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What many are thinking, but won't say publicly

11/2/2009

College basketball is an interesting clique. There are some dysfunctional elements to the game (like the path some travel to recruit players through intermediaries), and some elements that display their utter perfection every year (like the NCAA tournament's ideal three-weekend setup).

In talking to the coaches and players who are preparing for what I believe will be an incredibly entertaining season, there are some "elephants in the room" that need to be let out. We -- and by we I mean those in the know or those with the passion to truly care -- have probably uttered these sentences to our friends, and coaches have discussed them amongst their colleagues, but no where have I seen these "elephants" put together. So here goes ...

10. It's now or never for Georgia Tech. Is Paul Hewitt a really dynamic coach who has been bitten by injury, NBA defection and academic suspension? Or is he just a good recruiter who is great on TV and lucked into one run to the NCAA finals? Georgia Tech is loaded. Yes, the Yellow Jackets are young, but so too is UNC and yet the Heels never fail to make the tournament. Derrick Favors is good ... real good. And when you combine his talents with those of Iman Shumpert, Gani Lawal and Favors' fellow stud freshmen, you have a team that should make a lot of noise. If not ...

9. Cut off the western United States in terms of true national championship contenders. Good luck finding "home" teams for the West Region. Washington has great guards, but does not shoot it all that well and will miss Jon Brockman. Cal is solid, sound and has very good but not great wings, and is limited inside. Gonzaga is Gonzaga, but in truth, is rebuilding somewhat.

8. One down year at Georgetown is an exception -- two years is a trend. Greg Monroe should be far more consistent in year two, as should guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. The Hoyas, as with most Princeton-style teams, struggled with rebounding last season, but they also took bad shots and gave up way too many good looks. With a limited bench, still no replacement for the steadiness and shooting of Jonathan Wallace, Georgetown needs to ride Monroe to the Dance and get out of the January-March black clouds that rained on its NCAA parade in 2009.

7. Replacing the leadership of Ty Lawson and the workmanship of Tyler Hansbrough is unrealistic for a loaded freshman class. Carolina has more overall talent this season and will be highly ranked and athletic. UNC's depth of quality big men is the envy of the ACC. But it is just not that easy to replace those two aforementioned champions. NBA scouts have told me that Hansbrough played "that hard" every day in practice and he brought every workout to a unique level. Who will do that now? Lawson made huge shots and plays for the Heels. Those are big shoes to fill. Oh, and Wayne Ellington wasn't bad, either.

6. Virginia made a really weird hire. Tony Bennett is well-regarded as a man and a coach, but with a huge new arena and an up-tempo league, will 45-42 fill the building? It is easy to believe that if you can win at Wazzu, you can win anywhere, but the perception that is created with some of their scores may doom Bennett before he can fix it.

5. If Tulsa is not back now, it may never get back. Before Xavier and Gonzaga became America's sweethearts, the Golden Hurricane held that title. From Nolan Richardson to Tubby Smith to Steve Robinson to Bill Self, TU also seemed to find success. Only the hometown guy who did not want to leave (John Phillips) could get run out of town. Now Tulsa has been in Memphis' shadow since moving to C-USA, but with its two stars back (Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh), Doug Wojcik needs to capitalize on the timing of the Tigers being slim and short before the cavalry of top recruits arrives next year.

4. Maybe November is a good measuring stick for Selection Sunday. Last season the mid-majors struggled in the early season tournaments and then struggled to get into the Big Dance and make some noise. Anyone remember Siena struggling at the Old Spice Classic and losing all three games in Orlando? What about Saint Mary's losing by 13 to UTEP? Think about the buzz Butler got from the preseason NIT title a couple of years ago. Look out for Northern Iowa in the Paradise Jam, Butler and Long Beach in the 76 Classic, Creighton and Xavier in the Old Spice, La Salle in Charleston, Dayton in Puerto Rico and College of Charleston and Saint Mary's in the Diamond Head Classic around Christmas. The big boys loved not having any little guys around for the second weekend of March Madness last season, but this year should be different.

3. Different year, same Duke. The Blue Devils may have made an upgrade with Andre Dawkins in for the departed Elliot Williams, but they still have no low post presence. Kyle Singler is a star and Jon Scheyer looked much better at the point late last season, but their new bigs are face up 4-men, Singler and Scheyer still cannot guard jets like the ones at Nova. Gerald Henderson was far and away their best athlete, and though they may play some zone, I have a hard time buying that Coach K will go zone come March. Duke may well win 30 more games and still not dance for more than three when it matters.

2. The Big Ten is very much like its football counterpart. Though Michigan State and Purdue have Final Four potential, the league thrives on great coaching, tremendous facilities, fan support and returning mid-level talent. MSU is like Ohio State in football in that it seems to have more pros than the rest of the league (the Buckeyes usually lose most of theirs after a year, with Evan Turner as the exception). But like OSU in football, the Spartans lack a key element to success. In their case it's experienced big men and/or top-level interior play. Expect the Big Ten to be really good out of the gates with the top six teams bringing a lot of pieces back. Minnesota and Illinois have some serious talent coming in. Wisconsin, meanwhile, seems to be a little stale -- good, but stale. In other words, the Big Ten is fine top to bottom, but I do not expect to see a team from the league win the national championship.

1. If Kentucky, Texas and Kansas are not in the Final Four, it will be a surprise. Barring injury, those three teams have significantly more talent than the rest of the field. Kentucky lacks shooting, Texas has only gotten there once under Rick Barnes and KU might have too many guys, but the raw talent combined with quality coaching and experience should leave those three teams above all the others by the time March comes along.

Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com.