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September 10, 2008

Mailbag: Kansas will count on JC transfers

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This could be the season of the junior college transfer.

Two of the biggest and most tradition-rich programs in college basketball, Kansas and Kentucky, are welcoming recruiting classes that feature two junior college transfers apiece. So is talent-laden Oklahoma, which will be among the favorites in the Big 12.

Tennessee, which will be favored in the SEC for the second consecutive season, is counting on a junior college transfer (Bobby Maze) to fix its problems at point guard. Pittsburgh, which will be a preseason top-10 team, and Baylor, coming off a breakthrough season that included an NCAA Tournament appearance, also have added JC players.

All that activity has many fan bases wondering what they should expect from these transfers. We delve into that question in this week's mailbag.

Jayhawk jucos

Markis from Kansas City : Kansas is bringing in two of the nation's top junior college transfers (Tyrone Appleton and Mario Little). What can we expect from these guys? Who have been some of the top junior college transfers in recent seasons and what have they done?

You usually don't see elite schools go the junior college route. But Kansas is in a unique situation because it is losing all five starters and a key reserve (Sasha Kaun) from a national-title team. The Jayhawks desperately need players who can come in and help immediately.

And it's not rare to see JC transfers make a big impact at the highest levels. Sonny Weems comes to mind. Weems, the No. 1 junior college transfer two years ago, averaged 15 points per game last season for an Arkansas team that reached the NCAA Tournament. In the same conference, another junior college transfer - LSU's Marcus Thornton - ranked second in the league in scoring at 19.6 points per game.

Mario Boggan's college career took him from Florida to a junior college to Oklahoma State, where he was selected first-team All-Big 12. Tim Pickett went from the junior college ranks to Florida State, where he was an all-league player.

That doesn't mean Appleton and Little, for instance, are locks to make similar transitions. However, I think the odds are good. They are the cream of the crop from the latest class of junior college prospects, and they are joining teams that need each to play heavy minutes immediately.

Wanting more

James from Fort Collins, Colo. : I just took a look at North Carolina's schedule and have to admit I'm a little disappointed. There are a couple of big non-conference games on there, but I was expecting much more. This team is loaded. Why not load up on tougher matchups?

I feel your pain, James. This should be the season North Carolina puts together the toughest schedule imaginable. The Tar Heels clearly have the best team in college basketball, so why not showcase it? Why not put it to the test? After all, suffering a couple of non-conference losses doesn't hurt much in college basketball. Alas, UNC coach Roy Williams apparently doesn't share our sentiment.

For the most part, the Tar Heels' non-conference slate is full of pushovers and there's just one set opponent who's likely to be in the preseason top 25 and the school didn't even set that game up. The annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge pits the Tar Heels against Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit in what will be one of the must-see games of the season.

UNC is in the Maui Invitational, but the field isn't as strong as in past seasons. The Tar Heels also are on the weaker side of the bracket. They open with Chaminade (the host team) and will face either Alabama or Oregon next. The Crimson Tide will need some fortunate twists to be an NCAA Tournament team and the Ducks are in rebuilding mode after losing four starters. Notre Dame and Texas are on the other side of the bracket, and each have Final Four potential.

I don't think you can place all the blame on Williams and the Tar Heels. They play host to Kentucky and travel to Nevada. When they set those games up, they thought they were getting top-caliber matchups. But Kentucky hasn't performed up to its lofty standards in recent seasons, and the Wolf Pack suffered a down season last year after a dominating run in the WAC.

Still, the Tar Heels should have been bolder when scheduling. They could have one of the greatest teams in school history. A team with that kind of potential has no reason to dodge anyone.

Durant Beasley ?

Brian from Austin, Texas: Do you see any incoming freshman putting up Kevin Durant- or Michael Beasley-type numbers this season?

Absolutely not. I can't emphasize enough just how extraordinary Durant and Beasley were at the college level. I'm not sure we will see another freshman come along in the next 10 years and match their numbers. That they came along in back-to-back seasons was more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come.

The 2008 class includes some wonderful prospects. There are a handful of one-and-done types at the top, including Ohio State's B.J. Mullens and Memphis' Tyreke Evans. But it doesn't have anyone on Durant's or Beasley's level.

Top talent

Braj from Knoxville, Tenn.: Can you give us your top three at each position?

At point guard, I'll give UCLA's Darren Collison the slight edge over Connecticut's A.J. Price and North Carolina's Ty Lawson assuming Price recovers from a knee injury last season. Collison is the best decision-maker of the three and has a knack for hitting clutch 3-pointers.

At shooting guard, you have to have Davidson's Stephen Curry at the top. I'd put UT-Martin's Lester Hudson and Marquette's Jerel McNeal second and third, respectively. Hudson plays in a small league but has had great games against a slew of high-major teams. McNeal always has been a great defensive player and has improved on the offensive end.

Tennessee's Tyler Smith is the top small forward. Smith is versatile and a clutch shooter. Arizona State's James Harden and BYU's Lee Cummard would be my next two choices. Harden turned the Sun Devils into one of the nation's most-improved programs last season, and the well-rounded Cummard may have the fewest weaknesses of any player in college basketball.

For big men (I'm combining power forwards and centers), Tyler Hansbrough has to be No. 1. Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, is second. I'd give Washington's Jon Brockman the edge over Oklahoma's Blake Griffin for the third spot for now, although I wouldn't be surprised if Griffin ends up having a better season.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com. Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note



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