My annual east coast trip for the start of the college basketball season is over. I covered six tournaments in six nights traveling between New York City and Rhode Island and made it back home by Thanksgiving despite a major rain and wind storm.
The first event on Thursday night was the 2K Sports Classic, benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, at Madison Square Garden. In the semi-final round UConn edged Boston College 72-70, then Indiana ran past Washington 102-84. On Friday night I was off to the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Michigan State topped Virginia Tech 96-77 and Oklahoma came from behind to edge Seton Hall 86-85.
I headed to Connecticut for the weekend shuttling between the National Prep Showcase in New Haven and the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT, north of New London. The Hall of Fame event featured two four-team groupings of larger and smaller schools. In the Naismith Bracket (larger schools) North Carolina and Louisville won their games on Saturday beating Richmond and Fairfield respectively, setting up a highly anticipated Louisville-UNC match-up on Sunday. North Carolina surprised the defending champions with a 93-84 win. Belmont University won the Springfield bracket defeating Holy Cross 81-70 and Hofstra 85-75. Hofstra had defeated Hartford 81-78 on Saturday while Holy Cross topped Hartford easily 80-55 on Sunday.
Monday I was in Rhode Island for the consolation round of the NIT Tip-Off Classic. Rhode Island defeated UNC-Asheville while East Carolina topped McNeese State. None of the four teams figure to make a post-season appearance. East Carolina's leading scorer Akeem Richmond had one of the more interesting statistics. At game time he had taken 58 total shots of which 53 were three-pointers. (Currently 72 of his 78 shots were from long distance). Tuesday morning I headed back to New York for the Progressive Legends Classic at the Barclay's Center. In a battle of schools from Texas, Texas Tech beat Houston 76-64. In the nightcap Pitt had little problem with Stanford in their 88-67 win.
Of the teams that I viewed Indiana, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, UConn and Pitt impressed me the most. Indiana has two impressive freshman who will only get better as the season progresses. 6'7 Troy Williams and 6'10 Noah Vonleh give the Hoosiers inside and out scoring. Yogi Ferrell is playing at a much higher level at point guard, add in glue guy Will Sheehey and the Hoosiers should be battling for the Big Ten title this year.
North Carolina got off to a slow start this year but will improve as 6'9 frosh center Kennedy Meeks gets more time. Point guard Marcus Paige was the MVP of the Hall of Fame event. Paige will be a scoring point for the Tar Heels and was impressive throughout the weekend. Louisville still has some kinks to work out but the talent is there. They'll get points from their backcourt duo of Russ Smith and Juco transfer Chris Jones. 6'9 Montrezl Harrell will provide frontcourt scoring and is a solid NBA prospect.
Michigan State is currently the #1 rated team in the country. Adreian Payne is showing an NBA game with increased range. He made 4-of-6 three-pointers when we saw him and ended the night with 29 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and three assists. Branden Dawson is one of the more athletic players around and Keith Appling has taken his game up at level at point guard.
I was very impressed with UConn's Shabazz Napier. Despite generously listed at 6'1, Napier, besides being the Huskies' leading scorer has more than twice as many rebounds and offensive rebounds as anyone else on the team. He has great anticipation and reminds me of Kyle Lowry the way he can track down loose balls. Pitt has a solid, athletic squad. They aren't very big which may hurt them in the ACC but their perimeter players will help them get to the 20-win mark this year. 6'5 Lamar Patterson (17.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.4 apg) was especially impressive in the win over Stanford.