Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Previewing Thursday, November 15th, Part 2 of 2

This is the last of a nine-part preview of the opening week of the regular season. I'll be talking about five more games from Thursday, November 15th. The other eight posts that are part of this preview are below:

November 9th, Part 1 of 2
November 9th, Part 2 of 2
November 10th
November 11th
November 12th
November 13th 
November 14th
November 15th, Part 1 of 2

The very fact that I can put a nine post series together previewing the regular season tells us something about how many good early games we have to look forward to. It's nice to follow a sport where teams have an incentive to play quality opponents. If college basketball were arranged like college football, we'd have to sit through two months of cupcakes being slaughtered before getting some good action.

Anyway, let's get to the final batch of games. Again, all times are eastern:

Alabama vs Oregon State (7 PM, ESPN2) - This game is part of the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden. The winner of this game will play the winner of Purdue vs Villanova on November 16th. The loser will play in the consolation game. Alabama has seemed to have basically been the same exact team the past few seasons. Anthony Grant always gets him team to be very good defensively, but they've been inconsistent at best on offense. JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell are gone, though Trevor Releford was probably the team's most efficient offensive player last season. With the loss of their starting front court, look for a bigger role for 6'8" Nick Jacobs, who was pretty good as a freshman last season. I'll also be interested to see 6'7" Devonta Pollard, a really good 2012 recruit.

While Alabama isn't a team that sells out defensively to force turnovers, Oregon State's point guard play was mediocre last year and will leave them vulnerable if they are not improved. They will try to get the ball to 6'7" Devon Collier. I'd also like to see 6'10" Eric Moreland step up as more of an offensive threat after rebounding so well as a freshman last season. Oregon State's defense was brutal last season (dead last in the Pac-12 in 2P% and eFG% against). If they have improved on that end of the floor then they should be able to handle an Alabama offense lacking a lot of shooters and offensive weapons.

Providence vs UMass (7:30 PM, ESPNU) - This game is part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The winner will play the winner of NC State and Penn State. The losers of those two games will play as well. UMass should be a pretty solid favorite in this game. They come in with a good defense, a star point guard in Chaz Williams, and a hope of avoiding a bad loss here (a loss to Providence may end up as a "bad loss" at the end of the season). Providence, without star 2012 recruits Ricardo Ledo or Kris Dunn, is not going to look much better than last year's team, which went 4-14 in the Big East.

Providence does have a star point guard of their own in Vincent Council, and Bryce Cotton is a very good backcourt player as well. Swing forward LaDontae Hinton is another key returner. But while they can score, Providence proved last year that they couldn't defend. Pomeroy rated them the single worst defense in the Big East. That will need to be significantly improved for them to get near .500 in conference play this season. Ed Cooley did build a really nice defensive team at Fairfield, so he has it in him to build a strong defense at Providence, but I'll need to see it to believe it.

Saint Mary's at Utah State (9:05 PM) - This is one of those interesting early season measuring stick games. I'm currently projecting both of these teams to make the NCAA Tournament, though not with a ton of room to spare. Both are bubble quality. Utah State had as much of a "rebuilding" season last year as they've had recently under Stew Morrill. After three straight NCAA Tournament appearances they lost four starters as well as a key guy off the bench and fell all the way to 8-6 in the WAC with a trip to the CIT title game. They lost two further starters this offseason, including Brockeith Pane, but they return star Preston Medlin. And with the graduation of leading rebounder Morgan Grim they will look to sophomore Ben Clifford and 6'10" Oklahoma State transfer Jarred Shaw.

St. Mary's also loses two starters off of last year's team - Rob Jones and Clint Steindl. But that said, they were a really good team last season (they topped Gonzaga and BYU to sweep the WCC regular season and tournament titles), and still bring back star playmaker Matthew Dellavadova and a pair of excellent scoring guards in Jordan Page and Stephen Holt. 6'9" Brad Waldow came on strong late in his freshman season and should be good inside, but the Gaels will need more size than just him. Senior Mitchell Young is probably the best option.

Villanova vs Purdue (9:30 PM, ESPN2) - This is the second half of the 2k Sports Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The winner and loser of this game will play the winner and loser of Alabama/Oregon State, respectively, on November 16th. Both of these teams are talented but young. Villanova was brutal last year, finishing 5-13 in Big East play, by far the worst season of Jay Wright's 11 years in charge. And while last year's team featured no seniors, they lost Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to the NBA Draft. The Wayns point guard roll should turn over to star 2012 recruit Ryan Arcidiacono. Daniel Ochefu, the other blue chip 2012 recruit, will try to bolster a paint scoring attack that was pretty bad last season. They will also look for a more assertive role on offense from Mouphtaou Yarou, who was a physical force in the paint but struggled to score outside of dunks and put backs.

Purdue is a team that I think is underrated because they have a lot of young talent and are always well-coached by Matt Painter. Their defense will be solid and they're going to take care of the ball. The biggest concern is offensive playmaking with the loss of Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel. Terone Johnson will need to be the new Lewis Jackson, and 2012 recruit Ronnie Johnson could work his way into the starting rotation as well. And in case that isn't enough backcourt players named Johnson for you, look out for Anthony Johnson as another potential backcourt playmaker. DJ Byrd is a superb shooter, but he will need to rely on these young point guards to draw defenses and get him open jumpers. On the inside, Purdue will be depending on redshirt freshman Donnie Hale and 7'0" true freshman AJ Hammons to supplement senior Travis Carroll.

UTEP at #12 Arizona (10 PM, Fox Sports) - I've already talked at length about both of these teams, and don't want to repeat myself. You can click on the tags of each team at the bottom of this post if you want to read more. In short, I think Arizona is very overrated. They lost four of the top six minute earners from a team last season that ended up in the NIT. The only way Arizona ends up even close to one of the 12 best teams in the country will be if their 2012 recruiting class actually exceeds all of their hype. The three key 2012 recruits look to be a trio of bigs: Kaleb Tarcewski, Grant Jarrett and Brandon Ashley.

What's interesting about this game is that the core of this UTEP team is a pair of bigs: John Bohannon and Cedrik Lang. Can they take advantage of a very young and raw Arizona front court? They'll need to if they're going to pull this upset. But I don't think they will. And UTEP's offense is not good at all, particularly in the backcourt. They're going to be a better team overall this season, but I don't expect them to be too close to the Tournament bubble, and that means it would be a pretty surprising upset if they win a true road game in Tucson.

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