Breaking Down The Pac-12 Preseason Exempt Events: Part TwoPosted by AMurawa on October 23rd, 2012
Last week we took a look at the early season exempt events that the Oregon and Washington schools would be participating in this season. Today we’ll take a look at the Arizona schools and, for lack of a better term, the Rockies’ schools, breaking down where they’re going, who they’ll potentially be facing and what impact their successes or failures in those tournaments can have on the rest of their season.
Colorado – Charleston Classic, November 15-18, TD Arena, Charleston, SC
The fifth annual Charleston Classic is not exactly brimming over with great teams, but Colorado lucked out in the draw with an opening round matchup with one of the better teams in the tourney – Dayton – followed by possible matchups with a pair of other teams – Baylor and Murray State – who could be nice scalps for the Buffs, if they’re able to earn them. Of course, the downside of all that is that CU is a team that features six freshmen alongside a pair of sophomore guards, so if the young squad isn’t ready to go from the time the season tips off, they could dig themselves an early hole. To begin with, they absolutely need to take care of business against a promising and experienced Flyers team in the opener. And that starts with game-planning to slow the Dayton’s excellent senior point guard, Kevin Dillard. Last year Tad Boyle’s club did a solid job of limiting dribble penetration from opposing guards, and they’ll need to do the same in this match-up. If they can take care of that battle, expect Andre Roberson, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson to out-athlete UD up front on the way to the winner’s bracket. Next up could be a rematch with Baylor, the team that ended the Buffs’ season last year, and another challenge for the CU guards, this time in the form of senior point guard Pierre Jackson. And there are decent odds that if somehow the Buffs get on through that challenge, they’ll have another highly regarded point man to face in the finals, in the form of Isaiah Canaan of Murray State. Of those three potential opponents for the Buffs, Baylor will do the most to challenge them along the front line, but by the time Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, we should have a pretty good idea what that CU backcourt is made up of.
Utah – Utah Thanksgiving Tournament, November 21-24, Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, UT
In lieu of any of the more traditional exempt events, the Utes will be hosting their own tournament in a round robin format with Central Michigan, Idaho State and Wright State the other participants. To be honest, this is not an appealing event in the slightest. Central Michigan is coming off an 11-21 season that led to a coaching change and three transfers. Idaho State was even worse, finishing last year 9-21 but matching the Chippewas’ coaching change and transfers step for step. Wright State had its worst season in a decade in Billy Donlon’s second year, losing 11 of their last 15 on the way to a 13-19 disappointment. Better yet, the Raiders saw four transfers bail on the program, with a fifth opting for early graduation. So, to put it mildly, Utah is not expecting to be embarrassed in front of its home crowd on this holiday weekend. While it may not make for a ton of compelling basketball, it may be just what a Ute team that is bouncing back from its own nightmare season needs. The home folks can get a chance to get real familiar with all the new faces on their roster over the span of a few days, and better yet, they should get a chance to see those new guys have some success and leave the court smiling.
Arizona State – Las Vegas Invitational, November 23-24, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV
The meat of the Las Vegas Invitational this year takes place on the Friday and Saturday nights of Thanksgiving weekend, but prior to that the Sun Devils will get in a couple warm-up games, against Florida A&M (November 18) and Cornell (November 20) in front of their own fans. If ASU is as improved as we expect they’ll be, they should show up in Vegas with a comfortable 3-0 record. That’s where things get interesting. First up, they’ll face Arkansas on Friday afternoon, a nice even match-up that should give the Sun Devils their first good challenge of the season. The Razorbacks don’t look like world-beaters by any means, but Mike Anderson does get to roll out talented guys like Marshawn Powell, B.J. Young and Madracus Wade. Powell is attempting to bounce back from a season lost to a knee injury, but he’s a very talented front line guy who seems born to play in Anderson’s hyper-kinetic style. Meanwhile, the backcourt of Young and Wade will give the much-anticipated Sun Devil backcourt of Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon a very serious challenge. Regardless of the outcome of the semifinals, ASU is assured of another challenge on the Saturday schedule, as Creighton and Wisconsin are on the other side of the bracket. How, exactly, tournament organizers did not attempt to finagle their way into a Blue Jay/Badger championship game is beyond me, but that’s the way it is. While Wiscy could be without Mike Bruesewitz at this time and will still be adjusting to life post-Jordan Taylor, expect nothing less than the typical hard-nosed Bo Ryan Badger squad. Meanwhile, Creighton features All-American forward Doug McDermott and three other returning starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. It is likely that, regardless of who the Devils wind up facing, they’ll be underdogs in both of their games. What’s more, it is quite possible that ASU could play well over the weekend and still come away with a pair of losses. The success of this team on this weekend should not, ultimately, be measured in terms of wins and losses, but in the progress the team shows, how they compete against talented opponents, and how these games prepare them for conference play.
Arizona – Diamond Head Classic, December 22-25, Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI
The Wildcats may be the last team in the conference to get to their exempt event out of the way, but they’ll have much of the college basketball stage to themselves around Christmas in Honolulu. By the time UA heads over the Pacific, we should have a pretty good idea what this team is made of, but they’ll have some chances to beef up their resume. They’ll get things started with a solid East Tennessee State program that has been good historically but who likely can’t compete with the big bad ‘Cats this year. Assuming they advance to the winner’s bracket, they’ll face either Miami (FL) or the host school, Hawai’i. The Hurricanes are the better team and the likely opponent, but you can’t put anything past a team playing on its home court. If it’s Miami, the ‘Cats will face a team with plenty of size, plenty of backcourt quickness and enough offensive firepower to make things really tough. Up front, the senior combination of Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble will give no quarter to the Wildcats much ballyhooed group of young ‘uns, while perimeter guys like Durand Scott, Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney-Jones will if this version of the UA perimeter defense can live up to Sean Miller’s tough standards. Assuming UA can scrap past Miami, they should have either San Diego State or Mississippi waiting in the championship game. Neither of those would be a walk in the park, but a match-up with the experienced Aztecs’ backcourt and their young and athletic frontcourt (which by this point in the season will feature a newly eligible James Johnson) would be the type of game we could see in late March. With conference play just a flip of the calendar away at the point of the year, expect all of the teams in this tournament to be rounding into shape. If the bracket falls the way it looks like it could, Arizona could be in for a pair of seriously intense battles.