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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College football’s traditional rivalries have been in a state of flux for the past several seasons as most conferences in major college football, save the Big Ten, have decided to extend their seasons well into December. But two such rivalries, the Bay Area’s Big Game, and the annual Ohio State-Michigan tilt are on the docket for this weekend.  Also, NASCAR will mercifully come to its conclusion on Sunday, but that day, as always, will belong to the NFL.  Here’s a look at what’s on tap for the weekend before Thanksgiving.

1. Ohio State-Michigan, with apologies to the Alabama-Auburn game, is the best rivalry in college football, and those two storied programs will meet this weekend.  Honestly, if these two programs didn’t hate each other and have a history of playing some great games, there would be very little reason to watch this one.  Ohio State locked up a Rose Bowl berth last week by beating Iowa, and Michigan has not won a game against a Division I foe since late September. But the Wolverines may very well be playing for coach Rich Rodriguez’s job, and the Buckeyes always love trouncing Michigan.  Even this year, it is must-see TV. It’s on ABC at high noon.

2. Stanford-Cal does not have quite the history to it that the Michigan-Ohio State game has, but Big Game has had its fair share of big moments (most notably, the “Band is On the Field” game in 1983). But this edition should be a good one as both teams enter into the game with solid squads.  Stanford is fresh off a thrashing of USC last weekend, while California beat Arizona last Saturday to run its record to 7-3 (identical to that of the Cardinal). That’s a 7:30 EST kickoff.

3. Finally, we are once again ignoring NASCAR, and jumping straight to the NFL slate on Sunday.  (more…)