Here in Kentucky, the frost settled on the grass for the first time yesterday morning. The air was cool and crisp, and the forecasted weekend temperatures are in the mid-sixties instead of the mid-nineties. Furthermore, I carved my jack-o-lantern last night. After the goopy mess of seeds and stringy fiber had been cleaned up, I had a wonderful round, orange masterpiece not entirely unlike a basketball - only with two triangle eyes and a goofy grin.
The fun of season-opening practices, Midnight Madness, and conference media days are past, and the new season hatches in a mere twelve days when Saint Francis-PA, Colgate, Bethune-Cookman, and Syracuse tip it up in the Carrier Dome on November 8. The new season brings many questions:
Questions one through three are cloudy at this point, but numbers four and five can be answered with a resounding “yes.” Since most of us know that Dickie V can perforate eardrums at will, a closer look at some of this year’s early season tournaments seems to be a better use of this space. Click on the headings of each preview to view tournament brackets.
UW-Milwaukee, last year’s NCAA darling, will play Memphis in the first round and a win could set up a rematch with Alabama (last year’s first-round NCAA opponent). Miami (OH), the Crimson Tide’s first round P-NIT opponent, had a great 2004-2005 season spoiled by a 2-4 finish that kept them out of the NCAA tournament. The RedHawks lost their two top players from that squad, so it will be difficult for them to deal with Chuck Davis and company. Nevertheless, the RedHawks will be a tough out.
The P-NIT organizers undoubtedly dream of having Duke v. Missouri and Bama/Memphis v. UCLA show up in the Big Apple for the semifinals and finals. That scenario seems unlikely. Missouri toils in perpetual disarray and Bama and Memphis both have tricky first round match-ups. The wild card in the P-NIT is the Temple Owls. Mardy Collins is one of the top guards in the country, and the Owls are returning their top five scorers from last season. They will present a serious hurdle for Jordan Farmar and UCLA. This could be the Owls’ year to reappear in the Big Dance.
Michigan State, UConn, Gonzaga and Arizona likely will have successful seasons, but the teams that bear close watching are Maryland, Kansas, and Arkansas. Maryland, a perennial ACC contender and NCAA bulwark, found themselves left out of the Dance entirely last year. Gary Williams and the Terps have something to prove. Seniors Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray are seasoned seniors and Terps will have a healthy D. J. Strawberry back from an ACL injury. Kansas lost four starters in Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, and J.R. Giddens, plus solid bench players Alex Galindo and Michael Lee off last year’s team. They are going to be inexperienced, but the youngsters are talented (see preseason Big XII Freshman of the Year Julian Wright). Stan Heath needs a big season to win back the confidence of the Razorback faithful. He has an SEC Player of the Year candidate in Ronnie Brewer and enough talent to get back to the NCAA tourney this year. If the Hogs fail to make the grade this year, Heath’s seat will get a bit toasty. Maryland, Kansas, and Arkansas all have great opportunities to score valuable neutral court wins against some top teams in Maui.
Great Alaska Shootout
Coaches v Cancer
Many fans ignore the early basketball season due to the important football that is being played. However, take this into consideration. Last year, Illinois won the Las Vegas Classic. North Carolina, after losing to Santa Clara to open the season, won the Maui Invitational. Those teams met for the national title. In 2003-2004, Georgia Tech won the Preseason NIT. UConn lost to Tech in the semis of the Preseason NIT that year. That means that three of the last four NCAA Championship game participants won an early season tournament, and all of them were participants in an early season tournament. So, fill up on pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, but remember to flip over to a holiday hoops tourney before the turkey coma causes you to drift into a heavy slumber. You might catch a glimpse of this year’s national champion in November.
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