Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Watch What Happens 2.0

Here we go!

The season is STILL early and I'm not yet done with what I'm looking forward's my final thoughts on what I think are the most interesting storylines.

1.) The return of UCLA:  Ben Howland hasn't had a whole lot of fun the past couple of years.  Injuries, early departures to the NBA and "questionable" players in terms of character have clouded the school's incredible history.  However, with a strong recruiting class and some big names, everyone is saying the Bruins are back.  A lot hinges on whether Shabazz Muhammad gets cleared to play, but UCLA should have enough talent to get some wins.  But WILL THEY?

2.) Kentucky's Nerlens Noel:  This one is really just because he's so highly touted and that always interests me.  I'll be watching his early play, his development and just in general want to see how good he is on the NCAA stage.  I can't say I'm a fan of the Kid N'Play haircut, but I DO admire his commitment to getting UK shaved into the back of his head. 

3.) Ohio State without Sullinger:  OSU still has talent, so I know they'll be in the hunt for a Big Ten championship, but how will the loss of Sullinger impact the team?  Also, will there be less whining to the refs now that he's gone? 

4.) Coaching stars:  Who's the next "smallish" conference or young coach that makes a splash?  Two years ago it was Shaka Smart, last year it was Ohio's John Groce.  Next?

5.) Michigan: Really a top 5 team?  Not trying to be a hater, but that seems a LITTLE high.  I know I should automatically hate them because I'm a State fan, but I actually really like watching Michigan play.  Trey Burke is special, Tim Hardaway, Jr. is extremely talented and John Beilen is a great coach (and a really good guy).  But is that enough?  Who else will step up?  And in other news, I'm SO GLAD Zack Novak finally graduated--Huzzah!  If he were on my team, I'd love the guy.  But he's not....and he irritated me for 4 long years.  SEE YA!

6.) Big Ten-ACC Challenge: The last couple of years, the Big Ten has stepped up and won the overall challenge, finally quieting the talk of how the almighty ACC is SOOO superior.  On paper, that should hold this year.  But WILL IT? 

7.) Teams that I find enjoyable to watch in general and make me tune in: UConn, Mizzou, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse.  With the exception of UConn, all had huge years last year and lots of hype headed into this season--how will they do? 

That's about it for now...but let me know what YOU want to see--and if this early set of games has lived up to your expectations!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Watch What Happens

The second set of topics I'm most looking forward to is, unsurprisingly, centered around the Big Ten.

Over the last few years, it's been the toughest conference in the country--tons of talent, loads of great coaches, lots of competition.  This year looks like much of the same. 

I'm really, really interested to see how the conference race shapes up.  Understandably, Indiana is the favorite, given that they're all preseason #1 right now, but that will absolutely be threatened in conference play.  I see Michigan, Ohio State, MSU and even potentially Wisconsin  The key (I think) will be 2 things:

1.) Who maintains their homecourt advantage and 2.) Who can snag the most wins on the road (a near-impossible feat in Big Ten play). 

In the past years, the champs or co-champs have had about 3 or 4 losses in conference play--and it may be similar....which brings me to other teams I'm interested in...

Indiana:  TONS of hype around this team, mostly because of the tree that is Cody Zeller.  However, what I didn't realize at first is how many OTHER key players are coming back as well--Jordan Hulls provides a long-range scoring threat, Christian Watford is tough and strong and is a threat from anywhere on the floor, Victor Oladipo can score AND rebound--eek!  Add in a top 10 recruiting class and they're pretty much stacked.  I'm a Tom Crean fan, and not just because he's a former Izzo assistant.  He's intense, he knows how to interact with the fans, he respects the tradition of IU, he can recruit and his teams always play hard.  If MSU isn't winning the conference, I'd be good with IU taking it all. 

I'm really curious to see how they live up to expectations and how long they can maintain that top rank.  If they do lose in the uber-competitive Big Ten, how harshly will they be punished for it?  Can everyone stay healthy?  Will the guys that were virutally unknown at this time last year handle their stardom or buckle under the pressure?  Stay tuned!!  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We're BAAACCK!!!

It's that time again folks!

College basketball season is FINALLY upon us! 

The disappointing performance of my Spartan football team has somewhat increased my levels of enthusiasm (it's a new offense, they will get there, I still love them!), but there are WAY more reasons I'm looking forward to 2012-2013. 

Instead of writing a preview of the Top 25, over the next few entries, I'd just like to share some of the storylines I'm eager to watch unfold.  Full disclosure:  I try to be somewhat objective, but since this is my blog, I don't get paid for it and I can write what I want, I refuse to hide my love of Michigan State.  GO GREEN!

Speaking of, let's start in East Lansing, shall we?

Last year's Spartans only lost 2 players from the squad--but what losses they were!  I think the main question mark behind this team is "What do they do without Draymond Green?"  (For those of you playing along at home, this would be a GREAT sidegame during any MSU broadcast--keep track of how many times DayDay is mentioned). 

It's a completely valid question.  Green led the team last year physically, emotionally and mentally--what he brought to the floor in terms of intangibles can't be summed up in words. 

That said, this year's team certainly has the TALENT to be amazing--and their #14 preseason ranking suggests I'm not the only one who thinks so.  They have experience in guards (Keith Appling, Travis Trice) AND down low (Derrick Nix, Adrien Payne), some solid role players with room to grow (Russell Byrd, Brandan Kearney) and some great, fresh talent (Gary Harris).  There's also some guy named Branden Dawson who's coming back from an injury and is supposed to be pretty good.  Dawson, for me, is one of the keys to the season.  If he's strong, he adds an athleticism, depth and a scoring threat the Spartans don't have anywhere else. 

From my perspective, the Spartan season will go one of two ways:

1.) One (or more) of the starting five picks up where Green left off--setting the example for the others, keeping the team unified, stepping up in clutch situations and MSU is a presence in the Top 25, fighting Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and possibly Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.  This season would also include a nice tournament run as well. 

The other situation is scenario #2, where no one knows what to do without DayDay and everything is a kind of a big mess.

I'm VERY interested to watch how this goes because frankly, I'm just not sure.  With Izzo at the helm, I feel as though chances are that scenario #1 or some variation of it is what we can reasonably expect--but Izzo can't be on the court FOR these guys and to some extent, it's going to be left in their hands. 

Since they play their first game on FRIDAY (who's excited!?!?!) we get a bit of a peek at what they'll look like then. 

And one final note:  Regardless of what happens at the beginning of this year, it is important to remember the following things about MSU: 

1.) They always play an extremely tough schedule in the beginning of the year
2.) They ALWAYS get better as the year goes on.  How they look in November is NOT how they'll look at the end of February. 

That's it for now--but in the meantime, any additional thoughts regarding the Spartans?