A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
We all love hype. Whether it's unfairly bestowed upon a team or is leveraged to get us all jacked up to loathe the nation's elite, hype gets us through the summer and drives the bus for the first month of the season. So for a program like Georgia - which receives minimal attention, let alone hype, when it comes to their basketball team - to get us chattering about a kid that might be able to jump over the moon, a Mr. Basketball that spurned Clemson for his state school, and a legitimate NBA prospect who just might be the best player in the conference, you just have to hope it's legit. Despite a 5-11 conference record last season, first year coach Mark Fox made sure we took inventory of the potential his team possessed when they exited the SEC Tournament. With wins over Illinois, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida, and two-household names returning the seed was planted for the 2010-2011 campaign.
Trey Thompkins (note: Thompkins suffered a high-ankle sprain this weekend and could miss the first few games of the season), the frontcourt rock that is the SEC conference's leading returning scorer and rebounder, made up his mind way back in April that he was sticking around for his junior season. Along with Travis Leslie's acrobatic style of play that teeters on unguardable in spurts, this tandem's presence alone was enough to create buzz. Then, the real fruits of Coach Fox's labor and hard work on the recruiting trail manifested itself during the spring, when Georgia's 2010 Mr. Basketball, Marcus Thornton (not the LSU Tiger turned New Orleans Hornet), de-committed from Clemson following the exodus of Oliver Purnell to DePaul, signing up to be a Bulldog.
Now the team has three real weapons, but will have to find ways to win on the road. Comfortable at Stegeman Coliseum , the Bulldogs were 12-4 at home but an excruciating 1-13 on the road - with their lone victory coming at the Gwinnett Center...located in Duluth, Georgia. If they want to fulfill the expectations (and hype), those road woes must dissipate.
What happened this summer
Just a few weeks after the Final Four, Trey Thompkins decided to stick around Athens.Clemson's loss is Georgia's gain. After Oliver Purnell took the DePaul job, the Peachtree State's Mr. Basketball de-committed from the Tigers and signed in-state. Bench player Ebuka Anyaorah transferred. The former Georgia AD sullied his name, then resigned.
Games that really matter
- 11/26-28 @ Old Spice Classic (Notre Dame, Temple, Wisconsin)
- 1/8 vs. Kentucky
- 1/12 @ Vanderbilt
- 1/18 vs. Tennessee
- 1/29 @ Kentucky
- 2/8 vs. Xavier
- 2/19 @ Tennessee
- 2/24 @ Florida
Most intriguing player
Travis Leslie (6'4" guard; junior) - We live in a highlight-hungry society, and Travis Leslie loves to feed us with highlights. While Thompkins has the skills to play for a long time at the next level, it's Leslie that will get us talking throughout the season. The quintessential NCAA athletic freak who may never be heard from once he leaves school (think Kenny Gregory, Fred Jones, Jeff Trepagnier), Leslie sent ripples through the college basketball world last winter when he posterized Demarcus Cousins, but wisely spent the summer working on his jumper. If he can make defenses respect his shot, he could morph into one of the most dangerous wing players in both the SEC and entire country.
What's on the line?
Hmmmm, in this football infested part of the country? Maybe nothing. It's a stretch to assume such apathy, but I'd imagine Bulldog fans are approaching this college basketball season with complete optimism and simply looking forward to watch a team with a chance to make noise. Mark Richt can't say that right now. If the season doesn't go as planned, however, it has to result in disappointment. Missing the tournament will mean missed opportunity for a program that doesn't get many to play deep in to March.
The problem with this upstart team is that, even if they play to their potential, they run the risk of finishing fifth in the SEC-East because of its depth. A strong showing at the Old Spice Classic could force us to take the Bulldogs seriously, and they'll of course have ample opportunties to impress - or falter - during a tough conference schedule.
- Conference: 5th in SEC-East
- NCAA Tournament: Second round