Thanksgiving has passed, but this weekend there are still preseason tournaments that have to be finished (Dicks Preseason NIT, Legends Classic, Old Spice Classic, and the Chicago Challenge) along with a few other intriguing match-ups around the world of college basketball. Not all of the games that we chose to write about involve ranked teams because there is a lot of talent off the radar that deserves some attention. There is more than enough college basketball headed your way this weekend; this should help to serve as a guide for what, exactly, you should tune into and pay attention to in the upcoming days.
Friday, November 26th
You would be hard pressed to find a three-guard tandem as lethal as Corey Fisher, Maalik Wayns, and Corey Stokes in all of college basketball. Scoring 61 of their 82 points in a win verse UCLA earlier in the week, they absolutely ran through Bruins defense in every which way. These three guards have proven that they are out to seek revenge after last year’s second round flop to St. Mary’s, and they will not back down to any challenge. However, Tennessee guards Melvin Goins, Trae Golden, and Scotty Hopson can make some noise on the offensive end as well. Hopson proved to be the key factor in the Vol’s 77-73 win over VCU earlier in the week, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 boards. Villanova might have a hard time finding someone who can match Hopson’s athleticism, but they counter back with an offensive system that averages a shade over 80 points per game this season. The battle of frontcourts will also be pretty heated, with Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena suiting up for ‘Nova and Tobias Harris and Brian Williams dressing for the Vols. A major key to this game may rely on how well each team rebounds. Villanova seems to be the favorite at this point. However, if the Wildcats let Tennessee stick around for too long, Harris and Williams may be too much to handle in the post at the end of the game.
The Irish showed their offensive power as they narrowly pulled out an 89-83 2OT victory over Georgia in the first round of the Old Spice Classic. Tim Abromaitis scored a game high 25 points, hybrid wing/big Tyrone Nash poured in 18, Ben Hansbrough had 13, and Carleton Scott had 11 as four Irish players scored in double digits (freshmen Eric Atkins was a point away from being the fifth). California might have a tough time slowing down Notre Dame’s shooters, but they did not seem to have much trouble stopping #20 Temple in their first round matchup. Harper Kemp continues to patrol the paint for the Golden Bears, and Jorge Gutierrez made clutch plays all night. Mark Montgomery does a good job of keeping his players to play inside his system and not start doing things that are out of their element. They only scored 57 in their win against Temple, but they went on a 16-1 run late in the second half that proved their focus has been on stopping opposing team’s offensive weapons. The Golden Bears will need an even better effort against a dangerous Irish offense, but they have taken steps in the right direction to prove that they can make some noise in the depleted Pac-10.
Syracuse, a team that was ranked in the Top 10 to start the season and was praised as Final Four-worthy, has realized that they will have to earn their admiration from here on out. After handling their first two opponents easily, Syracuse escaped scares by Detroit and William & Mary in back to back affairs, causing Head Coach Jim Boeheim to question his team’s placement in the rankings. Syracuse has an equally balanced attack—the backcourt of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine combines to form a threatening duo while the frontcourt of Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph can be tantalizing at times. A few issues that Syracuse faces are whether or not they can play consistently on the defensive end and whether or not they can gain increased production from their role players. On the other side of the court, the Michigan Wolverines will look to claw the Orangemen apart with different types of zone and man defenses—Head Coach John Beilein loves confusing his opponents. Michigan is a very young team but they have gotten off to a nice start, albeit against lesser competition. 6-4 sophomore guard Darius Morris, 6-5 freshmen guard Tim Hardaway Jr, and 6-8 freshmen post Jordan Morgan have led the way thus far for Beilein, and they are complimented by sharpshooters Stu Douglass and Zac Novak to lead the Wolverine attack. In order for Michigan to have success against Cuse tonight they will have to crash the boards with reckless abandon and hit their outside shots against the 2-3 zone that they will face.
Wright State and Richmond are both competitive teams that expect to become contenders in their respective conferences this year. Wright State is a well-coached team that moves the ball from side to side with the pass consistently and forces the defense to become uncomfortable as a result. 6-3 senior Vaughn Duggins is their go-to player, but besides him Wright State does lack a scoring punch on the offensive end and they struggle to guard more athletic teams (see: Indiana), which is why I believe they will have a problem tonight against Richmond. Richmond is led by 6-1 do-it-all point guard Kevin Anderson, who captured the Atlantic 10 player of the year as a sophomore, tested the NBA waters last year, and returned for his senior season. Besides Anderson, the Spiders have a big, strong player up front in 6-10 senior center Justin Harper and 6-9 senior Dan Geriot, while 6-1 freshmen guard Cedrick Lindsay has provided some necessary scoring. Wright State will really have to slow the ball down and rebound well to stay in this one, but I think Richmond will have a little too much firepower and athleticism for the Raiders.
Georgia Tech junior g/f Iman Shumpert has been searching and searching for a true identity ever since he showed up in Atlanta just over two years ago. Being a McDonald’s All American put a lot of pressure and expectations on this Illinois native, but this should be the year that Shumpert throws his breakout party. He combines a unique blend of elite level athleticism, good floor vision, and a lengthy frame all with his ability to get to the rim. His backcourt partners Glen Rice Jr. and Mfon Udofia will both need to continue to play at a high level when the Yellow Jackets take the floor against UTEP. Fresh off a win against New Mexico State, UTEP has had this potential matchup circled on their calendar for a while. Led by guards Randy Culpepper and Christian Polk, the Miners have enough talent in their backcourt to stick around with Georgia Tech. They will need to contain sophomore forward Brian Oliver if they want to really make a push against the Yellow Jackets, a task that is easier said than done. Oliver has averaged a solid 12 points and over 5 rebounds per game so far and seems to be somewhat of a matchup problem every time he steps on the floor. Look for this game to be a tremendous backcourt battle all night long.
Saturday November 27th
Although Dayton lost a few players from last year’s unbelievably athletic squad (every starter had a 40” vertical or above), this year’s team hopes to keep the defensive intensity alive and build off last year’s NIT championship win. This in state bragging rights game has the potential to be a fireworks show for one simple reason: Chris “Top Flight” Wright. Wright seems to be bringing the rim down every time he goes up for a dunk and is easily one of the best athletes in the country. His football-type frame allows him to guard multiple positions on the court, making himself a matchup nightmare for anyone who has the unlucky privilege to be guarded by him. Junior forward Yancy Gates will probably be that privileged individual. Look for him to lead Mick Cronin’s squad in their post-Lance Stevenson era. They will need huge efforts from Cashmere Wright and Chicago native Dion Dixon if they want to take down the Flyers. Sean Kilpatrick may be the x-factor for the Bearcats. If he pours in double digit numbers off the bench like he has done in most games this season, the Bearcats will have a chance to hold onto their share of the Ohio bragging rights.
In a battle that involves two coaches that have been around the block before, Davidson and Rhode Island could both desperately use this out of conference victory. Davidson is led by Head Coach Bob McKillop’s son, senior guard 6-1 Brendan Mckillop (who played alongside Stephen Curry), who averages 13.5 points per game but is also a reliable distributor. Sophomore center 6-10 Jake Cohen is relied upon to anchor the middle for Davidson, while 6-7 freshman swingman De’Mon Brooks has proved to be an immediate contributor for the Wildcats, averaging 11.8 points (on 60% shooting) and 5.5 boards. The Rhode Island Rams are also led by a senior, but theirs is a dominant 6-7 swing forward named Delroy James, who has started the year off hot by averaging 21.3 points on 50% shooting to go along with 6.2 boards per contest. Nikola Malesevic is the Rams 6-7 Serbian swing player who is more than capable of knocking down the long range shot but is still getting used to rebounding the ball every night, as his average of 2.8 boards per game shows. The x-factor for Davidson this season so far has been the play of 6-1 sophomore Akeem Richmond, who comes off the bench with a sniper in his back pocket that he is willing to use, yet needs more control with. The key to this game will probably come down to three point percentage (Davidson is 27% on the year while URI is 37%) and free throw percentage (Davidson is 65% while URI is a little better at 73%). The home court advantage will also obviously help URI.
These two historic college basketball teams are 4-0, but one of them has to gain a notch in the L column after this game and I don’t think it’s going to be the Jayhawks, who are playing fantastic basketball out of the gate. Arizona has improved from last season, and will continue to do so under second year Head Coach Sean Miller. Their young nucleus of impact players includes dominant 6-8 small forward Derrick Williams, 6-3 guard Kyle Fogg (who leads the team with 5.5 apg), their much improved center Kyril Natyazhko, 6-6 sophomore forward Solomon Hill, 6-1 scoring lead guard Lamont Jones, and their 6-7 senior leader Jamelle Horne. Unfortunately for this growing team, they will face a mature Kansas team that has been playing awesome basketball so far this year behind junior forward Marcus Morris, who has looked much more mature with the basketball in his hands at all times for the Jayhawks. And even though Marcus has averaged 5.3 boards per game, his twin brother Markieff has more than atoned for this with an 11 rpg average so far. Adding to this versatile collage of big men is sophomore Thomas Robinson, who has looked like a new player in his second year under Head Coach Bill Self. Their backcourt isn’t too shabby either, with Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Mario Little, Tyrell Reed, and Brady Morningstar all doing their fair share to win ball games. Kansas might be tested early by a hungry Arizona team, but in the end I think that their superior talent and experience will overwhelm the Wildcats in Las Vegas.
Sunday November 28th
If you want to see a matchup of athletes on the interior, you had better find a way to watch this game on Sunday evening that features the top two schools in the state of Florida. Florida State is led by 6-9 junior forward Chris Singleton, who returned to college to prove that he can turn his potential into production—so far it has worked, as he has averages of 17.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2 assists, and an astounding 3.4 steals, and 3 blocks per game. After playing with the team USA practice squad this summer, Singleton seems to be putting it all together in his third (and probably last) season with the Seminoles. 6-11 junior Xavier Gibson might be raw, but he provides FSU with a big body inside to bang against Florida’s giants. Senior guard Derwin Kitchen should matchup with Kenny Boynton and could cause problems for the sophomore with his size, athleticism, and length on the perimeter. Florida will have to use their full court pressure wisely in this one, as well as swinging the ball and being patient on offense. Erving Walker will have to be precise with his decision making in this one, and the Florida bigs will have to be extremely stingy on the interior. The x-factor in this one is Chandler Parsons. If he finds a way to stay involved rather than fade into the shadows, I think Florida walks away with a win. If not, the potential “upset” could occur.
Forget about the “Is this finally the year” talk for Northwestern. Forget about the fact that stud Kevin Coble elected to forego his senior year with the Wildcats. Forget about the fact that Northwestern is 328th in the country in rebounds per game (29.3). Forget about all of that, and think about this: John Shurna is the best player that no one seems to talk a lot about, and Drew Crawford can make his case for being one of the most underappreciated players in the country. Shurna flat out produces for the Wildcats and should make a strong push for Big-10 First Team. This Wildcat team is flat out dangerous with weapons at almost every position. Michael “Juice” Thompson takes the title of floor general and provides the necessary toughness and leadership that every team desires. Creighton head coach Greg McDermott hopes his squad bounces back after a heartbreaking loss 91-88 to Iowa State, the team he coached for the past four seasons. Junior guard Antoine Young and McDermott’s son, Doug McDermott, have to crank up the intensity on Sunday or they will get run over by a hungry Northwestern team. Look for those two players to take on a bulk of the challenge for the Bluejays, along with seniors Kenny Lawson Jr, Darryl Ashford, and Kaleb Korver. Make no mistake about it; Northwestern is a team on a mission. As good as Young and co. can be this year, Northwestern should be too much for the Bluejays to handle.