There is plenty that's right with the top 65, but the greatest omission I see has got to be San Diego State. The Aztecs finished fourth in a very good MWC last year that sent two teams (UNLV and BYU) – and you could argue it should have been three (New Mexico) – to the NCAA tournament. They beat BYU last year and get this: Of their 13 losses, eight were by six or fewer points. That tells you this team competes and believes.
Coach Steve Fisher has to be excited about this group. The fact they've been slighted by the national media will be added motivation. I mean, they return the entire starting five and their top seven scorers. I asked UNLV coach Lon Kruger about this group last year, and he felt they competed as hard as anyone and expects them to have a great chance to win the conference. That's enough for me. I know the "other" school in San Diego is getting all the attention nationally, but the Aztecs are better.
When you look at their schedule last year, the other thing that stands out is how difficult it was - and that experience will benefit them greatly. Lorrenzo Wade is a standout and will have a great shot at being player of the year in the MWC. I also expect a big year from Ryan Amoroso. However, the key may be in the backcourt. Kelvin Davis and Richie Williams were solid last year and made good decisions. This team will be in the tournament this season and is the best team that no one is talking about right now.
I think UNC-Charlotte has a chance to be the second-best team in the Atlantic 10, which would put them comfortably in the top 65.
Leading scorer Leemire Goldwire is gone, but nine of the top 10 players are back. The 49ers were young and – no surprise – inconsistent last season. But they seemed to hit their stride late in the season and lost in the first round of the NIT. A Labor Day weekend trip to Canada helped the 49ers learn to start living without Goldwire.
Forwards Charles Coley and Lamont Mack will be the stars this season, and sublimely named sophomore An'Juan Wilderness gives Charlotte even more firepower up front. Point man DiJuan Harris is a great passer, and coach Bobby Lutz should be able to mix-and-match his shooting guards to make up for a portion of Goldwire's lost offense. Coley and Mack will get more shots with Goldwire gone; they combined to average a bit more than 20 points per game last season. As long as that figure climbs to about 25 or 26 this season, the 49ers will be in good shape – good-enough shape to finish second in the A-10.
It's probably crazy to pick a Big East team as the best team not in our Top 65. We have nine Big East teams in our top 32. But you can be the 10th-best team in the Big East this year and still deserve to be in the top 65.
My pick for No. 10 in the Big East is Providence, with new coach Keno Davis. The Friars have a lot of weapons returning, and there's a lot to like about Davis, too. He took Drake to 28 victories and an NCAA tournament appearance in his first year as a head coach after tutoring under his legendary father, Dr. Tom, for years.
Davis finds a cupboard at Providence that hardly is bare. Not only do the Friars return all five starters, but they also welcome back guard Sharaud Curry - who missed last season with a broken foot. Curry averaged 15.3 ppg in 2006-07 and was All-Big East honorable mention. He gives Davis five players who've averaged double figures in scoring during a season at Providence, and three who have made at least 50 3-pointers in a season at Providence.
The Friars are guard heavy, but that's perfect for Davis. He frequently used three- and four-guard lineups last year at Drake. He also loves the 3-pointer. The Bulldogs had four players who made at least 44 3s last season.
Any team that can go at least 8-10 in the Big East is one of the best 65 teams in the country. Here's to the belief Providence will be at least that good, if not better.
Coaches always say they'd rather have talent than experience, and that's exactly why I think we will regret not putting Southern Illinois in our preseason top 65.
The Salukis are losing three starters, including their top two scorers and rebounders, from a team that went to the NIT. But, they are adding a remarkable recruiting class. The group is led by freshman big man Anthony Booker, who is the kind of prospect rarely seen in the Missouri Valley Conference. Booker was ranked ahead of most high-major prospects at No. 43 in the 2008 class, and he has the size and skills to be a double-double machine immediately. Freshman guard Kevin Dillard is another high-major caliber player. A point with blazing speed, Dillard was ranked No. 136.
If those two are as good as advertised, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Salukis in the NCAA tournament. The Missouri Valley is headed for a down year. Creighton (No. 49) was the only MVC team to crack our top 65. The young Salukis rank among the most talented teams in the league and could put together a run to the top of the league.