Sunday, October 31, 2010

Previewing Saturday, November 13th

This is a continuation of my opening week previews. To see the days I've already previewed please click here and here. Here are three key games to pay attention to on the first Saturday of the regular season:

Harvard at George Mason, 5PM: Tommy Amaker has been making noise every since he arrived at Harvard in 2007. They lost star Jeremy Lin to graduation, but their five best scorers last season other than Lin were all freshmen and sophomores, because of the strength of Amaker's 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes. And his 2010 class is strong as well. Working with the players he inherited, Amaker went 8-22 in 2007-08, but then took the team to 14-14 in 2008-09 and 21-8 last season. This season they are finally primed to win an Ivy League title. This game will give us an early sense of just how dangerous they'll be. As for George Mason, they're an interesting team to keep an eye on as well. They played very poorly out-of-conference last season, but then went 12-6 and finished in a tie for third place in the Colonial. They improved so quickly because they were so young, and they return every player that earned more than 13 minutes per game last season, including all five starters. I picked them to finish third in the CAA preseason, but there's no reason that they can't make a run at the bubble. An opening night home loss against Harvard would really damage those chances.

San Diego State at Long Beach State (7PM): San Diego State is a team that has gotten a lot of hype preseason, picked by many to win the Mountain West and to make a Sweet 16 run. They return all five starters from last season, and will again have a very formidable front line. But the concern for them last season was shooting. They were atrocious at shooting behind the arc and at the free throw line, which makes them really vulnerable against teams large enough to keep them out of the paint. It will be interesting to see if they've improved their shooting over the offseason. I'm not quite as high on San Diego State in general, but I have picked them to earn an at-large bid, and it would certainly be disappointing to lose to Long Beach State. But it wouldn't be that shocking to see them lose to Long Beach State, a team that will contend for the Big West (I picked them to win the conference title). The key for Long Beach State will be getting star post player TJ Robinson (15.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season) going against the big Aztecs front line.

Southern Illinois at #16 Illinois (8PM): I already talked about Illinois's first couple of games here, but the fact is that this will be the Illini's first real test. Southern Illinois finished near the basement of the Missouri Valley last season, but they return almost everybody and should be far improved in 2010-11. They actually have as many explosive offensive weapons as they did during their glory days last decade, but their defense has been on a steady decline. This very talented Illinois team will be a good early test for their re-vamped defense. For Illinois, this is a game where they just need to take care of business - they have a great homecourt advantage, and they are the far more talented team anyway. Also, this might be the first time that we get a real good sense of how Bruce Weber is going to rotate his talent (and he does have a ton of talent). Since the first two Illinois games are against weak opponents, Weber might shake up his rotation a bit in those games.

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