I wrote this for KentuckySportsRadio.com. They needed someone who knows something about college basketball to preview each upcoming week this season. Remember, like Vito Corleone said, "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer". Here I am, sleeping with the enemy....
We've waited long enough. It's time to embark on a new college basketball season. Every week, I'll be here every week to drop some knowledge on the masses about the week that was and the week that will be in college hoops. Since there weren't very many games the last week, this edition will be more on the preview side of things.
After a whole summer of listening to all the recruiting buzz, reading the rankings like scripture, and working with some people that know what they're talking about I have come to the realization that this year's crop of freshman is nowhere near the caliber of last year's class. However, the NBA age-limit has created a new phenomenon in the NCAA. Freshman who usually would be sitting at the end of some NBA team's bench as a "project" are now thrown onto the national stage as contributors to good (sometimes great) teams. Two years ago there never would have been a Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose leading their teams to the postseason. Regardless of how much weaker this year's class is, to paraphrase Yogurt from Spaceballs, "never underestimate the power of the freshman". This week I will focus on freshman debuts across the country. Whether or not these kids pan out could be the difference between a team finishing with a losing record or making a Final 4 run.
I know all the UK fans will be busy watching the Cats playing the run-and-gun with VMI, but almost half of the Top 25 will be in action against the typical early season cupcakes.
UCONN is one of the teams poised to make a run at consensus #1 UNC will open up with Western Carolina. The Huskies are coming off a disappointing loss to San Diego on last year's tournament and bring every core player back. The addition of Burger Boy Kemba Walker and former UK recruit Ater Majok to an already deep team is enough to get the Huskies ranked in every Top 5 I have seen. Hasheem Thabeet is as imposing of a shot-blocker as there is and his frontcourt mate Jeff Adrien might be one of the more underrated players in the country. It will be interesting to see how All-Big East selection G A.J Price will return from ACL surgery resulting from an injury in last year's tourney. UCONN's
depth matches up with any one's in the country. However, their first true test won't be until 12/20 against Gonzaga.
The Stephen Curry Show starts up a new season against perennial powerhouse Guilford. The Davidson guard with the former NBA sharp-shooter dad and smokin' hot mom won over the hearts of fans with his high scoring NCAA tourney performance. Is Curry going to live up to all this hype or was the shooting display he put on in he tournament just a flash in the pan? It's hard to improve when you average 26 points during the regular season and dropped 40 in the big dance.
Wake Forest debuts their triple threat of freshman studs against NC Central. Al-Farooq Aminu is an electric wing who was a Top 5 player last year and more than likely would have jumped ship to the league if not for the age-limit. He is your prototypical hybrid forward. A 6'9 215 SF who can score off the dribble, shoot threes and basically wreck havoc on smaller wings. Aminu is joined by a pair of 7-footers in Ty Walker and Tony Woods. Wake has all of their top contributors returning and will be extremely exciting to watch
Other Friday tidbits...
- Travis Ford starts at T.Boone Pickens University against TX- San Antonio
- The ugliest player in college hoops, Nick Calathes, will continue to scare people away from guarding him for a second season as Florida takes on Toledo.
- Buzz Williams takes over at Marquette for Tom "Fake Dwight Schrute" Crean. He better hope he fairs better than Buzz Peterson did at Tennessee. He doesn't have the "I was Michael Jordan's roommate in college" story to fall back on.
Top 5 Freshman I'd Want on My Team...not necessarily the best
1. F Emmanuel Negadu - Tennessee - Origionally going to Zona. This guy is a mean looking SOB, built like an NFL wideout, athletic and a hard worker. Can't ask for much more. Will fit in well in Ladies Man Bruce Pearl's high octance offense.
2. PF/C Yancy Gates - Cincinnati - Think former Bearcat Danny Fotson, but bigger. Gates is agile for a man his size and was born to play Big East style basketball.
3. SG Jrue Holliday - UCLA - #2 overall in this clas, DREW is a silky smooth combo guard who can create his own shot and use both hands equally well. The best part about this guy is how much pride he has on defense, something rare among youngsters these days.
4. SF Aminu - Wake Forest - Made fellow freshman Greg Monroe of Georgetown look silly in a match-up on ESPN last year. Reminds me a lot of Carmelo Anthony.
5. G/F Willie Warren - Oklahoma - Warren was going to about 206 different colleges last year, finally decided on the Sooners, and is percieved as a risk. The freakish athlete with his Vince Carter impersionations could just be misunderstood. Plus, he has a propensity to deliver facial dunks
The Psycho-T-less Tar Heels take on Penn at 4 pm on Fox Sports. This will be a blowout. The Heels await Kentucky on Tuesday with the big question being whether Hansbrough will play against the Cats or not. I have heard conflicting reports both ways. I think he will sit out just due to the fact that Carolina shouldn't have a problem with UK even without a healthy Hansbrough. UNC runs a fast-break system in which the non-stop big man thrives. However, the Heels do not lose a step without him and in some cases play even faster and more up tempo. Ty Lawson is the best PG in the nation as well as the fastest. He is what makes UNC click.
The psychodelic mushroom loving PF/C Josh Heytvelt returns to action for Gonzaga a year removed from a suspension for possession of the fungus he loves so dearly. I remember him being very good before he decided to quit basketball and become a full-time hippie. G Jeremy Pargo is well-deservingly being named to All-America teams across print and the web. Super-soph F/C Austin Daye is entering what might be his last year in college as the player in his class with the most NBA upside. The Zags are as dangerous as ever, only this time they won't sneak under the radar. They open up with almighty Mt. St. Billings
Defending champ Kansas opens up with Missouri-KC looking completely different than last year. Out are Mario Chalmers, Sasha KAHN!!!, Darrell Arthur and co. In are Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor and Tyrone Appleton. The only two players that contributed on last year's national title team are PF Cole Aldrich, a big, bruising, corn-fed country boy who fits right into the Kansas mold, and one of my favorite players in college, Sharron Collins. Collins looks like he could play linebacker for the Chiefs at the point guard position, but is as quick as he is strong. The Jayhawks may have some growing pains early on in the seson and Bill Self didn't play around with the schedule (Tennessee, 'Bama, Washington, and at Michigan St. non-conference). By no means is Kansas going to repeat, but they will be the same old Kansas despite the losses. However, that does not mean they will not compete and surprise some people.
The Dukies face Rhode Island at Cameron. Everybody's favorite flopper Greg Paulus has lost his starting PG job to sophomore Nolan Smith. The Devils took care of Georgia Southern by 43 on opening night and it looks like Coach K might have a contender again. Kyle Singler is a great player who should have an even better year than most expect.
Purdue comes into this season ranked as high as they've been since the Big Dog Robinson era. Matt Painter is building this team into a perennial favorite in the Big Ten with his superb first recruiting class maturing into sophomores this year. F Robbie Hummel is an old school player who looks like a born leader voted preseason Big Ten player of the year. His classmates E'Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson along with junior G Keaton Grant will all attempt to knock Izzo's Spartans off their preseason pedistal.
A team that is possibly relying on the almighty freshman more than any other is sleazy, greasy Calipari's Memphis Tigers, who host former employer UMASS. Tyreke Evans was a national phenomenon as a high school senior and will be asked to shoulder a lot of the scoring load for the defending runner-ups. Like Kansas, the guys Cal is bringing in are no joke, it just might take a bit to mesh. Big Men and Top 50 recruits Wesley Witherspoon and Angel Garcia will help fill the shoes of the punishing Joey Dorsey and even though I like his game, Willie Kemp will fail miserably trying to replace #1 pick Derrick Rose.
Other Sunday tidbits...
- Projected #1 NBA Draft pick Blake Griffin will join Willie Warren as Oklahoma takes on lifelong 15 seed Mississippi Valley St. I reall don't know what all the hype is surrounding Griffin. I personally saw Earl Clark abuse him in the NCAAs last year, but he is a perfect 18-18 from the field so far this year so I will give it time before I count him out.
First - G Ty Lawson (UNC) G Stephen Curry (Davidson) F Robbie Hummel (Purdue) F Tyler
Hansbrough (UNC) C Hasheem Thabeet (UCONN)
Second - G Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) G Darren Collison (UCLA) F Kyle Singler (Duke) F Patrick Patterson (UK) C Luke Harangody (Notre Dame)
Third - G James Harden (Arizona State) G Sherron Collins (Kansas) F Earl Clark (UL) F Samardo Samuels (UL) Blake Griffin (Oklahoma)
Honorable Mention (10 players) : F Sam Young (PITT), Tyler Smith (Tennessee), Chase Budinger (Arizona), Tyrese Rice (BC), A.J Price (UCONN), Wayne Ellington (UNC), Patrick Mills (St. Mary's), Jack McClinton (Miami), DaJuan Summers (Georgetown), Devan Downey (So. Carolina)
Most of the country's eyes will be on two marquee programs in college basketball going at it in Chapel Hill. If Hansbrough plays, you might want to watch the other channel to stop the bleeding. My second sleeper, Syracuse plays before the UNC/UK game against Richmond. This team has the best potential for a Ewing Theory season. Donte Green was good, but he was a tremendous ballhog on a team with no shortage of talent. Gerry McNamara's protege Eric Devendorf returns after blowing out his knee and missing all of last year. Paul Harris is a scrappy pit-bull at 6-4 playing like he's 6-10 and PG Jonny Flynn is a master distributor with a jumper that keeps defenses honest. It might be addition by subtraction this year for the 'Cuse.
In Knoxville, Bruce Pearl unveils his recruiting class against Tenn-Martin. No word yet on if Bobby Maze has finished his diss record directed towards other SEC teams. Pearl has all sorts of talent including Maze, Negadu, Tyler Smith, Univeristy Heights product Scotty Hopson and Wayne "I wear my headband like an idiot" Chism. As we have learned before, sometimes even if the ingredients are quality the finished product might not mix well. It will be interesting to see all these characters playing on the same team plays out over the season.
10 Shooters - Wayne Ellington (UNC), Stephen Curry (Davidson), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Kyle McAlarney (Notre Dame), Jodie Meeks (UK), Jerry Smith (UL), Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Robert Vaden (UAB), Lee Cummard (BYU), Stefon Jackson (UTEP)
10 Unsung Inside Studs - DeJuan Blair (PITT), Jeff Adrien (UCONN), Jarvis Vernardo (Mississippi St), Wink Adams (UNLV), Raymar Morgan (Michigan St.), Taj Gibson (USC), Austin Daye (Gonzaga), A.J Ogilvy (Vandy), Alfred Aboya (UCLA), Gani Lawal (Georgia Tech)
Michigan State has reloaded their talent after losing Drew Neitzel to graduation. Kalin Lucas runs the show with F Raymar Morgan taking the brunt of scoring from the departing Drew. Delvon Roe was a highly touted recruit coming into last year and injuries kept him out his entire senior year in high school. Izzo has recently fought with who will start, which usually isn't too bad of a problem. Marquise Gray, Durrell Summers and Goran Suton all give the Spartans the makings of a Final 4 team. Hey, if KSR punching-bag Jeff Goodman says it you have to take it as the Bible truth and he REALLY likes Michigan St., almost in a creepy stalkerish way.
Scottie Reynolds makes his season debut for Villanova. Jay Wright's team is getting lost in the shuffle of the Big East when in reality they pose the biggest matchup problem to any of the bruising teams at the top. Their smail ball has worked for 5 years and the guards are starting to mature just like the Foye, Ray, Lowry team that made a run 2 years ago.
Sleeper Teams : Wake Forest, Syracuse, Arkansas, Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth
Overrated Teams : Notre Dame, Texas, Florida, Miami, Gonzaga