College basketball season kicked off last Friday with a national opening day which led into a great opening weekend for hoops. .
Also starting this week is the flurry of early-season tournaments, from Maui to Puerto Rico. Some stick to a true tournament format, and I will be providing quick primers on what to expect and players to keep an eye on. Up first is the Charleston Classic, with a good mix of established stars and some young players who will make a name for themselves in the next few years.
2009: Miami (FL)
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Who to watch
Tony Barbee’s 3rd season as the Tigers’ head coach may be Auburn’s best shot at getting back to the post season since 2009. 2 seniors anchor this group, guard Frankie Sullivan and big man Rob Chubb. Sullivan bounced back well last year after sitting out a season due to injury. Sullivan uses his strength well to create space and is aggressive looking for scoring chances. He needs to do a better job with shot selection and not settle for contested jumpers. Chubb has developed slowly over his college career, but he has found a nice niche as a rebounder, screener and post defender. The shot selection issues plagued most of the team last season, so they need to move the ball quickly and find openings in the defense. On the defensive end, they need to pressure the ball and look to create scoring chances off of turnovers.
No team has impressed me more to start the season than Baylor. Pierre Jackson has done a good job controlling his biggest weakness – lack of control. He puts his teammates in position to get easy scores and he can score in bunches if the team needs it. Defensively, he needs to be consistent and do a better job understanding his opponent’s strengths/weaknesses. Isaiah Austin has played only 17 minutes, due to an ankle injury early in the 2nd half of their opener, but what a half it was. He showed he can run the floor, finish above the rim, and hit spot-up threes. Defensively, he is still a work in progress, but he has the potential to become a very effective defensive presence. Cory Jefferson waited his turn with the Bears and has broken out in a big way. Another athletic big, in the mold that has become the norm in Waco, Jefferson just needs to run the floor and get to the rim and he can score easy baskets. As the season develops, it will be interesting to see if Jefferson adds some versatility to his offensive game. Freshmen Rico Gathers and LJ Rose provide valuable minutes and should be major contributors come March.
Steve Donahue is entering his 2nd year of trying to put his stamp on the BC program, and I expect the team to be better than Year 1. A trio of sophomores lead the way for the Eagles, led by Ryan Anderson. Anderson has the ability to score in the post or the perimeter, as well as a great nose for rebounding. His range still really extends only to 15-17 feet, and he has a long way to go on the defensive end, but he continues to improve each game and should be one of the ACC’s best by the time his career is done. &-footer Dennis Clifford provides a strong post presence on both ends of the floor, and will be a solid role player during his college career. Patrick Heckmann is a good scoring threat, able to take the ball to the basket or step back and hit the long-range jumper.
Doug Wojick takes over for the legendary Bobby Cremins, but he has some good pieces in place to help keep Charleston’s recent winning tradition alive. Senior point guard Andrew Lawrence spent the summer with the Great Britain Olympic Team and should find himself in the running for the Southern Conference’s top player. He is an excellent distributor, is a good spot-up shooter, and can pressure the ball on the defensive end. Sophomore Adjehi Baru has good length and is a strong rebounder and defender. Trent Wiedeman is a strong-bodied double-double threat who has a great knack for the ball and is getting a chance to show off his developing skill-set.
Head Coach Tad Boyle has done a great job upping the talent level at Colorado in recent years and he should find his team in contention for the PAC-12 title this season. Junior Andre Roberson is extremely athletic and one of the best rebounders in the country, but everyone has been waiting for it all to start to click for him. His skill and understanding needs to catch up to his athletic ability sooner rather than later for this team to succeed. The sophomore backcourt of Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker keep the offense moving and set the tempo on the defensive end. Dinwiddie does a great job as a faciliatator on the offensive end, using his size to see over the top of the defense and looking for mismatches. Booker is a gunner, but when he is hot, he can score in bunches. Freshmen Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson are both athletic and versatile and should create space to let Roberson and Booker get opportunities to get to the basket.
Head coach Archie Miller enters his 2nd year as head coach, and he has the talent to make a good showing in the increasingly tough Atlantic 10. Point guard Kevin Dillard does a great job getting into defenses and setting up his teammates while also having the ability to pressure the ball on the defensive end. He needs to continue to work on his shot-selection and decision-making, but he has some other weapons to rely on. Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford made a quick impact in his first game for the Flyers with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. While he never seemed comfortable against Big East competition, he should be a solid scorer in the Atlantic 10, and his improved long-range shooting will help spread the floor for Dillard. Swingman Devin Oliver does a great job finding open teammates and can guard multiple positions. His scoring should continue to improve as he garners more playing time. Senior big Josh Benson is looking to rebound from a torn ACL last season. If he is at full strength, he can be a major factor on both ends of the floor for the Flyers with his ability to run the floor, finish, and handle the ball. He still needs to be tougher on the defensive end, but he is used to playing much stronger opponents.
Player of the Year candidate Isaiah Canaan is one of the top scoring threats in the country and an underrated defender. His challenge this season will be to show that he can create for others while still keeping his scoring at a high level. Ed Daniel is extremely tough and plays much bigger than his size. He can guard either forward spot or handle the middle, and goes strong after rebounds. Senior shooting guard Stacy Wilson should benefit from the attention that Canaan receives in the offensive end and can be a valuable scorer if he knocks down his shots. Pushing the pace, Murray State has a lot of weapons and they cover a lot of ground on the defensive side.
Head Coach Steve Lavin has made his return to the sidelines, but after one game, it is easy to see where the discipline Mike Dunlap brought to the team is missing. The team is athletic and plays hard, but they need to work on being patient and picking their spots. Sophomores D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer can both score in a variety of ways, and can both be tough to contain in open space. Phil Greene IV showed good control in the opener running the offense, and his ability to knock down open shots should help free up his teammates. Amir Garrett does a good job being active around the basket on both ends. Freshman Chris Obekpa is a solid rebounder and showed that he can be a great shot-blocker, but seems lost in the half-court offense and needs to continue to work on his skill-set. Freshman Christian Jones showed good poise in his first college game and will be someone to watch a year from now.