(Copyright 2001. The Tattoo. All Rights Reserved.)

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

December 3, 2001

-- Sports Column --

Predict the unexpected for college hoops

By T.J. O'Connor

It’s that time of year again, when the pigskins are put away in the closet and the basketballs are taken out.

It’s the beginning of the college basketball season and for those die hard college b-ball fans it is a new year for their teams.

Anything can happen in college athletics -- that’s what makes them so fun and unique. We’ve already had indications that this college basketball season is going to be like no other.

Seven of the top 10 preseason ranked teams have lost. In the Maui Invitational, Ball State, a small school in Indiana, upset fourth-ranked

UCLA and fifth-ranked Kansas. Second-ranked Kentucky lost its opener to Western Kentucky, a team that’s built around one player and one player only. Both Maryland (which made it to the Final 4 last year) and Florida lost to a "re-grouping" Arizona team. Arizona wasn’t even ranked in the "Top 25" before they beat the Terps and the mighty Gators. I guess they aren’t so mighty after all.

The Duke Blue Devils seem to be the only team that played up to their potential in November. After Ball State shocked the college basketball world with their two upsets, they went for a third when they faced the Blue Devils in the final of the Maui Classic.

The sports experts were predicting another Ball State miracle, but Coach K wasn’t about to let that happen -- he had his team ready and they pounced on their less skilled and smaller opponent. College in the month of November has led many to believe that this is the year of upsets.

The shockers: This year more than any other there will be teams that rise from the bottom and go to the "Big Dance."

We’ve already seen Arizona prove the experts wrong. The Wildcats, who went to the Final 4 last year, lost four of their starters -- one graduated and the other three left school to enter the NBA. Arizona has limited scholarships because of this and they only have two players back from last year’s team who saw any playing time. But Lute Olson’s proven yet again that he’s a great coach and that his team will be successful even though they have a rigorous schedule. Expect Arizona to win the Pac 10 conference and be a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse is the most obvious "shocker." Well, they really shouldn’t be a "shocker" since Syracuse has a 600-208 record in the last 25 years. The only reason that Syracuse is a "shocker’ is because everyone always doubts Jimmy Boeheim even though he’s one of the best coaches around. Expect the Orangemen to win the Big East and to make it to the "Sweet Sixteen" in the tournament.

Oregon is another team that will surprise some people. The Ducks have a high riser in Frederick Jones who will lead them to the Big Dance after a disappointing season last year. Oklahoma State should have a solid year. The Cowboys have their whole starting lineup back and their coach Eddie Sutton is one of the best in the business. Ball State, with their tough schedule could make the tournament if they do well in their conference. The Cardinals are already out to a good start with wins over UCLA and Kansas.

My long shot for the season is the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Three years ago the Gophers basketball team was penalized by having scholarships taken away from them when former head coach Clem Haskins let multiple players cheat on tests. Now that Minnesota’s regrouped and has a new coach, they’re ready to return to where they were in the mid ‘90s when they were a high seed in the tournament. For this to happen, the Golden Gophers will have to have big years from their big men, Michael Bauer and Dusty Rychart. Minnesota lost star player Terrance Simmons last year, but if everything goes right for the Golden Gophers we might be shocked when we see them in March.

The disappointments: I guarantee Michigan State will not win the Big Ten Conference and that they will not be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s right, you heard it here. The Spartans will be the disappointment of the college basketball season. They were number 11 in the preseason ranking and they’ve made it to the Final 4 the past four years, but not this year.

The other disappointment of the season will be the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The Heels embarrassed themselves at home early in the season with two loses to Hampton and Davidson. UNC will be lucky if it squeaks into the tournament as a 7, 8, or 9 seed.

The players: Jason Williams probably won the Player of the Year award before the season already started. He could have been a top 5 draft choice in the NBA but he opted to stay at Duke for another year. Many have said that not only is he the best point guard in college basketball but that he is better than all of the point guards in the NBA.

Williams’ playing partner on the wing is Mike Dunleavy Jr. who can knock down the three pointer with ease. Dunleavy will most likely win the Player of the Year award next year in his senior season at Duke.

There are three lefties this year in the college game that can really shoot the rock. Tayshaun Prince out of Kentucky, Kareem Rush from Missouri, and Lynn Greer who plays for Don Chaney’s Temple Owls. Prince and Rush are both preseason first team All-Americans and they both have led their teams to preseason top 10 rankings.

Some other players to watch this year are Casey Jacobsen (Stanford), who loves to shoot the long ball, Frank Williams (Illinois) who scores when his team needs him to and can get hot at any given time, Reggie Evans (Iowa) who controls the boards and swallows up rebounds, and Chris Marcus (Western Kentucky) a center who uses his big body to score and to block shots. These are just some of the many players that will lead their teams to the NCAA Tournament and who will eventually be in the NBA.

There you have it. Many teams that weren’t expected to make the tournament will make it and many teams that were expected to make the tournament won’t.

Many strange things will happen in the college basketball season. So just lay down on your couch and watch the season of upsets unfold right in front of your eyes.

Read more of T.J. O'Connor's On the ball


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