Whew! Finally it's here! College Basketball season gets underway tonight with four top 25 teams in action against four mediocre squads (in comparison). Early in the year it's always tough to know how a team will react; some teams return all their starters and some teams return none of 'em. Here are some personel/matchup summaries to get you prepared for tonight's games.
This matchup is sure to bring in a crowd. This evening Isiah Thomas will lead the FIU Golden Panthers into one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball. This FIU team looks absolutely nothing like last year's squad, and coincidentally the FIU team we see tonight won't even look much like the team we'll see in December. Thomas returns just 1 of the top 4 scorers from last year's team, and just 5 people total from last year's roster. Unfortunately for Thomas, two of the 5 returning players (Nick Taylor and Cedric Essola) were left back in Miami for tonight's matchup due to injury. FIU will lean on Nikola Gacesa, who averaged 10 points per game last year, and a core of junior college transfers which includes Marvin Roberts and Phil Gary Jr. Roberts was the leading scorer in the nation last season at the junior college ranks, and Gary has the reputation as being a great passer. FIU will definitely be inexperienced, yet Thomas' summer signings may prove to make this team more talented than the team that went 13-20 last season.
On the other side, the defending national champs definitely have some doubters. North Carolina will start this season having lost 4 starters off last year's team, although the return of Senior forward Deon Thompson should provide some leadership. Another key component to this year's team will be Marcus Ginyard, who missed the majority of last year due to injury. Ginyard has always had potential, and as his career comes to a close this season, i predict he'll become more and more of a star.
Both these teams have lost quite a bit from last season, but FIU has really made some bold moves over the offseason. Thomas has landed some great JC players, and Coach Williams on the UNC side has got to be unsure of what he'll see from the Panthers tonight. Yes, UNC is the home team and yes they are a talented bunch of young fellas, but FIU is completely unpredictable right now. Coach Williams admitted early in the week he really didn't have anything to scout off of; most of the players are fresh faces, and the style of basketball they'll play is still unknown. The key to this game is Marvin Roberts. Roberts was an absolute stud last year in junior college, and you know he'll want to make a name for himself right out of the gates. If Roberts throws this team on his back offensively, they very well could keep this game close for a while. Thompson and company should control the boards for UNC, so i wouldn't say an upset is a possibility, but FIU should have success early while the Tar Heels try to figure them out. However, it's also likely that the lack of chemistry and familiarity on the FIU side leads to a complete disaster in the debut of the Thomas era. FINAL PREDICTION: UNC 93 FIU 67
Alcorn St./Ohio St.:
The big story in Columbus this season is the transormation of Evan Turner (pictured above) into the point guard for the Buckeyes. Turner led Ohio St. in scoring last year from the off-guard position, but this year's squad lacks any sort of true point guard leaving Turner to that role by default. David Lighty, William Buford, and Jon Diebler should also provide plenty of scoring from the backcourt for the Buckeyes. This was a very young team last year, and as a result they return virtually all their scoring (minus BJ Mullens who entered the NBA draft this past summer). With Mullens leaving the team, and Dallas Lauderdale unlikely to play tonight, the Buckeyes will definitely be shorthanded down low. Although, the size and athleticism of their four guards should be sufficient on both the offensive and defensive boards, especially against a team like Alcorn St.....
Alcorn St. will come into tonights matchup having lost their three top scorers from last season; these were guys that accounted for 40 of the team's 69 points per game. Jonathan Boyd and JaMarkus Holt are the top two returning scorers from last season, and they accounted for a combined 15 points. Holt is the biggest player on the team, yet he's only 6'8 (just one inch taller than Ohio St. point guard Evan Turner). Alcorn St. finished at 6-25 last season, and the emergence of an even younger squad this year has the outcome of their season looking rather grim. It's hard to predict how this team of 5 upperclassmen and 8 freshman will look this season, but last year's team really struggled against elite opponents - losing to Houston by 53, LSU by 32, and Michigan St. by 58. One can only imagine that the trend of blowout losses to decent teams will continue tonight. FINAL PREDICTION: OSU 91 ASU 55
Syracuse, off an embarassing loss in an exhibition affair with D-II school - Le Moyne, will look to start the regular season off right tonight against Albany. Syracuse is led by two returning seniors: Andy Rautins (pictured above) and Arinze Onuaku. The Orange start his season without their top 3 scorers from last year (Flynn, Devendorf, Harris), but look to get a surge from returning roll players Mookie Jackson and Scoop Jardine (both of which missed significant time last season). The Orange should be a dangerous team, as always, just because of their dynamic style of play. However, last season the team had quite the habbit of playing down to their lesser oponents, and you can only assume they haven't shaken that attribute after their debacle against Le Moyne.
Albany comes into this season off a mediocre 15-15 run last year, but will return their top two scorers (Ambrose and Harris). We should see a good mix of new and old for the Great Danes this evening; they lose 3 of their more productive players from last season, but also return some senior leadership off the bench. The problem Albany will run into all season long is their lack of experience down low (returning just one upperclassmen at center). A lot of the freshman class for this Albany team consists of centers and power forwards who won't be game tested until conference play begins. We'll definitely see some growing pains early on, especially when Harris and Ambrose don't knock down jumpers. Speaking of jumpers, one thing Albany will need to do this evening is knock down the three ball in order to take advantage of the famous Syracuse zone. Unfortunately, this team was very mediocre from behind the arc last season at under 30%, and even Ambrose and Harris (the guys who attempt the most threes) are pretty poor at around 31% a piece for their careers. On top of that, I don't see Albany rebounding with Syracuse tonight; Onuaku should have a field day with the inexperienced and untalented big men of the Danes. As mentioned, Albany simply doesn't have the shooters to break this Syracuse zone, or the rebounders to keep Syracuse off the offensive boards, and for that reason.... FINAL PREDICTION: SYR 89 ALB 63
California opens their season against the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference - Murray State. The Golden Bears have high hopes this season, being picked as the favorites in the pac-10 and also a preseason top 15 team. The Bears return 4 starters from last year's squad including Jerome Randle and Jamal Boykin (both pictured above). Although this team isn't very large, they are quite dangerous from beyond the arc, and have the capability to play with the upper-echelon teams in the nation. Last year Cal started the year a bit slow, beating Pacific by just 12, San Francisco by 13, and Depaul by just 10; these being their first 3 significant home games last season, may be an indicator of why the Vegas line is around 13 for Cal's first home game this year. Murray St. and Cal do have one common opponent from last season and that was Missouri. Cal traveled to Missouri and lost by 27, where as the Racers traveled to Missouri and lost by just 11.....
That loss to Missouri was Murray State's worst loss of the year last season, and being against an elite eight team it was really a moral victory. Last year's team also throttled Western Kentucky by 25+ points (the Hilltoppers made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament themselves). I predict this year's club to be very similar to last year's 19-12 record with the return of their top 3 scorers. Last year's squad was full of freshmen and sophomores, so this year's team should be confident about building on last year's success. Coach Montgomery of California is well aware that Murray St. posses a threat to his highly touted Golden Bear club, and for that reason you can be sure that Cal will not look past the Racers. FINAL PREDICTION: CAL 76 MSU 67