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July 29, 2008

Mailbag: Whose early ranking is too high?

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the season and answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
July 23: The right move?
July 15: Irish expectations
July 9: Targeted Heels

Every season exposes a new batch of overrated teams, and last season was no exception.

N.C. State was perhaps the biggest victim of being hyped too much. Starting out at No. 21 in the AP poll, the Wolfpack lost their last eight games and finished with a losing record.

Two seasons ago, there were an extraordinary amount of teams that fell well short of expectations. LSU, which began the year at No. 5 AP poll, didn't even receive an NIT bid after going 17-15. Washington and Connecticut, which started out Nos. 17 and 18, respectively, spent the postseason at home as well.

So, who will be the teams to disappoint in 2008-09? We look at a number of candidates in this week's mailbag.

Who's too high?

I saw where you picked out some sleepers in a recent mailbag. Who do you think will be the most overrated teams in 2008-09?

Jason from Kansas City, Mo.

We've got Purdue at No. 4 in our early top 25, and I'm worried that's a little too high. The Boilermakers reached the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament with a very young team. That has many thinking they are poised for a big improvement. However, the 'Baby Boilers' don't have a great player to lean on this season. When I look around at the other teams in the top 10, they don't have as much athleticism or firepower.

I'm not buying into the hype surrounding Davidson (ranked No. 22) either. Stephen Curry might be the best guard in the country, but he lost his sidekick. Jason Richards led the nation in assists last season. How can you get better when you lose someone that good?

I'm skeptical of USC (No. 21) as well. Big man Taj Gibson didn't improve on the promise he showed as a freshman. Perhaps Gibson is one of those players that just never get much better. The Trojans also need highly touted freshman Demar DeRozan to replace O.J. Mayo. DeRozan is a great talent, but that is asking for quite a bit.

Top 25 snub?

Where's 'Bama in your preseason top 25? With the additions of Ronald Steele, Andrew Steele, Tony Mitchell, Anthony Brock, and Jamychal Green to the team - which includes seven returning players 'Bama will have a great mix of talent and experience.

Brian from Columbia, S.C.

When we re-voted for our top 25 after the early entry withdrawl deadline on June 16, Alabama did not receive one vote.

Some of that may be due to the uncertainty hanging around Ron Steele. The veteran point guard looked decent at the NBA pre-draft camp, but it has still been a year since he played a real game. It has been more than two years since he looked like one of the nation's top players.

However, even if we knew Steele has fully recovered, I doubt the Tide would crack our top 25. Losing Richard Hendrix was a huge blow. Green, the prize recruit in that impressive recruiting class, has the potential to be as good as Hendrix was - maybe better. However, Green isn't going to be able to replace a first-team All-SEC big man in his first year in college.

The Tide is also losing Mykal Riley, their second-leading scorer and one of the SEC's top outside shooters. Without Hendrix and Riley, they are going to struggle to score. Forward Alonzo Gee - who averaged 14.5 ppg - is back, but he doesn't have the kind of game to carry the offense or be a go-to scorer.

I do have some good news for you though. Despite not being a top 25-caliber team, the Tide could contend for the SEC West title. That's because the division is wide open. Mississippi State and Arkansas, which finished in first and second last season, each lost a number of their best players and are going to take a step back. The difference between the best and the worst team in the division looks minimal.

Skwara's selections

Who would make your preseason All-American team? Obviously you have to put Tyler Hansbrough on there, but I'm not sure anyone else is a lock.

Chad from Pittsburgh

Notre Dame power forward Luke Harangody and Curry should also be considered locks. Harangody was the runaway winner for Big East Player of the Year last season, and Curry's numbers and NCAA Tournament heroics warrant a spot.

You can make a strong case for a slew of other guys, but I'd pick Tennessee small forward Tyler Smith and Marquette guard Jerel McNeal. Smith may be the nation's most versatile and most clutch player. I saw him beat Memphis and Ole Miss with tough shots in the final minute last season. McNeal isn't quite as good on offense as other top guards, but he makes up for it on defense and he was terrific in the postseason last year.

Here's some of the other guys I considered: Darren Collison (UCLA), Lee Cummard (BYU), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), James Harden (Arizona State), Jack McClinton (Miami), Tyrese Rice (Boston College), Sam Young (Pittsburgh) and Terrence Williams (Louisville).

Louisville's Earl Clark and Texas' Damion James are two other guys to watch. They haven't been as productive as most of the guys mentioned above, but I could see both being selected All-Americans at the end of the year. Both really came on at the end of last season.

Out of the shadows?

Andrew, we all know Tennessee is known as a women's basketball school. Do you think Coach Bruce Pearl will get past the Sweet 16, or will his teams continue to live in the shadow of Pat Summitt?

Catarano from parts unknown

I think Pearl and the men's program stopped living in Summitt's shadow a couple years ago. They've been consistently selling out a huge arena (more than 20,000) and have emerged as a nationally relevant program. The Vols have been part of some huge games (see their win over then-No. 1 Memphis last season) and have been contending for SEC titles in recent years.

It's only a matter of time before Pearl and the Vols get past the Sweet 16. In fact, it could be a moot point by this time next year. The Vols have a great blend of talent and experience thanks to the additions of five-star guard Scotty Hopson and junior college transfer Bobby Maze. Tyler Smith, J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism return from last year's team. Those five, combined with some talented role players, make the Vols a legitimate Final Four threat.

Even if that group doesn't get the job done, don't expect the Vols to fade away anytime soon. Pearl has proven to be an excellent recruiter, and the school appears to be committed to keeping him in Knoxville. Pearl recently signed a deal that makes him one of the nation's highest-paid coaches.

Pros and cons

What are the pros and cons for players like Brandon Jennings and Ra'Sean Dickey choosing to play professional basketball overseas rather than in college? Will it hurt or help Jennings' development?

Taylor from Clarksville, Tenn.

The biggest plus is obviously getting paid to play. Neither has to worry about getting by on scholarship stipends and per diems anymore.

The atmosphere in Europe (Jennings signed with an Italian team and Dickey with a Ukrainian team) is also more like college than the NBA. There are a lot of tournaments, smaller venues and the teams tend to be more tight-knit. It doesn't have the business-like feel of the NBA.

The biggest challenge may be off the court. Living in a strange place thousands of miles from home presents all sorts of difficulties. Even something as simple as trying to order food can be frustrating.

Adapting to the style of play is another big obstacle. There is a bigger emphasis on skills and fundamentals in Europe, which creates a different kind of game. Most big men can shoot outside and handle the ball. That could be a problem for Dickey, because he is best near the basket.

I think that could actually slow down the development of Jennings. The dynamic point guard will have to adjust to all these changes, including different rules and a different court. Playing with grown men will certainly help him down the road, but his experience in Italy will be far different from what he hopes to eventually encounter in the NBA.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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