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November 10, 2006

Season-opening edition of The Mailbag

In this special edition of the college basketball mailbag we've got inquiries about the SEC East title race, how North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough compares to Duke's Josh McRoberts and the NBA potential of Kansas' players.

We answer all that and more in the latest installment of the mailbag. Expect a weekly version to continue throughout the season, so keep those questions coming.

Andrew Skwara's Mailbag
Who do you believe has the top frontcourt and backcourt in the nation?
-- DeVontae from Flowood, Miss.

There is no question about who has the top frontcourt. With center Joakim Noah, power forward Al Horford and small forward Corey Brewer all saying no the NBA, the Florida Gators are head and shoulders above everyone else. Each is arguably the best in the nation at his position (they're all ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in our position rankings).

They also have reserve center Chris Richard. The 6-foot-9, 255-pounder is tough to move out of the paint and would be a starter on most teams.

Plus, beyond all the talent and the size, they have great chemistry. Brewer and Noah are good passers who don't mind giving the ball up to teammates. They all seem to have a great feel for one another's games.

Georgetown would be a distant second. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert are a great tandem because they do what the others can't. The 6-8 Green can guard a number of positions, play on the perimeter and also be a force on the inside. The 7-2 Hibbert provides a huge interior presence and can change the game from a defensive standpoint.

When it comes to the best backcourt, I'd give Kansas the nod over North Carolina.

Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and freshman Sherron Collins would probably be stars on just about any other team.

Robinson does a great job penetrating into the paint and igniting the Jayhawks' offense.

Chalmers can play both guard positions and score from all over the court, but his biggest strength is on the defensive side of the ball. He led the Big 12 in steals (2.7 per game) as a freshman last season.

Collins will add a new dimension. Quick and explosive, few defenders will be able to handle him one-on-one.

For a deeper look at the Rivals.com Preseason Power Rankings, choose a position below:
Point guard | Shooting guard | Small forward | Power forward | Center

Of all the high school All-Americans Kansas has signed the past few years, how many will make the NBA and who could be a star?
-- Jason from Virginia Beach, Va.

Brandon Rush and Julian Wright are certainly at the top of the list.

Rush had a much better freshman season, but I think Wright will end up being a higher draft pick and a better pro. The 6-foot-8 Wright has more room to improve, and with his versatility and athleticism he can play a number of positions.

Rush's leaping ability and athleticism have certainly caught the eyes of scouts. However, Rush will have to play guard at the next level. He needs to show he can guard smaller, quicker players and improve his ballhandling skills.

Freshman Darrell Arthur has more potential than Rush or Wright. Long and athletic, he runs extremely well and owns a polished set of offensive skills. He gets knocked for his lack of effort and passion, but the draft tends to overlook those qualities.

Mario Chalmers will get a shot at the NBA, but he must show he can be a point guard and a distributor not his primary role for the Jayhawks.

How do you think Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough match up to each other. I'm a Wake Forest fan and don't really care, but to me it seems McRoberts is actually more athletic than Hansbrough and could do more. Your thoughts?
-- Andrew Rogers from Elizabeth City, N.C.

The rival big men are two very different players.

Hansbrough is an absolute animal on the inside. He plays with more energy and ferocity than probably anyone else in college basketball right now, which translates to a tremendous amount of second-chance points and free throws (only J.J. Redick shot more in the ACC last season).

However, Hansbrough has his weaknesses. The sophomore is fairly uncomfortable and harmless outside of 15 feet. Plus, he's an average post defender (averaged 0.7 blocks per game last season).

McRoberts may not ever be as good or as productive a college player as Hansbrough, but he is much more versatile and possesses a bigger upside.

McRoberts creates all sorts of matchup problems because of his ability to handle the ball and knock down perimeter shots something you'll see him do a lot more with Redick and Shelden Williams gone.

McRoberts won't ever dominate the paint like Hansbrough. He'll be a solid rebounder and score off some post moves, but for the most part he is a finesse player.

Hansbrough will win the one-on-one battles in college because McRoberts simply can't match his strength or intensity. Plus, UNC will likely use versatile freshman Brandan Wright to guard McRoberts. In the pros, it could be a completely different story.

In your opinion what are the top-10 college basketball programs of all time?
-- Ryan from Louisville, Ky.

I could spend about three mailbags on just this one question, so I'll try and give you the short and sweet version.

There are about six locks: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA. All of those tradition-rich programs have multiple national championships (everyone but Kansas has more than two) and they also rank among the top six all-time in Final Four victories.

The contenders for the other four spots would be Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Syracuse.

Out of that group, I lean towards the programs which have had consistent success in different eras, like Louisville, N.C. State and Ohio State.

The Cardinals went to Final Fours in 1972, '75, '80 (won title), '82, '83, '86 (won title) and 2005.

N.C. State won two of the most significant and memorable national titles. In 1974, the Wolfpack proved someone could finally beat UCLA - the Bruins had won nine of the previous 10 titles. N.C. State topped the Bruins in the Final Four before knocking off Marquette in the championship game.

In 1983, the Wolfpack pulled off perhaps the most shocking NCAA Tournament run ever, reaching the title game as a No. 6 seed. N.C. State edged a heavily favored Houston team on a last-second tip-in.

Ohio State was dominant in the late 1930s and early 1940s and again in the early 1960s. The Buckeyes played in the title game in 1939, reached the Final Four three consecutive years from 1944-46 and went to the title game from 1960-62. They also made a Final Four appearance in 1999.

The 10th spot is a toss-up, but Connecticut would get my vote. They certainly lack the history of the other schools, but nobody may have been better over the last 15 years. The Huskies have been considered one of the nation's elite programs over that time and captured a national title in 1999 over a heavily-favored Duke team. UConn also won it all again with a dominating club of their own in 2004.

How do you think the SEC East will shake out this season behind Florida?
-- Keith from Chattanooga, Tenn.

Many believe Tennessee, the defending SEC East champs, are going to slide back to third place. I think they'll have a pretty firm grasp on the No. 2 spot by the end of the conference schedule.

Yes, the Vols are much younger and they lost veteran point guard C.J. Watson, but they are also more talented, more athletic and deeper a dangerous combination in Bruce Pearl's up-tempo system.

Pearl has a plethora of weapons to work with from Chris Lofton, one of the nation's top 3-point shooters, to prize recruit Ramar Smith, a five star combo guard, and athletic big men Wayne Chism and Duke Crews.

Kentucky may have solved some of its chemistry problems with Rajon Rondo's early departure to the NBA, but I still think they have point guard issues.

Coach Tubby Smith, who is firmly on the hot seat after last season's struggles, wants Ramel Bradley to bring the ball up the court. I think Bradley is better suited on the wing. Freshman Derrick Jasper may be the answer down the road, but I'm not sure if he's ready to lead the offense.

Still, expect the Wildcats to finish in third place and get into the NCAA Tournament. Small forward Bobby Perry is poised for a breakout season and Randolph Morris gives them one of the best post players in the league.

Look for Georgia to be the surprise of the division and finish fourth. The Bulldogs have as talented and as deep a backcourt as anyone in the league with the return of veteran guards Levi Stukes (11.6 ppg), Sundiata Gaines (10.3 ppg) and Channing Toney (8.5 ppg). Promising sophomores Mike Mercer (11.0 ppg) and Billy Humphrey (8.4 ppg) will also make the rotation.

Getting production down low will remain a problem, especially if JUCO transfer Takais Brown (who has been suspended indefinitely for academic problems) can't get on the court soon. The Bulldogs have so much firepower, they'll simply outscore many teams.

Another scrappy South Carolina team should be competitive enough to take fifth place and pull off some more upsets they beat Florida twice last season. Point guard Tre Kelly is one of the nation's most underrated players, and coach Dave Odom believes he found a replacement for first-round draft pick Renaldo Balkman in redshirt freshman Dominque Archie.

Vanderbilt has two of the best wings in the league in Shan Foster (15.9 ppg) and Derrick Byars (12.4 ppg), but without any serviceable big men they are going to be dominated on the inside against just about every SEC opponent.

The Commodores were already a poor rebounding club that got little offense from the post. Losing their two best inside players, Julian Terrell and DeMarre Carroll (Missouri transfer) will only make it worse.

Rivals.com college basketball writer Andrew Skwara answers your questions every week in The Mailbag. Click here to send him a question.



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