Last weekend revealed quite a bit about the contenders and pretenders of the early season. Lets start with an easy one:
Memphis and Louisville are the Most Talented Teams in the Country: Remember that Big East preview where I picked Marquette and Georgetown to go further this year than Louisville? Forget about that. Rick Patino’s team finally started their season last weekend, and is clearly a level above Georgetown, and way above Marquette (more on them later). With Edgar Sosa and Derrick Caracter outside,
David Padgett (he’s injured) Earl Clark inside, and a deep bench, the Cardinals can score and defend with anyone. The only team comparative talent-wise is Memphis, who put on a show at MSG by winning the Coaches Vs. Cancer title. While they did get bogged down in Oklahoma’s junkball style, they were able to pull away with a decisive win. And when they were tested by UConn, they responded extremely well down the stretch, which is good news for a team that is often criticized for mental lapses. The top three of Joey Dorsey, Derrick Rose, and Chris Douglas-Roberts is probably the best in the country. If, and its a big if, Memphis and Louisville, who both have a reputation of being mentally soft and injury-prone, can play smart and stay healthy, they must be considered favorites for the Final Four.
Join me after the jump for some stock up, stock down.
Time now for a little stock up, stock down:
Stock Up: The MAAC: Buoyed by Siena’s impressive win over an albeit overrated Stanford team, the MAAC looks to be a hot mid to low major conference this year. The top three of Siena, Loyola, and Niagra head a deep league that could see any one of its top five teams win the automatic bid. This league is characterized by explosive guard play, from Charron Fisher at Niagra to Kenny Hasbrouck at Siena. An ideal situation for the MAAC would be to turn into the CAA, with more offense. If you don’t know much about the MAAC now, don’t worry, I suspect that you will hear more about it come March.
Stock Down: Conference USA: Coming into the season, many pundits thought that the CUSA could possibly get a second bid behind the dominance of Memphis. The principal candidate for that bid was UAB. While Memphis has been as good as advertised, UAB flopped in a spectacular fashion in their preseason tournament over the weekend. UAB lost on successive nights to Georgia Southern, Florida State, and Rhode Island. The only loss there that borders on excusable is Florida State, until one remembers that Florida State promptly lost the next two nights to Cleveland St. and South Florida. UAB also lost one of its big men for at least 3 months to a knee injury. Those three losses almost kill any chance that UAB had of getting an at-large bid, unless it beats everyone else and Memphis at least once in conference, which would be more surprising than their losses this weekend.
Stock Up: Miami and Providence: These two teams are very similar, in that they were both picked in the bottom part of their leagues (Miami was picked dead last in the ACC), and both are playing very good basketball. Providence dismantled Arkansas by 17, while Miami beat a very good Virginia Commonwealth team, and also beat Providence in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. While Providence certainly has a better chance of making it to the NCAA’s in the muddled Big East, Miami will certainly make some noise in the ACC, and will surely not finish 12th.
Stock Down: Marquette: While Marquette has not lost yet, they have been less than impressive. In the preseason, it looked like Marquette’s glut of guards would be a huge positive. While it is still a positive, more worrying is their lack of an inside presence. Marquette had to rally in the second half against Utah Valley st and IUPUI in their first two games (largely because they were outrebounded in both games), and now head to Maui with major question marks. This is more of a preemptive stock down, as I believe that Marquette could very well be exposed this week in Maui. Right now, Marquette appears to be closer to UConn and Syracuse than Louisville and Georgetown in the Big East. (Post Ed Note: Marquette struggled with Chaminade today, only putting them away in the final minutes. Again, they were vastly outrebounded by Chaminade)
Stock Up: Important Games in November While college basketball is often criticized for having many games that don’t matter until March, there have been many games this November that will have a profound impact on March. This is a good trend, as it gives passion and import to the beginning of the non-conference schedule. A prime example would be the game between Mississippi State and Clemson last week. Both teams figure to be on the bubble come Selection Sunday, and Clemson’s 84-82 win in Starkville could loom large as a convenient tie-breaker. Other examples of this are Virginia beating Arizona 75-72, and Providence beating Arkansas.