By Jon Rothstein
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Early season tournaments will headline this weekend in college hoops but we’ve identified five under the radar games to keep an eye on.
MANHATTAN AT HARVARD
Crimson coach Tommy Amaker had to be pleased with how his young team played in Tuesday’s loss at UMass. Despite the defeat, Harvard showed a strong commitment to defense and appears to have found a real jewel in freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. The lefty floor general was terrific against the Minutemen (14 points, seven assists, one turnover) and will be going against one of the best play makers in the MAAC in Manhattan junior Mike Alvarado. Jaspers coach Steve Masiello has put together an arduous non-conference schedule after last year’s 21 win campaign and Friday night’s tilt in Cambridge will be a real test for his team. We expect Manhattan to play well but ultimately fall just short.
PREDICTION: HARVARD 70, MANHATTAN 66
NORTH CAROLINA AT LONG BEACH STATE
This game was originally scheduled so David and Travis Wear could have a game back in their native California during their senior years at North Carolina. As we all know, they transferred and now play at UCLA. Still, it’s a class move by North Carolina coach Roy Williams to uphold this agreement. The Tarheels will head to Maui after they finish with Long Beach State and it will be interesting to see how this young group responds in what should be an extremely hostile environment. North Carolina sophomore forward James Michael-McAdoo looks like an ACC Player of the Year candidate but his supporting cast is still finding their way. The 49ers have a legitimate star in crafty wing James Ennis and he’ll keep his team close — but ultimately not close enough.
PREDICTION: NORTH CAROLINA 78, LONG BEACH STATE 71
FLORIDA VS. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE IN TAMPA
The Gators were beyond impressive in their win on Wednesday night against Wisconsin but their showdown on against the Blue Raiders shouldn’t be taken lightly. Middle Tennessee State is a legitimate threat in the Sun Belt and has two solid senior guards in Bruce Massey and Marcos Knight. Florida coach Billy Donovan has the type of balance he had when he won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007 — we think that will ultimately be the difference in this one.
PREDICTION: FLORIDA 71, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 62
RICHMOND AT MINNESOTA
Gophers coach Tubby Smith said before the season that this Minnesota team is the deepest squad he’s had in his coaching career and if that turns out to be true, they’tr is going to be a nuisance to play in the Big Ten. Bouncy forward Rodney Williams looks like he’s set for an All-Big Ten type season and Joe Coleman appears set for a breakout year as a sophomore. Richmond meanwhile isn’t mentioned among the elite teams in the Atlantic 10 but the Spiders have a solid core of veterans in Kendall Anthony, Darien Brothers, and Derrick Williams. It says here the Richmond will play well and have a strong showing in their first legitimate test of the season.
PREDICTION: MINNESOTA 68, RICHMOND 64
BELMONT AT STANFORD
All coaches mutter three words when someone brings up Belmont —- “do not schedule”. The Bruins have annually become a mid-major power under Rick Byrd and have a strong perimeter this season with Kerron Johnson, Ian Clark, and J.J. Mann. The problem though? Stanford big man Dwight Powell. The junior is on an absolute tear and looks primed to become one of the better interior players in the PAC-12. Through two games, Powell is averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds — he’ll ultimately be the deciding factor in what should be a quality win for the Cardinal.
PREDICTION: STANFORD 75, BELMONT 68
What’s your hidden gem? Let Jon know in the comments below…