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November 12, 2008

Mailbag: Could Kentucky upset North Carolina?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Skwara's Mailbag

There is no good time to face No. 1-ranked North Carolina this season, but Kentucky may have picked the best available.

The Tar Heels are dealing with multiple injuries heading into their meeting with the visiting Wildcats on Tuesday in what will only be the second official game for each of the two powerhouse programs.

Starting guard Marcus Ginyard, the Tar Heels' best defender, will not play. Ginyard had foot surgery last month and isn't expected to return until December.

The status of star big man Tyler Hansbrough, who corralled several national player of the year awards last season, is uncertain. Hansbrough has yet to practice in two weeks due to an injured shin and did not play in the Tar Heels' first exhibition game.

So, with Ginyard and Hansbrough ailing, are the mighty Tar Heels vulnerable? If both don't play can the Wildcats pull off the upset? What if Hansbrough plays, but he isn't 100 percent?

We delve into those questions in this week's mailbag.

Good timing?

Michael from Okemos, Mich. : If UNC doesn't have Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard next week when Kentucky comes to town do you still think UK has no chance? This year UK has the depth to make it a game with Hansbrough, but without him UK has a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset?

Even without Hansbrough and Ginyard, I'd still favor the Tar Heels strongly. UNC guards Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and swingman Danny Green would be one of the top 10 or 15 trios in the nation, and the Tar Heels have a far more experienced team. Plus the game is in Chapel Hill.

Kentucky is very much a team in transition. Four newcomers are all expected to be part of the rotation, and it still remains unclear who will be playing point guard.

I hope Hansbrough can play and is close to 100 percent. A healthy Hansbrough versus Kentucky's Patrick Patterson has the potential to be among the best one-on-one post matchups of the season. Patterson actually outplayed Hansbrough last season, outscoring college basketball's poster boy 19-14 and holding him to a 2-of-8 performance from the field.

Missing on Miami?

Jerry from Edison, N.J. : I read many of your team previews and ratings and you usually show good judgment, but in my opinion you completely missed the ball on your rating of the University of Miami. I see them as a fringe top 10 team, at worst top 15. With a potential All-American in Jack McClinton leading the way and four returning starters, as well as five-star prospect DeQuan Jones coming in, the Hurricanes are much better then you give them credit for. How much did you research them?

I've heard others say Miami has the potential to be a top 10 team, and I don't see what kind of research could have led them to that conclusion.

Maybe they are forgetting that Miami was fortunate to get into the NCAA tournament last season. In a mediocre year for the ACC (the league only sent four teams to the field of 65), the Hurricanes went 8-8 in league play. And that was with center Anthony King, the one starter who is not back this season. The 'Canes would have been in the NIT without King. He led the team in rebounding and blocks.

McClinton's supporting cast will be better. Shooting guard James Dews is entering his second year as a full-time starter and should develop into a solid No. 2 scorer. Power forward Dwayne Collins has had some big games in the past. Jones adds a new weapon to utilize.

But the bottom line is that this team isn't all that different from last season. They still lack an inside scoring threat and their average at best on defense, especially without King around.

Young Razorbacks

Austin from White Hall, Ark. : I was just wondering why neither one of Arkansas' freshmen guards were in your list of the top impact freshmen? Rotnei Clarke and Courtney Fortson both are going to make an immediate impact statistically. They may not have been the highest rated coming out of high school, but they can play and they play well together.

Because Arkansas is a long shot to make the NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks are rebuilding after losing their top five scorers. That means plenty of chances for playing time and shots for Clarke and Fortson. They could be among the most productive freshmen statistically in the SEC, but that production won't mean much on a team that will be fortunate to be in the NIT.

We tried to pick freshmen who will play major roles for teams with the potential to not only make the NCAA tournament but also to do some damage once there. Those are the guys who end up having the most impact on the 2008-09 season.

Wondering about Wisconsin

Brandon from Kiel, Wis. : How do you think Wisconsin will fare? Is losing Brian Butch and Michael Flowers too much, or can the Badgers compete this year in the Big Ten again?

Competing in the Big Ten won't be an issue for Wisconsin. I wouldn't be shocked if the Badgers finish in first place and would be surprised if they go any lower than fourth.

Remember, at this time last season the Badgers were being asked how they would replace their best player in school history (NBA first-round pick Alando Tucker) and second-leading scorer (Kammron Taylor) from a team that won a school-record 30 games. They answered by capturing the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, reaching the Sweet 16 and setting another school record with 31 wins.

It's tough for me to see the Badgers getting back to the 30-win plateau, but I've learned not to underestimate Bo Ryan, perhaps the most underrated coach in the nation.

With the return of point guard Trevon Hughes and forwards Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, Ryan has a solid nucleus to build around. Some role players will undoubtedly improve and the Badgers will exceed everyone's expectations once again.

Job hunting

Niles from Huntsville, Ala. : What coach do you think is most likely to be on the move for a bigger job next offseason?

You have to consider a number of big-name candidates with the Arizona job open. Russ Pennell has been made the interim coach, but athletic director Jim Livengood has made it clear that the school is searching for a full-time replacement.

Arizona is one of those handful of jobs that even many of the most established coaches would consider leaving for. The Wildcats may make a run at Memphis' John Calipari or Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon. Younger guys like Xavier's Sean Miller and Baylor's Scott Drew could also be candidates.

As far as guys from the low- and mid-major ranks, here are four I could see making moves up: Charlotte's Bobby Lutz, Davidson's Bob McKillop, Nevada's Mark Fox and San Diego's Bill Grier.

Lutz has been in the mix for many openings in previous years, and the 49ers are being pegged as a sleeper in the Atlantic 10. McKillop may want to capitalize on his momentum if star guard Stephen Curry turns pro after this season.

Fox has undoubtedly drawn the interest of athletic directors after four straight 20-win seasons at Nevada. This is only Grier's second season at San Diego, but his first produced the school's first NCAA tournament appearance and a first-round upset of Connecticut. If the Toreros follow that up with anything similar, Grier will be one of the hottest names in the offseason.

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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