Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Previewing Monday, November 7th Through Thursday, November 10th

It's time for the first of a series of posts previewing the first week of the regular season. The NCAA has ruled that regular season games begin Friday, November 11th, though Coaches vs Cancer has again been given permission to start a few days early. I've combined those CvC games into a single post.

As always, I won't be talking about every game, but just the ones I view as most notable. I'm picking games either because they might have some implications for a team's resume or because it's an opportunity to see a new key recruit or transfer or coach.

Here we go (as always, all times are Eastern):

Monday, November 7th:

St. John's vs William & Mary (7PM, ESPNU): Opening night! This is the first game of the year! I've seen some people in the media complain that college basketball could do their kickoff better, like what the NFL or MLB does. And it would be neat if we could have Kentucky play North Carolina or something like that, but St. John's vs William & Mary isn't that bad. I'll take it.

That said, I'm not picking either of these teams to make the NCAA Tournament, and the reason is because St. John's is one of the most decimated teams I've ever seen. The only returning scholarship player is Malik Stith, who is an okay-but-not-great point guard. Steve Lavin brought in a nine-player recruiting class with a ton of talent, but three of them are ineligible for at least the fall semester. That leaves, by my count, seven scholarship players. And that is indeed what they played in their exhibition game against St. Mary's (MD) yesterday. So how can St. John's go ahead with seven players? It's going to be rough. I really want to see how they play.

William & Mary was a bubble team two seasons ago, but struggled last year after heavy graduation losses of their own. Their biggest struggle the past few years has been team defense, and their one graduation this past season was Marcus Kitts and his 1.9 blocks per game. As thin as St. John's is, William & Mary might need a shoot-out to escape with a win.

#16 Arizona vs Valparaiso (9PM, ESPNU): All sorts of questions surround this Arizona team. Kevin Parrom is recovering from a gun shot wound and will not play, and they're coming off an exhibition loss to Seattle-Pacific. I warned people not to concern themselves with the result of an exhibition, since they don't matter (Syracuse lost to Le Moyne two years ago and went on to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament), but that hasn't kept the media from jumping on (here, here, and here are a few examples). The fact is that the only way the exhibition loss affects the team is if they let it affect them. Arizona is still my pick to win the Pac-12, but I've never thought that they were heavy favorites. I think there are seven different teams coming into the season truly believing they can win the conference.

So which Arizona players should we focus on? I think the biggest question mark is outside shooting with the loss of sharpshooters Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne, and with Kevin Parrom not playing for the time being. Can Kyle Fogg take the next step? Is Solomon Hill going to be more than the poor man's Derrick Williams? I'm particularly interested in Jordin Mayes, a point guard who was really efficient in limited minutes last year. I know that the team is high on Josiah Turner, a true freshman point guard. I'm curious to see which of the two gets the start, and who looks better.

Valparaiso, remember, was actually a borderline Top 100 team last year. But not only did they lose two starters to graduation but they had the brutal transfer of Brandon Wood to Michigan State. Corey Johnson and Ryan Broekhoff both are quality scorers, so they'll put up some points, but it's hard to see them putting up too much of a fight.

Wenesday, November 9th:

Mississippi State vs Akron (7PM, ESPNU): It's hard to think a more disappointing team from last season than Mississippi State. Between team fights broadcast on national television and the gigantic (in more than one way) wasted talent named Renardo Sidney. But remember, this team is one year more mature. Maybe Sidney grew up? They should get a full year out of Dee Bost finally. I do think they'll be improved, and actually rate them as having a "decent chance" of getting onto the bubble. A new player to watch? Rodney Hood, their top 2011 recruit and a very athletic wing. If this team can somehow get their mental act together and stay healthy, there's no question that they have the talent to be an NCAA Tournament team. This will be their first test.

Akron, remember, was the MAC's representative to the NCAA Tournament this past season, where they earned a 15 seed and hung in pretty well against Purdue in the Round of 64. Can Akron be even better this year? Yes. In fact, I think they will. But there's a reason why they were only a 15 seed last season: they only went 9-7 in conference play. And despite thinking that they'll be improved, Ball State is my pick to win the conference. Akron won't be in the discussion for an at-large bid in March, but if they can knock off a very talented Mississippi State team it will put the rest of the MAC on notice that this team is for real.

#19 Texas A&M vs Liberty (8PM): For whatever reason, Texas A&M only has one game in the opening round of Coaches vs Cancer, while St. John's, Arizona and Mississippi State each have two. And this game is against a weak opponent, and won't be on national television. But this game does have interest. This was going to be the debut for brand new Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, but in some awful recent news he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's and is currently on leave. How is the team going to respond mentally? I'm really curious to find out.

Remember, the top of the Big 12 is wide open right now. Kansas is going to struggle to field a full roster. Texas had a slew of NBA defections. Missouri downgraded at coach and had a huge roster turnover. Baylor is talented, but they're always talented and still need a point guard to step up. Texas is my pick to win the conference, but Texas A&M is one of many teams that can step up and take the conference title. Liberty won't be much of a test (I did pick them to win the Big South, but I've got them as a 16 seed in the Tournament), but this will be our first chance to see what Texas A&M brings to the table in a competitive environment.

#16 Arizona vs Duquesne (9PM, ESPN2): This will not be the season opener for Arizona, of course. I already talked about their game against Valparaiso higher up this post. But Duquesne will be a more formidable foe than Valpo. Duquesne finished only 19-13 last season, with an RPI outside the Top 100, but they had spectacularly horrible luck. In games decided by single-digits they were 1-10. In games decided by ten points or more they were 18-3. Out of 345 Division I teams, Duquesne finished 344th in Pomeroy Luck factor (the one team even unluckier than Duquesne? Holy Cross). They do lose two starters to graduation, but the core of the team is very young and developing. I'm particularly interested in TJ McConnell, who as a freshman averaged 10.8 points, 4.4 assists (2.5 A/TO ratio) and 2.8 steals per game.

For Arizona, this game will be about more than just looking at the new players. This is a legitimate resume-building win if they can get it.


Jim Squire said...

Corey Johnson was one of the seniors Valpo lost last year. I think it's safe to say he won't be scoring anything for us on Monday. Howard Little and Mike Rogers were also seniors we lost, so we lost 3 seniors, not 2.

Jeff said...

Thanks for that update. Oh well... didn't think Valpo had much of a shot anyway. Here's a reason for Valpo fans to watch: the first game with Bryce Drew at the helm.