Saturday, October 29, 2005

New NCAA Hoops Poll

The first pre-season AP poll is out, and there really aren't too many surprises. UCLA comes in tied for 18th with Wake Forest, just edged out by Illinois. Honestly, I think I'd move UCLA up between 10 and 15, and Illinois down between 20 and 25. This is, of course, based on nothing but pre-season reports, and I really have no way to guage how much guys are improving.

I think the Bruins will be pretty good, and ready to challenge for a national title next year. I see them as a sweet sixteen, maybe even elite eight this year. Barring injury, they're going to have one of the top five backcourts in the country with Farmar and Afflalo. Ced Bozeman's return is going to be a big plus on the defensive end, and he'll get plenty of time to play until Josh Shipp returns. One thing you can do with a knee injury is shoot in bulk, so hopefully Bozeman took the last year to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. It would be an incredible boost if he could make himself a threat on the perimeter. The real key will be the improvement of Hollins, Fey, and Mata, as well as the contributions of the freshmen, especially Ryan Wright. Losing Dijon hurts, but the imrovement of the guards, and hopefully better inside play should more than make up for that.

The Illini obviously lost a ton, with Deron, Luther, and Powell all graduating/leaving. The loss of Ingram will be felt more than most people think. Dee and Augie need to be healthy, and we'll see if Dee can really take over the point guard spot. There are so many question marks with this team that this ranking is based almost entirely on the two seniors and reputation. From what I've read, Pruitt and Randle have made huge strides, McBride has been playing with more authority, and the new guards have all been better than advertised in pre-season practices. If it's one thing Bruce Weber can do, it's make guards look better than people think they ought to look. That means Brock, Frazier, and Jamar Smith might just be more capable than a lot of outsiders think. If that's the case, then I'm not going to worry about recruiting. Bruce will make lemonade out of lemons, and if you do that consistently, you're going to start getting the pick of the crop before too long. They've got guys at ever position who have the potential to be very good, but they still have to prove themselves.

The Illini could play well above this ranking, or well below. The Bruins, on the other hand, I'm pretty confident about. I think they're guaranteed to be very good, but not great, at least this year. If Hollins and/or Fey break out, however, they could be top 8.

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