Greetings and Salutations kids!
Basketball season is finally upon us and look at that--I'm already behind in my postings. To make up for, I'm going to offer my pre-season list....Not the teams that will be the "best" but teams I enjoy and then of course, some general musings on things to watch for...I begin, of course, with my all-time #1...
1.) Michigan State Spartans: I felt this year's team was extremely underrated in the pre-season and after watching games against UNC and Duke, I am only more convinced. We have a strong senior leader in Draymond Green, great guard play with Keith Appling and lots of young talent on all ends of the floor. As much as I loved Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, it was very clear that neither of them felt comfortable being forced into a leadership role and the combination of that and off-season injuries and dismissals (Chris Allen and Korie Lucious) REALLY affected last year's team. Draymond Green has been waiting to take over for awhile now and I love that he's stepping up to take control. My only concern with him is when he tries to do everything himself and forces shots/passes when they aren't necessary. His points will come when he focuses on what he does best: defense, rebounding and going after every loose ball. I think the team learned a LOT from those first two games and I only see them getting better, faster and stronger. The chemistry and the effort are there--I think the coaches will iron out the skill set as time goes on. One of my favorite things?!?! The REBOUNDING! This team is back to Izzo ball--hard-nosed, tough and lots of heart.
**And a word to the media...please stop referring to us as "Sparty" (as in "and Sparty goes on a 10-2 run..."). We are the SPARTANS. "Sparty" is the name of the guy in the costume that frolicks along the sideline. Every MSU grad I know hates this. So stop it. Thanks!
2.) Missouri Tigers: My man, Phil Pressey, is BACK! I was slightly unsure about this season for this team with a new coach in Frank Haith. But their pre-season CBE Classic performance REALLY impressed me. Stifling defense and quick, skilled guards (veterans no less) really knocked their opponents back on their tails. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the season, but if that's how they start....I can't wait to see the finish.
3.) Syracuse Orange: I still love them....any team with a player named Fab Melo gets my vote. I just love the way they play--always tough, always physical and always with confidence. This season will be interesting to say the least--the Bernie Fine issue may or may not be distraction. I am still learning about the case--which is very different from the Penn State situation--and it's sad all around. But whatever the facts are, I pray they come out and justice is served the way it needs to be.
4.) Xavier Musketeers: I've been a fan of these guys for a long time as a friend (and former coworker) of mine is a Xavier grad. Once I started learning about them and watching them play, I jumped on the bandwagon. Gongaza and Butler get a lot of credit for re-defining a "mid-major" but I think X should as well. They consistently schedule tough non-conference games, they consistently win their conference and they always make a strong showing in the NCAA tourney. This particular team seems to have all the pieces--low post presence in seven-footer Kenny Frease, fantastic guard play from Mark Lyons, some young, fresh players that can provide a spark, and of course, a Player of the Year candidate in Tu Holloway. They have my favorite combination of vets and youth and a balanced attack. Their non-conference schedule is tough, as per usual, which should serve them well come tournament time.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH:
North Carolina Tar Heels: It's well-documented that I'm not a UNC fan, but I HAVE to respect their team. They have a ton of skill and frankly (though it hurts to admit it) I actually REALLY like Harrison Barnes. He's a fantastic player, but he also seems extremely humble and hard-working and just an all-around good kid.
Duke Blue Devils: See above. Same thing--I respect the heck out of Coach K. I think he's a class-act who's done it the right way start to finish and NEVER has compromised his standards to win. His team always plays hard and just plays good basketball, plain and simple. As a fan of the game, I'm usually going to tune in.
Almost the ENTIRE Big Ten: Say what you will, this conference is STACKED. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue are all tough, have great coaching and play hard every game. The conference season will be a rough one but I love the fact that there is so much competition.
Almost the Entire Big East: I randomly love this conference and really couldn't tell you why. Maybe because there are a lot of tough, physical teams, but I typically enjoy UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Marquette...and of course, one of my favorites ever, Steve Lavin, even has me tuning in to St. John's.
There you have it! As you can see, I plan on watching a LOT of bball. I'm going to try and blog every day during this Big Ten/ACC Challenge...Enjoy the games!