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December 8, 2006

Mailbag: K-State needs spark from Walker

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Could this be the best freshman class in college basketball history? Those that think so are about to have to have some extra ammunition to add to their argument.

Highly touted freshman Bill Walker will start suiting up for Kansas State in less than two weeks. Ranked the No. 6 prospect in the class of 2007, Walker graduated from high school early and enrolled at the Big 12 school in October.

How much of a difference will Walker make? We explore that question and others about Florida's hopes of bringing in back-to-back titles and Tyler Hansbrough's recent struggles in this weekly mailbag.

Andrew Skwara's Mailbag
Will Bill Walker make an instant impact on Kansas State in a couple of weeks when he is eligible to play? How good will Kansas State be with him and Michael Beasley?
From: DeVontae Palmer, Flowood, Miss.
Fan of: Air Force

Good timing. Walker will make his college debut in nine days in a home game against Division-I newbie Kennesaw State.

Walker would make an instant impact no matter where his college career started. The 6-foot-6 forward is so athletic and such a tremendous leaper that he'll make plays above the rim that few others can. Plus, the top-10 recruit does something many other freshman don't – he plays defense and plays it well.

In the preseason, I thought the addition of Walker would be enough to take K-State from a borderline NCAA Tournament team to a lock for the field of 65. Maybe even enough to finish in the top three in the Big 12.

But the Wildcats' poor start squashed those predictions. So far, they don't even look like an NIT team. They lost by 24 at New Mexico and by 30 at California. They've got a one-point loss to Colorado State on their résumé as well.

No single player in college basketball is suddenly going to transform K-State into a Final Four threat. However, Walker will make them significantly better. He'll give them a new dimension and be worth at least a couple more wins.

It's becoming obvious that the real turnaround in Manhattan, Kan., will go down when Walker teams with Beasley (the No. 1-ranked prospect from the class of 2007 and a K-State signee) and other talented recruits next season.

Walker and Beasley give Bob Huggins a tandem that should make them a huge force on the glass, especially with 7-foot-3 freshman Jason Bennett.

But those three will need significant help to take the program to the Final Four. They're still a big-time player and another strong recruiting class away from that.

Now that Florida has lost games to Kansas and Florida State, do you think they can still repeat as national champions? I'm looking for a Florida-Ohio State national title game!
From: Doug Devenksi, Knoxville, Tenn.
Fan of: Tennessee

Keep dreaming, it may come true. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Gators and Buckeyes meet in the national title games for football and basketball in the same year.

The Gators didn't have Corey Brewer, probably their most valuable player, in the loss at Florida State. Plus, Joakim Noah was playing with a respiratory infection.

When the Gators are healthy, they are one of the top three or four teams in the nation. Actually, it was the loss to Kansas that convinced me of that. The quality of play from both teams in that game was outstanding.

The Gators are going to lose a few more games along the way – anybody in the SEC would – but expect them to peak again around tournament time. This is a team loaded with size and shooters. More importantly, Florida has veterans who are hungry for another national title.

Ohio State's hard-fought loss at North Carolina showed just how much potential the Buckeyes have. Even without Greg Oden, they gave the Tar Heels a serious scare.

Few teams will be able to match up with the speed of OSU's guards on the outside. Ron Lewis and Daquan Cook give them the firepower to handle a scoring race with just about anybody. The 7-1 Oden gives them the interior presence they lacked and a difference-maker on the boards.

Obviously, it's tough to gauge what will happen in the NCAA Tournament. Who's going to get hot at the right time? Who will avoid the injury bug? What type of draw will these teams get?

Regardless of the answers, I'm convinced Florida and Ohio State are making deep postseason runs - possibly deep enough to be facing each other with everything on the line.

Can North Carolina win without a strong game from Tyler Hansbrough, like the one against Gonzaga?
From: Perry, Columbia, N.C.
Fan of: North Carolina

This sounds like a question for Tubby Smith. When it comes to the Kentucky's of the world, the answer is yes. The Wildcats held Hansbrough to seven points – two less than he scored against Gonzaga – and still wound up losing 75-63 in Chapel Hill.

Still, a similar performance could prove costly in the NCAA Tournament - especially against a better opponent.

Gonzaga exposed some cracks in Hansbrough's game, particularly his inability to read double-teams and pass out of the post. They swarmed him with three or four defenders at times. They also faked double-teams and had defenders run past him.

Hansbrough looked confused by it all. He hesitated to make moves, held the ball too long and made poor decisions.

You can bet that opponents with similar personnel, especially big men with the size of Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt (6-11, 240), will employ a similar strategy. Hansbrough must handle it better if the Tar Heels are going to win their second national title in three years.

Rivals.com college basketball writer Andrew Skwara answers your questions every week in The Mailbag. Click here to send him a question.

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