Sunday, October 31, 2010

Previewing Monday, November 8th Through Thursday, November 11th

This is the first of several posts previewing the early days of the regular season. I'm going to be talking about games that are good to keep an eye on, either because of potential resume implications, or simply because it will be a good chance to check out a new coach or new player.

I'm combining the first four days of the regular season into one post, because there will only be eight games played over those days, all part of Coaches vs Cancer. Illinois, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Texas will each play two games before heading off to the final round of the tournament the following weekend (Coaches vs Cancer is one of a growing number of early season tournaments that fixes the bracket so that the four best teams make the semifinals no matter what).

Tuesday, November 8th:

#4 Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island, 7PM Eastern Time (ESPNU): This is the first game of the entire season, so you'll want to watch it for that reason alone. Also, Rhode Island will provide stiffer competition than Pittsburgh will receive on November 10th, when they play Illinois-Chicago. Pittsburgh is a team that many believe is the favorite in the Big East, and is potentially a Final Four contender. Even without Nasir Robinson, they should win this game fairly easily. It will also be a chance to get a first look at Pitt's top recruit, swing forward JJ Moore. For Rhode Island, this will be a chance for them to try to impress, even if they are very unlikely to win. They don't have a particularly strong recruiting class, so I'll be looking at how their returners have improved. Delroy James is a guy who I really like, but the rest of the team has a lot of question marks. Even Will Martell has never been as good as I had thought he would be when I considered his size. A strong performance here, even in a loss, will help propel them into the following week when they'll play College of Charleston and Toledo (both games will be played in Toledo). If Rhode Island is going to be a bubble team this season, those are the type of games they have to win.

Wednesday, November 10th:

Maryland vs Charleston, 7PM (ESPNU): Maryland opens up against Seattle on November 8th, but Charleston is the more formidable opponent. Seattle is improving rapidly under Cameron Dollar, and they will probably be moving into a conference sometime soon, but until then it's just impossible to build a competitive team as a basketball independent. Charleston, on the other hand, is a team I expect to seriously contend for the Southern Conference title. I believe they'll be one of the 100 best teams in the nation, and they could very well win this game outright. Maryland will be very different from last season. Not only did star Grievis Vasquez graduate, but Landon Milbourne is gone as well. Vasquez was the best player Maryland has had since their National Championship team, and the Terps have to prove to me that they can compete to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. Their top newcomer is swing forward Mychal Parker. Look for shooting guard Terrell Stoglin to make an immediate impact as well.

#16 Illinois vs Toledo, 8PM: Illinois opens against UC-Irvine on November 8th. Honestly, neither game is much of a test. Last season UC-Irvine finished near the bottom of the Big West and Toledo finished in dead last in the MAC. I do think Toledo will be more interesting because the MAC is a conference that gets superior talent than the Big West, and Toledo is a program that generally is near the top of the conference and only struggled last season because they were extremely young. They should be a lot better this season. Either way, it will be good to check out an Illinois team that is one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson will all be back. I'm most interested in Richardson, who showed real exposive flashes as a freshman in 2009-10, and his improvement during the offseason could be a real key for the Illini (I don't need to watch this game to know what Demetri McCamey is going to bring to the table, for example). Illinois also has three very good recruits: McDonald's All-American small forward Jerome Richmond, 7-foot center Meyers Leonard and shooting guard Crandall Head. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Weber handles so much talent.

#25 Texas vs Louisiana Tech, 9PM (ESPNU): Texas opens on November 8th against Navy, but Louisiana Tech will be far stiffer competition. They lose a lot from a team that finished 23-10 with an RPI of 78 in 2009-10, but I've said that I believe they actually have a real chance to have a stronger finish in a weakened WAC in 2010-11. It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs, a team that shot the ball poorly last season, will deal with the far more athletic Texas team. This will be a great chance to look at a Texas team that I've been saying is very underrated. Also be sure to check out their two super-freshmen: Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. It will be particularly interesting to see how Rick Barnes uses Joseph considering how much elite talent they have returning at guard. Joseph needs to play, but how do they sit Dogus Balbay or J'Covan Brown? I can't see Barnes playing all three at the same time because it would make the team extremely small, and would force them to sit some of their frontcourt talent (Jordan Hamilton, Alexis Wangmene and Gary Johnson are the three key frontcourt returners). Personally, I would probably start Balbay with Joseph, because that would allow a fresh J'Covan Brown to play the point whenever Balbay is on the bench. Corey Joseph is listed as a point guard, but true freshmen point guards always go through a lot of growing pains (as J'Covan Brown learned himself last season), and I'd feel better not giving Joseph the pressure of handling the point by himself.

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