Washington will be a good gauge for the answer to that question in 2007-08. The Huskies return all but one starter from a 19-13 team. Center Spencer Hawes chose to leave after his freshman season and was selected with the 10th pick of the NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.
We explore the expectations for the Huskies, and also address questions on South Florida and its new coach Stan Heath, Oklahoma's second season under coach Jeff Capel, how LSU will fare without star Glen Davis and the NCAA Tournament hopes for St. John's in this week's mailbag.
How does Washington look going into next season? Will losing Spencer Hawes to the NBA significantly hurt the team?
— Ryan from Kennewick, Wash. -----
Losing Hawes was a major blow, but Washington was far from a one-man team last season.
Junior power forward Jon Brockman actually averaged more rebounds per game than Hawes (9.6 to 6.4), and nearly matched his scoring average (14.2 to 14.9 ppg).
Sophomore wing Quincy Pondexter (10.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) emerged as one of the Pac-10's most promising young players last season.
Junior Justin Dentmon and senior Ryan Appleby give the Huskies a veteran backcourt. Both guards have contrasting games that complement each other nicely. Dentmon is more of a penetrator and distributor while Appleby is a 3-point specialist.
The biggest challenge the Huskies face is the Pac-10, which is shaping up to be the nation's best conference. As many as six of its teams could start the season in the top 25, and the league is loaded with good big men.
Losing Hawes (7-0, 250), whose size has not been replaced, will ultimately keep the Huskies from contending for the Pac-10 title and making a deep postseason run.
But, the Huskies have more than enough pieces to improve and get back to the NCAA Tournament.
HEATH READY TO WIN
As a student at South Florida, I've seen some great Big East basketball ... from the other team (actually, at home, we played Connecticut, Villanova and Marquette extremely tight and beat Georgetown over the last two seasons). Anyways, what is your take on the Stan Heath hire? How tough is his job? What is a reasonable timetable to make the NCAA Tournament?
-- Dave from Tampa
I think you have to look at landing Heath as one of the best hires this offseason. Yes, Heath underachieved at Arkansas, but you're talking about a coach who has taken a mid-major to an Elite Eight (Kent State in 2002) and took the Razorbacks to the last two NCAA Tournaments.
Downtrodden programs like South Florida – the Bulls are 4-28 in the Big East the last two seasons – aren't supposed to wind up with coaches with those types of credentials.
Heath is also a solid recruiter. Just ask new Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, who inherits a roster with enough talent to do some damage in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Heath and his staff landed Rivals.com's No. 13-ranked recruiting class in 2004 and the No. 15-ranked class in 2006. The latter group featured late signee Patrick Beverley, one of the nation's most promising young guards.
Here comes the bad news. USF needs a major upgrade in talent before they can start competing in the Big East and the program probably will take a step back initially.
The Bulls are losing their second- and third-leading scorers in forwards Melvin Buckley and McHugh Mattis. The duo combined to average 27.6 points and 12.1 rebounds a game last season. Center Kentrell Gransberry, the nation's leading returning rebounder at 11.4 boards a game last season, has only one year of eligibility remaining.
Heath will need two years to stock up the roster before Big East opponents stop viewing trips to Tampa as automatic wins. As for the NCAA Tournament, USF fans should probably wait about four years before they start entertaining any dreams of the Big Dance.
What will Oklahoma's record be at the end of the season?
-- Shelby Smith from Oklahoma City, Okla. -----
Expect a little improvement from last season's 15-16 mark, maybe 18-13 or 17-14.
The Sooners lost two of their three leading scorers, but guards Nate Carter (11.6 ppg) and Michael Neal (10.0 ppg) were far from irreplaceable.
Second-year coach Jeff Capel has added a four-man recruiting class that is highlighted by five-star forward Blake Griffin. The McDonald's All-American is a workhorse who will help immediately on the glass and will shoulder some of the scoring load. Expect point guard Omar Leary, a junior college transfer, and four-star guard Tony Neysmith to contribute as well.
Capel also has a solid core of returning players.
Senior Longar Longar (6-11, 230) was the team's most valuable player last season. Longar isn't a dominating center – the senior averaged 10.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg last season – but he does create an interior presence on both sides of the court.
Expect breakthrough years from talented guards Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson – both former four-star recruits – as well. They will both be asked to play bigger roles offensively.
The return of another former four-star recruit, forward Keith Clark, will give Capel another weapon to utilize. Clark missed most of last season with a knee injury.
That's normally enough talent to put together a 20-win season, but a very tough non-conference schedule may leave the Sooners just short. It starts with the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, which features Connecticut, Memphis and Kentucky, and includes road trips to USC, which probably will start the season in the top 15, Arkansas, Tulsa and West Virginia. There is also a matchup with Gonzaga in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Is LSU looking at another good year for this upcoming basketball season, or another mess like this past season?
-- Paul from Baton Rouge, La. -----
Can I go with option C? I think LSU is looking at an even worse mess than last season.
Few players did more for their team in 2006-07 than Glen "Big Baby" Davis. The second-round draft pick was the one of only two players from the six major conferences to average a double-double, scoring 17.7 points and pulling down 10.4 rebounds a game. Second overall pick Kevin Durant was the other.
Five-star recruit Anthony Randolph will be an NBA starter someday, but he won't match that kind of production. At least not this season. In fact, expecting anything close isn't fair. The lanky 6-10 forward doesn't have the build yet to bang on the inside in the SEC. His game is better suited for the perimeter.
The Tigers signed four other prospects, but the recruiting class lacks someone who can step in and do a solid job in the post. That's a major problem considering the Tigers couldn't put together an adequate frontcourt with their returning players.
Who is going to defend opposing big men? Who will be an inside scoring threat? How will the Tigers win rebounding wars? I don't see how the Tigers can answer those questions and that's why they're headed towards a second consecutive disappointing campaign.
Will St. John's make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid this year?
-- Martin from Floral Park, N.Y. -----
My 8-ball says highly doubtful.
The Red Storm showed signs of progress during a 16-15 season in 2006-07, but they must replace their best player in Lamont Hamilton. The big man was their leading scorer (13.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) last season.
Losing promising freshman small forward Qa'rraan Calhoun, who is transferring, is a significant blow as well.
A seven-man recruiting class will increase the level of depth, but it won't raise the talent level much, an area coach Norm Roberts has struggled with since taking over the program in 2004. The group is right about average by Big East standards.
I'm afraid the Red Storm just doesn't possess the weapons to be a contender in one of the nation's toughest conferences.