeter that will contribute just enough to have the Cougars near the top of the Pac-10 standings all season. They won’t win the league (UCLA will), but Washington State will finish second, and earn a three seed on Selection Sunday.
Gone are the days of the Blue Devils having a dominant presence inside to rely on down the stretch in games. This year’s Duke squad, which returns hungry after last season’s late collapse and stunning first round loss to VCU, is set up to be a guard-heavy, three-point shooting machine. Greg Paulus, DeMarcus Nelson, and Jon Scheyer are back and will be responsible for a bulk of the team’s scoring output. Freshman Kyle Singler (a taller J.J. Redick) is Duke’s most hyped newcomer and will be the team’s long distance gunner. He might also turn, like Redick, into the player that the Cameron Crazies adore and opponents’ fans heckle and hate. The only issue with Duke is their balance: The Blue Devils will be so reliant on their outside shooting (Brian Zoubek is their biggest post presence…yikes), that they will likely be one of the streakiest teams in the country. But they have enough explosiveness in the backcourt – and enough McDonald’s All-Americans to pick from off the bench – to finish as the second best team in the ACC.
Remember the 2006 Villanova team that advanced to the Elite Eight by using a four guard lineup (Foye, Ray, Nardi and Lowry)? Well, this year’s Kentucky squad may not start four guards like Jay Wright’s club did at times, but Billy Gillispie’s new club does have something in common with that Villanova team – its best four players are all in the backcourt. Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley, Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper might be the finest quartet of guards on one team in the SEC and they hold the key to Gillispie’s much-anticipated rookie season in Lexington. Kentucky fans have expectations set ultra-high for this group, and those expectations were raised even more when Gillispie was able to get a late commitment from prep forward Patrick Patterson, who should fill in a glaring hole down low. This squad as assembled may not be Final Four caliber, but a second place finish in the SEC and a three seed isn’t a shabby start for the Gillispie Era.