Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Summer Thoughts and Observations, Vol. 3

Time for my last installment of random observations and comments on the happenings in the college basketball world, including lots of non-BCS talk and some predictions and opinions on the upcoming season (only two and a half weeks until Midnight Madness, folks)...

- Speaking of the upcoming season, before I get any further, I have to let everyone know that my 2007-2008 College Basketball Preview will begin on October 1st and end on November 5th. The conference previews will start on October 15th, with the 31st-ranked conference, the SWAC, kicking things off. Prior to that, several things will be looked at, including position rankings, impact transfers and freshmen, sleepers, conference rankings, and more. Article after article, prediction after prediction, March Madness All Season will be providing information on every team, player, and conference in the country. Here's a link to the 2006-2007 preview if you want a taste of what you get from MMAS.

- With schedules from various teams and conferences coming in everyday, I've taken a look at some of the intriguing games and key early-season tournaments. Everything gets kicked off with the 2K College Hoops Challenge, with Connecticut, Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma hosting the four regions. The Tigers are likely to face either UConn or UK in the finals at Madison Square Garden—a good test early for my preseason No. 1 team.

The CBE Classic could feature the best final of any tournament in the country—UCLA vs. Michigan State. The only teams that could really get in their way are Maryland and Missouri, the two other host teams. If the Bruins and Spartans do meet up, it will be a battle of two of the best guards in the country in UCLA’s Darren Collison and Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel.

The NIT Season Tip-Off is similar to the two aforementioned events in that it has four host teams and then a neutral site for the semifinals and finals. Texas A&M is the only team in my Top 25, but Washington, Ohio State, Syracuse are all big threats. Watch out for Atlantic-10 contender St. Joseph’s (more on them later).

Another sixteen-team tournament to watch is the Legends Classic, which takes place in Newark, New Jersey. Tennessee is the favorite, but a Texas team sans Kevin Durant will push them. We’ll also get our first look at the new Bob Huggins-led West Virginia Mountaineers.

The Puerto Rico Classic features several quality teams, namely SEC West favorite Arkansas, everyone’s favorite mid-major, Virginia Commonwealth, and two teams that will be on the NCAA bubble in Providence and Houston.

The Maui Invitational does not have the same caliber of teams that it had the past two seasons, but Duke and Marquette could make for a terrific final if they both reach it. The perimeter battles are going to be fun to watch.

In the Great Alaska Shootout, two of the best “non-BCS” teams in the country have a chance to meet up in Gonzaga and Butler. Don’t sleep on Western Kentucky, though.

Still not even at Thanksgiving, the Old Spice Classic could have up to four NCAA teams in its eight-team field. Kansas State and George Mason face-off in a very good quarterfinal match-up, while Villanova and North Carolina State are also in the bracket.

O.J. Mayo will be on center stage in Anaheim, California, at the Anaheim Classic, as USC leads a quality field that also has SEC West contender Mississippi State and Missouri Valley favorite Southern Illinois.

The Chicago Invitational Challenge has Indiana and Xavier, as well as several decent mid-major teams in UNC-Wilmington, Illinois State, and Kent State.

The Las Vegas Invitational could pit two of the top teams in the country against each other if Louisville can beat BYU, and North Carolina can topple Old Dominion. The Cardinals and Tar Heels would put on a show, with end-to-end action and plenty of scoring. I’m already excited for this one—if it happens.

In December, several double-header tournaments feature terrific match-ups. The Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge will have Connecticut play Gonzaga, while the Jimmy V Classic might have the most highly-anticipated individual match-up of the non-conference season when Memphis’ Derrick Rose matches up with USC’s O.J. Mayo. Both are two of the top freshmen in the country. Top-5 recruit Michael Beasley leads Kansas State against Notre Dame in the under card.

Other quality December tournaments in December include the Wooden Classic, where UCLA will face Davidson, and the Wooden Tradition, in which Purdue faces Louisville, and Florida State plays Butler.

The Big Ten-ACC Challenge doesn’t feature tons of great games, but Wisconsin at Duke and North Carolina State at Michigan State will be quality contests. North Carolina at Ohio State is a rematch of last year, while Indiana at Georgia Tech is also decent. The Big 12/Pac-10 Series has a few very good games, Texas at UCLA and Texas A&M at Arizona, as well as Oregon at Kansas State. Kansas also faces Arizona in a game that was scheduled outside of the event. The Big East/SEC Invitational only has four games, but one is Georgetown at Alabama—a game that looked much more attractive before Ronald Steele’s decision to redshirt.

- Oh, I almost forgot about all of the outstanding head-to-head match-ups between top teams that will occur outside of the tournament and event format. Memphis leads the way, playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country. In addition to the two tournaments I mentioned earlier, the Tigers have games against Top-10 Georgetown and Tennessee, as well as Gonzaga and Arizona. North Carolina, Indiana, and Louisville each play Kentucky, while Washington State, Tennessee, and Connecticut all play Gonzaga. Florida plays Ohio State in a title game rematch, while Davidson scheduled like an ACC team, facing North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State, in addition to the aforementioned UCLA game. Other marquee games include: Kansas at USC; and Texas vs. Michigan State. The mid-majors get into the action as well, as Southern Illinois faces Butler, while the Bulldogs also get a shot at Ohio State. VCU plays Maryland and Bradley, and the Braves also play Michigan State. St. Joseph’s (even more on them later) faces Gonzaga, Creighton, and Villanova.

- Alright, enough of the scheduling talk. Time for discussion of the non-BCS/mid-major/whatever you want to call them conferences. First of all, the Missouri Valley will not be the best conference outside of the “Big Six” leagues this year. That honor will go to either the Atlantic-10 or Conference-USA. The A-10 has a clear favorite in Xavier, which will get some Top 25 love in some publications, but plenty of competition in St. Joseph’s, which has a terrific frontcourt led by Ahmad Nivins; Rhode Island, led by Will Daniels and shooter Jimmy Baron; and the Rick Majerus-led Billikens of Saint Louis, which has one of the best duos in the conference in Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch. You also can’t forget about Bryant Dunston, Marcus Stout and Fordham, Maureece Rice and George Washington, and Brian Roberts and Dayton. This is one tough conference. Conference-USA has my preseason No. 1 team in Memphis, but it’s not going to be a one-trick pony this year. UAB brought in several transfers, including Robert Vaden of Indiana, to go with Paul Delaney and two other returning starters. Southern Miss returns nearly everyone from last year’s 20-win team, led by one of the best freshmen in the country last season, guard Jeremy Wise. Houston will also push for an NCAA berth, led by Robert McKiver and Dion Dowell, as well as point guard Lanny Smith, who returns from injury.

The Missouri Valley will have a down year, but they will still be a very solid conference. Southern Illinois is one of the best programs in the country, no matter what conference, and will again contend for Top 25 contention. The Salukis have a great frontcourt duo in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw. After SIU, though, it’s wide-open. Creighton, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State are all rebuilding this season, but don’t count any of them out. Bradley, with Jeremy Crouch and Daniel Ruffin in the backcourt, will look to return to the Big Dance, while the big sleeper could be Illinois State. Four starters are back, as well as sixth man Anthony Slack. The entire starting line-up will likely be seniors.

- Other than Gonzaga and Memphis, the honor of “Best Non-BCS team” is fairly wide-open. Davidson returns five starters, including star Stephen Curry, while Butler has the backcourt of A.J. Graves and Mike Green. VCU returns Eric Maynor, who became a national name overnight after his game-winning shot against Duke, and George Mason will also be a contender in the CAA. The Mountain West does not really have any marquee teams this year, but BYU leads a wide-open race. The WAC is in the same boat, although Nevada and New Mexico State will likely be the top two teams. If I had to make a Top 10 right now, it would go something like this—not including Memphis and Gonzaga; they’ve outgrown this status:
1. Davidson
2. Southern Illinois
3. Butler
4. Xavier
5. VCU
6. UAB
7. St. Joseph’s
8. Southern Miss
9. George Mason
10. New Mexico State
- Yes, there’s no second MVC team and no MWC team at all

- While we are on the top of making lists and rankings, and discussing mid-majors and “non-BCS”—that term doesn’t even make sense, since we aren’t talked about football—teams, I figured I’ll name my All-America team made up of players outside of the “Big Six.” It’s actually not a real All-America team, just a big list highlighting some of the top players that you might not have heard of—especially in the smaller conferences.

"Mid-Major" Division (A-10, CAA, C-USA, Horizon, MVC, MWC, West Coast, WAC)

Drew Lavender, Xavier
Ahmad Nivins, St. Joseph’s
Eric Maynor, VCU
Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
Robert McKiver, Houston
Derrick Rose, Memphis
Joey Dorsey, Memphis
A.J. Graves, Butler
Mike Green, Butler
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
Eric Coleman, Northern Iowa
Daniel Ruffin, Bradley
Trent Plaisted, BYU
Luke Nevill, Utah
Brandon Ewing, Wyoming
Brad Jones, Wyoming
Wink Adams, UNLV
Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga
Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga
Diamon Simpson, Saint Mary’s
Marcelus Kemp, Nevada
Justin Hawkins, New Mexico State
Jaycee Carroll, Utah State

“Other” Division (everyone else)

Mike Trimboli, Vermont
Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell
Courtney Pigram, East Tennessee State
James Florence, Mercer
Andrew Strait, Montana
Arizona Reid, High Point
Reggie Williams, VMI
Alex Harris, UC Santa Barbara
Scott Cutler, Cal State Fullerton
Gerald Brown, Loyola
Charron Fisher, Niagara
Jason Thompson, Rider
Giordan Watson, Central Michigan
Leon Williams, Ohio
Roy Bright, Delaware State
Stephen Curry, Davidson
Jason Richards, Davidson
Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
Chris Daniels, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
George Hill, IUPUI
Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky
Bo McCalebb, New Orleans
Adrian Banks, Arkansas State
Carlos Monroe, Florida Atlantic

- By the way, come back next week for a look back at all the predictions I made last season—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It will get you in the mood for the 2007-2008 season preview, just to see what sort of picks I have for you guys this season.


  1. Good Mid-major article. Would have liked to see a more in-depth view of some of the top mid-major conferences...but time is money!

    Remember, SIU has a very good 6-8 Forward in Carlton Fay this year. Three star recruit that is silky smooth on offense. Looking forward, SIU has landed 3 top 150 recruits for the 2008 season... Go Dawgs!

  2. Don't worry, during my 50-plus article season preview, you'll have all the depth you need in terms of predictions and analysis.

    Thanks for the kind words, and tune in starting October 1st for the season preview.

  3. Dissing Creighton is akin to betting against Tiger Woods...only fools do so.

    Jays will be NCAA dancin' come March 2008,that's a promise! You experts will be chewin' crow.