|Friday, November 15
Updated: November 18, 3:17 PM ET
Who? What? How? Questions for 2002-03
By Andy Katz
NEW YORK -- The season began this week in New York and Friday night in Madison, Wis., of all places, with loads of questions throughout the country. The biggest question arose Thursday night prior to Syracuse's opener.
How much will Billy Edelin's suspension cost Syracuse?
Edelin is gone for 12 games. Syracuse missed him for one key non-conference game Thursday night against Memphis. He won't be there against Missouri or Georgia Tech, and will miss two Big East games -- including the only game against Boston College. Freshman Carmelo Anthony won't have a problem scoring with or without his point guard, but he isn't a cure-all. Freshman Gerry McNamara can score, but can he be a long-term point guard? And the bigger question is how many games will the 'Cuse lose before it hurts its NCAA chances, let alone its Big East West Division title hopes. And, then, when Edelin does come back, will there be a chemistry problem? Yes, more questions than answers at this point of the season.
Will Mario Austin's eligibility dog Mississippi State?
The Austin investigation continues, as the junior forward sat out his second straight exhibition game Thursday night. If this drags on then the Bulldogs become suddenly mediocre in the national picture. Austin is a legit SEC player of the year candidate and is the power player inside that the Bulldogs need to be a threat to go deep in March. The longer this investigation drags on, the more of a distraction it could be when Mississippi State hits the heart of its schedule. The investigation could end next week and this question will be irrelevant or it could be constant disturbance.
Will Christian Dreyer be healthy enough to be a factor for Florida? Will Brett Nelson's stress fracture nag him throughout the season? Nelson could play as soon as the games in New York, should Florida reach the Preseason NIT semifinals as expected. Dreyer is being held out with his ankle sprain until December. Dreyer still needs an adjustment period to American basketball. Missing exhibitions and early games could hamper his development. If Dreyer can't go, the Gators simply aren't as good as they were projected (I have Florida in the Final Four). Florida is essentially be without two of their small forwards -- Dreyer and James White, who transferred in an indirect way because of the presence of Dreyer meant less playing time. But the good news for Florida is Dreyer might want to stick around for more than one season if this season becomes a wash.
Does Alabama need Kennedy Winston or Lucky Williams?
After watching the Tide debut Thursday night, the answer is "No". Winston is supposedly a better talent than anyone the Tide had on the court. That's hard to believe, considering he wouldn't have the ball in his hands as much as Maurice Williams. Certainly, Williams won't score as much as he did Thursday night on a regular basis. Having to dump off to Winston as well as Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker makes the Tide even more balanced, but that doesn't mean they need Winston. Williams is a reserve and the Tide will probably start trimming the amount of players who get quality minutes by the time he would be eligible.
How often will Tim Floyd's and Nolan Richardson's names be mentioned for possible jobs this season?
It's already happened in the case of Richardson. He was mentioned and could have had the UTEP job, but didn't pursue. If the situations get tight at various schools in the Southwest, Southeast or Midwest, expect the coaching vultures to start circulating these two names. They are this season's Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Leonard Hamilton -- mammoth names in the biz who are available for someone to give a second chance.
Which transfer will have the most impact among Notre Dame's Danny Miller, Georgia's Damien Wilkins, UNLV's Demetrius Hunter or Virginia's Todd Billet?
The early read might end up being Wilkins. He's a must for Georgia to elevate itself from SEC contender to Final Four team. But all four are important to their respective teams. Wilkins can play power forward and the point. Miller could be the small forward the Irish desperately need. Hunter balances his act with Marcus Banks at UNLV and gives the Rebels a chance to overtake Wyoming. Billet is the shooter the Cavs desperately needed after the early departure of Roger Mason Jr.
Which new coach will make a major splash -- Arkansas' Stan Heath, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, New Mexico's Ritchie McKay, Kent State's Jim Christian, Montana's Pat Kennedy, South Alabama's John Pelphrey, Fresno State's Ray Lopes, Washington's Lorenzo Romar, West Virginia's John Beilein, College of Charleston's Tom Herrion, VCU's Jeff Capel, DePaul's Dave Leitao, Oregon State's Jay John and TCU's Neil Dougherty?
These aren't the only coaches who could make a splash in their first year in a new spot, but they are the most significant for all their own reasons. Can Heath bridge the troubled waters after Richardson's stormy departure? Can Hamilton do what he did at Miami at FSU? Will there be a honeymoon for McKay? Can Christian handle the heat of following up an Elite Eight team? Is Pat Kennedy really the coach in Missoula? Can Pelphrey work his magic at an outpost under the national radar? How about following Tark in Fresno for Lopes? Romar got off to a rocky offseason start but can clear up any issues with a strong start. Beilein is already cleaning house and needs patience, while Herrion is replacing a legend in John Kresse, Capel is a pup; Leitao is getting a second head coaching chance; John finally his first; and Dougherty is yet another coaching disciple through Roy Williams off the large Dean Smith tree.
Which freshmen class will either have another Fab Five-type season or be like Seton Hall's overhyped crew?
The most visible classes this season are at North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Arizona. All five schools must have major contributions from their freshmen to have successful seasons. And there's at least one freshman in each class that could easily be in the NBA within one to three seasons -- Shavlik Randolph (Duke), Chris Bosh (Georgia Tech), Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse) and Hassan Adams (Arizona). They've all had plenty of hype. The question is will they succeed or fail in what could be their only season in college basketball. Sure, they might put up great numbers (Eddie Griffin), but may not lead their teams (Seton Hall) to the NCAAs.
Is this the most wide-open player of the year race?
No question. Arizona has two candidates (Luke Walton and Jason Gardner) who could cancel each other out. So, too, could Kansas (Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison). And there are plenty of others like T.J. Ford (Texas); after Thursday night, Maurice Williams (Alabama) and teammate Erwin Dudley; Oregon's Lukes (Ridnour and Jackson); Brandin Knight of Pitt; Maryland's Steve Blake; Oklahoma's Hollis Price; Georgia's Jarvis Hayes; Boston College's Troy Bell; Georgetown's Michael Sweetney, and, well you get the picture.
Can the Big 12 live up to its lofty expectations?
At the top of the conference, the answer is definitely "Yes". The bottom of the league has its soft spots, but the top has three teams that could get to the Final Four with Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Missouri could make a late move again, and Texas Tech could be just as good. If the Big 12 continues to have as many teams in the top five throughout the season, then it will be, for whatever it's worth, the best league in the country. Why hasn't anyone put together a Big 12-SEC Challenge? We'd certainly watch.
Will the A-10 be reduced to a one-bid league again?
Unless Temple or UMass can win some games prior to New Year's, the answer could be "Yes". Xavier is so far ahead of the rest of the league that everyone else may just beat each other up and keep the league from getting multiple bids once again. This was a league that could make an argument for five to six teams just a few seasons ago. Now it's being reduced to looking like the once-proud Big West, with one marquee team (UNLV) and the rest of the league very average.
Will Chris Marcus ever be a factor for Western Kentucky?
This is unclear. Marcus is still hurt and Dennis Felton doesn't seem like he's in a hurry to get him back on the court. The Hilltoppers move better without him and don't seem like they need his offense. Defensively, he's a presence. But Felton's and Marcus' most pressing concern seems to be to get him healthy for June, not January, when the NBA draft, not the Sun Belt season begins.
How patient will fans be at UCLA, Iowa, Purdue, North Carolina, Clemson?
The natives are getting restless at UCLA early, as they always do, and they were unhappy during the summer at Iowa. Purdue's Gene Keady is an institution and he'll be able to leave on his own terms. Steve Alford isn't in trouble, but he does need a season without issues after an offseason that could have easily put him into counseling. The Bruin Nation won't settle until Steve Lavin goes undefeated in the non-conference, wins the Pac-10 and gets to the Final Four -- all in the same season. The usual Pauley Pavilion early loss has already happened with UCLA dropping an exhibition instead of losing to Cal State-Northridge or Pepperdine. North Carolina just has to show progress after a disastrous season. Clemson? Does anyone care?
Can Bob Knight work wonders again at Texas Tech?
Likely. Texas Tech should be a contender in the Big 12, at least for one of the top five spots. The Red Raiders return everyone but Andy Ellis, and while he was important for stretching out the defense with his perimeter shooting, he is replaceable. Andre Emmett is a star and the Red Raiders will once again be a bear to beat in Lubbock. All Knight has to do is keep Texas Tech in the NCAA discussion and he's done what he set out to do and that's put the program back on the map.
Is Kansas-Oklahoma Feb. 23 the best game of the season or is it Arizona-Kansas on Jan. 25?
It's going to be close. Both games will be among the best this season. Yes, Oklahoma didn't look too good Thursday, but the one matchup against Kansas is in Norman and it could decide the Big 12 title, let alone No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs. Arizona-Kansas in Lawrence could pit the top two teams in the country and a sneak peak at New Orleans. Forget about Duke-Maryland, or anyone else. The two best games are in the heartland this season.
How often will there be Bob Huggins health and temper updates?
Too often, almost as many times as there was a Bob Knight story on his demeanor last season. Huggins had a heart attack, he's back coaching, and once he gets through his first game then it needs to end, barring an incident. Huggins can't answer these questions every time he gets upset. But don't be surprised to see the video of him on the sidelines every time he coaches for Cincinnati this season.
How ugly will it get when Kentucky plays Louisville Dec. 28?
Hopefully not as bad as it was in Lexington when a handful of Kentucky fans were downright mean, distasteful and cruel to Pitino last December. The game is in Louisville, so Marvin Stone won't hear or see any traitor signs. There's no reason for Kentucky to get harassed beyond the usual road stuff when it comes to Freedom Hall. Hopefully the Cardinal fans will be all class.
Are Arizona State and LSU this season's Pitt?
Possibly. The Sun Devils are the sleeper team out West coming out of a major conference and have a chance to make a name for themselves against Kentucky in the Maui Invitational. The Sun Devils have the best freshman no one is talking about in Ike Diogu. LSU has one of the hidden gems in Ronald Dupree, a stellar recruiting class and is in one of the toughest leagues in the country. And both teams get a chance to beat Arizona on their home court when they play the 'Cats this season.
Is Tulsa a legit Final Four team?
Yes. The Golden Hurricane lost a floor leader in Greg Harrington but have four starters back including Dante Swanson, Antonio Reed and Kevin Johnson. They've got the inside-out combo going, the tough defense, unselfish play and chances to beat marquee teams like their game against Kansas Dec. 11 and Gonzaga Feb. 22. The Golden Hurricane didn't have the superstar college player or even the NBA talent when they made the Elite Eight in 2000, so why do they need one this year?
Can the Ivy League get two teams in the field?
Penn is a legit top 25 team, whereas Princeton, Yale and Brown are all contenders in the league. Princeton has more chances to win high-profile games, like playing Oklahoma and Texas. But if the Tigers fail to do that, the Ivy won't have the power rating to merit a second team. If this league had a tournament and a team upset Penn in the title game then two teams could get in. The Ivy doesn't like to mess with tradition, but to get a bigger slice of the CBS billion-dollar pie they should look into a conference tourney.
Who is the best player no one is talking about except the NBA scouts?
Pape Sow of Cal State-Fullerton. He won't get on television, but he could be in the league next season or the following year. The 6-10 native of Senagal averaged 15 points and 8.6 rebounds last season and was the talk of the scouts over the summer. Sow has only played ball for two seasons and is a rising talent that scouts will flock to see in Hawaii, L.A. and around the West.
Will Neil Fingleton be a sideshow or a contributor at Holy Cross?
Fingleton is a large man at 7-6. He could change the game when he's on the court, if he can get up and down the court. Back injuries hurt him throughout his brief stint at North Carolina. Holy Cross will have to alter the way it plays when he gets eligible in December. But he'll be interesting to watch if he can ever be a factor in college before he tries to get into the league.
Can VMI's Jason Conley lead the nation in scoring -- again?
The 6-5 guard was the first freshman to lead the nation in scoring, averaging 29.3 points and 8 rebounds for the Keydets. Conley isn't an unknown anymore and will have to deal with some gimmick defenses. If he can do it twice, then the rest of the nation better catch onto his game before it's too late to catch his act in college. He's not a pro yet but he's getting closer with each game.
Will Ohio be this season's Kent State?
The Bobcats have a shot to be with the best frontline in the MAC with Brandon Hunter, Sonny Johnson and Steve Esterkamp. If the Bobcats get any kind of point guard play then they've got a shot to win the MAC, get to the NCAAs and win a game or two. Tim O'Shea took over a talented team from Larry Hunter, added a few key pieces, and now just has to ensure the chemistry is down for the run. Ohio is driven after a disappointing loss to end the season after they couldn't get out of the first round of the MAC tournament - at home.
How many times will Dwyane Wade's name be misspelled?
Wait, did I get it right? Wade is Marquette's best player, possibly the top talent in Conference USA. He's a good story, married with a child and a responsible young adult trying to become a professional baller, while also getting Marquette back to the NCAAs. And he spells his name differently than anyone would hazard to guess. It's D-W-Y-A-N-E, even though it's pronounced -- Dwayne. He's good enough for everyone to remember it and get it right in columns and agate across the country.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.