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
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
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
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
backcourt is about as gifted, and deep, as can be found this season. But who is
going to provide scoring in the post?
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 . .
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.
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.
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
Nov. 29: Illinois at North
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
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
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
(Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be
reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at