Monday, November 7, 2011

11/7 Monday's Pregame Beat: And so it begins...

Tonight is the night.

While Marathon Madness is still a week away and the marquee games and teams won't be suiting up for a few more days, tonight we have actual college basketball games that actually count on actual records actually happening. Actually.

What's more interesting is that all three of the games taking place tonight have interesting plot lines behind them. I'm sure I'm not the only one that will be watching the early games of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with a keen eye on a few things.

7:00 pm: William & Mary @ St. John's: We all know the plight of St. John's by now. They have a second-year head coach currently battling cancer, which means that assistant coach Mike Dunlap will be coaching the team tonight. That team that Dunlap is in charge of will be short-handed as well. Not only is the roster made up of, essentially, all newcomers and walk-ons, but 1/3 of the Johnnie's vaunted recruiting class was ruled ineligible by the NCAA's Clearinghouse.

So the question becomes just how good are these newcomers? Will this be a team that's capable of competing in the Big East this year? Moe Harkless has looked good in their exhibitions, and guys like Nurideen Lindsay -- who has one of the most compelling back-stories of anyone in college hoops -- and God's Gift Achiuwa should provide some veteran stability. (Well, as much veteran stability as a JuCo transfer can offer).

I'm actually going to predict that the Tribe knocks off the Johnnies tonight. William & Mary has a talented back court -- led by Quinn McDowell, a potentiall CAA Player of the Year -- and runs a system that is difficult to prepare for. Think John Beilein's system cross-bread with your typical Princeton-style offense. The Tribe finished just 4-14 in the CAA last season, but they were a young team that lost a number of close games and really came on strong late in the year.

8:00 pm: Eastern Kentucky @ Mississippi State: I don't need to explain why this game is so intriguing, do I? I mean, its the first time that Renardo Sidney -- a new and improved Renardo Sidney, if you are to believe Rick Stansbury -- will be taking the court since spending the summer working out with John Lucas. Remember, Sidney was forced to make a second trip back to Houston to work out with Lucas while the Bulldogs went on their tour through Europe.

What makes the condition that Sidney is in, both physically and mentally, so important is that the Bulldogs actually have a chance to be pretty good this year. Arnett Moultrie has the ability to average 12 points and eight boards and, ideally, would form one of the top three front lines in the SEC with Sidney. Combine those two with the criminally underrated Dee Bost running the point, and Stansbury has what should -- I repeat, should, with insane amounts of emphasis -- be a tournament team.

9:00 pm: Valpo @ No. 16 Arizona: This is also an incredibly interesting matchup. Arizona has quite a bit of hype heading into this season. They have a loaded recruiting class and return a number of key pieces from last season. But they are also heading into the year with a very young team that will be without Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and, at least until his gunshot would heals, Kevin Parrom.

Those vaunted expectations -- the top 20 rankings, the Pac-12 championship predictions -- looked silly last week when Arizona lost to Seattle Pacific in an exhibition game. I will be looking for two things as they take the floor tonight: 1) Will Josiah Turner and/or Jordin Mayes provide the Wildcats with a steadying force at the point and 2) Will anyone -- Angelo Chol, Sidiki Johnson, Kryrl Natyazkho, Jesse Perry -- be able to provide a scoring, rebounding and/or defensive presence in the paint?

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