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The Secret Five

December 2, 2003 Columns No Comments

The Missing Five

by Michael Ermitage

You have to love the preseason poll. Only in college athletics are teams so meticulously ranked before ever playing a game. You’d never see like the 7th-ranked St. Louis Rams versus the 25th-ranked Chicago Bears. It does, however, create quite a bit of excitement among fans and alumni to see that little number next to your team’s name as the beloved Bottom Line scrolls. And by the way, I can’t say this enough, the Bottom Line is the greatest invention since plastic.

The preseason rankings, though, are just a shot in the dark. I can tell you that my contribution to the poll here at Hoopville was not all that scientific. In the great tradition of journalism, I “borrowed” another poll from another source, and made amendments. I can’t say for sure, but I think the poll I “borrowed” from did the same thing. Preseason rankers basically follow the same recipe – take last season’s year-ending poll, figure out who lost the most talent, figure out who added the most talent, and fill in the holes with “others getting votes,” or those that have big recruiting classes. There is no accounting for improvement in returning talent. There are no assumptions that there will be a replacement for a big scorer, unless, of course, there is some big-named recruit coming to campus. And there is no accounting for good coaching, unless your name is Coach K or Izzo, in which case you have the talent anyway.

So, I’ve decided to do a little digging, and come up with five teams that have been left off every preseason Top 25 list. Five teams that have been counted out because their big gun graduated or because their recruiting classes only ranked fifth in their league. Here are five teams where a little bit of coaching, a little bit of seniority and a little bit of talent will translate into a Top 25 ranking at the end of the year despite the diss at the beginning of the year.

1. Manhattan

Every few years in college basketball, there comes a consummate collegiate player. These are guys that get the most out of their talent and put up some big numbers, but never materialize on the professional level. Tom Coverdale, Steve Logan, and Steve Blake are some recent examples. You want to go old school, well, then you’ve got Dametri “Da Meat Hook” Hill, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Anderson Hunt, and Sean Respert. Luis Flores is the next great consummate collegian. At 6-2, he dominated the guard position in the MAAC conference as the reigning player of the year. Check out this season stat line from last year – 24.6ppg, 5.4 rbg, 2.9 apg, 1.9 spg, .902 FT. While Flores is the main reason the Jaspers will surprise in March, he has some help. Peter Mulligan, a 6-5 junior, led the University of Maryland Baltimore County in scoring (16.0 ppg) and made All-Northeastern Conference before transferring and red-shirting last season. Also expected to contribute is 6-9 senior Dave Holmes (12.8ppg, 7.4rbg, 1.5spg). Holmes won the MAAC sixth man of the year award last season and has been selected to the all-conference second team twice. Coach Bobby Gonzalez has built a prosperous program at Manhattan, taking at team from five wins his first season to the NCAA tournament last season. This year, Manhattan will join the mid-major elite.

2. Wichita State

The Missouri Valley Conference has consistently sent stronger and stronger teams to the NCAA tournament. Both Southern Illinois and Creighton, the equivalent to the Big Ten’s Ohio State and Michigan in football, have sent solid teams to the NCAA tournament in recent years. This season, it looks as though the Wichita State Shockers will be the MVC’s toughest “out” at the end of the season. The Shockers return their top six scorers from last year’s club, and were picked as the conference pre-season favorite. Guard Randy Burns leads the team as a versatile scorer that can hit the three-point jumper or get to the rim. Coach Mark Turgeon has been slowly rebuilding the program for more than three years, and this season looks to bear the fruit of his labor. Plenty of folks will see the highly touted Shockers as the team will begin playing in a brand new 10,300-seat facility this season.

3. Arizona State

Everything changed for Arizona State the day phenom Ike Diogu walked onto campus. The 6-8, 250-pound Diogu averaged nearly 20 ppg and 8 rbg last season as a freshman. And even though the Sun Devils have eight new faces to the team – the philosophy will be the same. Give the ball to Diogu. Getting Diogu the ball most often will be junior guard Jason Braxton. The heady point guard is solid with the ball and will give the Sun Devils what every good NCAA Tournament team needs – good point guard play. Coach Rob Evans should be able to lead his team to its first back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances since 1980-81.

4. Illinois-Chicago

It has taken quite some time for head coach Jimmy Collins to build UIC into a perennial conference power and fringe national contender, but this year he has finally done it. When the veteran Collins left Illinois and took the UIC position, many thought that the program would immediately ascend due to Collins’ extraordinary recruiting abilities (Iowa fans – insert joke here). In his seventh season, Collins brings five starters back including player-of-the-year candidate Cedric Banks. While Butler has been the class of the Horizon League for the past few years, it will be UIC that represents the conference in the tournament and in the polls.

5. Texas Tech

Bob Knight’s Red Raiders have already forced voters to put his team in the Top 25. But Knight’s team is capable of a lot more than just getting some votes in an early-season popularity contest. It all begins with Andre Emmett. The senior guard can do just about everything on the court and is a prolific scorer. Much like it seemed Dwayne Wade willed Marquette to the Final Four last season, it seems that Emmett could do that for Texas Tech this season. The supporting cast is solid, even with the loss of Kasib Powell, thanks to a good recruiting class. The Big 12, with a rebuilding Oklahoma and an in-flux Kansas, could be had by the Red Raiders.


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