Column: NCAAB: Early season tournaments meaningless
Everyone, at some point in their life, has heard the phrase "Preseason games don't matter." We all focus on the prefix of the word, and we are often advised not to derive any conclusions about specific players or teams until the wins and losses are actually accounted for in the standings. In most instances, the preseason is when star athletes are allowed to concern themselves more with the attractive females in the stands than with their fellow teammates. The preseason serves as the proper setting for the underdogs busting their tails just to earn a roster spot, veterans trying to show that they still have a little left in the tank, and jokes like Matt Leinart given the generous opportunity to remember what the playing surface feels like. More often than not, preseason games are as irrelevant and worthless as the Washington Wizards.
As with every rule and theory, there are exceptions. Usually, the preseason of any sport lacks meaning and has no carryover whatsoever to the regular season. In college basketball, however, things are very, very different. Besides watching the Cowboys get shellacked and pigging out on Mom's sweet potato soufflÃ©, the best part of Thanksgiving Break every year is taking in all of the exciting preseason hoops tournaments, from the Maui Invitational in Hawaii to the Old Spice Classic down in Disney. It's referred to as "preseason" only because conference slates have not yet begun, and after a few minutes of watching you forget that we're only in November and not March. Even with some of these events being held in small gyms (in the case of the Battle 4 Atlantis, a converted ballroom) surrounded by the ocean and palm trees, the overall intensity and high level of play is not that far off from that of the Final Four. Additionally, the confidence and team chemistry that certain schools take from these preseason tournaments is invaluable and can serve as the foundation for a championship year. If you need confirmation on that, just ask Kemba Walker and UConn about their 2010 Maui experience.
Although the college basketball season is just starting to take flight, these early games can help us separate the contenders from the pretenders. Let's take a peek at whose stock has skyrocketed and whose has dropped after the culmination of a couple of preseason tournaments.
1. Duke: With quality wins over Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU and Louisville already, you'd be hard-pressed to find Harvard graduates with better resumes than Duke this year. The Blue Devils picked up three of these wins and a trophy in arguably the most stacked preseason tournament ever, the Battle 4 Atlantis. Next up: a date with #4 Ohio State on Wednesday.
2. Oklahoma State: North Carolina State was the team projected to cruise right through the Puerto Rico Tip Off. Count Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford as one of those who did not make that prediction. Ford's Cowboys beat Tennessee by 17 in the semifinals before manhandling N.C. State (ranked #6 in the nation at the time) in the championship. Do yourself a favor and remember the name Marcus Smart. The freshman point guard went for 20 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks in the final game, leading to MVP honors.
1. UCLA: After a long battle with the NCAA, prized recruit Shabazz Muhammad was finally deemed eligible to play just in time for the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. Muhammad chipped in a cool 15 points in his debut, but UCLA's chances of facing Indiana in the championship was zapped by a feisty Georgetown squad. And if Bruins fans were unhappy about a close win over Georgia in the third-place game, how do you think they're feeling after losing to Cal Poly on Sunday?
2. Texas: Maybe we missed the warning sign on November 9th, when Texas just scraped by Fresno State. After the Longhorns' implosion in Maui, it's clear that this group has some real issues. One of those issues could be solved if suspended point guard and team leader Myck Kabongo ever returns this year. In the meantime, maybe Texas should avoid losing to any more Division II programs (lost to Chaminade in quarterfinals of Maui).
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