When the line-up for the Maui Invitational was announced this summer, all the attention was focused on Wisconsin, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Maryland.  Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats were thought of more as an also-ran who would be lucky to get out of the draw with a win against a team not named Chaminade.

But we have been high on Cincinnati since the preseason, and the Bearcats now have two very impressive wins (Vanderbilt and Maryland) under their belt as they head into tonight’s championship game against Gonzaga.  Big man Yancy Gates (pictured) has been the breakout star of the event thus far, but the Bearcats have all the pieces to be a lethal team in the Big East.  They have Gates, who is a rebounding machine with great touch from outside.  They have Devonta Vaughn, a preseason All-Big East selection that has led the Bearcats in scoring each of the last two seasons.  And they also added Lance Stephenson, a player that has the most pure talent of any freshman in the conference if he keeps his head in the game.  Stephenson has a reputation for being a hothead and something of a prima donna, and it will be interesting to see how he handles playing second fiddle to Gates in the media.  If Cronin can keep Stephenson from blowing up, the Bearcats could be playing well into March.

Other Thanksgiving Tournament Thoughts

The preseason NIT semifinals are tonight at Madison Square Garden, and the organizers of the event are all but praying that Duke and Connecticut are able to dispatch Arizona State and LSU, respectively, to set up the championship game they have been gunning for since announcing the brackets.  Last year, the goal was to get UCLA and Duke into the final, but Michigan crashed the party by upsetting the Bruins on Thanksgiving Eve and then topping the Blue Devils in the championship.  The best chance for an upset is the LSU-UConn tilt.  The Huskies were less-than-impressive in beating Hofstra to get to the Garden.

Other potentially intriguing games include: Washington State and Oklahoma at the Great Alaska Shootout, assuming both teams reach the finals as expected, Kentucky vs. Stanford at the Cancun Classic title game, and Michigan State vs. Florida at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City.

 

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ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball gimmick is over.  We saw a lot of bad basketball, as early season college hoops is often times painful to watch.  We saw a few highly-ranked teams tested by foes that were thought to be inferior.  We saw a team win what may be their only win of the season.  And we saw a couple of highly-rated teams show their true colors.  Here’s our take on the top five things we learned yesterday.

5. Jerry Wainright is a dead man walking at DePaul.

The DePaul Blue Demons used to be a basketball power.  They are anything but right now.  Last night, the DePaul eked out a 59-53 win against Columbia, a middle of the road Ivy League squad, in the first game of the season for both teams.  The Blue Demons were coming off a season where they failed to win a single Big East game, and they look to be even worse this year without leading scorer Dar Tucker, who left the school after just two years to enter the NBA Draft, but went undrafted.  Another year at the bottom of the Big East will likely spell doom for Wainright, who has not restored the DePaul program to prominence by any means.  It will be interesting to see which coach will take a chance on leading a program that has gone from being a sleeping giant to just asleep.

4. Georgetown will not be an NCAA tournament team, but Temple might.

Georgetown defeated Temple 46-45 yesterday on a last-second shot by Greg Monroe, the preseason Big East Player of the Year.  That was an exciting ending to what had been a truly dreadful game.  But watching that game, we noticed a few things.  Temple was getting good shots and missing them.  Georgetown was not getting good shots at all and they have absolutely no outside presence to keep teams from focusing on Monroe exclusively.  If the Hoyas are not able to find somebody who can somewhat consistently knock down an outside shot, they will once again be on the outside looking in come March.  Temple on the other hand showed that they can play defense, and in the second half, their offense looked a lot smoother. They have a murderous out of conference schedule, but a few wins there and a good showing in the Atlantic 10 could have them dancing again in March.

3. The most important part of any game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium is the first four minutes.

The most important thing when playing Duke at Cameron is not to play scared.  Charlotte played terrified last night against the Blue Devils and were blown out early. Charlotte was down 17-4 at the first media timeout, rendering the rest of the game as little more than a formality.  This is not a vintage Duke team.  They are big, but they have quickness issues that will show throughout the year when they play more athletic teams.  They don’t have a point guard, and they don’t really have an inside presence that can score in the post.  But they can win games on reputation alone if their opponents let them, and Charlotte did just that on Tuesday night. (more…)

sherronCollege basketball made the news twice yesterday.  First off, to the surprise of no one, the Kansas Jayhawks were voted the consensus Number 1 team in the country in both the ESPN/USA Today and the Associated Press preseason top 25 rankings. The Jayhawks return star guard Sherron Collins (pictured) and big man Cole Aldrich from a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year, plus they added highly-recruited freshman Xavier Henry to a strong nucleus.  Kansas did have a somewhat tumultuous offseason as guard Brady Morningstar was suspended for the first half of the season for suspicion of DUI, while several members of the basketball team spent September of this year brawling with members of the Kansas football team like Capulets and Montagues.  Michigan State, last year’s national runner-up, was voted number 2 in both polls, while defending champion North Carolina came in fourth in the USA Today poll and sixth in the AP.

But in truth, the biggest college basketball news came out of Indianapolis, home of the NCAA.  The organization approved new recruiting rules aimed at reducing corruption within the sport. According to the AP, coaches will no longer be allowed to employ a person associated with a prospective student-athlete at a camp or clinic or make payments to nonprofit organizations that a person associated with a prospect has either a proprietary or financial interest in, effective immediately. The rest of the package, which includes legislation aimed at stopping so-called “package deals” will be workshopped by coaches and administrators with a vote expected in April.

On the surface this may not seem like a big deal. But we are well versed in the practices of basketball recruiting and, trust us, this is huge.

What’s the big deal about the camps?  Most college basketball programs host camps over the summer in part to tutor young athletes on the finer points of basketball, but also to lure top recruits to their campuses so they can establish a relationship with the players.  Top players usually have a cadre of handlers and hangers-on that claim to represent the recruit’s interests, and these handlers will call a coach and say something like “I would love to have Player X come to your camp this summer, but I was wondering if you had any coaching or counseling positions open for me?  You don’t?  Well, that’s okay, coach. But I don’t think Player X will be able to make it to your camp this year.” This is akin to a Hollywood producer saying to an actress “I can’t guarantee that you will get the part if you sleep with me, but I can guarantee that you won’t if you don’t.”  (more…)