Market Watch

By - May 02, 2007

It's only May and my obscenely premature stab at next season's NCAA Tournament field, penned one month ago today, already has more holes than a block of baby Swiss. Here's a quick look at some of the past month's happenings and how they're affecting the college basketball landscape.

Mississippi State: The outlook for Rick Stansbury's tenth season on the sidelines in Starkville would have been considerably dimmer had Jamont Gordon kept his name in the NBA Draft. But the linebacker-sized combo guard elected to return for his junior season and the Bulldogs, despite the transfer of the Delk twins (Reginald to Louisville and Richard to TBDU), should enter the season as the SEC West favorites.

UCLA: Make no mistake: The Bruins, who bolster their rough-and-tumble roster with top-ranked freshman Kevin Love, are still Final Four good and the consensus Pac-10 favorites. (After all, this year's senior-less national semifinalists should only improve with experience.) But had All-American two guard Arron Afflalo returned for a fourth year, these guys would have been a stone cold mortal lock to get to the Alamodome. Without the Compton native, the gap between the Bruins and lurking ascendant Washington State narrows.

Kentucky: The Billy Gillispie hire is reason enough for renewed optimism in Lexington. But the late procurement of dynamic swingman and Oak Hill product Alex Legion -- a Michigan signee freed from his obligation thanks to the Tommy Amaker axing -- makes Gillispie's latest "turnaround" job that much easier. (Still love Tubby but can't think of a program that needed a transfusion more.)

Georgetown: Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert have declared for the NBA Draft but neither has employed an agent. If both players return to the capital city for their senior seasons, the Big East champs will return their top 11 contributors from this season's Final Four group. If either bolts, a successful conference title defense becomes a more tricky prospect -- even with Top 20 recruits and immediate contributors Chris Wright and Austin Freeman waiting in the wings.

Winthrop: The graduation of starters Torrell Martin, Craig Bradshaw and Phillip Williams was cause enough for concern for the two-time Big South champs. But that was before the Rock Hill, S.C., school suffered the sudden departure of Gregg Marshall, the rising star who led Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons. Don't be surprised to see High Point -- and reigning conference player of the year Arizona "AZ" Reid -- challenge the Eagles for the Big South crown.

Indiana: There's no good reason burly forward D.J. White couldn't have left school for the first-round money. But the bruiser's return to Bloomington -- coupled with the arrival of blue chip point guard Eric Gordon -- make Kelvin Sampson's charges the prohibitive favorites to win the Big Ten.

Texas A&M: The Aggies lost campus savior Gillispie to Kentucky -- and Acie Law IV and Antanas Kavaliauskas to graduation -- but get to keep their restored program and resurgent basketball culture as a parting gift. Incoming coach Mark Turgeon, who left behind one of the game's best non-BCS positions in Wichita State, won't disappoint in College Station.

Syracuse: With Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins among the departed, I had the Orange missing the field for a second straight season. But the mounting reputations of incoming freshmen Johnny Flynn and Donte Greene (who collected MVP honors at the Jordan Classic) are promising developments for Jim Boeheim. If Eric Devendorf and mercurial rising soph Paul Harris can mature and embrace leadership roles, look for 'Cuse to make a return to the four-letter tournament after a one-year hiatus -- perhaps collecting the program's first NCAA Tournament victory since its Sweet 16 appearance in 2004.

Georgia Tech: This is the big wild card in college hoops. Should would-be sophomores Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young pull their names out of the draft prior to the June 18 deadline, the Yellow Jackets could be Sweet 16 good or better. If both bolt to the pros, Paul Hewitt's group could miss the Big Dance for the second time in three seasons.

Southern California: I'd earmarked the Trojans as a Final Four team for next season one month ago. But Nick Young's decision to turn pro knocks the Los Angeles school down a peg or two. What's more, versatile combo guard Gabe Pruitt also might leave school for the league. USC has a promising future with Tim Floyd manning the sidelines and O.J. Mayo running the point but a handful of questions have arisen where answers one resided. Look for this growing program to finish between third and fifth in a crowded Pac-10, earning a second straight at-large bid on Selection Sunday.

Posted by at 12:57 PM on May 02, 2007

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