Old Spice Classic Preview
Unlike the 2k Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, where organizers had an idea of who would play for the title, the organizers of the 2008 Old Spice Classic left the future open to interpretation.
That is what happens when an 8-team tournament features five teams from last year’s NCAA Tournament. Moreover, we’re not talking about those fringe tournament teams either. We’re talking about Tennessee, Michigan State, Georgetown, Gonzaga and last season’s favorite No. 13 seed Siena.
The field is loaded and there are a handful of realistic Old Spice Classic title-game matchups. So, when you’re preparing, eating and digesting your Thanksgiving Day goodies, remember to give thanks to the people that are giving you this year’s Old Spice Classic.
Tennessee (3-0) vs. Siena (2-0) @ Noon on ESPN2
If you thought Siena was a nice story last season, get ready to hear an even better story this season. The Saints return all five starters from last year’s team, highlighted by senior guard Kenny Hansbrouck (21 ppg, 5.5 rpg), junior swingman Edwin Ubiles (10 ppg) and junior forward Alex Franklin (11 ppg). One surprising part of Siena’s attack this season has been Ryan Rossiter, who’s averaging 9 ppg and 9 rpg this season.
Siena is the pick to win the MAAC again, which shouldn’t shock anyone. Obviously, to reach the Big Dance, winning the MAAC Tournament is a must. But, winning a game against the SEC’s best early in the season could be a desirable piece to a possible at-large resume.
For Tennessee, this season will hinge on the development of point guard Bobby Maze. The former Oklahoma sooner joined the Vols after spending some time at a junior college. With Maze at the point, J.P. Prince can play his natural position of shooting guard/wing. Let’s not forget, however, that Tennessee lost 80 percent of its 3-point field goal scoring – one of Bruce Pearl’s admitted pleasures – to graduation in Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell.
Tennessee is the consensus pick to win the SEC this season (though, I’ve showed my disagreement in my preseason bracketography). Regardless if Tennessee wins the SEC this season, a deep run in the Old Spice Classic, with this loaded field, would really bode will in the March resume debates.
PREDICTION: Maybe I’ll flip a coin and say Heads-Tails, a lot like Jerome Bettis said in the 1998 Steelers-Lions Thanksgiving clash.* Anyway, back to the Saints-Vols Thanksgiving morning clash. This game is really a pick’em. There is no doubt Tennessee should win, and Bruce Pearl’s “Controlled Chaos” trap and press style could really put the game out of reach early. But it is always unadvised to pick against a team with five returning starters, especially when that team reached the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Tennessee could easily win the Old Spice Classic or, at the very least, reach the finals. Just as easily, Siena could shock Tennessee to kick of a wild Old Spice Classic. I’ll take a risk and go with the latter.
SIENA 72, TENNESSEE 68.
*(For those unfamiliar, on TV it seemed clear that Bettis called “tails” when referee Phil Luckett flipped the coin. When the coin was in the air, Luckett said, “the call is heads” and when the coin showed tails, Luckett awarded the Lions the choice to kick/receive in overtime. The Lions, in the days when winning was actually part of Detroit football tradition, elected to receive the kickoff and won the game, 19-16).
Wichita State (1-1) vs. Georgetown (2-0) @ 2 p.m. on ESPN2
Gregg Marshall will enter his second year as coach, which traditionally is a year vast improvement is seen. Just one starter (forward Ramon Clemente) returns to a Wichita State team projected to finish near the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Clemente’s double-double numbers (11 ppg, 14.5 rpg) but there isn’t another player that makes nearly as much of an impact.
A.J. Hawkins, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, adds 10 ppg while freshman Toure Murry adds 10.5 ppg and is the team leader in assists (4.5 apg). While the numbers show good distribution among the Shockers, there isn’t much firepower in those statistics.
If it weren’t for the Shockers, all the teams in this tournament would have been undefeated. If the setback came against a big-name opponent, it might be excusable, but Wichita State lost to…Missouri-Kansas City. At home. Losing to an inferior opponent at Charles Koch Arena proves this isn’t the same type of Shockers team that reached the Sweet 16 before falling to that magical George Mason squad. Nevertheless, this is 2008 and this is a loaded field. Wichita State is, hands down, the worst team.
Georgetown lost a load of talent (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr., Jeremiah Rivers and Vernon Macklin) but isn’t expected to fall far from the top of the Big East. There is one big reason for that and a few other medium-sized reasons. First, No. 1 recruit Greg Monroe has lived up to the hype. He might not be the 7-foot-2 monster that Roy Hibbert was, but at 6-10, he actually has more of an offensive game. Through two games, Monroe is scoring 17 ppg and grabbing 7.5 rpg. Now, those other reasons are named DaJuan Summers, Austin Freeman and Jessie Sapp. Summers is right where he was last season as far as offensive goes (11.5 ppg) but that figures to increase when coach John Thompson III shortens his bench in bigger games. Freeman continues to be a marksman behind the 3-point line, dropping in 11.5 ppg. Sapp continues to be the steady presence in the Hoyas’ backcourt and has improved his 3-point shooting to 50 percent.
The losses shouldn’t be underestimated, especially early in the season. If the Hoyas are going to be exposed in terms of experience, it will happen early in the season before all the sophomores begin to play like upperclassmen. The Hoyas seem like a lock for the NCAA Tournament based on talent and the fact they should fare well in the uber-loaded Big East and this tournament definitely will be a measuring stick.
PREDICTION: This game will be close… until the second TV timeout. After that, expect Georgetown to run away with an easy win. There will be too much Monroe on the inside in this game (expect a 20-10 type afternoon) and the Hoyas should be able to burn the nets from long range.
GEORGETOWN 81, WICHITA STATE 58
Maryland (3-0) vs. Michigan State (2-0) @ 7 p.m. on ESPN2
Oh Maryland, where have you gone? Where is the program that was an ACC power during the start of the millennium, winning a national championship in 2002? Things have gotten so bad that Gary Williams is on the hot seat. That is what making the NCAA Tournament just once in the last four years does to a coach. Making matters worse is the loss of James Gist and Bambale Osby, who combined for more than 27 ppg and 14 rpg last season. Tyree Evans, one of the nation’s top recruits also signed with Maryland before changing his mind. Evans had a history of legal troubles and, in the end, the troubles wouldn’t have left him if he stayed at Maryland. Evans was anticipated to be a sharpshooter behind the 3-point arc.
Still with the team is Greivis Vasquez, the offensive spark plug. Vasquez’ numbers were spectacular last season scoring 17 ppg, grabbing 5.7 rpg and dishing 6.8 apg. Now, in his third year with the Terps, those numbers are as follows: 22.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5 apg. Yes, the assists are down, but that is because Vasquez is playing shooting guard more as Eric Hayes sees more time running the point.
There is a reason these Spartans seem to be one of Tom Izzo’s best teams. The team literally can match North Carolina’s depth by going 13 players deep (don’t take that to mean MSU can match UNC’s talent, because that isn’t true). With the available depth, Izzo doesn’t have to worry about foul trouble issues that have hurt the Spartans in past seasons. Moreover, MSU’s athleticism has its coach extremely giddy and eyeing the Final Four for the fifth time in 10 seasons.
Raymar Morgan is a beast in the post, scoring 21.5 ppg while point guard Kalin Lucas (15 ppg, 6 apg) and Chris Allen (14 ppg) are shooters that can get hot at any moment. The wild card in the equation is Goran Suton, who averaged close to a double-double last season and is expected to be a 10-10 guy as a senior. Through two games, Suton has had one 10-point game and one 10-rebound game. The problem is he matched the 10-point game with two rebounds and the 10-rebound game with three points.
PREDICTION: The Spartans are the favorite in this tournament based on preseason expectations and that might not such a bad thing. With the offense clicking on all cylinders and the defense still swarming opponents like a herd of wasps, MSU will be tough to beat all season long. Maryland should throw some early punches, but, at this point in the season, I don’t see Maryland bring much to the matchup.
MICHIGAN STATE 82, MARYLAND 67
Oklahoma State (4-0) vs. Gonzaga (2-0) @ 9 p.m. on ESPN2
Oklahoma State will start the year without a Sutton at the helm for the first time since 1990. Wouldn’t it be a great coming-out party for the Cowboys if they were to win the Old Spice Classic with a new coach at the helm? Travis Ford is hoping to install an up tempo-style but he doesn’t quite have all the pieces he covets just yet.
Senior point guard Byron Eaton will be the key this season for a few reasons. First, in Ford’s up tempo-style offense, a smart point guard is crucial. Eaton has been steady so far, averaging 17.5 ppg and 5 apg. Eaton is turning the ball over 2.5 times per game, including a 5-miscue game against Tulsa, but he’s dished out at least four assists each night. Moreover, his defense has been spectacular and, with 12 steals through four games, Eaton has been able to start the fast breaks that Ford loves on his own. James Anderson, who was dominant as a freshman last season, has increased his production in his sophomore campaign. Anderson is dropping a team-high 19.5 ppg and grabbing 7.3 rpg. A look at the Cowboys’ statistics show there isn’t any dominance by a forward or center. That is what is expected in Ford’s offense.
This has been called “Gonzaga’s best team ever.” It all starts with senior point guard Jeremy Pargo, who nearly entered the NBA Draft. Pargo’s offense has taken a small backseat early this season (6 ppg), but Pargo’s dishing out nine assists each night and even crashes the glass with 6 rpg. Gonzaga’s depth is the biggest reason for coach Mark Few’s excitement. Forward Austin Daye (15.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Josh Heytvelt (15 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Micah Downs (13.5 ppg) are just some of the pieces helping create Gonzaga’s high expectations.
Gonzaga should win the WCC again, though the nonconference schedule will shine light on just how good this team is. After Oklahoma State, Gonzaga should face Michigan State and likely Tennessee or Georgetown. Those games, coupled with battles against Washington State, Arizona, Connecticut and another game with Tennessee means Gonzaga should be prepared for whatever challenge is in its way.
PREDICTION: On the outside, this looks like a route with Gonzaga’s 6-foot-10 Daye and 6-11 Heytvelt dominating the post. But Oklahoma State could even out the game by relying on fast-break points. In the end, Gonzaga has too much talent and rebounding and post scoring will be the key.
GONZAGA 88, OKLAHOMA STATE 81.
Predicted semifinal matchups (1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Friday)
Georgetown vs. Siena: I see Georgetown ending Siena’s short miracle run in the classic with an overdose of Greg Monroe in a 68-55 Georgetown victory.
Michigan State vs. Gonzaga: Michigan State will look to avenge the 2005 Maui Invitational loss to Gonzaga. I see a great game where MSU’s depth is key in a close game, say 78-73.
Old Spice Classic Title Game (7:30 p.m. Sunday)
Georgetown vs. Michigan State: The team that can set the tempo for this game will win it. Michigan State has played the walk-it-up games in the past but Izzo would love to see his team run from start to finish against any opponent. The thought here is Georgetown will slow the game enough to frustrate the Spartans. I’ll take the Hoyas, 68-66, in overtime.