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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Syracuse Cincinnati Football

So what did we learn this week in college football?

Well, for starters, we found out that Florida and Texas may not be as good as many thought they would be entering the season.  Florida needed a last second field goal by Caleb Sturgis to beat an unimpressive Arkansas team 23-20 at home, while third-ranked Texas got all they could handle from an Oklahoma team that has been decimated by injuries (reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford injured his right shoulder for the second time this season in the Longhorns 16-13 victory over the Sooners.) Alabama, ranked 2nd behind Florida, took care of South Carolina at home, and is beginning to look like the best team in the country, while fourth-ranked Virginia Tech lost to Georgia Tech in a game that definitely cost the Hokies a chance at the national championship and may have cost them their shot at the ACC championship.

So where does that leave us in the race for the national championship?  Alabama and Florida, if all goes as scheduled, will play each other for the SEC championship in December, where one will win and play for the national title, while the other will lose and most likely be eliminated from national championship contention.  Texas looked so bad against Oklahoma that the Longhorns can no longer be counted on to go unbeaten the rest of the way (Texas plays at Missouri and at Oklahoma State in the next two weeks, but we believe that the game the Longhorns will lose will be on Nov. 21 against Kansas.)  So who faces the SEC champion in the national championship game?

Let’s round up the unusual suspects. (more…)

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Alright, brace yourself non-sports fans.  This weekend is going to be a brutal one.  Not only do we have both the National League and American League playoffs on tap, but there are also a couple of major college football games on Saturday, a quality slate of NFL action on Sunday, and, in particularly hoops-crazed region of the country, college basketball practice starting tonight at the stroke of midnight.  You will have had to have made your plans well in advance to pry your sports fan off the couch for the next few days.  And having made said plans months ago will not prevent the average sports fiend from complaining about missing this weekend’s action while at a wedding upstate. Here’s our guide to the high points.

1. Say it with me: “Sunday belongs to the NFL.” And the headlining game this weekend is the New York Giants traveling to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Saints.  Both teams are undefeated and feature high octane offenses.  Saints quarterback Drew Brees (pictured) has been having MVP-type season early on, but facing the tough Giants defense will be his stiffest challenge to date.  This game kicks off at 1 p.m., as does the other highly-anticipated contest of the week,  Baltimore (3-2) at Minnesota (5-0).

2. Mercifully, college football’s two best contest will be played in the afternoon, instead of in prime-time on Saturday night (the trend of scheduling big college football games at night has wreaked havoc on more than a few weekend dinner parties thus far this season.) At high noon, Oklahoma will face Texas in the annual Red River Shootout (played every year in at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas).  Texas is one of the top teams in country, but will need to beat Oklahoma in order to stay in the national championship discussion.  Also trying to stay in the national championship picture is USC, who will travel to South Bend, Ind., to face Notre Dame tomorrow at 3:30.  (more…)

Nevada Boise St FootballLet’s just say out loud what we all know to be true.  College football polls are crap.

After a spate of upsets this weekend (some of which were predictable like Virginia Tech stomping Miami, while some came out of left field — seriously California, what was that?) the Boise State Broncos, after an uninspiring rout of Bowling Green on Saturday, have risen to number 5 in the rankings in both of college football’s polls.  The reason for the rise is that only four teams that started the season ranked ahead of the Broncos (Florida, Texas, Alabama, and LSU) have yet to lose this season. But being that Florida, Alabama, and LSU are all in the same conference, at least two of these teams will lose before the end of the year, while the Broncos, because they play in the very weak Western Athletic Conference, will be heavy favorites in every game remaining on their schedule and will likely go unbeaten. This will create a mess by season’s end if Texas ever loses, because Boise St. could be in line to play for the national championship despite nobody believing that they are one of the country’s two best teams.

With all due respect to Boise St., does anybody actually believe that the Broncos are better than Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio St. (the four teams directly behind Boise in the rankings)?  We’re all for the little guys getting a shot at the big boys, but Boise St. getting a pass into the national championship game due to an easy schedule — while more worthy teams who played a more difficult schedule are shut out — would be a shame.

Water Cooler Cheat Sheet

As we have noted before, in a typical water cooler conversation, you will only be required to contribute one or two insightful sentences in order to appear knowledegeable.  We’re here to help.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Boise St. being ranked 5th is yet another reason why preseason polls are useless and why college football needs a playoff.  If Texas loses, all hell’s gonna break loose.”

Boise St. is a fine program, and we find the blue “SmurfTurf” at their home stadium adorable.  But they have no business being ranked ahead of the four teams we listed above.  They just are not as good.  They aren’t as talented, and they would likely lose two or three games at least if they played in the SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, or ACC (these are the powerhouse football conference.)  Boise St. should have a shot to prove themselves in a playoff (a system which, unfortunately, does not exist in college football), but giving them a pass into the title game because of their weak schedule and high preseason ranking doesn’t do anybody any favors.