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September 14, 2009

Monday Tip: Who left the biggest shoes to fill?

We're two weeks into the college football season, and we're on our way to finding out which teams are best able to replace key players who left after the 2008 season. So, that got us to thinking: Which player leaves the biggest shoes to fill this basketball season?

Writers Jason King and Mike Huguenin weigh-in on that subject in our weekly "Monday Tip."

JASON KING SAYS ...

I honestly think North Carolina can get back to the Final Four if Larry Drew II has a big season as Ty Lawson's replacement at point guard.

No player will impact the ACC race as much as Drew, a sophomore who averaged just 1.9 points last season. With no other true point guards on North Carolina's roster, Drew will be under as much pressure as any player in college basketball.

Being a first-year starter at any school is tough enough, but being North Carolina's point guard carries even more responsibility because coach Roy Williams' up-tempo system is so reliant on a speedy, aggressive guard to push the ball down the court to set up the secondary break. Drew isn't as fast as Lawson, but he's still a solid enough athlete to excel. Williams wouldn't have recruited him otherwise.

If Drew comes through, look for big things from the Tar Heels, who have one of the nation's top frontcourts with Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis.

MIKE HUGUENIN SAYS ...

Arizona State won 25 games and advanced to the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament because of the presence of guard James Harden, who left school early and was the third pick in the NBA draft.

Harden's presence enabled the Sun Devils to make the NCAA field for the first time since 2003. Without him, the Sun Devils won't make the 2010 NCAA tournament. Heck, I don't even think they will finish in the top half of the Pac-10 - and the Pac-10 is going to be as mediocre this season as it has been in a long time.

Harden wasn't flashy on the court, but he still got a lot done. He was a big-time scorer, a good rebounder, an able defender and an OK ballhandler. And his presence opened up things offensively for a lot of other Sun Devils. Say you're an opposing defender. Which Sun Devils player scares you offensively now - Derek Glasser? Rihards Kuksiks?

Kuksiks is a big-time shooter, with excellent range (44.3 percent from 3-point land last season). But he's also far more one-dimensional than Harden; he can't rebound, pass or defend nearly as well. Plus, his offense has been limited to long-range shooting. Arizona State is not going to clear out and let Kuksiks try to beat his man one-on-one, which Harden could do with regularity. Kuksiks is at his best when he can be a complementary offensive player. While he likely will be the Sun Devils' leading scorer this season, he doesn't possess Harden's offensive arsenal.

Arizona State's problem is that it has no one who can replace Harden. Herb Sendek is a solid coach - albeit one who runs a relatively boring offense - but not even his Xs and Os acumen is going to be able to get the Sun Devils into the NCAA mix this season. Harden's departure makes that a certainty.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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