November Will Provide Many Early-Season Clues

We're some six months away from the 2006 Final Four. But we'll see enough college basketball action, via some very enticing matchups, in November to give us a pretty good notion of who we could be watching on the final weekend of the season in Indianapolis next April.

Everyone and their mothers will have cranked out preseason ratings between now and the opening of the college season in mid-November.

 

And it's not going to take too long into the season to get a line on which set of ratings proves to be most perceptive, at least in the short term.

 

In fact, five days (and nights) of television viewing in November should do the trick.

 

Be prepared to zero in on your television screen (the bigger the better) on these days, assuming you're not fortunate enough be at any of the respective sites and eye-balling the action in the flesh:

 

Nov. 17 (or 18): Preseason NIT, Memphis at Alabama – or Alabama at Memphis: Assuming these teams aren't upset in the first round, this will be the glamour second-round matchup. The host has yet to be determined but regardless of the location it could prove the most competitive game in the entire 16-team event.

 

And how about the showdown of sophomore point guards, as Ronald Steele hooks up with Memphis counterpart Darius Washington? It'll be a goody.

 

Regardless of the outcome of that individual matchup, Mark Gottfried's squad's superior firepower in the post, with returnees Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson being joined by McDonald's All-America freshman Richard Hendrix, should able the Crimson Tide to advance to New York City – regardless of where this one is played.

 

Nov. 21: Guardians Classic semifinals, Texas vs. West Virginia, and Iowa vs. Kentucky: Assuming each of these teams advances out of the first two rounds (and each of them is playing a host in those games), the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City will have four highly possible 2006 Sweet 16 participants hooking up.

 

The Longhorns were bounced by Nevada in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March but that was with P.J. Tucker (academically ineligible) and LaMarcus Aldridge (recovering from hip surgery) in street clothes. There will be no such hasty exit by Rick Barnes' crew next March.

 

The Mountaineers were as difficult to guard as any team in the tournament last March and retain the bulk of their jump-shooting capabilities. That Sweet 16 run wasn't a fluke, folks.

 

The Hawkeyes appear to be the squad best equipped to finish ahead of consensus Big Ten favorite Michigan State.

 

Kentucky's backcourt is about as gifted, and deep, as can be found this season. But who is going to provide scoring in the post?

 

Look for Iowa to be the "surprise" winner of this event.

 

Nov. 22: EA Sports/Maui Invitational semifinals, Michigan State vs. Gonzaga, and Connecticut vs. Arizona: Let's just hope the field is this good in Indianapolis on April 1 . . .

 

But Michigan State (vs. Chaminade) is the only one of the four that can be projected into the second round without at least a bit of trepidation, since Gonzaga (vs. Maryland), Arizona (vs. Kansas) and Connecticut (vs. Arkansas) will each be hooking up with probable NCAA tourney participants on Nov. 21.

 

But, for the sake of discussion . . . Michigan State sophomore playmaker Drew Neitzel will face with Gonzaga's junior point guard Derek Raivio in a showdown between the teams' most (nationally) under-appreciated components. Even if Paul Davis is neutralized by the Bulldogs' multitude of options in the post, the Spartans' wings – Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager – are going to be nails for Gonzaga to contain. Of course, the same thing can be said about Michigan State in regards to Bulldogs' wings Adam Morrison and Erroll Knight.

 

We're not going to see the "real" Connecticut team until junior point guard Marcus Williams is reinstated to the program (which is expected to happen in time for the start of Big East Conference play, Jan. 3 at Marquette). But freshman Rob Garrison, in the meantime, will do a more than reasonable job of protecting the basketball and getting it where it belongs – namely into the hands of Rudy Gay and Josh Boone as frequently as possible.

 

But we're going with an "upset" winner in this tournament, too.

 

Lute Olson's Arizona teams seem to flourish in November, especially following seasons in which the Wildcats have lost a great deal – in this instance, Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye.

 

He's got underrated post players in Kirk Walters and Ivan Radenovic, two probable All-Pac 10 selections in Hassan Adams and Mustafa Shakur, as well as a sophomore – Jawann McClellan – who seems ready to blossom into the team's best perimeter scorer.

 

Nov. 29: Illinois at North Carolina: Six selections from the first round of the NBA draft are missing from the programs' most recent hookup – you remember the game they played in St. Louis last April 4, don't you?

 

But viewing this game will be plenty enticing in that we'll get to see what Bruce Weber is going to surround Dee Brown and James Augustine with for the Illini. And we can see if David Noel and Quentin Thomas, surrounded by a bunch of good freshmen, have the capabilities of helping the Tar Heels finish a lot higher in the ACC standings than some are assuming is possible with so many losses from their national championship season.

 

Nov. 30: Duke at Indiana: This is the most intriguing matchup in the second night of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge games.

 

The Blue Devils are the consensus preseason No. 1 choice and for about as many reasons as each of us has fingers and thumbs, including returning All-Americas Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick and the presence in a Duke uniform of the best freshman in the country (Josh McRoberts). Having a Hall of Fame coach (Mike Krzyzewski) calling the shots is a bit of a plus, too.

 

By most accounts, this is a make-or-break season in terms of Hoosiers' coach Mike Davis' job security in Bloomington. If the guard play is as effective as the post play (in the form of sophomore D.J. White and Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth) is expected to be, Indiana should be back in the NCAA tournament field for the first time since 2003. If it isn't, there's apt to be someone else occupying the program's head coach's office a year from now.

 

An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com

 



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