Editor's note: With the men's college basketball season starting to ramp back up, Yahoo! Sports analyst Clark Kellogg picks the teams he thinks have the best shot at making it to the Sweet 16 in 2006.
Each pick is listed alphabetically. Check back during the week for his latest selections.
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Gonzaga definitely rules the West Coast Conference. Last year marked the fifth year in a row the Bulldogs won the regular-season title. They also had some very impressive non-conference wins (beating Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Washington) which helped them earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. However, they fell to Texas Tech in the second round for a disappointing end to another strong season.
With four starters returning and quality depth on hand, this could be the year Gonzaga makes a significant tournament run. The Zags are favored to win a sixth consecutive WCC title because no one else in the conference can match the experience and talent of the returning starters. Derek Raivio is a terrific point guard who has worked hard this summer on being a more consistent scorer. All-America candidate Adam Morrison is lethal on offense and should be a better three-point shooter this year. J.P. Batista is a "beastly ballerina" in the low post – he has good hands, good feet, excellent strength and he finishes plays – and Errol Knight provides tenacious athleticism, energy and savvy at both ends of the floor.
In addition to the starters, reserves Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, Sean Mallon and David Pendergraft are all proven contributors who will be joined by some promising newcomers this year. But for Gonzaga to have the kind of season it desires from start to finish, a couple of problem areas must be addressed.
While the Bulldogs shot over 50 percent from the field last season, they were not consistent from the perimeter (their high field-goal percentage was due to a strong inside game) and that has to change. The Zags also struggled at times with turnovers (on the season they had more turnovers than they forced). And on defense, containing an opponent's good perimeter players was a weakness.
Like last year's team, this year's squad should excel on the glass, score down low and be effective when playing zone defense. Better individual perimeter defense and having another perimeter shooter develop in addition to Morrison and Raivio will be important to the Zags' overall success. It might also be helpful if another ball-handler emerges to give Raivio an occasional rest and the opportunity to log some minutes at the two-guard spot.
This is an excellent basketball program and, on paper, an elite level team. But this isn't a fantasy league. The Bulldogs will have to earn their spot at the top with a strong regular season and a deep tournament run. I think they'll be up to the challenge.