Filling you up on upcoming NCAA action.
It’s Feast Week this week, and while I am thankful to be able to rejoice with friends and family, I am also very thankful for the side of basketball that will be provided at each and every turn during all of this week’s festivities. Its early in the year and these early season tournaments are seen as showcase events for teams to prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the year—for the best example yet this year, see what Minnesota did down in Puerto Rico. But the tournaments really start to heat up this week, and we will provide you with appetizers of pregame content throughout the week followed by a weekly recap.
In our first edition we take a look at four games that take place over the next three nights (Monday-Wednesday). In the next edition (which we’ll publish Wednesday evening) we’ll hook you up with even more what-to-watch for info to prepare you for the early season showdowns that you love to watch—I’m sure you’re moving off your couch on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Monday, November 22nd
Kansas State (3-0) vs. Gonzaga (2-1) in Kansas City, MO 9:30 PM: This should be an interesting contest for a variety of reasons. Even though both of these teams are highly regarded in the polls in this early portion of the season, there are a few questions that swirl around each program. For Kansas State, the most glaring inquiry regards their top dog on the interior, senior Curtis Kelly. Kelly returns tonight to action tonight against Zaga after sitting out the team’s first three games. K-State desperately need his size and experience against a very large Bulldog front court, and hopefully by now Kelly’s learned whatever lesson Coach Martin was trying to teach him. For Gonzaga, the biggest question is whether or not they will be able to handle the constant pressure that Kansas State brings on the defensive end. The Zags depth in the backcourt is a cause for concern—Demetri Goodson has been solid but Stephen Gray has been doing most of the ball-handling/play-making(7.3 apg), despite the fact that he is also doing most of the scoring (25.3 ppg) to date and behind them is really just sophomore David Stockton—as they go up against an athletic backcourt with an established veteran in Jacob Pullen and a variety of new contributors (Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder, and Will Spradling) that complement each other nicely and have played aggressively so far. The front court battle is intriguing as well (with or without Kelly). Gonzaga is slightly deeper with their international lineup, but slightly less experienced with two freshmen in the rotation while Kansas State returns bruisers Wally Judge and Jamar Samuels along with the steadily improving 6-11 center Jordan Henriquez. All in all, in this one I think the Wildcats have just a little more firepower to lean back on and the pressure defense might spell doom for the Bulldogs. If the Bulldogs are to take this one they will have to kill K-State on the boards, have extra care with the ball, and keep the K-State guards out of rhythm on the offensive end with their length (probably in a zone).
Tuesday, November 23rd
Butler (2-1) at Siena (1-2), Loudonville, NY, 7:00 PM, : Their records might be swapped, but make no mistake about the fact that Siena can and will make this a game at home against last year’s darlings, the Butler Bulldogs. 6-3 junior combo guard Clarence Jackson provides leadership, awesome athleticism, and the ability to score the basketball (22.3 ppg on 51 percent shooting from the field thus far) while senior Ryan Rossiter is a bruiser in the post who is averaging a double-double with 21 ppg and 11.3 boards for the Saints. Similarly, Butler is led by their do-it-all junior point guard Shelvin Mack, who is averaging 21.3 ppg and their anchor on the interior, Matt Howard, who is averaging 15 ppg, 8.7 rpg this season. These matchups of comparable guards and big men is obviously going to influence the outcome of the game greatly, but my prediction is that whoever gets better bench play will get the W. Because Siena has the home court advantage, look for them to sneak away with a solid W right before the holiday.
Wednesday, November 24th
UCLA (3-0) vs. Villanova (4-0), Madison Square Garden 9:00 PM : This matchup in the Dicks Sporting Goods Tip-Off pits two early season teams against one another in a classic battle of contrasting styles and circumstances. Villanova, playing just hours away from home, is a team that will push UCLA’s backcourt to the brink with its severe pressure defense and insistently attacking offense. They are also heavily reliant on their upper classmen backcourt of Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes combined with hard-nosed, do-it-all senior big forward Antonio Pena and a healthy dosage of their 2010 recruiting class—Malik Waayns, Dominic Cheek, Mouphatou Yarou, and Maurice Sutton—to fill in the loose ends throughout each contest. UCLA, on the other hand, is a team that has been led by a sophomore laden front court duo of small forward Tyler Honeycutt and power forward Reeves Nelson (averaging a near double-double at 19.3 ppg and 9.7 rpg), JUCO transfer Lazeric Jones, and 6-10 Goliath freshman center Josh Smith (8.3 ppg, 4 rpg in 16 mpg) early this season. The Bruins could be without veteran point guard Malcolm Lee because of an ankle injury, but at least Coach Howland is extremely high on freshman guard Tyler Lamb, which should help the Bruins out against the perimeter laden Wildcats. It’s an interesting match-up, but I think Villanova sneaks out of the Garden with something to feel good about before Thanksgiving.
#24 Tennessee (3-0) vs. VCU (3-0), MSG 7:00 PM
Bruce Pearl wants to cherish his next few games before he will be off the sideline for the first eight SEC conference games, so expect to see a fully energized Volunteer squad on the hardwood come Wednesday night. The Vols have leaned heavily on freshman sensation Tobias Harris, and he has not disappointed them so far. Averaging over 16 points and 5 rebounds per game, Harris has more than proven his worth in his first three games. Team captain Scotty Hopson, a human highlight reel waiting to happen, will be a major mismatch all night long and should dominate his position battle. Throw the versatile Cameron Tatum into the mix for the Vols and VCU will have their hands full all night. However, credit Shaka Smart, Will Wade, and the rest of the VCU staff for putting together another solid roster from top to bottom after their dominant post player Larry Sanders leaped to the pros. Ask Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik and he will tell you that VCU has not had any problem being the underdog as of late. They rocked Wake Forest 90-69 a few days ago, and they hope to carry that momentum with them to New York. Senior guard Joey Rodriguez will need to continue his 18 point, 10 assist averages against the Vols if they have any hope in rallying for the upset, but he will be guarded by one of the best on ball defenders in all of college basketball in Melvin Goins. Bradford Burgess, who exploded for a game high 25 points VCU’s win at Wake Forest, Brandon Rozzell, and Jamie Skeen will all need to have big time numbers on Wednesday night. The key to this game should be the play of Scotty Hopson. If Scotty scores the ball and cleans the glass like he is capable of, then the Rams will not be able to do much besides sit back and watch the show. If Hopson does not produce in large quantities, then VCU will be in prime position to add Tennessee to its long list of upsets in the past few years.