December 2 – at USC
Much like November, the featured game is probably a Pac 10 clash. The pre-conference schedule in December is highlighted by freshman O.J. Mayo’s USC Trojans who came in and fought valiantly in a loss at Phog Allen last season.
There’s a new attitude about college basketball on the campus of USC. With a brand new state-of-the-art arena and on the heels of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, USC head coach Tim Floyd has brought excitement back to Tinseltown.
This group of Trojans is filled with youthful exuberance and plenty of talent. Floyd has certainly not shied away from playing tough competition either giving USC freshman phenom O.J. Mayo the chance to shine on a national stage.
Rodrick Stewart will not be facing his brother this time around as Lodrick was one of three starters Floyd lost from a year ago but as you can see the former NBA coach has dealt with the losses quite well.
Mayo may not be the only one-and-done on this USC roster. 6-8 freshman Davon Jefferson is a talented combo forward who probably wouldn’t be in L.A. if not for Mayo. The 20-year old out of The Patterson School in Lynwood, CA is comfortable facing up or with his back to the basket.
At center sophomore Taj Gibson anchors the middle. The USC big man earned first team All Freshmen team honors in the Pac 10 after a stellar freshman campaign. The 6-9 big man added muscle in the offseason and is pretty much an automatic double-double every time he steps on the court. As a freshman he ranked second in the Pac-10 in blocked shots and was third in rebounding. Gibson’s Achilles Heel is untimely fouls which plagued him throughout his freshman season.
He’s not LeBron James but versatile 6-5 guard O.J. Mayo certainly received his share of high school hype. Mayo has made headlines since he was in the seventh grade and don’t expect him to stop now. He wears number 32 in honor of his idol Magic Johnson and much like Magic, he has it all with size, ball-handling skills, and the ability to finish at the rim. Mayo can play the two or the point but at times he can be streaky from the perimeter.
6-5 point guard Daniel Hackett doesn’t bring the hoopla but he took summer classes early in order to join USC before the 2007-2008 season. Hackett struggled last season vs. KU but he returns as a more polished contributor and a double-figure scorer. He and O.J. will take turns playing the point.
We’ll put Dwight Lewis as a shooting guard since he’s the team’s returning leader from beyond the arc but Lewis will see considerable time at the three. Lewis also brings back a strong defensive presence and might be the team’s best lateral defender.
December 5 – Eastern Washington
Head coach Kirk Earlywine definitely gets votes on the all name team and he’s the new head honcho at Eastern Washington. Earlywine begins his first season at EWU with 10 newcomers and three returning letter-winners. It’s never a good sign when your returning leading-scorer averaged just a shade over eight points.
There’s definitely a rebuilding process taking place. EWU’s incredible guard Rodney Stuckey, left the Eagles after just two years for the NBA. Stuckey was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Pistons and made the largest impact in the program’s history. Replacing him won’t be easy for Earlywine and it appears that the Eagles may have trouble scoring this season.
6-4 senior Kellen Williams returns to the lineup after averaging 8.4 points in 2006-2007. At 6-4 he’s a bit undersized for the forward position but he’s capable of banging or using his athleticism.
Juniot center Brandon Moore came off the bench in 26 of 27 games last season during a solid sophomore season. At 6-9, 245 lbs. he’s a load underneath and averaged 5.9 ppg, and 3.6 rpg last season. Moore did make nearly 60 percent of his shots from the floor a year ago.
6-3 guard Marcus Hinton finished 2006-2007 with a flourish scoring 33 points in the last two contests showing shades of the player that averaged 22 in his final year of junior college. Hinton went 14-25 from the floor and the 6-3 guard was the Eagles most valuable player last year.
Earlywine made a late run via the JUCO route. A couple of the JUCO newbies just happen to be cat-quick guards 5-11 Adris DeLeon and 6-1 Gary Gibson. Help also comes via the foreign route, 6-2 Serb Milan Stanojevic, one of two Serbs on the roster this season, averaged nearly 18 points for Northwest Junior College in Wyoming. Stanojevic made 47 percent of his shots from long range last season. Freshman Trey Gross is likely to be part of the starting lineup when the Eagles face KU.
December 8 – DePaul
Kansas went into Chicago to face DePaul providing a home game for Sherron Collins and Julian Wright but came out with a disappointing loss. This year KU gets to return the favor in the friendly confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse. This time the Jayhawks won’t have to contend with guard Sammy Mejia and forward Wilson Chandler. Head coach Jerry Wainwright loses a lot with their departures with Chandler bolting early for the NBA and Mejia ending his Blue Demon stint.
The man being asked to fill the void on the frontline after those critical departures is 6-9 Wesley Green. The senior is expected to be a go-to-guy in the middle and has had flashes of brilliance throughout his three years but he’s yet to put it all together consistently. After only playing 46 games in his career, Wainwright is hoping that his big man can remain healthy.
There’s some youthful help on the way with 6-10 Mac Koshwal. I remember the first time I saw Koshwal play in an AAU game, my jaw dropped to the floor as he dazzled the crowd with an impressive display of power and skill. Koshwal is adept passer and an equally tough finisher around the rim. Koshwal is a strong rebounder but what remains to be seen is how much he’ll score at the college level.
Matija Poscic, a Croatia native, adds his name to the roster fresh out of the Junior College ranks, and is a seasoned post-player. Poscic will be expected to be a defensive anchor in the middle.
6-4 wing Draelon Burns has improved his scoring each season at DePaul and is likely the team’s best option on offense. The senior sparkplug is the team’s only returning double-digit scorer and has developed his leadership skills and his game.
6-5 freshman Dar Tucker was labeled a can’t-miss-prospect and is expected to fill Mejia’s shoes at shooting guard.
December – 15 - Ohio (Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO)
Tim O’Shea is in his seventh season at the helm of Ohio University and is coming off a 19-13 season where three starters return. O’Shea will have to blend three returnees with nine newcomers in order to achieve success.
He’s certainly not afraid to test his 2007-2008 squad which will play Maryland, Kansas, and St. John’s in consecutive road contests.
O’Shea has labeled this team his biggest, most physical ever. O’Shea’s starting lineup averages about 6-6 causing mismatches for most opponents.
This will be a tough frontcourt to contend with in the MAC lead by two tremendous players at the four and five spot. Senior Jerome Tillman and junior Leon Williams, two of O’Shea’s frontcourt players, were picked as Preseason All Conference in the MAC. Williams has started every game of his Ohio career and is currently the all-time field goal percentage leader at OU shooting over 60 percent from the floor. Williams is capable of a double-double on any given night and is the leader on this team. As a force on the interior, Williams is an intense rebounder and effective finisher. Tillman was the team’s leading scorer last season and is a worker though a bit undersized at the four at 6-6.
Ohio lost its first game against Holy Cross and was without Tillman who was hospitalized for heart palpitations. Tillman returned to action but put quite a scare into his teammates and coaches.
6-6 forward Justin Orr, transferred from Murray State and will likely be the starter at the other forward position.
Senior guard Bubba Walther has made at least one three pointer in 27 of his first 31 games at Ohio and this season he’ll look for his shot from the wing position. After transferring from Akron, Walther was used at the point most of last season but will now return to his more natural position and look for more open jumpers.
The concerns for the Bobcats reside at the point guard position. O’Shea will look to 6-0 Michael Allen, a JUCO transfer who’s a pass-first guard, and Bert Whittington (another JUCO). Whittington is more of a scoring threat and can fire it from deep with decent accuracy.
December 18 – at Georgia Tech
First Chris Bosh, then Jarrett Jack, then it was freshmen sensations Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young. Head coach Paul Hewitt has certainly had his share of early departures to overcome. This time he lost his co-leading scorers who both bolted early for the NBA. Hewitt was left with a lot of unanswered questions. Though he does have four quality seniors, there are also four freshmen. It all equals a lot of uncertainty in Hotlanta.
The season is young but the Yellow Jackets have nursed injuries to big man Zack Peacock, and Mo Miller. Now Georgia Tech takes to the road for 38-straight days. Yes, that’s right, you guessed it, Tech’s next home game happens to be KU on December 18. This team will be hungry to perform for a raucous home crowd.
Tech finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC in 2006-2007 but made the NCAA tournament. That may be a tall order for this year’s Yellow Jackets.
With all the freshmen making headlines across the country of course Hewitt has a stud of his own on the roster, 6-8 Gani Lawal. Lawal is from Norcross High School where he averaged over 18 points a game, and shot 73 percent from the floor. The Georgia high school standout is skilled in the paint and rebounds with a passion but his most impressive attributes are his athleticism and energy.
6-10 R’ashawn Dickey who was academically ineligible for the first semester returns to the lineup and provides another very capable post player for Hewitt. Senior Jeremis Smith is a strong forward and the captain of this team and will be one of the team’s top scorers and fiercest rebounder.
The aforementioned Zack Peacock enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign (5.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and is much improved.
6-10 junior Alade Aminu produced big-time at the end of last season but was slowed by a back injury over the summer. Aminu hopes to regain the momentum he had in the latter stages of last year.
6-5 Anthony Morrow, the Yellow Jackets top-returning scorer from a year ago, and is one of Tech’s best three-point shooters of all-time. Morrow will lead the team in emotion and likely scoring.
Lewis Clinch was slowed by academic difficulties last season but has returned to claim his spot in the lineup. Clinch is a terrific long range shooter and a player who can flat out score. Clinch and Morrow will make quite a threat from long range.
If Tech needs another long range scorer, waiting in the wings - no pun intended – is Lance Storrs, a 6-4 freshman out of Decatur, GA. Storrs has size and a ton of potential.
There’s plenty of help on the wings but where the Yellow Jackets seem to be missing that critical performer is at the point guard position. The solution is going to be 6-1 freshman Mo Miller or 6-0 senior transfer Matt Causey. Both these players are pass-first point guards who are not able to take over a game.
December 22 – Miami (Ohio)
Despite 14 losses last season Miami (Ohio) earned the MAC’s lone NCAA bid last year on a miracle shot. The Red Hawks put a scare into the Oregon Ducks before bowing out of the dance. That successful Miami team returns every players sans its top rebounder – Nathan Peavy.
You can count on one thing when you face the Red Hawks year-in and year-out – tough, hard-nosed defense. Miami was the only team in Division I college hoops last season to hold every opponent under 70 points and 18 of the Red Hawks’ opponents were held under 60 points.
Head coach Charlie Coles believes his challenging non-conference tilts are the key to his team’s success.
6-6 forward Tim Pollitz anchors the frontline and is the team’s leading returning scorer (16.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Pollitz drew his share of double-teams last season but is perfectly capable of finding the open man. It’s not just his interior skills that draw the attention of opposing defenses; he can also score from midrange. Pollitz is the team’s leading rebounder this season.
The center position will be by committee. Tyler Dierkers, who’s undersized at 6-8 and not a true center, will be asked to contribute on the glass, and 6-8 sophomore Adam Fletcher will also see time in the middle.
6-5 junior wing man Michael Bramos does the job at both ends of the floor. Bramos, on such a dominant defensive squad, is probably the team’s best defender. That’s high praise on a Charlie Coles coached team. The talented wing will see time at the shooting guard or the small forward, started the season shooting over 50 percent from the floor and is the team’s leading scorer at 24.2 ppg.
6-0 Alex Moosman will have to fight for the point guard spot this season. Moosman was forced into action last year after injuries and will need to perform to keep his job. Isiah Carson, a 6-1 junior transfer from St. Bonaventure will also contend for minutes.
Kenny Hayes is another one of Coles talented transfers expected to contribute. The guard was a JUCO All-American last season and can play the point or the shooting guard. Hayes can really stroke it from long range.
6-6 junior Eric Pollitz brings experience off the bench and uses his size to create matchup problems. Pollitz appeared in all 33 games last season.
December 29 – Yale
Yale head coach James Jones enjoyed a 10-4 mark in the Ivy League last season, the Bulldogs best mark in conference since the 2001-2002 season. Four starters return from that second place team and Jones expects to contend for league honors once again.
Yale doesn’t really have a dominant post player or a bonafide scorer but Jones’ team prides themselves on taking the smart, high percentage shot. The Bulldogs aren’t overly reliant on the three point shot and though the whole is greater than the sum of the parts this team will contend for an Ivy League title.
Yale is without frontcourt player Sam Kaplan who graduated but the Bulldogs do have a trio of veterans to help bolster the frontline.
Ross Morin, Matt Kyle, and Travis Pinick will provide the foundation of the rotation for Jones. Morin was third on the team in scoring a year ago (8.7 ppg) while Kyle stands 6-10 but has struggled with foul issues throughout his career. Pinick is much more versatile than the other two and is a 6-6 player who can play swing or who can dig deep down in the trenches at the power forward slot. Pinick finished 2006-2007 with 52 assists (third most on the team).
First-team All-Ivy League guard Eric Flato returns after averaging over 15 points a game last season and over 3.5 assists. Flato has been the driving force behind Yale’s improved play the last two seasons and the 6-1 captain is the only Bulldog to start every game in 2006-2007. Flato boasts a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55) that ranked third in the conference and his 71 three pointers was just one shy of the program’s single season mark.
Alexander Zampier is a 6-3 shooting guard and that’s where Jones hopes to use him this year. Zampier played the point at times last season but is much more suited to be a secondary ball-handler. Yale now has 6-1 Porter Braswell, a freshman who scored 1000 points in his high school career out of Scotch Plains, NJ.
On the wing, 6-6 senior Caleb Holmes started 22 games in 2006-2007 and is a decent shooter and best free throw shooter on the team. He has three point range and a solid assist-to-turnover-ratio.
Twin brother Nick averaged over 5 points a game last season to go along with 3.1 rebounds and shot over 40 percent from three.