The 2007-2008 season ended up being yet another exciting college basketball campaign. As always, there were Cinderella's like Davidson, but in the end it was the traditional powers that were in San Antonio, Texas for the Final Four where Kansas edged Memphis in a thrilling final. North Carolina, UCLA and Memphis left Texas disappointed, but those three teams are likely candidates to reach Detroit, Michigan for the 2009 version of the Final Four.
The Tar Heels are the clear favorites to cut down the nets in the Motor City. It was assumed that Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington or Danny Green would head for the NBA. Few thought, but many hoped, that all would return to Chapel Hill. But here they are for at least one more year playing college ball. Anything but a national championship would be disappointing for a team that went 36-3 last year and returns their top six players.
However, there are plenty of other traditional powers who hope to bring down the favorites, including UNC's nemesis Duke. The lack of an interior threat forced the Blue Devils to depend on their perimeter game. And when the outside shot stopped falling, Duke stopped winning. Coach Mike Krzyzewski hopes junior Brian Zoubek and freshman Miles Plumlee are the answer. With Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas, Duke has plenty of other scoring options, but they need to find one in the paint.
UCLA lost four key players, including the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love, the fifth overall pick. Yet, if anybody can reload quickly, it is the Bruins and Coach Ben Howland. The talent on the perimeter will be unmatched in the Pac-10, but the difference will be finding an interior threat that can replace Love. As usual UCLA has a talented group of freshmen coming into Westwood, but 6-8 forward Drew Gooden is no Love.
An old favorite who has been struggling lately will also be back on the national stage. Connecticut has enough talent to reach the Final Four and a year of experience for their young team can do nothing but help. Having center Hasheem Thabeet gives Uconn a presence under the basket that few teams can match. But does Coach Jim Calhoun have enough depth to make a serious run and are the team chemistry issues that have plagued the Huskies over the last few seasons finally over?
Derrick Rose may have been the first pick in the NBA Draft, but that does not mean Memphis is lacking in talent. Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier are senior leaders on a team that generally lacks in senior leadership. With some young talent waiting to make their mark, the Tigers can make another championship run.
Coach Rick Barnes returns plenty of experienced players, but losing D.J. Augustin hurts. The point guard left for the NBA after averaging 19.2 points and 5.8 assists per contest as a sophomore. With a brutal schedule that includes non-conference games against UCLA and Michigan State, it will not take long to learn just how good the Longhorns are this season.
Those Spartans of Michigan State will have home state advantage if they can make it to the Final Four. Even without Drew Neitzel, Coach Tom Izzo has a more talented squad than he has had in recent years. The difference maker could be highly touted recruit Delvin Roe. The power forward could be the missing part to a puzzle that includes a talented group of sophomores on the perimeter in Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers and the team's leader, junior Raymar Moragn.
But it is not just the traditional powers that will make noise this basketball season. So-called mid-major conferences like the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and West Coast Conference all have teams that can make plenty of noise in March.
Dayton, Temple and Xavier are the cream of the crop in the A-10. Dayton returns Chris Wright from injury and there is enough talent around him to make the NCAA Tournament and do some damage once they get there. This is also the year Temple returns to prominence after a few down years. But it is Xavier that dominated the conference a year ago and returns a couple stars in C.J. Anderson and Derrick Brown.
The Missouri Valley Conference still might not reach the level they did a couple years ago, but there are quality teams in the conference. Creighton and Southern Illinois are the traditional favorites and will be again this year. After six straight seasons without a conference championship, the Bluejays drought is expected to end this year. Like SIU, the Creighton strength is on the perimeter and whichever team can find more production out of the frontcourt will be the favorites to take home another MVC title.
Out west it is UNLV and BYU who are expected to battle for the top spot in the MWC. The Runnin' Rebels lack of a big man has been a problem over the last few years, but that should change with the arrival of Beas Hamga and Brice Massamba. But even with the big guys at UNLV, BYU will be difficult to contain. The Cougars have their own problems in the paint with the early departure of center Trent Plaisted, but Lee Cummard alone will make BYU a tough team to beat.
Up until last year, the West Coast Conference was all about Gonzaga. While the Zags are still the team to beat, they will have some competition from St. Mary's and San Diego. All three of those teams are coming off of NCAA appearances. Although surprise San Diego was the only one of the group to tally a victory during the Big Dance, the WCC should get at least two more opportunities to make a run in March.
It is not just the top of the mid-major conferences that have teams that are fielding quality teams. Davidson was last year's surprise team in the NCAA Tournament and might be again this year. There are some key players missing, but as long as the Wildcats have Stephen Curry on the floor, they will be dangerous again. Speaking of teams who made a splash in 2008, Siena has the tools to do it again this time around. The Saints return seven players who started at least ten games during the 2007-2008 campaign. Kent State and VCU did not have the postseason success of Davidson or Siena, but they both have superstars who are ready to break onto the national scene. Point guards Al Fisher and Eric Maynor are great scoring floor leaders who will lead the Golden Flashes and Rams to success in 2009.
Like any other wonderful season of college basketball there will be surprises and disappointments in 2008-2009. It is a long way to the Final Four in Detroit, but the journey began in March of 2008 right after Kansas cut down the nets in San Antonio. No matter who takes home the championship in 2009, one thing is for sure…it will be another exciting season of college basketball.
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In addition to his 2008-2009 college basketball preview Joel Welser is known for his college basketball coverage throughout the year. Welser provides his unique NCAA Tournament capsules while also writing for other college basketball sites providing excellent knowledge and insight into every NCAA Division I college basketball team.
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