The Thanksgiving week college basketball schedule offers its usual run of interesting holiday tournaments and two of the better storylines, especially in the games taking place from Monday to Wednesday are in the Big 12, where both Kansas and Texas take the floor.
There’s a part of me that wonders why we even bother to preview and analyze Kansas anymore. Whether they’ve got everybody back or nobody back, they churn out a Big 12 title, range from a 1 thru a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and get to March as a legitimate Final Four threat. There’s no reason not to expect the same from Bill Self’s team this time around.
Kansas has to replace its outstanding power forward Thomas Robinson, but they do have bulk underneath in returning center Jeff Withey. While not nearly as athletic as Robinson, Withey can be a double-digit scorer if he’s the first option in the post. And one of Self’s early season projects will be getting freshman power forward Perry Ellis up to speed. One of the most highly touted recruits to come from the state’s high school programs in the last ten years, Ellis has the talent to quickly make people forget about Robinson.
In the backcourt, the Jayhawks have a steady hand at the wheel in senior point guard Elijah Johnson. The ultimate fate of their team—i.e., where they rest on that 1-to-3 seed pendulum will come at the wings. Travis Releford is back and the 6’6” senior needs to become a 12-13 ppg scorer. Self will also give minutes to freshman guard Rio Adams, whom the coach likes for his ability to help in ballhandling. Adams’ development and whether the senior Releford can take the next step as an offensive player are the two key issues for Kansas.
Texas has been out of the national spotlight for a few years now after a run where it seemed like Rick Barnes always had the talent on hand. The Longhorns went heavy on freshmen last year, got better as the season went along, made it into the NCAA Tournament and then dropped a heartbreaker. In other words, they did what you would expect a team of talented freshmen to do.
Now they’re a group of talented sophomores and if all goes well, should be able to get in the top three of the Big 12 and perhaps make an extended March push. But before we assume that, there are some problems that have to be pointed out. First off, when I say this is a team that’s heavy on underclassmen, I do mean it literally. Four starters are sophomores and another is a freshman. Even allowing they’ve got more experience than the average group, that’s still a very young team. And while the players are good, none are reminding anyone of Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Furthermore, this is a team with serious deficiencies in the post. At their best, the Longhorns will be guard-oriented team that has to push the ball up the floor. And if freshman center Cameron Ridley can’t come through as a back-to-the-basket option on offense? Then Texas fans are going to endure a roller coaster ride, where they can blow the doors off good opponents with their athletic talent, followed by frustrating losses to teams that slow the tempo and expose the lack of a post game.
For better or worse, the UT season rests on the sophomore guard trio of Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan. Getting more consistency in three-point shooting will be one issue, but other than that’s its just general experience issues that Barnes has to keep working on. This team should be interesting to watch, with a wide range of possible outcomes on the board.
Kansas will play Monday and Tuesday in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, starting with Washington State and concluding with the winner of St. Louis-Texas A&M. Barnes takes his team to Hawaii for the three-day Maui Classic that starts today. The ‘Horns are guaranteed three games on the islands and the tournament includes names like Marquette and rebuilding North Carolina on the high end, with Butler, USC, and Mississippi State also lurking.
Here’s the rundown on other tournament action going on this week…
*New York City has action early in the week. The Barclays Center hosts a doubleheader of Indiana-Georgia and UCLA-Georgetown tonight, with winners & losers playing tomorrow. Then on Wednesday/Friday it’s the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden, with overrated Michigan, Pitt, Kansas State and Virginia on the docket.
*The single best tournament of the week is down in the Bahamas, with the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thursday thru Saturday. Duke, Louisville and Missouri are set to go.
*With a schedule of Thursday-Friday, followed by Sunday finales, we have two tournaments on opposite coasts. The Old Spice Classic is in Orlando, with the Anaheim Classic out west. In Orlando, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga & West Virginia highlight the bracket, while the focal points out west are Cal, St. Mary’s & Xavier. I know, probably not something to make you turn off football or tell the visiting relatives you need to watch.
*There’s two tournaments in Las Vegas, both going Friday-Saturday. The Global Sports Classic is headlined by UNLV and Cincinnati, while the Las Vegas Invitational is keynoted by Wisconsin, Arkansas and Arizona State.
*And we can wrap it up by acknowledging the Cancun Classic, the Great Alaska Shootout and the South Padre Island tournament, none of whom have anyone really worth talking about right now.