Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/12/2007 06:23:00 PM
The Strangest Things So Far
Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley has totaled 62 points and 38 rebounds in his first collegiate games.
It's difficult to ascertain when, exactly, the college hoops season begins. Sports Illustrated's preview issue -- what I've been working on lately rather than blogging -- comes out tomorrow. The first real "tournament" of the winter, the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, takes place on Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden. Some teams have already played two regular-season games. Others have yet to play one. Basically: we're right in the middle of the beginning. And already, there has been no shortage of surprises: 1. The Zestier Mayonnaise
University of Illinois-Chicago's Josh Mayo was a huge prospect coming out of Merrillville, Ind., in the Class of 2005. So huge that he was assigned two stars in a photo-less, news-less profile in Scout.com's recruiting database. So huge that he wasn't even in Rivals.com's recruiting database. USC's O.J. Mayo, meanwhile, was a slightly huger prospect coming out of Huntington, W.V.: five stars in every recruiting service, and the No. 1 overall prospect in Scout.com's rankings. O.J. also was on the cover of SLAM last month standing in front of a Bentley. They are neither brothers nor cousins, nor did they, coming into this season, appear to be operating in the same basketball universe.
Until they went and actually played the games, that is. When the first weekend of the 2007-08 season was said and done, Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo. The pride of Merrillville -- now a junior at UIC -- dropped 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting in an upset of Bradley on Saturday. The Fresh(man) Prince of L.A. had 32 against Mercer -- but he needed 27 shots to get there, also committed eight turnovers, and his Trojans lost by 15. To Mercer! Prediction: When Mayo is still taking 20-plus shots a game in three or four years -- for a bad NBA team -- he will not care about this. And Josh Mayo will still have yet to appear in a national publication, standing in front of a Bentley.
2. The Yellow Tie ... and that other thing
Oh, does Billy Gillispie long for the days -- just a week ago, really -- when his yellow tie was the only thing Kentucky fans were worried about. (Seriously, there was enough buzz over Billy Clyde's sartorial decision in UK's first exhibition game that Lexington columnist John Clay was justified in discussing it in his new YouTube series. He paraphrased the reactions of a few fans as, "Why was Billy Gillispie wearing a yellow tie? Doesn't he know he's in Kentucky? He's supposed to wear blue.")
Now the 'Cats, who were to be one of the main attractions in this weekend's 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden, are stuck at home, game-less, for two weeks after a rather stunning collapse: an 84-68 loss, on Wednesday, to a Gardner-Webb team that won nine games the previous year, and drew fewer people to all of its conference home games combined than UK did to its Big Blue Madness. (Thanks to mid-major guru Bill Trocchi for that absurd stat.)
3. B-Easy There, Young Fella
First came the rumors, that Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley (nickname: B-Easy) had scored 42 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a closed scrimmage against Marquette. Then came non-nationally televised confirmation of his dominance: Through the Wildcats' first two games, he's averaged 31 points and 19 rebounds. The opponents were Sacramento State and Pittsburg State, but do you see anyone else putting up those kinds of numbers? I ranked instant-impact freshmen in a gallery a few weeks ago and put Beasley fourth, behind UCLA's Kevin Love, Memphis' Derrick Rose and USC's Mayo. In hindsight, I'd revise the order of my top five to Beasley, Rose, Love, Indiana's Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo. Rose will get the most wins of any of them ... but Beasley, as crazy as it sounds, could actually surpass Kevin Durant's freshman numbers of 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
4. The D2 Invasion
Grand Valley State, the Division II team that sunk No. 8 Michigan State in the Spartans' first exhibition game of the season, appeared in this blog-space last Monday. When I asked the Lakers' L.J. Kilgore if he'd played in any environments as tough as the Breslin Center, he mentioned that the University of Findlay's Croy Gymnasium is rather intense, because "it gets so loud in there that it seems like a million people are against you." This was rather amusing, since Croy is more than 12,000 seats smaller than Breslin. I also figured it would be the last I heard about either Grand Valley State or Findlay all season. Four days later, Findlay upsets Ohio State in Columbus, 70-68. And much like the stunning Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo development, we also have this: the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference > the big, bad Big Ten.
See if O.J. Mayo is all he's hyped up to be at the Jimmy V. Classic on Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Howie McCormick/Icon SMI
New York is not necessarily the best place for a college basketball writer (like myself) to live during January, February and March. Given that none of the city-area teams (St. John's, Seton Hall, Columbia, Manhattan and even Rutgers) is particularly relevant on a national scale, everything requires travel. Trains to D.C. for Georgetown games. Flights to RDU for North Carolina and Duke. Five-hour, cross-country jaunts to LAX for UCLA and USC.
In November and December, however, a wonderful phenomenon occurs: the best of college hoops simply comes to us in Manhattan. I spent this morning -- once I finished my last college football preview piece, that is -- looking through hoops schedules with the intention of returning to regular blogging. And I've come to the pleasant realization that the top three early-season events are all at Madison Square Garden, just a short subway ride away. There's an absurd number of these tournaments/invites/classics in '07-08 -- 23, by my last count, not including the Big Ten/ACC, SEC/Big East and Big 12/Pac-10 jamborees -- and I've ranked them in order of quality:
1. JIMMY V CLASSIC, Dec. 4, Madison Square Garden Games: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame, USC vs. Memphis
This is the premier freshmen showcase -- basically, the '07-08 equivalent of putting Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Brandan Wright on the same bill in the first month of the season. In forward Michael Beasley (of K-State), O.J. Mayo (of USC) and Derrick Rose (of Memphis), the Jimmy V will boast three top-five picks for '08. The headlining matchup between the Trojans and Tigers, who are both rather freewheeling on offense, could be one of the top games of the non-conference slate.
2. COACHES VS. CANCER CLASSIC, Nov. 15-16, Madison Square Garden Final Four picks: Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, UConn
The CvC is the closest thing we have to an opening day in college hoops. And this year it'll offer us a number of important, early looks at the following: - Billy Gillispie's impact on UK, plus super-recruit Patrick Patterson - Memphis' chances for a title run, as well as if Rose's skills live up to Joey Dorsey's billing - Oklahoma's freshman savior, Blake (little bro of Tyler) Griffin- The progress of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, who could be a lottery pick if he develops even a minimal offensive repertoire.
3. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF, Nov. 21 and 23, Madison Square Garden Final Four picks: Syracuse, Ohio State, Washington, Texas A&M
The preseason NIT was memorable as the stage for Butler's coming-out party in '06. But this time around, rather than a mid-major surprise, we're more likely to get an idea of whether Syracuse, with its talented underclassmen trio of Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris and Donte Greene, is ready to contend in the Big East or is still another year away.
4. CBE CLASSIC, Nov. 19-20, Kansas City, Sprint Center Final Four picks: UCLA, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri
At this summer's Pan American Games trials, I had hoped to see UCLA's Darren Collison square off against MSU's Drew Neitzel in a battle of All-America-caliber point guards. Alas, Neitzel was the only one of the two invited to camp, and he, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Washington State's Derrick Low handled floor-general duties in Brazil. We'll have to settle for a Darren-vs.-Drew battle in KC, with both teams likely ranked in the top 10 of the polls.
5. LEGENDS CLASSIC, Nov. 23-24, Newark, N.J., Prudential Center Final Four picks: New Mexico State, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia
The title game of this first-year tourney should pit the Vols against the Longhorns, and considering what happened the last time they met -- a 111-105 win by Tennessee in overtime, with Chris Lofton scoring 35 -- it will be a must-watch game. Even with Kevin Durant gone to the NBA.
This is a far cry from the Maui field of 2005, which was won by a loaded UConn team and included an epic battle between Adam Morrison and Michigan State. While it could still provide a decent finale between the Dukies and Golden Eagles, it's tough to see anyone knocking off Marquette. The Blue Devils' perimeter posse of Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler will be decent -- but can they really play enough D to stop Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, who took down Coach K's boys last season in Kansas City?
7. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL, Nov. 17-24, Las Vegas Field: BYU, Hartford, Iona, Jackson State, Louisville, North Carolina, Old Dominion, South Carolina State
The overall strength (or lack thereof) of the Vegas field is irrelevant: the whole point is to generate a UNC-vs.-Louisville title game on Thanksgiving weekend. Most of us pundits have been speculating, based on their late-season surge and near-upset of Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament, that Edgar Sosa and the Cards could be a Final Four team. But can they run with a Carolina squad that has all the pieces in place to win a national title? This could be a near-equivalent of the Florida-Kansas bout in Vegas last November -- and Louisville's prime opportunity to jump into the top five of the polls.
8. OLD SPICE CLASSIC, Nov. 22-25, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Field: Villanova, Central Florida, George Mason, Kansas State, N.C. State, Penn State, Rider, South Carolina
The deodorant/aftershave invitational does not have a real headliner, but some intriguing storylines may develop. There's a chance N.C. State could emerge looking like the favorite to finish second -- ahead of Duke, Virginia or Virginia Tech -- in the ACC. And this would also be a nice stage for South Carolina's backcourt transfer duo of Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Frederick (Georgia Tech) to remind the nation of their talents, and establish the Gamecocks as a darkhorse in the SEC.
9. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC, Dec. 1, Boston Games: UConn vs. Gonzaga, Providence vs. Boston College
Gonzaga consistently has more cojones than any other team when it comes to non-conference scheduling, last year taking on Duke, Washington State, Texas and North Carolina out of conference, to name a few. Throttling UConn on the Huskies' home coast -- something the Zags are capable of doing with Josh Heytvelt in the lineup -- would go a long way in justifying their return to the top 25 after a turbulent down year.
10. GREAT ALASKA SHOOTOUT, Nov. 20-24, Anchorage, Alaska (Alaska-Anchorage, Butler, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, Michigan, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky)
11. WOODEN TRADITION, Dec. 15, Indianapolis (Purdue vs. Louisville, Butler vs. Florida State)
17. BLUE RIBBON CHALLENGE, Nov. 9-22, Gainesville, Fla., and New Brunswick, N.J. (Florida, North Carolina Central, North Dakota State, Rutgers, Tennessee Tech)
18. SOUTH PADRE INVITATIONAL, South Padre Island, Texas, Nov. 23-24 (Vanderbilt, Iowa, Austin Peay, Bradley, Valparaiso, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Florida Gulf Coast, Utah State)
19. RAINBOW CLASSIC, Dec. 19-22, Honolulu (East Tennessee State, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ohio, St. John's, St. Mary's, Tulane)
20. TOP OF THE WORLD CLASSIC, Nov. 15-18, Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska-Fairbanks, Akron, Colorado State, IUPUI, Oregon State, Tennessee State, South Carolina Upstate, Portland State)
Check back to see if these yet-to-be-filled-out events are worth roadtripping (or turning on the tube) for: PUERTO RICO CLASSIC (Arkansas, College of Charleston, Marist, Miami, Providence, Temple, Virginia Commonwealth, eighth team TBA), BB&T CLASSIC (Maryland, George Washington, George Mason, plus three more TBA), WOODEN CLASSIC (UCLA vs. Davidson, other game TBA)
Prep phenom O.J. Mayo was ejected from a high school game on Friday night in Charleston, W.V.
Yup. That's your potential No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, USC recruit O.J. Mayo, being led off the court of a high school game in West Virginia by police on Friday. The same week his Huntington High team was named No. 1 in the Rise/SI.com prep rankings, Mayo was whistled for two technical fouls in a win over state rival (Charleston) Capital High. The first was for taunting a rival player after a dunk, and the second was for further verbal sparring on the other end of the floor. In the process of disputing the calls, Mayo made contact with the ref, Mike Lazo -- and Lazo fell to the ground. The conflict then escalated to the point where you see Mayo above, making his best Jon Scheyer face on the way to the exit.
The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch has been all over this story from the beginning, and while the initial reports seemed damning to Mayo, new details -- namely, videos of the incident -- make someone else look foolish: the ref. The two Ts Lazo whistled were within reason, but what happened when he was approached by Mayo was both embarrassing and hilarious. Sorry, Lazo, but this looks like a flop straight from a Best Of Vlade Divac tape. Bill Bands, an attorney from Charleston who was at the game, told the paper, "I think O.J. Mayo should have controlled himself better. But this ref took a dive. He wasn't pushed. It wasn't that necessary. It was definitely the worst officiated game I've seen on any level."