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June 25, 2008

Texas A&M has new set of expectations

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
June 18: Surprise contenders
June 11: Terps in trouble
June 4: Dancing again?

Perhaps no program's expectations have changed more in recent seasons than Texas A&M's.

Just four years ago, the Aggies were coming off a season where they went winless in Big 12 play. This season, they are coming off a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That kind of turnaround has Aggies fans excited about basketball even in a time when preseason football talk dominates in College Station, and one Aggies fan wants to know why A&M didn't get mentioned in Rivals.com's most recent preseason top 25.

We address that question in this week's mailbag, along with others about how Stanford will do without Brook and Robin Lopez, if Maryland has the best backcourt in the ACC, whether Georgia Tech's run to the 2004 national title game was an aberration, and who are the biggest potential steals and busts in Thursday's NBA draft.

Aggie assessment

In your preseason top 25, you don't have Texas A&M listed in the top 25 or among "others considered." Explain to me how a team that has made the tournament each of the past three years; a team that was a blown call from defeating UCLA this past season; a team that was in the Sweet 16 two years ago; a team that loses little � if you consider DeAndre Jordan a loss; and has another year of digesting coach Mark Turgeon's philosophy gets ignored? You had some votes for Baylor, whom the Aggies beat 71-57 last season. Texas is in your top 25. The Aggies beat the Longhorns 80-63. You even have votes for Ohio State, whom the Aggies crushed 70-47.

� David Delfeld from Austin, Texas

Losing Jordan isn't what concerns us. By the end of the season, the 7-footer was out of the starting lineup and that's when the Aggies played some of their best ball.

No, what concerns us is losing two four-year starters, Dominique Kirk and Joseph Jones. Kirk started a Big 12-record 132 consecutive games. Jones started 131.

Kirk was an excellent defender, and his departure creates some questions in the backcourt. Turgeon moved Kirk to point guard last season while choosing to play Donald Sloan off the ball for the most part. Sloan probably will have to move to point � little-used sophomore B.J. Holmes and freshman Dashan Harris are the other options � which will leave the Aggies without anyone off the ball who can attack off the dribble. Josh Carter is a good outside shooter but can't put the ball on the floor.

Losing Jones and Jordan will leave the Aggies thin up front. I like junior big man Bryan Davis, who was one of the Big 12's most improved players last season. However, it doesn't look as if he'll have much help.

I don't think you can compare Texas A&M to Texas and Baylor, at least not favorably. The Longhorns and Bears each return four starters from NCAA Tournament teams. And while A&M did beat both those teams once, it also lost to both, including a 27-point setback to Texas. Ohio State, the other team you mentioned, loses three starters, just like the Aggies. On the plus side, the Buckeyes signed the nation's No. 6 recruiting class - which includes B.J. Mullens (the nation's No. 1 overall prospect). A&M's class isn't in the top 30.

Life after Lopez (twins)

How do you think Stanford will do next season? Can they make the NCAA Tournament again?

� Nishant from Oak Park, Calif.

If the Pac-10 was going to be anything like it was this past season I would say no way. But the league that arguably was the best in the country is going to take a big step back. Eight Pac-10 teams are losing their leading scorer, and four other Pac-10 players left early for the NBA draft.

Stanford is losing the 7-foot Lopez twins, Brook (the leading scorer) and Robin (also leaving early). Combine their departures with the loss of veteran forwards Taj Finger and Fred Washington and that means new coach Johnny Dawkins inherits one of the smallest teams in the Pac-10. Senior Lawrence Hill (6-8) is now Stanford's tallest player with any solid experience.

The Cardinal will have one of the league's best and most experienced backcourts, led by seniors Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. Johnson never will be a big scorer, but he solidified the point last season. He proved he could be a reliable ballhandler and good decision-maker. Goods (10.0 ppg) is a steady contributor on offense and enters his third year as a starter.

The real key is getting Hill, an inside-outside scoring threat, to return to his 2006-07 form. Hill averaged 15.7 points and 6.0 rebounds that season. With the Lopezes emergence last season, Hill's playing time was cut and his role diminished. His averages dipped to 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. He admitted to me in an interview a couple of weeks ago that he lost some confidence.

If Hill bounces back I think the Cardinals can contend for an NCAA bid. Inside play is going to be a big weakness, and they are going to get beat up on the boards. But they can lean on guard play, and finishing at least .500 in league play will be easier than it was this past season.

Terps > Tar Heels?

Do you really believe Maryland's guards are better than North Carolina's?

� Steven Smith from Jacksonville, Fla.

When I made the statement in my June 11 mailbag that Maryland would have the ACC's best backcourt next season, I must admit I didn't think Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson would pull out of the draft. But I still stand by the statement.

Nobody at any position may be as fast as Lawson, but Maryland's Greivis Vasquez is a better all-around point guard. Vasquez is a much better finisher around the basket (thanks largely to a 7-inch height advantage) and is one of the best playmakers in college basketball. If he were playing alongside Tyler Hansbrough, Vasquez would get the kind of attention Lawson does.

Though I'm not a big Ellington fan, you have to give him the edge over Maryland's Eric Hayes. Ellington is a good perimeter shooter but doesn't do anything else particularly well. Still, opponents have to be concerned with him. You can't say the same for Hayes, whose best attribute is his passing ability.

I think it's the return of talented sophomores Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie that give the Terps a slight edge. Both earned their way into the rotation last season and gained some valuable experience. Look for each to improve significantly and become among the best reserves in the league.

The Tar Heels return seniors Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Ginyard is a good defender but limited offensively. Frasor is an adequate backup point guard. Neither is going to make big strides at this point in his career.

The Tar Heels are adding guard Larry Drew, the No. 71-ranked prospect in the class of 2008. However, the Terps are adding guard Sean Mosley, ranked 62nd. That makes it tough to say anyone has the edge when it comes to newcomers.

Is Tech wrecked?

While I really like Paul Hewitt as a recruiter, person and as representative of Georgia Tech, I feel like our program has regressed and is mired in woefully inconsistent play, highlighted by an insane amount of turnovers and "I thought you had him defense." I know Tech has lost some major talent to the pros, but I feel like the team just can't turn the corner. Was Hewitt's run to the title game a fluke? Perhaps the team was solid enough to cover up his deficiencies and got hot at the right time. More important, what do you feel the future holds for him and the Tech program? Any insight would be outstanding since I am 29 and already have gray hair from the frustration.

� Jarrett Carden from Brentwood, Tenn.

Perhaps a glance at some other ACC programs will make you feel better. While Hewitt has taken Tech to four NCAA Tournaments in eight years, Florida State (my alma mater) hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998. Clemson was staring at the same NCAA drought until breaking through this past season.

But I do have to admit Hewitt's tenure at Tech has been puzzling. His most talented teams seem to underachieve. The year he had Chris Bosh, the Yellow Jackets barely finished above .500 (16-15). Even with first-round picks Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, he was fortunate to reach the NCAA Tournament because the Jackets went 8-8 in ACC play in 2006-07.

Hewitt seems to do his best when expectations and talent level aren't that high. The team that went to the title game only had one player (Jarrett Jack) drafted by the NBA. Hewitt's first team at Tech was expected to finish near the bottom of the league but reached the NCAA Tournament, which earned him ACC Coach of the Year honors.

The good news for Tech fans is that the Jackets' 2008-09 squad appears to be one that won't have high expectations attached. The top two scorers (Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith) are gone. But the Jackets return some talented players who should improve, especially sophomores Maurice Miller and Gani Lawal - both former top-100 prospects. The return of center Ra'Sean Dickey and the addition of four-star guard Iman Shumpert also will help.

I think Hewitt can get that group into the middle of the pack in the ACC, and with every key player expected to come back in 2009-10 except for Dickey, the future of the program looks good.

Husker hopes

When Roburt Sallie signed to come to Nebraska, I thought that we would have a chance to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Now that he's ineligible, what are the realistic expectations for this team?

� Cory from Eagle, Colo.

Even with Sallie, I'm not sure Nebraska goes to the NCAA Tournament. Without him, I'm convinced they won't.

Sallie, now headed to Memphis, probably would have been the Huskers' best player. However, the 6-4 shooting guard would not have been able to provide Nebraska with what it desperately needs: an inside presence.

With the loss of center Aleks Maric, the Huskers are undersized and lack a reliable rebounder or an inside scoring threat. Ryan Anderson, who is 6-4, may have to go back to playing power forward.

The Huskers look solid on the perimeter, but there are so many glaring holes on the inside I can't see anything better than another NIT trip.

Draft watch

Who will be the biggest steal and the biggest bust in this year's draft?

� Evan from Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.

It's tough to define a legitimate "steal." Is it a second-round pick who goes on to have a lengthy NBA career? What about a mid-to-late first rounder who becomes a star?

I think you will see a handful of players fit the first category � including Courtney Lee, Jamont Gordon and Joey Dorsey, though Lee could go late in the first round. Each of that trio has the strength needed to make an immediate impact. Lee has the size and skills of a prototypical NBA shooting guard. Gordon, an explosive 6-4 left-hander, will be able to take defenders off the dribble and create offense. Dorsey measured only 6-6 at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp, but I still think he could be a poor man's Ben Wallace with his shot-blocking and rebounding prowess.

I think Donte Greene could fit the second category. Greene isn't ready to start, but he has the physical tools to be an All-Star down the road. Greene, a lanky 6-9 forward, has a nice shooting touch and range that extends to the NBA 3-point line. He reminds me of a young Rashard Lewis.

As far as busts, I would target Bill Walker. His knee problems don't bother me as much as that he is a 6-5 forward who struggled to shoot from the college 3-point line (30.7 percent). I don't see how that will translate into the NBA.

I'm also not a fan of Kosta Koufos, who is projected to go somewhere between Nos. 14 and 25. Koufos is a soft 7-footer with a good jump shot. He could develop into more, but that's a major gamble with a pick in the middle of the first round.

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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