Our third installment of Set Your Tivos brings us what I consider the first legitimate tournament of the season–the Maui Invitational. It’s your yearly chance to see some of the biggest names in college basketball rocking Hawaiian t-shirts or polos. You could argue that I’m just being nostalgic over the most shocking upset in NCAA history (that barely anybody saw live) except that the famous game actually happened a little less than 3 months before I was born. Anyways, onto our weekly countdown. . .
#10: Boston College vs. #10 Purdue, Wednesday at 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: I’m curious to see how one of the Big 10 co-favorites (along with Michigan State and now Michigan) will do against a middle to bottom of the pack Big East ACC team. This game is about getting some respect for the Big 10. If the Boilermakers don’t win this game easily, it could be a sign that we’re in for another season of really bad Big 10 basketball.
#9: Duquesne at #5 Duke; Friday at 3 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will still be November when they play this game so the Blue Devils should win this game even though they have struggled at times this year. One of the revelations from last week’s Coaches vs. Cancer was that Brian Zoubek may still be a stiff, but he is a tall one. Look for Coach K to try to get Zoubek involved as he may be a key for Duke if they want to advance deep into the NCAA tournament this year. (Hint: Don’t put Duke too far in your March Madness bracket).
#8: Maryland vs. #7 Michigan State, Thursday at 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This game seems more interesting on paper (program reputation) than it will be on the court (this year’s teams), but I’ll be tuned in to see what Tom Izzo actually has this season. The Spartans come in with a preseason #7 ranking, but got “UNLV-Duke 1990″ crushed by Memphis in their Sweet 16 match-up and have lost their floor general Drew Neitzel. This year’s Spartan team has the potential to make it to Detroit (for the Final 4–I can’t imagine why you would want to go there for any other reason), but they’ll have to step it up several levels from where they were last week (beating Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne by 11 in a game that was as close as the final margin indicates).
#7: UAB vs. #14 Oklahoma, Wednesday 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This game will be a match-up of potential All-Americans–Robert Vaden and Blake Griffin–although they won’t match-up against each other outside of the occasional switch off a screen. The Sooners looked like they were still basking in the glow of beating America’s sweetheart Davidson when they almost lost to Gardner-Webb although BIlly Gillispie may disagree. The thought here is that if Oklahoma could hold of Stephen Curry then they can do the same against Vaden.
#6: Saint Joseph’s vs. #8 Texas, Monday at 3 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Rick Barnes managed to get to the Elite 8 one year after losing national POY and the greatest freshman ever (I disagree with rtmsf) Kevin Durant. Now the question is how far he can get the Longhorns after losing All-American point guard D. J. Augustin. The early game of ESPN’s tripleheader will give us some insight into that. The Longhorns should win this one easily since Phil Martelli’s crew is in rebuilding mode (see their loss to Holy Cross), but the Hawks could show us some weaknesses that the Longhorns may have.
#5: Syracuse at #19 Florida, Monday at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Jim Boeheim will need big games out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf to pull off the upset tonight. Despite struggling to put away Richmond last week, the Orangemen have the potential to pull off the upset against Billy Donovan’s young squad especially after the loss of last year’s starting PG Jai Lucas. I’m assuming that the Gators will return to the NCAA tournament, but if they want to have a successful season (Sweet 16 trip), they will have to be able to beat teams of Syracuse’s caliber.
#4: Indiana vs. #9 Notre Dame, Monday at 5:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Our first look at Tom Crean’s new squad (Bruce Weber has already told us what he thinks of them). Unfortunately this game isn’t at Alumni Hall. It will be interesting to see how the Hooiser faithful react to Crean and his JV squad. I am imaging the scene out of Hooisers at town hall where they vote Norman Dale out before Jimmy Chitwood shows up and saves the day. Unfortunately, I don’t think Eric Gordon can come back to Bloomington with any eligibility to recreate this. Bottom line: The Golden Domers will have something to look forward to after pelting their football players with snowballs after another embarrassing loss.
#3: #6 Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech, Friday at 7:30 PM on HDNet: I’m guessing that Pat Knight’s boys won’t be putting up 167 tonight unless this game goes to 6 OTs. So far the Panthers have players compared to Shaq (DeJuan Blair) and Lebron (Sam Young) and that doesn’t even factor in Levance Fields, who may be the most important player on the roster. There is no question that Pittsburgh is the better team in this match-up, but I’ll be following this to see just how good the Panthers are and the Red Raiders have had a tendency to come up with big upsets early in the year.
#2: #3 Louisville vs. Western Kentucky, Sunday at 3 PM on Fox College Sports Atlantic: Our first good look at RTC pre-season bracketology national champion against some real competition. The Hilltoppers lost a lot in the backcourt (Courtney Lee, Ty Rogers, and Tyrone Brazelton), but they return a lot of experience in the frontcourt. If the Hilltoppers want to give Rick Pitino’s Cardinals a game they will need JUCO transfer Sergio Kerusch, Motlow State Community College transfer Anthony Sally, and Dejan Cvoro, a point guard from Serbia, to step up. I’m guessing that Western Kentucky will keep it close for the first 10 minutes before Louisville pulls away, but it should still be interesting to see just how good freshman Samardo Samuels is. If he is as good as advertised, Pitino may have a legitimate title contender.
#1: Oklahoma State vs. #11 Gonzaga, Thursday at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Mark Few comes into this year with his 2nd highest ranked team ever (7th in the 2005-2006 preseason poll) and one of the most talented teams he has ever had. While the Zags lack the superstar they had a few years ago in Adam Morrison, they are not lacking in talent (Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Austin Daye, and Josh Heytvelt). However, as the Zags have steadily moved up in the national conscience andthe regular season polls, they seem to have underperformed in the NCAA tournament. After losing to Cinderella (Davidson) in the first round last year, the Zags are hoping to bounce back and their first big test of the season will be against Travis Ford’s Cowboys. Ford has been quick to keep expectations realistic for his rookie season, but some experts have picked the Cowboys to be a surprise in the Big 12 despite their lack of interior play.