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Ten teams that will improve


Just thinking about the 2007-08 season while relaxing down here in Florida at the Broken Egg...

There were a number of quality programs that fell short of the NCAA tournament last season. My friends, I have come up with 10 schools that didn't make the big dance last season. I feel that these schools will make a run at the field of 65 this time around. I'll call it my bounceback 10 (with last year's record):

Clemson (25-11): Oliver Purnell had to be happy with the news of James Mays pulling out of the NBA draft. The Tigers were 17-0 and looked like a tournament lock before struggling down the stretch. Clemson will learn from that experience. K. C. Rivers and company will make some noise in the ACC.

NC State (20-16): I was so impressed with the toughness of Sidney Lowe's kids in the ACC tournament. Yes, the Wolfpack won't have tenacious guard Engin Atsur, but the future is bright. Brandon Costner will be a big-time factor for Lowe's club this season.

Syracuse (24-11): Jim Boeheim was stunned when his team was left out of the field of 65. The Orange will simply reload after losing the likes of Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins. Eric Devendorf will be one key after averaging almost 15 ppg. last season. Paul Harris has to keep working on his shooting. Boeheim welcomes an excellent class of diaper dandies, including Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene.

Connecticut (17-14): The corp nucleus of Jim Calhoun's squad returns with a year of experience under their belts. Hasheem Thabeet decided the NBA could wait and that was a wise decision. Jeff Adrien will be tough inside, and AJ Price will be better after shaky off the rust. Anybody in the Big East writing off the Huskies will be making a mistake.

Missouri (18-12): Mike Anderson's team went on a rollercoaster ride last season, opening 9-0 (including wins over Davidson and Arkansas). Unfortunately the Tigers were derailed, going 9-12 the rest of the way, including a loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament. Anderson's team will be better as the top nine scorers from a season ago return, led by Stefhon Hannah, Matt Lawrence, Marshall Brown and Keon Lawrence. Add in forward DeMarre Carroll, a 6-8 transfer from Vanderbilt and this squad has depth and should make noise in the Big 12.

Wichita State (17-14): The MVC will be difficult again but the Shockers have new coach Gregg Marshall ready to compete. Wichita State will be tested early by competing in the Paradise Jam down in the Virgin Islands, plus LSU, UAB, Wyoming and Appalachian State in non-conference play. While several veterans from last year's squad are gone, the cupboard isn't totally bare. PJ Couisnard (11.8 pts, 5.8 reb.) and Matt Braeuer lead the returning talent.

Washington (19-13): Huskies fans may have been disappointed that it was one and done for Spencer Hawes, but Lorenzo Romar's team will be dangerous in the loaded Pac-10. Jon Brockman is a All-Rolls Royce candidate while 6-6 Quincy Pondexter can put points on the board. Add in Ryan Appleby, Justin Dentmon and Stanford transfer Tim Morris and the Huskies will be heard from.

Auburn (17-15): Jeff Lebo has a sleeper team to keep an eye on. There is a lot of talent on this roster, including guard Frank Tolbert, along with forwards Korvotney Barber and Josh Dollard. Several players impressed during a summer tour of China and there is added enthusiasm with word that the University Board of Trustees approved the building of a new $92.5 million basketball arena and practice facility. The future is bright down at the school Charles Barkley used to attend.

Alabama (20-12): The Tide fell short of expectations last season. With a healthy Ronald Steele running the point and Richard Hendrix up front, Alabama will be a factor in the SEC West this season. Throw in Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley and Mark Gottfried will be smiling more in 2007-08.

Mississippi St. (21-14): Rick Stansbury had to be ecstatic when All-SEC forward Charles Rhodes pulled out of the NBA draft. His return to Starkville, along with Jamont Gordon, gives the Bulldogs a dynamite 1-2 punch. The addition of Brian Johnson, the transfer from Louisville, will also help.

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