By Jon Rothstein
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THREE THINGS I LEARNED LAST WEEK
1. BRANDON TRICHE IS PLAYING THE BEST BASKETBALL OF HIS COLLEGE CAREER
And that’s good news for Syracuse. Unlike the first three years of his collegiate career when he was an ancillary piece to the Orange’s puzzle, Triche looks like he’s primed to be Syracuse’s go-to-guy as a senior. The 6-4 guard is healthier than he’s ever been and has a noticeable tightness to his dribble.Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told me during an October practice that he expects Triche to be a first-round pick in next June’s NBA Draft and after watching him early on it’s hard to argue. This is a legitimate candidate for Big East Player of the Year.
2. HARVARD IS STILL THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THE IVY LEAGUE
And we didn’t think we’d be writing that at all this season. The Crimson may have lost their two best players for the year in Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry but their system is proving it will keep them at the top of the standings in their conference. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has the Crimson playing stingy, hard nosed defense and if freshman point guard Siyani Chambers continues to show the poise and maturity he has early on then this team should be right back in position to return to the NCAA Tournament. The biggest key for Harvard? Sophomore big man Kenyatta Smith. The 6-8 Smith is the Crimson’s sole hope for a low post scorer — something they’ll desperately need during their arduous non-conference schedule which next features a trip to Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday.
3. THE HYPE SURROUNDING FLORIDA STATE’S PERIMETER WAS WARRANTED
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton raved all summer long about how much better offensively his back court would be this season and after their performance this past weekend at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center he appears to be right. During their two wins over both BYU and Saint Joseph’s, Florida State showed they have multiple options to score the ball alongside star guard Michael Snaer. Ian Miller looks exceptionally more comfortable off the ball at shooting guard and the two-headed monster of freshmen Montay Brandon of Devon Bookert appears to be working early at point guard. Keep an eye on Aaron Thomas. The first-year guard hasn’t went off yet but he’s got all the requisites to be a big time contributor before the season is over.
THREE THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEK
1. SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD’S DEBUT FOR UCLA MONDAY NIGHT AT THE BARCLAYS CENTER
The Bruins’ tilt with Georgetown in the Legends Classic was highly anticipated to begin with, but now the expectations are going to go right through the roof. Once the news came down that Muhammad, the number one freshman prospect in the country was cleared to play this season for UCLA, a number of things happened. First, it gives people a chance to see the player who could be the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Muhammad, a 6-6 lefty wing with an unbelievable motor is similar to current Houston Rockets star James Harden and should instantly propel the Bruins back into the nation’s elite. Second, it gives UCLA coach Ben Howland the chance to coach the team he put together with the hopes of restoring one of college basketball’s most fabled programs. Lastly, Muhammad will make every game he plays in an event — starting with Monday night at the Barclays Center. The newly minted arena has been terrific during the first two opening weekends of the season but it says here it will reach another level with Muhammad’s first ever college game on Monday.
2. THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS
The hype has been palpable surrounding this event for a while and this week we’ll finally see this dream tournament come to fruition. This year’s field in the Bahamas is beyond loaded and features eight teams that could conceivably make the NCAA Tournament. The opening round games are all off the charts and should take immediate precedent over watching the NFL or schmoozing with relatives on Thanksgiving Day. The four games set for Thursday in this field? Louisville–Northern Iowa, Missouri–Stanford, VCU–Memphis, and Duke–Minnesota. Enjoy!
3. USC’S PERFORMANCE IN THE MAUI INVITATIONAL
The Trojans were one of the more intriguing teams in the country entering the season and we should get a real feel for where they’re at after they play three games in Maui. USC opens with Illinois on Monday and then will likely play Texas Tuesday should they advance. The Maui Invitational has often been used as a springboard for teams to get momentum early in the season (see UConn two years ago) and we could see the same thing happening for the Trojans. USC coach Kevin O’Neill has put together an exceptionally deep roster that has nine or ten players that should average double figure minutes with regularity — and that type of depth should be enough for the Trojans to pick up one or two quality non-conference wins while they’re in Maui.
THIS AND THAT:
– We love everything about this week’s Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. The doubleheader on Wednesday night features a battle of two heavyweights in Michigan and Pitt as well as a showdown between upstart Delaware and Kansas State. While attendance for this event has been sparse in past years, we’re expecting a solid showing because of the four teams participating. The Wolverines and Panthers generally travel well and both have strong alumni bases in New York. Delaware should get a good deal of support considering their campus is only a two-hour drive from midtown and the Wildcats roster features three players with New York area ties in Omari Lawrence, Shane Southwell, and Jordan Henriquez.
– No team needs to pick up a victory this week more than Fordham. The Rams are off to an 0-3 start and will be without their best player Chris Gaston for the next month after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee late last week. Fordham will face Penn and Fairfield on Monday and Tuesday as part of the Preseason NIT and Rams coach Tom Pecora needs his team gets into the win column. Still remaining on Fordham’s non-conference schedule is games at Harvard, UConn, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, and Lehigh along with neutral site games against St. John’s and Princeton.
– We’re officially buying stock in Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard. The junior floor general is doing an unbelievable job getting his team into their offense early in the season. Through three games, Howard is averaging 8.3 assists and just two turnovers per contest. If this type of flawless point guard play continues for Maryland, Terps coach Mark Turgeon will have a team no one will want to play in February and March.
– If Temple big man Anthony Lee continues to produce like he has offensively, it’s going to do wonders for the Owls back court. Lee has made 12-of-14 field goals in Temple’s first two games and is giving his teammates a legitimate scoring threat on the interior. His progression will only enhance the abilities of the Owls talented perimeter duo of Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall.
– Boston College sophomore forward Ryan Anderson is a match up nightmare. The 6-8 stretch four-man can beat opponents inside and out and has a calmness about himself that you don’t see in most second-year players. Anderson looked like a first-round pick against Baylor in the Charleston Classic this past weekend and torched the Bears for 25 points and six rebounds. This is a spinning image of former NBA star Scott Padgett, who starred at Kentucky during the late 1990s.
– Loyola red shirt freshman Tyler Hubbard is officially a factor for the Greyhounds. Hubbard is a legitimate double figure scoring threat off the bench and should give Loyola a fourth option behind Dylon Cormier, Erik Etherly, and Robert Olson. Greyhounds coach Jimmy Patsos may not have the type of interior depth he enjoyed last season when he took his team to the NCAA Tournament but one thing is clear —- the MAAC goes through Baltimore.
– Oregon is now a team to watch in the PAC-12 with the addition of Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. Many people close to the Ducks program believe Kazemi could wind up being this team’s best player once he gets more acclimated to Oregon coach Dana Altman’s system. The 6-7 Kazemi has double-double potential and will be a pivotal piece if the Ducks are to have a chance to upset UNLV later in the week at the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas. You can watch the tournament on CBS Sports Network starting on Friday night. Cincinnati and Iowa State are the other two teams in the field.
– Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said this was going to be a breakout season for junior wing Jarell Eddie and so far he’s right. The 6-7 Eddie is scoring (14.3 PPG) and rebounding (9.3) more actively than he ever has in his Hokies career and continues to be an accurate three-point shooter (41.2%). If Eddie continues to play at this type of a level, Virginia Tech will have a perimeter that should be able to match up with anyone in the ACC with Eddie, Erick Green, and Robert Brown.
– Rutgers coach Mike Rice said sophomore guard Eli Carter will be eventually return to the Scarlet Knights starting lineup after coming off the bench during the past two games. The 6-2 Carter is one of the better guards in the Big East but needs to be more of an on court leader if Rutgers is to make a jump in the conference standings. Carter has averaged 20 points per game in the two outings he’s been used as a reserve. The 2-1 Scarlet Knights host Boston University on Tuesday.
– Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon is out until at least December while he recovers from knee surgery. The bouncy Maymon is an All-SEC caliber player and one of the main reasons why Tennessee was such a trendy pick in the conference heading into the season. Both Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan told me in the preseason that they felt the Vols could win the SEC and one of the main reasons was Maymon. A terrific offensive rebounder with a great motor, Maymon takes immense pressure off Tennessee star Jarnell Stokes and also allows Kenny Hall to return to a role he’s more comfortable in as a reserve.
SET THE DVR:
MONDAY: UCLA VS. GEORGETOWN, BUTLER VS. MARQUETTE, USC VS. ILLINOIS, SAINT LOUIS VS. TEXAS A & M, LONG BEACH STATE AT ARIZONA
TUESDAY: MAUI INVITATIONAL SEMIFINALS, LEGENDS CLASSIC FINALS, DEPAUL VS. WICHITA STATE
WEDNESDAY: DELAWARE VS. KANSAS STATE, PITT VS. MICHIGAN, MAUI INVITATIONAL FINALS
THURSDAY: VCU VS. MEMPHIS, DREXEL VS. SAINT MARY’S, DUKE VS. MINNESOTA, UTEP VS. OKLAHOMA
Will you be locked in to Shabazz’s debut? Let us know in the comments below…