Monday, November 18, 2013
Hoops Preview: The Piece de Resistance
For a college basketball program, it appears that the biggest advantage to a holiday tournament would be chance to face quality opponents in a March-style setting. For a college basketball fan, the biggest advantage to these events is seeing entertaining matchups with a one-shot kind of urgency that a trophy can evoke. Over the last couple of years, the best fusion of the two have come from two locations more known for their vacation status than their basketball prowess.
Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28 & 29, Dec. 1)
Obvious Team to Watch: Oklahoma State has high expectations for this season. There was quite a bit of buzz a couple of seasons ago. Le'Bryan Nash was the hot incoming freshman, and Markel Brown had a breakthrough sophomore campaign. Then Marcus Smart came to Stillwater. The talented Texas native proved enough to garner quite a few National Freshman of the Year awards. Now, the trio looks to build on their chemistry and push toward a Big XII championship.
Under the Radar Team to Watch: The Memphis Tigers lost some firepower with D.J. Stephens graduating, Tarik Black transferring, and Adonis Thomas going pro. However, what returned might be even better. The backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, and Geron Johnson returned for their senior seasons. Shaq Goodwin will have a chance to improve in his sophomore campaign. And they bring in Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, who can be counted on to add some scoring punch. If there's a team that can fill the bucket this season, Josh Pastner's team might be it.
Best Early Matchup: Butler vs. Washington State
This is more a matchup of what might be. The Cougars have to reinvigorate themselves without standout big man Brock Motum (graduated). They have a couple more 6'10" of taller bodies to throw in the low post, but it appears Ken Bone will be looking to his backcourt for points, at least early on. The Bulldogs may not need to totally reinvent themselves. But what can new head coach Brandon Miller do to piggyback off the success of Brad Stevens? Keeping four players that started 10 games or more last season (including Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones) should help.
Best Potential Final: Oklahoma State vs. Memphis
By the time this column is up on the SC site, we could already have an idea of what this tilt would look like (they play Nov. 19th in Stillwater). A rematch on a neutral court would be very enticing. I wouldn't be surprised if the Tigers average 78-80 points per game. And, in my opinion, the Cowboys have the one of the three most athletic rosters for this season. Bottom line ... this game would be fun ... again.
Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30)
Obvious Team to Watch: It isn't just that Kansas has the best roster in the tournament ... they also have the highest-touted player in Andrew Wiggins. But the super frosh is not the only player to contend with in this lineup. Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis made their presence known late last season. They return to help ease the pain of losing Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey. Memphis transfer Tarik Black has been able to play immediately, providing some very athletic experience. In other words, coach Bill Self has reloaded.
Under the Radar Team to Watch: Wake Forest took a lot of lumps last season. However, the Demon Deacons were quite young (half of their scholarship players were freshmen). While it made for a lot of growing pains, it also gave them the opportunity to grow together. With one junior, one senior, and one post-grad on the roster, Jeff Bzdelik's team won't be fighting for the 2013-2014 ACC championship. Don't be surprised, though, if they scrap out a few upsets along the way (and in the consolation side of this setup).
Best Early Matchup: Xavier vs. Iowa
The Musketeers are trying to break out of their own transition period. There is more experience coming back instead of walking out the door. And, one thing for sure, Chris Mack will make his kids play hard-nosed and to the final buzzer. The Hawkeyes made a late push last season and just missed out on an NCAA bid, and everyone is back for a repeat performance. They also add Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff to the mix, which should help ease the loss of guard Josh Oglesby (who could be out until conference season starts).
Best Potential Final: Kansas vs. Tennessee
If Oglesby was in the lineup, I would have put Iowa in Tennessee's place. The Vols do return quite a bit from last year's team that was on the outside of the NCAA bubble. Cuonzo Martin also gets a lift by welcoming former Memphis guard Antonio Barton cross-state. Despite last week's loss at Xavier, the Vols are the best combination of health and talent in the bottom half of the draw. And in the top half, does any team have enough to stay up with Kansas? Didn't think so.