Wednesday, November 21, 2007

CBE Classic Review

For my money, the most impressive slate of teams in the semifinal round of a tournament so far has occurred in the CBE Classic, consisting of the #1 team in the land, a Big 10 favorite and two other major conference up and coming teams. Just a quick look at these four teams and what we learned about them in their play in Kansas City:

4) Maryland obviously had a rough time, running into a buzzsaw in UCLA in the first round and then having to match up against a difficult Missouri team a day later. While I still think Maryland has a strong chance at making the NCAA tournament, they have some major issues. Perhaps most important is their complete inability to hit the three-point shot, only hitting one in each game, and both of those coming at the end of games when they were scrambling to get back in it. I think this is going to be a season-long problem as I’m not sure anyone on their team is capable of doing that reasonably well. The second major problem for this team is taking care of the ball. Turning the ball over 44 times over the course of two games and only hitting two three-pointers is a sure recipe for failure against top competition. Certainly Gary Williams will get the most out of his team, but I don’t think this team has the necessary components to be a serious contender come March.

3) Missouri certainly gave their fans a fun time in Kansas City, and their fast-paced, high-pressure style is likely to give opposing teams fits throughout the season. They put together a furious comeback against Michigan State in the semifinal round, only to have it thwarted in crunch-time by veteran Drew Neitzel, but came back on Tuesday to handle Maryland. Missouri doesn’t have a lot of height, but they are a very athletic team that will pressure the ball full court from the opening jump to the closing buzzer, and their ability to spread the court offensively and get penetration from guards Stefhon Hannah and Keon Lawrence and knock down three-pointers with Hannah, Lawrence and junior swingman Matt Lawrence. Throw in athletic do-everything forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons and this is a team that could cause serious problems late in the season.

2) Michigan State was perhaps a Drew Neitzel stomach bug away from winning this tournament, albeit at the expense of UCLA that had injury issues if its own. Regardless, the Spartans showed well in this tournament and given their young talent, figure to be a team that will improve over the course of the season. Freshmen Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers give this team a big more balanced scoring punch than they had last year, and that combined with Neitzel and talented sophomore forward Raymar Morgan could make for the best offensive Spartan team in some time. Throw in the typical Izzo grinders in the middle and these guys will be a tough out.

1) The coming-out party for Kevin Love is complete, and despite his excellent showing, these Bruins go home a runner-up were it not for the play of role players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Russell Westbrook. UCLA’s experience shone through in a tough second-half comeback against Michigan State Tuesday night, as they outscored a game Spartan team by 16 in the final 20 minutes, after a uninspiring first half performance. But, of course, the big story is Love, who really did live up to expectations, proving himself a phenomenal rebounder, a skilled passer, a wily scrapper in the post, a tough competitor and a player seemingly beyond his years. After the Bruin offense struggled in the first half Tuesday, the ball was rerouted through Love a bit more often in the second half, and the offense clicked, highlighted by a couple nice high-low passes from Love to teammates. Considering the success that UCLA experienced without point guard Darren Collison, UCLA definitely looks like a very strong contender to be dancing deep into March, and even early April.

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