Beginners guide to ’08-’09 college basketball

Corey Marine

We see it every year. There are always some teams that run the table throughout the entire college hoops season and are predicted to be legitimate NCAA title contenders. There are also some teams that are thought to be good but go deeper into the tournament than anyone expected. Then, there are some small college teams that catch everyone off guard and captivate our imaginations. Here are some variables that can affect what the tournament bracket will look like in March.

Players to Watch

Tyler Hansbrough: He is, without a doubt, one of the best – if not the best – players in college basketball right now. The 6-foot-9-inch power forward is one of the major reasons the North Carolina Tar Heels were voted No. 1 in both the coaches and AP rankings. However, the stress reaction in his right shin has him out indefinitely. Although the injury is not expected to be long-term and should not be something he deals with throughout the season, his absence could put a kink in the Tar Heels’ armor.

Stephen Curry: Anyone who paid attention to last year’s NCAA tournament would have come across Curry hitting clutch 3’s for Davidson. The lanky, 6-foot-2-inch guard for 20th-ranked Davidson is looking for a repeat of last year’s Cinderella run. With tourney experience under his belt, look for Curry to play better ball and possibly propel the Wildcats even deeper into the tournament.

Freshmen to Watch

Tyreke Evans: The highest-touted freshman in the country has big shoes to fill in Memphis. With Derrick Rose no longer running the show, the Tigers can become Evans’ team. The two-guard has a reputation of being able to score with ease and can create matchup problems for opposing defenses with his size. Described as a 6-foot-5-inch Allen Iverson, Memphis fans have high expectations for their new weapon.

Demar DeRozan: Another freshman with huge shoes to fill, DeRozan also attracted much attention after signing on with Southern California to replace O.J. Mayo. The small forward will not hesitate to shoot the 3 and has shown above-average passing ability. However, scouts say that he must improve on his ball handling skills if he wants to push his game to another level.

Jrue Holiday: This shooting guard is considered to be one of the more complete freshmen in this year’s upcoming class. Holiday joins Darren Collinson in an already-talented UCLA backcourt. His body build and athletic ability have led him to be called a Dwyane Wade clone. Not only can he get it done on the offensive end, but he also can create pressure on the defensive end as well.

Teams to Watch

Texas: Despite the loss of guard D.J. Augustin to the NBA lottery, the Longhorns return a group of gunners that includes guards A.J. Abrams and Damion James. Texas is one of the more balanced teams in the country, with formidable big men in Connor Atchley and Dexter Pittman. UT is an odds-on favorite to win the Big XII this season.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are once again the favorites in the West Coast Conference and enter the season in the top 20. Senior forward Josh Heytvelt is one of the best big men in the country and will be looking to re-establish himself after years of injury and suspensions. Be on the look-out for an early impact as Head Coach Mark Few’s teams always seem to cause damage in their non-conference schedule.

Conference to Watch

Big East: The Big East is expected to send an unprecedented 10 teams to the Big Dance this spring. With seven teams currently in the Top 25, there is plenty of competition to go around. The high level of play in each conference game could help prepare teams for what they will encounter in March. Rick Pitino’s Louisvillle Cardinals are a deep team with a good mixture of youth and experience. UConn junior center Hasheem Thabeet decided to stay for another year and should give the Huskies a solid interior presence throughout the season, especially on defense. Pittsburgh will try to retain the Big East crown after winning the title at Madison Square Garden in New York last season. Notre Dame junior Luke Harangody played well at power forward last year and should continue to impose his presence down in the post. Georgetown will look to continue its history of good, big men down low, and freshman Greg Monroe can provide just that.

Although it will be quite a while before March Madness begins again, there should be plenty of buzzer-beaters and upsets to go around. Dick Vitale will be on TV once again, bands will play fight songs and stars will emerge. College basketball starts now.