Gearing Up For 2007-08
Memphis, USC headline some of the best early-season matchups next season
Aug. 23, 2007
By Josh Herwitt
A little less than three months still stand between now and the start of the college basketball season, but as students return to campus over the next few weeks, the preseason buzz will be back in the air, especially by the start of November when the polls come out and the preseason tournaments start just before Turkey Day.
And while many schools have yet to finalize their 2007-08 schedules, there are already several non-conference meetings that stand out before the New Year even arrives.
With that being said, here are some of the real eye-catchers early on that highlight the upcoming season.
Nov. 12-23: NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament
After watching A.J. Graves lead mighty Butler past the likes of Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga in last year's tournament, the 2007 field features 16 teams from across the board, starting in the East Regional with Syracuse meeting Siena and St. Joseph's facing Fairleigh Dickinson. Out West, Washington will host New Jersey Institute of Technology while the second game pits Utah against High Point. Action in the Midwest Regional hits the Ohio State campus with the Buckeyes taking on Wisconsin-Green Bay and Ivy League foe Columbia butting heads with Delaware State. Meanwhile down South, Mid-Continent champion Oral Roberts, now playing in the Summit League without the low-post presence of three-time Mid-Con Player of the Year Caleb Green, visits Big 12 contender Texas A&M, and UTEP, after ending its season in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament, wrestles with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in College Station.
Nov. 19-21: EA Sports Maui Invitational
Now in its 24th year, the Maui Invitational returns to the Lahaina Civic Center as one of college basketball's premiere preseason tournaments with three teams from last year's NCAA Tournament field. First-round action tips off with Chaminade taking on a Marquette team that brings back All-American point man Dominic James (14.9 ppg and 4.9 apg in 2006) and Second Team All-Big East honoree Jerel McNeal (14.7 ppg and 4.8 rpg) after last season's first-round tournament blunder to Michigan State. LSU vs. Oklahoma State will follow that opening game, while three-time champion Duke, who remains a perfect 9-0 at the Maui Invitational, returns to face Princeton in the evening session and will play either Arizona State or Illinois in the following round.
Nov. 21-24: Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout
The Great Alaska Shootout will be making its 30th appearance at Alaska Anchorage's Sullivan Arena over the Thanksgiving weekend as the eight-team bracket features four schools that reached the NCAA Tournament last season, including Sweet 16 participant Butler. All-American sweet-shooting point guard A.J. Graves leads the Bulldogs after a junior campaign that produced 16.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists during a breakout season for the Indianapolis school. Meanwhile, another pack of Bulldogs will be hitting the hardwood there as well, but these hounds will be coming from Spokane, Wash., where Gonzaga coach Mark Few has molded a once-Cinderella school into a NCAA Tournament lock the past nine seasons. With Butler and Gonzaga representing two of the better teams in the tournament, it will be interesting to see how these former mid-majors fair against BCS-conference schools Michigan, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech that will also be in attendance.
Nov. 27: Wisconsin at Duke (Big Ten-ACC Challenge)
If you like watching two great coaches hard at work, then this is the game for you. After last season's disappointing finish in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against VCU, Mike Krzyzewski will have the Blue Devils back up to speed with guards DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson returning and a talented freshman trio in Taylor King, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith ready to spark an offense that vanished at times last season. On the other end of the court, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan is as good as any coach in the country in getting more out of less. And while both teams will be missing some key components with Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker and All-American center Josh McRoberts now in the NBA, the Badgers and Blue Devils are sure to compete for their respective conference titles, so don't think the Cameron crazies won't be excited when the two schools tip off on Coach K Court.
Dec. 1: North Carolina at Kentucky
If Billy Gillispie was hoping to return Kentucky back to national prominence after a 2006 campaign that ended with a loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament second round, the former Texas A&M coach couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. Although the Tar Heels won't be able to rely on the services of Brandan Wright anymore, Roy Williams will be able to take comfort in the fact that he has a Player of the Year candidate in junior forward Tyler Hansbrough along with sophomore floor leader Ty Lawson and emerging forward Deon Thompson, who spent the summer leading the U.S. U19 World Championship Team to a silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Serbia. With North Carolina as a likely pick to stand atop the preseason polls, all of Lexington would love nothing more than to see the Wildcats score a major upset over the Tar Heels at Rupp Arena.
Dec. 2: Kansas at USC (Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series)
The Jayhawks are coming off a season that saw them capture a Big 12 championship and reach the Elite Eight before falling to Pac-10 champ UCLA, but if Bill Self hopes to see his team take that next step toward an appearance Final Four, there's no better way than to start the season than against two dangerous Pac-10 contenders in Arizona (Nov. 25 in Lawrence) and USC. The Wildcats, with a big shot-maker in super sophomore Chase Budinger, are hungry to prove that they were better than last season's first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, though it may be USC who will provide the Jayhawks with an even better test in the inaugural Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series. With Self bringing back arguably the deepest and most talented team in Player of the Year candidate Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers, the Trojans will have all they can handle. But with a talent like O.J. Mayo starring in front of a sold-out Galen Center -- something that doesn't happen too often at a national football power like USC -- Trojans fans might be thinking it's like every other Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum.
Dec. 4: Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden
Game 1: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
Viewers will get an early look at Michael Beasley, who has rivaled both UCLA's Kevin Love and USC's O.J. Mayo for the most recruiting press coming into the 2007-08 season. Now with Billy Walker returning to play along side the Upper Marlboro, Md. native, the Wildcats have one of the best young scoring duos in the country. That should provide a daunting challenge for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, and coming off a loss to No. 11 seed Winthrop in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Fighting Irish will certainly have their work cut out for them this season.
Game 2: USC vs. Memphis
Less than 48 hours after the Trojans face off against Kansas in sunny Southern California, the cameras will be flashing under the bright New York City lights as O.J. Mayo makes his first appearance in the Big Apple against a Memphis team stacked from top to bottom. And if Mayo thought Kansas was a tough matchup, just wait until he meets the Tigers in front of packed house at Madison Square Garden. Following a perfect 16-0 finish in conference play last season and two straight Eight Elite finishes, Memphis coach John Calipari now has all the pieces in place, including a 2007-08 non-conference schedule loaded with big game after big game, to make a legitimate run at the national championship in March.
Dec. 8: Kentucky at Indiana
Two traditional blue bloods meet in the heart of America's basketball state for a non-conference bout that is sure to have Assembly Hall electric and filled to the brim. But for as much veteran talent as both teams have in D.J. White and Joe Crawford, this one could be more about showcasing the youth that each the Wildcats and Hoosiers possess coming into the season. After all, Eric Gordon, with his ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, should provide a major boost for Hoosier coach Kelvin Sampson, while Patrick Patterson, who played his high school ball in Huntington, W. Va. with O.J. Mayo, could prove to be a low-post force with an aggressive game and big frame. And if Kentucky doesn't happen to score an upset over North Carolina the previous weekend, the Wildcats will want to salvage a quality win on the road against a highly-ranked opponent in Indiana.
Dec. 22: Georgetown at Memphis
If all goes according to plan, both teams could be undefeated by the time the two meet in Memphis for this much-anticipated showdown. Seven-foot-3 center Roy Hibbert returns to Georgetown for his senior campaign after testing the NBA draft market and many believe he'll be even better than he was in 2006 when he finished second on the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game and pulled down a team-high 6.9 rebounds. While he struggled at times last season to assert himself into John Thompson III's Princeton-style offense, Hibbert will have to play a physical, bump-and-grind game against the Tigers if he hopes to go toe to toe with Memphis' Joey Dorsey. But it would be a mistake for Memphis to forget about Georgetown's underrated supporting cast, as Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers make the Hoyas a viable Final Four contender once again in 2007-08.
Dec. 29: Tennessee vs. Gonzaga at Key Arena
After a season that saw the Vols almost knock off NCAA runner-up Ohio State twice, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will venture far away from home for an early-season test in Seattle when Tennessee meets perennial West Coast Conference favorite Gonzaga. The Bulldogs won't have Derek Raivio in the backcourt running the offense, but Mark Few has to like seeing Josh Heytvelt back in the middle of the paint after the Bulldogs' leading scorer was forced to leave the team midway through conference play last year for a felony drug possession charge. If All-American senior Chris Lofton struggles to find his rhythm early on, it could be a long day for UT with Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin and Micah Downs all expected to play bigger roles for the Zags.
Other matchups to watch in 2007-08: Arizona at Kansas, Nov. 25; Oregon at Kansas State, Nov. 29; Texas A&M at Arizona, Dec. 2; Texas at UCLA, Dec. 2; Texas at Michigan State, Dec. 22; Tennessee at Xavier, Dec. 22; Arizona at Memphis, Dec. 29; Gonzaga at Memphis, Jan. 26; UConn at Indiana, Jan. 26; Tennessee at Memphis, Feb. 23.