Upon reading Dick Vitale's Top 40, I started to think about the massive group in the middle of the college basketball world that feels forever disrespected by not being on such a list. Not that whining gets you anywhere in life; it's just that once you get past the top 10 or so, there are a lot of similar teams. That's why making a list such as Dickie V's is not an easy task.
So I decided to sit down and think of how many teams could end the season on such a list, and if everything worked out, be right in the NCAA tourney discussion. In order to do so, I needed a hook, and being left out was the first and most obvious tie between teams. But there also had to be a good storyline or two and some chatter in college hoops about a certain team's potential.
In the end, I picked 30 teams that weren't in Vitale's rankings -- 30 teams worth watching and discussing. The plan is to roll out 10 a week for the next three weeks.
So without further ado ...
• Over the course of last season, Maryland went from having a storyline no one really wanted to come to pass -- the possible termination of Gary Williams -- to a darn good season. Greivis Vasquez is back and Williams has already been through a season with a scorned NBA prospect who kind of got him into this rut to begin with. Anyone remember John Gilchrist? MVP of the ACC tourney, stayed in school, seemed bitter about it and began the decline in the Terps program by not "buying in." But Vasquez seems different. The Terrapins showed guts coming back from a 41-point loss to Duke, and while Cal is a top-20 team on everyone's radar, the Maryland team that smacked the Bears in the NCAA tourney returns eight of its top nine players. And Jordan Williams should help out the feeble interior offense right away. Williams has made his pledge to recruit D.C. and Baltimore the "right way," and wouldn't it be something if that way produced an ACC title? What do UNC and Duke lack? Experience and depth in their backcourts. Maryland does not.
• Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley last season and nearly beat Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. While there is no doubt the MVC will be reloaded and better this season, UNI brings back its top six scorers, and talented juco recruit Antonio Jones arrives to add depth. Ben Jacobson's team plays stifling defense and screens the air out of the lungs of its opponents. During their surprising run last season, the Panthers used the inside/outside game of Adam Koch, the shooting of Ali Farokhmanesh, Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Johnny Moran and the height of 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder to perfection, so why not think UNI will be a player again this year? I'm sure the folks in the Cedar Valley think they can only get attention during a massive flood, but us "Valley Nerds" are amazed at what Jacobson has done in the same time frame as the rebuilding job his old boss, Greg McDermott, has worked through at Iowa State. Eglseder is the key here. His size alone can give people problems, and if he shapes his body and stays out of foul trouble, even Big Ten big bodies will bounce off his wide shoulders.
• At Creighton, Dana Altman lost his leading scorer, but eight of his top nine scorers are back from a 27-win team, and the Bluejays added a couple of juco guards and some talented high school recruits the big boys missed on. If it seems like déjá vu, then you feel just like me. It's amazing what keeps happening in Omaha, isn't it? That's now 11 straight 20-win seasons for Altman, who has recovered quite well from his extremely short-lived tenure at Arkansas. And though his Bluejays have settled for the NIT in four of the past six seasons, this appears to be a team in need of only one of three players to become "the guy" for the Jays to become a top-25 team. Though he has never been a consistent scorer, P'Allen Stinnett has started since he arrived, and when he's on it's a sight to behold. Kenny Lawson has a lot of upside and skill, but he hasn't put it together in terms of toughness in or out of conference play. Justin Carter played well in his first year at CU, but struggled with his perimeter jumper, and that limited his active yet sometimes offensively ineffective game. Keep an eye on juco transfer Darryl Ashford, who originally committed to Texas Tech and seems like a great fit for Altman's "pinwheel offense" and pressing defenses. Altman is a magician. Take one look at a full Qwest Center, alongside his sterling record, and you'll see why one head coach told me "Dana Altman is the best coach in America ... period."
• A funny thing happened on the way back to obscurity for Washington State: Klay Thompson stayed in Pullman. Thompson, whom Andy Katz wrote about this week, might just be the best all-around player in the Pac-10 this season. And perhaps the best thing to happen to him was that Tony Bennett left for Virginia. I know it's sacrilege to say so, but Wazzu landed Ken Bone from Portland State, and the two seem tailored more for each other than anyone could imagine. Bennett is a great young coach, and he and his father did the unthinkable in Pullman, but Bone plays faster and could unshackle Thompson, DeAngelo Casto and incoming Australian big <a href="Brock Motum. With Arizona, Arizona State and USC all down compared to the past two seasons, the Cougars -- despite the loss of Aron Baynes and Taylor Rochestie -- could end up being fine in the end.
• Oregon is a different place. With those funky football uniforms, a brand new basketball arena a year away and the fan base's love/hate relationship with UO alum and head coach Ernie Kent, the Ducks kind of march to the beat of their own drum. Last year, Mike Dunlap was one "yes" away from being the interim coach at Arizona. But he didn't want the interim tag and passed on the opportunity of being the coach of record in Tucson. Many (myself included) thought it was arrogant, even crazy, to pass on this type of arrangement, as his team would be a working résumé for every AD in the country to see. But Dunlap quietly played puppeteer, and Zona snuck into the Dance and made it to the Sweet 16. While he never really got the credit he deserved, Oregon snatched him up to the tune of a $300,000 signing bonus and a contract worth $400K per year to be Kent's assistant. With all five starters back ,and plenty of talent like Jamil Wilson coming in, Oregon is a defensive stance and some decent shot selection away from challenging for the Pac-10 title. Why can't it be done? Anyone remember Cal finishing ninth and getting Ben Braun fired with its lack of defense two seasons ago? The Bears did just fine under Mike Montgomery last season.
• Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin might not have a large build, but he's a slightly built ball of guts. How can this Cincy-bred, 5-foot-7 coach whose team lost six of its past seven games be mentioned with some of the nation's elite? Simple: Cronin will not let his team be out-toughed. And with Yancy Gates and Deonta Vaughn back, a mentally healthy Lance Stephenson could be the turning point in the reemergence of UC hoops in the Queen City. While everyone desperately wants to give floundering Georgetown a pass on its epic collapse last season, we often forget the Bearcats swept the Hoyas, essentially putting a dagger in JT3's team. The key is that Stephenson, who has never been seen as a winner, doesn't know how to play hard and pouts when he does not get the ball. If he allows Cronin to coach him the way Tyreke Evans let John Calipari coach at Memphis, this marriage could -- at least in the short term -- work for Cincinnati. Stephenson might think he was "born ready," but he hasn't seen anything like Cronin in his life.
• BYU is never a top-25 team in warm-ups, but when the ball goes up, things change. The Cougars have finished first or second in the Mountain West in each of Dave Rose's four amazing seasons in Provo. Though they have yet to win an NCAA tournament game, if the Cougs could just not play Texas A&M in the first round, they might stand a much better chance. Lee Cummard is gone, but Jimmer Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari both return to provide stability for a program that is going through Rose's cancer fight. Keep an eye on 6-foot-5 freshman point guard Tyler Haws from Alpine, Utah. His dad Marty was a point guard at the Y from (are you ready for this?) 1986-90, and Haws is only the second Utah high schooler to be named Mr. Basketball twice. While San Diego State, UNLV and Utah all lost their best players, BYU held on to three of its top four, and once again the winner of the best conference no one sees will have to go through Provo.
• Football season always overshadows Virginia Tech basketball, and for the most part, rightfully so. Frank Beamer has built a juggernaut in the hills of Blacksburg, and "Enter Sandman" might be the greatest entrance in all of sports. Somewhere in the crazed football crowd, Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen must be thinking about the half-court shot Xavier beat them with last November, or the Jon Scheyer travel in late February that drove hoops fans to YouTube for a good chuckle. Either way, plenty of motivation exists for one of the unluckiest teams in the country. Delaney and Allen are as good as any one-two combo in the ACC, and while A.D. Vassallo is gone, essentially everyone else returns for Seth Greenberg.
• Vanderbilt isn't always the easiest place to recruit to, but time after time the vastly underrated Kevin Stallings trots out a winner in Nashville. With all five starters back, that won't change anytime soon. The SEC East was mediocre as a whole last season, but it'll be better this time around, and the Dores will be right there in the mix. Imports A.J. Ogilvy (Australia) and Jeffery Taylor (Sweden) are both back, as are Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley. All four averaged double-digit scoring last season. And now they're joined by the team's lone freshman, John Jenkins, who is ranked No. 21 overall in the Class of 2009. The 6-4 shooting guard was a scoring machine in high school, averaging 42.3 ppg and scoring at least 30 in every game. He's perfectly suited for VU's roster. While there is a lot of talk in the SEC about Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State, Vandy is quietly sitting pretty. Don't sleep on this team.
• One of the odd hires in the offseason was Kansas native Mark Fox getting a job (Georgia) in a part of the country he doesn't have much familiarity with. Into his place at Nevada steps David Carter, Fox's right hand in Reno. He took over the Wolf Pack and has been left the keys to a car similar to the one Fox drove after Trent Johnson left for Stanford. While the road has not been totally smooth for Carter so far, plenty of good pieces were left behind, including the sometimes-troubled Armon Johnson and the budding superstar Luke Babbitt. Babbitt's game continues to look like that of a young Chris Mullin, minus the consistent jumper from deep. And with most of the rotation (except for the transferring Malik Cooke) back in the fold, Nevada should contend for the WAC title and challenge for a top-25 spot nationally. Babbitt is not only that good, but he is the best kind of great player: One who prefers to make everyone else better for most of the game.
So there it is, the first 10 in my "others that should be receiving votes" list. If your team isn't on here yet, don't worry ... there are more to come.
Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4-7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNradio.com.