Thursday, August 12, 2010

Week 1 College Basketball Preview

By Kevin Beane

The college basketball season tips off November 8th this year, once again, with the Coaches vs. Cancer classic (which again has a misleading title as the schedule includes no games where coaches take on cancer; when I was a kid, I was a water boy for the cancer team).

As I wrote last year, the tournament has scrapped the traditional 16-team knockout method in favor of a complicated round-robin mess that ensures that the four "host" schools (this year, it's Pitt, Maryland, Illinois, and Texas) make it to the finals in Madison Square Garden. I call it the "Gardner-Webb rule" because this format was enacted after Gardner-Webb upset Kentucky in this same tournament, depriving the poor tournament organizers the chance to profit from the strong contingent of traveling UK fans.

To give them a microscopic grain of credit, however, this year they seem to have realized that guaranteeing the four host schools a trip to the finals in New York means they do not have to schedule ridiculous laughers like Duke vs. Presbyterian in the first round. So this year we are treated to a slate that should be slightly more competitive. Slightly.

Nowhere is this more true than in the first game of the year, when Pitt takes on Rhode Island. It would've been even better last year, when Rhode Island knocked off Providence and Oklahoma State en route to an NIT season where they made the semifinals. This year, however, Pitt returns seven of their top eight scorers, and it will be tough for the Rams to keep up.

The nightcap on September 8th is more like what we are used to seeing in this tournament, although at least the underdog has name recognition: Navy at Texas. Sadly, though, David Robinson (ankle, old age) will not be suiting up for Navy.

The more intriguing game for the Longhorns, and the one where they have to be especially on guard against an upset, is their game two nights later against Louisiana Tech. Sadly, Karl Malone (ankle, old age) will not be suiting up for Tech, but this is a strong team that finished fourth in the tough WAC last year and made the postseason themselves, losing to eventual champion Missouri State in the tournament.

Texas slipped badly last season, finishing sixth in the Big 12 behind rivals Texas A&M and historical doormat Baylor, clocking in at 9-7 for the second year in a row. While they are rebuilding, this game has a great deal of upset potential.

Also being played on Wednesday, before Texas/Louisiana Tech, is another game with at least a chance of an upset. Maryland gets to find out what life is like without Greivis Vasquez against a team that won 22 games last year and returns three key starters: the Bobby Cremins-coached College of Charleston.

Finally, ESPNU (so farm — more games are likely to be added) will be showing a pair of non-Coaches vs. Cancer games the first week: James Madison vs. Kansas State on Friday November 12th, a game that has no chance of an upset, and on Sunday, Duke, fresh off a National Championship Game where they held off a bunch of scrappy, plucky white guys at Butler, will host the scrappy, plucky white guys from Princeton, who should be in the mix for an Ivy League title this year.

The non-televised (at least not by ESPNU) games at the host schools of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic will be Pitt vs. Illinois-Chicago, Maryland vs. Seattle U, and both Illinois games, against UC-Irvine November 8th and Toledo November 10th.

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