Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Signs of the Off Season #2 -- ESPN Feeds That Jones With 24 Hours of Basketball

Circle the Dates
ESPN returns with another basketball marathon to kick off the 2010-11 season. Their timing, for the announcement, was brilliant, catching the public at one of the lowest points in the off season. The summer leagues are winding down, mostly concentrating on championships and all-star games through the last two or so weeks of August, even as the FIBA World Championship participants ramp up with Exhibitions, Festivals and mini-tournaments in preparation for the FIBA Championship pool play that started on August 28. The early season invitationals (particularly the NIT Tip-Off and CBE Classic tourneys) have announced and seeded their fields and gotten down to the work of posting their first round matchups. A number of those invitational games will fill out ESPN's marathon schedule; unveiling the individual game schedule for this season's marathon was a natural next step. Having moved quietly into the early season invitational "marketspace" with the Old Spice Classic, the 76 Classic, the Paradise Jam and a few other exotic destination tournaments, the Worldwide Leader made a bold move by using it's broadcast clout to put together a 24 hour continuous event in 2008. Targeted at young (college-age and young at heart?) males (who else would even think of attempting to consuming enough coffee to watch 18-20 basketball games?) 2010 is the third annual installment.

By the Numbers
ESPN plans approximately 26 hours of basketball that includes 20 games between separate 40 teams (38 men's teams and two women teams) to commence at midnight Tuesday November 16, and conclude at approximately 1:30am Wednesday November 17. Perk a lot of coffee. For the men's teams...

Am East1Horizon1
A-102St. Joe's TBDMAC3
Atl Sun1BelmontMVC1
Big 122MWC1
Big East3NEC2
Big Ten42 TBDsPac-101UCLA
Big West*1Pacific?SEC3
Great West1No. Dakota TBDWAC*2Nevada?

* -- Nevada and Pacific play a first round NIT game. The winner will appear in the Marathon versus UCLA in the West Pod NIT Tip Off second round game.
Do not pout if your favorite conference only has one representative in the season-opening celebration. Consider yourself luckier than fans of the Big Sky, Big South, Ivy, MEAC, OVC, Patriot League, Sourthern Conference, South Land, SWAC and the Sun Belt conferences, none of whom had any representative team in the festivities. Pacific from the Big West Conference has to beat Nevada (of the WAC) to claim their spot in the limelight -- an 11:30 pm rendezvous with UCLA on Tuesday night. The Great West's North Dakota, Saint Joseph's of the Atlantic-10 and two Big Ten teams (Penn State and Wisconsin) are paired for games, but no times announced as of Monday August 16. The Official Press Release also notes that at least 21 conferences will have at least a single representative team, that eight of Andy Katz's Top 10 teams will have their opening games televised, that two of last season's Final Four teams and two of last season's Elite Eight teams have televised games and that St. John's new Head Coach, Steve Lavin, will have his Johnnies' coach debut televised. It might be easier to focus on who is not in the event, but credit had to go to ESPN's clout for mixing as many early season above versus below "The Red Line" match-ups with a smattering of above-onlies and below-onlies games. Ohio State and Florida have little incentive (except TV money...) to stake their reputations so early in the season. Especially credit Florida, Miami and St. John's for agreeing to take their spots as visitors, an uncommon role this early in the season.

Of Interest to the Big East Faithful
Only three Big East teams will get television time, but conference fans should be interested on how these three compare in their first game...

All Games Tuesday 11/16/2010
TimeHostVisitorTV Coverage
2:00 AMSt. Mary's (WCC)St. John's (Big East)ESPN/
5:30 PMVillanova (Big East)Marist (MAAC)ESPNU
8:00 PMLouisville (Big East)Butler (Horizon)ESPN/

St. John's at St. Mary's -- Coach Lavin's debut, and this one will be on the West Coach where the coach is a familiar face from his days in UCLA's first chair (and the ESPN broadcast booth). The Gaels ran to the Sweet Sixteen in last season's NCAAs after putting a monumental 81-62 beating on conference powerhouse Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Final. The Gaels return about 2/3s of their minutes and only 55% of their points from that 2010 squad while the Johnnies return nearly 90% of their minutes and points from last season's NIT squad. The Gaels graduated three front court mainstays, two of whom logged significant minutes. The front court is the Red Storm's strength. Both programs are hungry and will look to this game as a launching pad to bigger and better things. This should be a good preview for these two programs.
Marist at Villanova -- The Post Scottie Reynolds Era begins here. Wildcat (and Big East) fans have to be curious on how these 'Cats will attack the basket and (most of all) defend. The Wildcats' freshman front court player, Jayvaughn Pinkston, may see some floor time if the 'Cats open and maintain a comfortable scoring edge.
Butler at Louisville -- The Cardinals unveil their new digs in downtown Louisville, the KFC Yum! Center, for this game. Both teams lose key personnel from last season's editions, but Butler may have lost a bit more.

Of Interest to the Big 5
Although Jon Tannenwald over at Soft Pretzel Logic Blog posted the days/times on Monday, I thought these were worth repeating with comments...

All Games Tuesday 11/16/2010
TimeHostVisitorTV Coverage
2:00 PMBaylor (Big 12)La Salle (A-10)ESPN/
5:30 PMVillanova (Big East)Marist (MAAC)ESPNU
TBDPenn State (Big Ten)Saint Joseph's (A-10)

La Salle at Baylor -- Dr. Giannini's Explorers travel to Waco, Texas to take on a very difficult Baylor team. The Bears had a 28-8 record in 2010 and ran to the Elite Eight before being eliminated by (eventual) Champion Duke, 78-71. Baylor returns several big contributors to last season's success, LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy and Nolan Dennis to man the #2, #4 and #1 respectively. La Salle returns...Aaric Murray, a #4, Jerrell Williams and red shirt senior #1/#2 Ruben Guillandaux. La Salle will unveil two freshmen candidates for the point, Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills, along with a possible #2 in Cole Stefan. This will be a good first look at the Explorer squad for 2011.
Saint Joseph's at Penn State -- The Hawks will travel to State Park to take on the Nittany Lions on their home court. Coach Martelli boasts an excellent freshman class -- rated a Top 20 class by Maxpreps -- but will they have enough to beat the Nits? Probably not.

Of Interest to a Basketball Junkie...
Looking through the remaining games, I found five pretty interesting match-ups...

All Games Tuesday 11/16/2010
TimeHostVisitorTV Coverage
12:00 AMMemphis (CUSA)Miami FL (ACC)ESPN/
10:00 AMSo. Illinois (MVC)Northeastern (CAA)ESPN/
6:00 PMFlorida (SEC)Ohio State (Big Ten)ESPN/
11:00 PMGonzaga (WCC)San Diego St (MWC)ESPN/
11:30 PMUCLA (Pac-10)Nevada or PacificESPNU

Miami (FLA) at Memphis -- the usual script would call for Memphis to visit Miami, or at least meet on a neutral court. Miami finished dead last in the ACC last season, but returns almost 60% of their 2010 minutes on a squad that will be dominated by sophomores and juniors. The 'Canes are projected to move up in the ACC this season, this game should be a preview of their prospects. Memphis has a telegenic young coach in Josh Pastner who has assembled a recruiting class that might be described as Kentucky-Lite. Only returning 30% of the team from last season (a single starter plus roation players)? No problem, the entering class includes 6-6 #2 guard Will Barton (#8 per Scout, Inc.), 6-0 #1 guard Joe Jackson (#21), 6-5 #2/#3 Jelan Kendrick (#44) and 6-8 #4 Tarik Black (#59). There are another three prospects plus a JUCO I did not list. Villanova fans will get another look at guard Malcolm Grant, a 2008 transfer who will begin his second season as a Hurricane.
Northeastern at Southern Illinois -- Fifth year Coach Bill Coen's Huskies will travel to Carbondale, Illinois to take on the Salukies of Southern Illinois. Northeastern, holders of a 20-13 record and an NIT bid in 2010 will feature All-CAA guard Chaisson Adams, who averaged 13.5 points per game for the Huskies. Northeastern returns a nucleus that includes two starters from their 2010 squad, along with three of their significant contributors from their rotation. Coach Chris Lowry turned over the roster in the off season, losing a senior to graduation and four sophomores and a freshman to transfer from a squad that logged a 15-15 record (6-12 in MVC play). He brings in seven newcomers, three freshmen (two red shirt freshmen) to go with four JUCOs who will complement a roster that returned two starters and three rotation players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game in 2010. Three deep bench players also return to a team projectd by RTC to finish 6th in the MVC in 2011.
Ohio State at Florida -- According to the Basketball Junkie, Ohio State will place 3rd next season as Coach Thad Matta brings in a highly rated recruiting class, possibly the best in the Big Ten. Florida may have broken their disappointing run of NIT bids with an NCAA bid in 2010, but, as RTC RTC projects, the Gators return all five starters for 2011, along with a promising class of recruits. This squad should be able to go toe-to-toe with Kentucky and Tennessee for the conference title, so this game is one of those rare early season match-ups that features two excellent candidates for high seeds in the NCAA Tournament in March 2011.
San Diego State at Gonzaga -- The Zags are not used to sharing the WCC limelight, but a 20 point whipping in the WCC championship game and they find St. Mary's getting the lead off spot in the Marathon. Like St. Mary's, they get to host, but they draw an assignment every bit as tough as the Gaels in the Aztecs of San Diego State from the Mountain West Conference. The Zags return about 66% of their 2010 minutes along with 68% of those points. They also lost Matt Bouldin's floor leadership, so the seniors will have to step up. San Diego State returns all five starters along with many of their 2010 rotation players, 82% of their minutes and 83% of their points in all from a team that put a 25-9 record on the books in 2010. The match-up pits Steve Fisher and Mark Few two of the more experienced and successful coaches in Divison 1.
Nevada/Pacific winner at UCLA -- I wrote about the possibilities coming out of the West Region in earlier post. UCLA returns comparatively few minutes and points (53.4% & 52.3%) from a team that last season was, according to Pomeroy and RPI, ranked #3 in the four team pod. Nevada returns about 12% of last season's minutes, but Pacific returns 2/3s of their minutes and 70% of their points. The game may be more competitive than a quick glance might suggest.

Thoughts and Notes
Let's hope Ray Floriani can catch one of the early east coast games (Stony Rrook at Monmouth perhaps?), and give the fans another terrific write-up.
Alex Verone over at Basketball Daily provides a thumbnail preview of every game.
College Hoops Journal also provides a post with a bit more background on the event.

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