O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic Preview
This preseason tournament–the CBE Classic–is all about the big boys. Well, three big boys to be exact.
UCLA (AP No. 2, USA Today/ESPN No. 2) plays the role as the favorite. The Bruins are looking to jumpstart the 2007 season with four straight wins en route to a third-straight Final Four appearance, and possibly the school’s first title since 1995. Michigan State (No. 8, No. is looking to reconnect with the glory days of 1999-2001 that ended with one title and three straight Final Four appearances. Maryland, receiving votes in both polls, would like to show that it’s still a force to be reckoned with in the mighty ACC. A strong performance in the CBE Classic would do just that. Missouri? Well, the Tigers should find solace in reaching the classic’s Final Four and playing against the bigger boys. And we can’t forget about North Florida. With the way the Atlantic Sun has been playing lately (Gardner-Webb shocked Kentucky, Mercer beat USC, and Belmont topped Cincinnati; all on the road) would it be stunning to see the mighty Ospreys beat Maryland?
UCLA: Yes, the Bruins lost Aaron Afflalo to the NBA (he’s playing pretty well for the Detroit Pistons right now), but UCLA has several ample replacements. Five-star recruit Kevin Love should step right in and give the Bruins the 2007-08 version of Bill Walton. Point guard Darren Collison, a first-team All-America selection, will keep the ship steady. UCLA’s x-factor will be the forward position. Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hold down those two spots and the team’s success will go as those two go. The Bruins should have no trouble advancing to the semifinals in Kansas City, as the only teams standing in their way are Youngstown State, Weber State and Cal State San Bernadino.
MICHIGAN STATE: To say the Spartans haven’t look great in exhibition play would be a gross understatement. A loss to Grand Valley State was embarrassing and a six-point win against Michigan Tech didn’t leave MSU fans brimming with confidence. Still, guard Drew Neitzel, a first-team All-America selection, will be the team’s catalyst, and this year he has experienced tools at his disposal. Raymar Morgan was great as a freshman last season and doesn’t seem destined for a sophomore slump. Goran Suton and Marquis Gray are always dangerous on the boards while point guard Travis Walton is arguably the best one-on-one defender in the conference. That doesn’t include three fabulous freshman that will see plenty of playing time. Guards Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas and Darrell Summers all played together over the summer and if Tom Izzo can keep the trio from making freshmen mistakes, the Spartans could be lethal this year. For Michigan State to reach the semifinals in Kansas City, it must beat Chicago State in the opener and then take down the winner of the Louisiana-Monroe/Northern Michigan contest. Exhibition contests aside, two wins should be easy.
MARYLAND: The Terrapins are a big unknown this season. The past few years have forced us to view the ACC’s mighty trio as North Carolina, Duke and Maryland. That doesn’t mean those teams have consistently finished 1-2-3 (Maryland finished sixth and in a three-way tie for third the past two seasons). However, Gary Williams always has Maryland playing at the highest level possible. That is why–with James Gist being the only big name–many don’t expect anything more than a so-so season from the Terps (a fifth-place ACC finish isn’t anything more or less than so-so). Those same people likely have forgotten about Greivis Vasquez’s ability to change a game in an instant. With two home games against North Florida and then against the Tulsa/Hampton winner, a semifinal spot should be easily attainable for Maryland.
MISSOURI: How does a team that finished 12-16 the previous season become a notable host team for a preseason tournament the following year? We’d all like to know the answer to that question. Maybe Fordham, which finished 16-16 last year, should have been the host school. In any case, as average as this Missouri team is, there is absolutely no competition that could possibly slow the Tigers down. Damarre Carroll will determine how well Missouri plays this season, starting in the CBE Classic. The 6-8 junior, who sat out last year after transferring from Vanderbilt, is a monster. As a sophomore with the Commodores, Carroll averaged 10.9 points and 6.4 boards per game. Those numbers should improve; an 18-and-10 season would not be unexpected since Missouri doesn’t have many other weapons. Look for two close games, but two wins for the Tigers against Central Michigan and the Fordham/Central Missouri victor.
Semifinal predictions: Michigan State shouldn’t have too many problems with Missouri. The Tigers might be a host school in this tournament, but they’re not that much better than the Weber States or Tulsas of the world. Michigan State 81-62
UCLA should rout Maryland. This game might make the Terrapins look like everything but a NCAA Tournament team, because the Bruins are just that good. Unless almost every UCLA player goes cold from the floor, the Bruins should roll. UCLA 101-76
Championship game: It is early in the season and the Spartans still seem to be getting acquainted with one another. Because of that, this one could get out of hand. If the Bruins get a big lead early, the Spartans likely won’t be able to mount a comeback, especially with the way Neitzel has played in MSU’s two preseason games. If the contest stays close throughout, it could be anyone’s game. Let’s go with the former. UCLA 81-70.