Men's Basketball Preseason Tournament Game Breakdowns - November 13

Preseason Breakdown: November 13
Worth a Watch, but Not Elite:
Long Beach State vs. Wichita State-8 PM ET (ESPN3) Battle 4 Atlantis
The game of the day also just happens to be one of the few games on this version of the list to not be featured on national TV. And while that can certainly be annoying for some, this game will be available online through WatchESPN on ESPN3. It’s not the only good game being offered today, but this early Battle 4 Atlantis tilt should teach us a heck of a lot about both of these top 75 teams. And really, as I have learned time and time again year in and year out; even the biggest college fans and maniacs still have a ton to learn about every team, no matter how much you prepared. Just look at Tennessee State; I had them outside my top 250 to begin the season and have now rattled off two neutral court wins against (apparent) top 200 teams in UC Davis and Northern Arizona.
Anyways, looking at this game, an upset doesn’t seem very likely. Wichita State, at home, is one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. Yes, they’ve lost a lot of talent, but the important piece, head coach Gregg Marshall, is what makes the machine run. That was evident in the team’s opening day dismantling of SC State. The Shockers won that game by more than 40 points (85-39) and featured a more balanced attack than what we have been used to in the past. This makes sense, as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, the team’s obvious two best players from the past four seasons, have finally graduated. Markis McDuffie figures to be “the guy” for Wichita this season, and posted a solid stat line of 11 points and 7 rebounds in just 16 minutes in the opener. The biggest surprise had to be junior center Rauno Nurger. The guy has been a role player for the past two seasons, but went off for 14 points in 16 minutes. Bottom line: this is once again a smart, efficient, and hardworking (especially on the defensive end) team. LBSU is going to have a hard time matching Wichita down low, but this backcourt, comprised of Justin Bibbins and LMU transfer Evan Payne, is something special. Again, an upset doesn’t seem likely, but I think a blowout would be even more surprising than the former. Great game here.
The Mid-Card:
Holy Cross vs. South Carolina-6 PM ET (SEC Network) Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational
Although it doesn’t feature as much downright talent as the game above, this 6 PM ET clash between the Holy Cross Crusaders and South Carolina Gamecocks figures to be the more competitive of the two. Holy Cross, the surprise NCAA Tournament team of 2015-16, returns pretty much every guy that stepped on the floor last season. Led by Robert Champion (12 ppg) and Malachi Alexander (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), this is a well-rested and extremely dangerous team for any squad to face, home or away. To make matters worse for South Carolina, this is the opener for the Crusaders; while South Carolina already has a grueling matchup with Louisiana Tech under its belt. The good news: South Carolina looked pretty darn capable in that game. The squad only won by nine points against a below-average LT team, but some rock solid individual performances should have South Carolina fans excited once again. The most notable is undoubtedly the play of senior guard Sindarius Thornwell. It seems like just yesterday I was watching Thornwell in his freshman season and thinking: “this guy could go pro.” And while his career hasn’t turned out the way many would think, it looks like he is finally ready to lead this Gamecocks to contention in the SEC. The stud went off for 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in the opener; while also shooting 50% (2-4) from deep, an area he has struggled in in the past. Three other Gamecocks (Duane Notice, PJ Dozier, Chris Silva) also scored in double figures. It shows me that this team isn’t going to be quite as deep as last year’s NIT team, but the top four or five players are here to ball. If HC comes out flat, this one could be over quickly. Either way, it should be a fun one.
Mercer vs. Florida-8 PM ET (ESPNU) Jacksonville Showcase No. 2
There were two different opening nights for these two squads. Mercer enjoyed a demolition against a D3 opponent, holding the hapless Brewton-Parker to just 59 points. That was fine, but then look at what Florida did. The Gators went up against a tough, veteran team in the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. And, in the first half, this was a game. The Gators led by single digits and it looked like we were headed towards a wild finish. But then the defense amped up. FGCU, a great offensive team, was held to 59 points; the same total as Brewton-Parker. Now, what was more impressive for me was just how balanced this Florida team looked on the offensive end. Last year, when you needed a big shot, it was Dorian Finney-Smith about 99% of the time. The guy was a great player, but it made defending the Gators pretty predictable down the stretch. Not this year. Eight guys scored 6 points or more in the opener, and four finished with double digit points. Some of these final stat lines should come as a surprise to nobody. Kasey Hill (11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists) and Devin Robinson (14 points, 6 rebounds) were meant to be here and do that. But how about Canyon Barry? The Charleston transfer scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds without attempting a three; the main source of his offense for his time at Charleston. If he continues to play with confidence, it’s just another weapon for an already loaded Gators backcourt. Another guy who impressed me was sophomore Kevarrius Hayes. Hayes disappointed in his freshman season (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg), but showed a heck of a lot of potential with his 70% field goal percentage and defensive prowess. He came off the bench in the opener, but put forth 9 points and 5 rebounds while knocking down all of his free throws (shot 48% from the line a year ago) and 100% from the field. He could be a game changer off the bench. For Mercer, it was Wichita State transfer Ria’n Holland who impressed. The point guard didn’t pass much, but looked like a man possessed when attacking the basket. He finished with 24 points and five made threes. Florida will win this game, but I’ll be interested to see what kind of fight the Mercer Bears put up.
Chattanooga vs. (3) UNC-2 PM ET (ESPN2) Maui Jim Maui Invitational
There is a battle of two Top 100 teams in this one. While I tried to be “edgy” and leave the Mocs out of my initial list, Matt McCall and company immediately made me regret the decision, knocking off a top 25 team (in my rankings) in Tennessee on the road. That’s exactly what I get for underestimating a healthy Justin Tuoyo. The 6-10 senior literally feasted on the Tennessee bigs inside, going for 22 points and 11 rebounds, while also blocking 2 shots. He’ll be a joy to watch all season long if he can stay healthy. Last year’s breakout player Tre McLean was also a thrill to watch in the opener, going for 21 points and 10 rebounds as a 6-5 wing player. He got to the line an astounding 9 times, and hit 8 of his free throws. Greg Pryor was his usual, consistent self (14 points, 4 assists). Needless to say, this is an NCAA Tournament team here, no doubt about it. For UNC, the squad went on the road against a power conference opponent, and absolutely whooped them into shape (95-75). Of course, Tulane can hardly be categorized as a powerhouse team; but the win was still impressive regardless. Justin Jackson once again dazzled in the opener (27 points, 4 assists) but it’s always been about consistency for Jackson; and hopefully this is the year he supplies that. Joel Berry (23 points, 4 assists) figures to be one of the best guards in the nation this season. And while Tuoyo dazzled in the opener, good luck going for 22 and 10 against Kennedy Meeks (15 rebounds) and Isaiah Hicks. UNC should win this one pretty easily, but the talent on both ends of the floor makes it a nice, solid game to tune into early on in the day.
Lower Level Time Wasters:
Rice vs. James Madison-2 PM ET (streaming online) Hardball Showcase
The quality of games dips off considerably after the UNC game. Rice figures to be a mid-conference competitor in the Conference USA this season. While the squad is much improved over last season, the C-USA is pretty stacked this season with the likes of WKU, UTEP, and Old Dominion. Win or lose, we’ll learn a ton about the Owls in this tough road opener against the always dangerous James Madison Dukes. JMU lost its tough opener against Old Dominion, but put forth a more than impressive effort (62-55 loss). Senior wing Shakir Brown will lead this team in scoring (16 points in the opener), but Jackson Kent is the wildcard. The power forward shot horribly in the opener (2-8), but still finished with 6 points and 9 rebounds. The guy has showed double-digit scoring potential throughout his career, but will need to finally add some sort of consistency to his game if this team is to be successful in the CAA. Also, former Niagara stud Ramone Snowden is going to have to play better than he did against Old Dominion. It’s just that simple. The guy averaged 10.7 points and 6 rebounds for the Purple Eagles back in 2014-15, so 5 points and 2 rebounds on 1-3 shooting from the field simply isn’t going to cut it. This is one of the harder games to pick on the day, surprisingly, but a JMU home win seems more likely than the higher ranked Rice Owls performing on the road.
UC Davis vs. Northern Arizona-3 PM ET (online streaming) Cable Car Classic
The Cable Car Classic, above all other preseason tournaments (thus far), has taught me the most about four college basketball teams. Santa Clara isn’t as good as I thought, Tennessee State is going to compete for the OVC Championship, UC Davis is as mediocre as they come, and Northern Arizona is talented, but can’t finish games. The round robin has supplied us with a few really, really good games to this date and finishes with a nice neutral court clash between the 1-1 Aggies and 0-2 Lumberjacks. Basically, although it’s only three games into the season, this is a must-win for NAU. The Big Sky has proven time and time again that it’s not a bad conference, so NAU coming back for the start of the regular season licking its wounds with an 0-3 record would be devastating. For UC Davis, a 2-1 record against three respectable opponents isn’t a bad way to begin what was supposed to be a lost season. The 3:00 pm start time and online streaming probably isn’t going to make this game must-watch television, but it may be the most important game of the day for both of these teams. Either way, hopefully they make the Cable Car Classic a tradition, some really underrated ball being played here by all four teams.
Eastern Michigan vs. SMU-1 PM ET (ESPN3) 2K Classic Benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project
Well…Eastern Michigan is good. The Eagles waltzed into Pitt and were expected by most to be absolutely flattened. Apparently EMU never got their copy of the script. The Eagles pushed the Panthers to its limit, nearly pulling the massive upset in double overtime. Ray Lee, a senior guard who has been criminally underrated on a national level for three seasons, finally showed the world what he could do: playing 42 minutes and scoring 27 points. Tim Bond, his junior guard partner, was also extremely efficient (21 points in 26 minutes) but fouled out pretty early on. Unfortunately for EMU, it looks like when those two guys can’t score, the team can’t score. Ty Toney looked good in crunch time (12 points, 6 assists) but was just 4-14 from the field. James Thompson, the highly touted rising sophomore, disappointed against a superior opponent. Thompson got his rebounds (13), but looked hesitant as a scorer (8 points) down the stretch and could’ve iced the game for EMU had he been more ready to put the ball in the hole. He’ll bounce back at some point this season, but don’t expect it to be against Ben Moore and SMU. The ‘Stangs murdered poor Gardner-Webb in its opener, and looked good doing it. Duke transfer Semi Ojeyele is here to play. Simple as that. The GWU frontcourt isn’t the EMU frontcourt, I know, but 26 points and 14 rebounds is impressive against anyone. His outside stroke looked improved (4-8) and his defense was right where it has always been. You’re looking at a potential All-AAC player right here. Another underrated guy is Sterling Brown. The senior isn’t the most flashy player on the court like Ben Moore or Shake Milton, but his ability to contribute in multiple facets of the game (11 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) makes his value for this team insurmountable. If it was at a neutral site I’d give the beat up and tired Eagles a chance, but this game should be all SMU early and always. Of course…they’ve surprised me before.
Cal State Northridge vs. (22) UCLA-9 PM ET (PAC-12 Network) DirecTV Wooden Legacy
This is kind of a throwaway game here. While CSUN appears to be a team on the rise (currently 146th on my rankings), the team simply isn’t ready to waltz into Pauley and put up any kind of fight against the most talented UCLA team in years. Whether its Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Lonzo Ball or Aaron Holliday taking over the game, UCLA is a deadly offensive team. No questions asked. And oh yeah, how about that other freshman? While Lonzo Ball was great (18 points, 10 assists) in the opener, look at what Leaf did. The freshman big went for 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 assists while shooting 40% from three and 69.2% from the field. He simply outplayed Thomas Welsh (6 points, 6 rebounds) and could be the difference between a second place finish in the Pac-12 and a Pac-12 title. The latest game on the list, this game might be worth it just to see the Bruins in action. This team is special.
Slate by Time:
2 PM ET: Eastern Michigan vs. SMU, Chattanooga vs. UNC, Rice vs. James Madison
3 PM ET: UC Davis vs. Northern Arizona
6 PM ET: Holy Cross vs. South Carolina
8 PM ET: Mercer vs. Florida, Long Beach State vs. Wichita State
My Recommended Watch Schedule:
Chattanooga vs. UNC-Holy Cross vs. South Carolina-Long Beach State vs. Wichita State