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Top of the Arc - November 26, 2008

Nov. 26, 2:00 p.m.: Maryland Coach Gary Williams has touted the field in Orlando’s Old Spice Classic to be the best of any preseason tournament this season. While it’s not on par with Maui in 2005, Williams does have a point. The field includes several NCAA tourney-quality teams, including some Final Four contenders, one notorious bracket buster and only one true dud.

Georgetown beat writer Liz Clarke and Maryland beat writer Steve Yanda will both be in Orlando to chronicle everything over the next several days. But here is an additional look at the field and some things to watch for as you catch some holiday hoops while munching on sweet potato pie tomorrow evening.

Here are my rankings for the teams in the field:

1) Michigan State (2-0)
Best win: at IPFW, 70-59
What other national contender schedules a game at IPFW? Give Tom Izzo credit for that one. This team is extremely deep (though starting center Goran Suton might be out because of a knee injury). Nine players are averaging at least 12 minutes per game. Touted freshman Delvon Roe (who had knee surgery) is coming off the bench. The player to watch, of course, is Raymar Morgan, who is averaging 21.5 points per game and shooting nearly 74 percent from the floor. This team could reach the national championship game … and it’s in Detroit.

2) Tennessee (3-0)
Best win: Tennessee-Martin, 91-64
I hate to bring up the name Bobby Maze to Maryland fans, but he is playing particularly well at point for the Vols so far. He has 19 assists and only three turnovers in three games. Athletic Tyler Smith is the team’s headliner, averaging 19.3 points and 6 rebounds. Smith nearly went to the NBA, not this is his team. Keep an eye on Scotty Hopson, one of the most sought after recruits in the country. Bruce Pearl has loads of depth and athleticism.

3) Gonzaga (2-0)
Best win: Idaho, 80-46
The same thing is said year after year, but this year could finally be the year for the Zags to reach the Final Four. Gonzaga could be the best team on the West Coast this season if UCLA continues to look suspect. Jeremy Pargo’s decision to return to school prompted celebrations in Spokane. Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin are two of the more underrated players nationally. The Zags will get competition from San Diego and Saint Mary’s in the WCC, but Mark Few’s deep team has a chance to win this thing in Orlando.

4) Georgetown (2-0)
Best win: Drexel, 81-53
The story of November for the Hoyas has been the emergence of freshman Greg Monroe, who is averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Monroe was once the nation’s top-rated player in his class. But by the middle of his senior year in high school, no recruiting expect told me he was still worthy of praise quite that high. He has exceeded expectations. A second-round matchup with Tennessee would be intriguing because of the overall athleticism and run-and-gun style of Bruce Pearl’s squad.

5) Siena (2-0)
Best win: Cornell, 74-56
Siena has the potential to go deep in this tournament and win a couple games in the 65-team tournament in March. All five starters are back from the squad that reached the second round last season. There may not be a better mid-major team in the nation. Kenny Hasbrouck, last season’s MAAC tourney MVP, is averaging 21 points per game on a team with three standout players who should contend for league player of the years honors. The other two are Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin. This weekend is an opportunity for Siena to show it is a true national contender, as it believes it is.

6) Oklahoma State (4-0)
Best win: Tulsa, 91-73
The Cowboys play a fast-paced style and have scored at least 90 points against inferior competition in all but one game this season. A second-round matchup with Maryland, assuming both teams lose the opening round game, would be a toss-up. Like Maryland, OSU is deficient in the front court. Its top four scorers are guards, led by 6-6 James Anderson, whom Coach Travis Ford believes will be a future NBA player. The Cowboys return four starters.

7) Maryland (3-0)
Best win: Vermont, 89-74 OT
The Terrapins have virtually no frontcourt, which should be a game-breaker against Michigan State. But if Maryland can emerge from Orlando with at least one victory, it will have a legit chance to enter New Year’s with a strong overall record (RPI probably won’t be too good, but that’s another story). A second-round matchup with Oklahoma State could be an entertaining, up-and-down affair.

8) Wichita State (2-1)
Best win: Centenary, 64-44
The only team in the field with a loss is without question the worst team in the field. A 66-63 loss to Missouri-Kansas City is enough evidence of that. Wichita State is not expected to be a contender in the Missouri Valley Conference and should not pose a serious threat to Georgetown in the first round of this event.

By Eric Prisbell  |  November 26, 2008; 1:59 PM ET
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