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Published:October 23rd, 2006 05:41 EST
Who Will It Be This Year?

Who Will It Be This Year?

By Stacy Troiano

Last year was a year to remember for some, and a year to forget for some in college basketball.  Perennial favorites like Duke and UConn were nowhere to be found in Indianapolis.  George Mason shocked the world as an 11 seed, knocking off three premier teams on their way to the Final 4.  Joakim Noah led the Florida Gators on a dominating run through the bracket and into history with a National Championship.
In addition, as the first tip-off lurks right around the corner, college basketball gets ready to do it all over again.

Midnight madness, mayhem, mania, etc. took place around the country last weekend to mark the start of practice. Drills, sprints, scrimmages, and offensive play after offensive play.  It is what October is about.  Every team starts out with their eyes on the same prize a trip to the Big Dance and a shot at that ever-elusive national championship.

The preseason top five teams are minus names like Duke, UConn, Gonzaga, and Villanova, and it is hard to argue.  Preseason number one in anyone’s poll is Florida.  They are the reigning national champions, and they return all five starters.  Head Coach Billy Donovan and the Gators can only get better.  They have to survive a tough Southeastern conference that includes LSU, Alabama, Kentucky and other powers, but until someone can prove that they have the depth and personnel to match up with players like Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and the rest of the Gators, they will be number one.

Kansas brings in preseason number two ranking.  Head Coach Bill Self and his staff have done a phenomenal recruiting job in a short time, and Kansas is back this year.  With standout players like Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins, few rosters look better.  Look for Kansas to win the Big 12, and make a huge statement in March.

With returning All-American Tyler Hansbrough anchoring the Tar Heels, North Carolina comes in at number three.  Arguably, the toughest conference in the nation, the ACC breeds tough, national championship-esque teams, and look for the Tar Heels to finish on top.  Yes, even over Duke.  The Heels have three fabulous freshmen looking to make an impact immediately, and they will be around in late March.

The number four team is a doozy.  How about the Wisconsin Badgers?  They are returning most of the team from last year, and they get back Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry who were ruled academically ineligible mid way through last season.  The team was 14-2 with them, 5-10 without them.  They also boast a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Alando Tucker.  The Badgers are a favorite to win the Big Ten conference, and mark your calendars for the January 9th match-up against Ohio State.

Title runners-up UCLA are the fifth ranked team.  Replacing now NBA point guard Jordan Farmar will be no easy task, but the Bruins have the experience and talent to make another strong run this year.

Who knows what will happen once the season begins.  We might have another George Mason on our hands.  Preseason rankings are just that, but the 2006-2007 season is shaping up to be another classic.  I will leave you with this: keep an eye on Ohio State.  They have the top freshman in the country in Greg Oden, and they come into this season with something to prove after last year’s early exit.