Checking in with OU, Marquette

November, 13, 2008
Checking on a few more teams before their openers:

Oklahoma (No. 8 in my rankings; No. 12 in AP; No. 14 in ESPN/USA Today).

Five points to look at as the season approaches, according to head coach Jeff Capel:

1. The Sooners are bigger and more athletic than they were in Capel's first two seasons in Norman.

2. Defensively, Capel said the Sooners should be able to pressure more often because of their depth.

3. Not having Longar Longar along the back line as a defensive stopper this season is an issue. That means Blake Griffin, Taylor Griffin, UCLA transfer Ryan Wright and freshman Orlando Allen will have to provide more of a shot-blocking presence.

4. Freshman guard Willie Warren isn't up to his potential just yet, but Capel said he has the ability to break his opponent down and get to the hoop. He's also buying into Capel's defensive philosophy. The staff knew Warren would score. Now he's just got to defend.

5. Griffin has been relentless so far. He didn't miss a shot in the two exhibition games, going 16-for-16. But he'll need to continue to be a better defender and post presence on the defensive end. A key helper for him may end up being junior Juan Pattillo, whose length at 6-foot-6 is allowing Capel to look at playing him in a few different spots.

The Sooners open the season against American on Friday night in Norman.

Marquette (No. 19 in my poll; No. 16 in AP; No. 17 in ESPN/USA Today).

Five points to look at as the season approaches, according to assistant coach Tony Benford:

1. Leadership is solid. The starting guards of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews made Buzz Williams' transition to head coach a smooth one. "They know how to win, how to play," Benford said.

2. Scoring from the perimeter isn't going to be an issue. All three are fully capable of putting up close to 20 a game on a given night.

3. Rebounding and getting key stops will be an ongoing issue.

4. Freshman center Chris Otule has been a big surprise. He has learned quickly how hard he needs to play and he's "blessed with natural talent. He continues to get tougher for us," Benford said.

5. James has embraced running the team and making sure he's getting the big men involved. The staff is pleased with the progress of junior forward Lazar Hayward, who needs to produce inside for the Eagles to have balance.

Marquette opens the season against Houston Baptist on Friday night.

• The Gazelle Group got three of its four hosts to New York after Southern Illinois came back from 15 down to beat UMass on Wednesday night in Carbondale, Ill. The Minutemen did a good job on 3-point defense in the first half, holding SIU to 0-for-8, but the Salukis were 9-of-14 in the second half, with Kevin Dillard depositing four. The crushing blow for the Minutemen was losing center Luke Bonner to a knee injury late in the first half. Bonner will be re-examined to determine the severity of the injury. The Minutemen also lost out on an opportunity to improve their power rating in New York next week in the Coaches vs. Cancer classic. UMass would have played Duke (the Minutemen play at Memphis on Monday night) and then either Michigan or UCLA (assuming the Bruins beat Miami of Ohio tonight). UMass could be in position to be a bubble team in March, and not playing high-profile teams early in the season can have a season-long effect on power ratings.

• Michigan needed to beat Northeastern on Wednesday night for its self-confidence, as the win put the Wolverines in New York where they will likely play UCLA and then possibly Duke. Michigan needs to be on the national stage to become relevant again. To do that, it helps to have a stud scoring. So far, through two games, guard Manny Harris has been just that, with 30 points against Michigan Tech and 26 against Northeastern. He is a combined 16-of-34 overall, 4-of-7 on 3s and an impressive 20-of-23 at the free-throw line with 17 boards.

Kenny Hayes of Miami of Ohio provided the first real drama of the season with a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to help the RedHawks beat Weber State 70-66 at Pauley Pavilion and deliver Charlie Coles his 300th coaching victory.

• Virginia Tech suffered a setback Wednesday with the announcement that forward J.T. Thompson is out for four to six weeks with a hernia. He will have surgery Friday. The Hokies will thus be a bit thinner for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic later this month. The Hokies play Fairfield in the first round of the event Nov. 20. Before that trip, the Hokies play Gardner-Webb on Friday and Mount St. Mary's on Monday at home. Thompson would also miss the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Wisconsin on Dec. 1.

• Wednesday was the first day of the week-long early signing period. I'm probably in the minority here, but I'd like to see one signing period, just like football (in February) and make it in the spring (in May after the coaching changes, and perhaps after the NBA declarations have been made). Coaching changes, whether through firings, departures to better gigs or retiring, have to be taken into consideration by high school seniors and junior-college sophomores. Programs like North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Florida, UCLA and Texas are now so established that the power of the program can recruit itself, to some extent. But I see no problem with a number of high-profile players in the Class of 2009 waiting. As of Thursday morning, six of the top 15 in ESPNU's top 100 still hadn't committed. I've talked to a number of coaches who would like to get rid of July and go to recruiting during the season. High school students would still play all summer (although it wouldn't hurt for some to also have a summer job to earn some cash. Remember when that was the norm?).

• Saw Boston College earlier this week, and it's apparent that the Eagles will have more options to score. Josh Southern is a dramatic improvement running the floor and finishing over Tyrelle Blair. He's not the shot blocker Blair was, but he's an improved scorer. Tyrese Rice also has plenty of help on the wings with face-up forward Joe Trapani, formerly of Vermont, who can hit the 3-pointer and drive for a power layup.

Rakim Sanders should blossom as a sophomore. He's a tough matchup to guard on the wing because of his sturdy 6-5, 225-pound frame. The other two sophomores -- Corey Raji and Biko Paris -- have improved as well with their understanding of Al Skinner's flex offense. The freshman guard Reggie Jackson and forwards Dallas Elmore and Evan Ravenel all have good size for their respective positions. But the only way the Eagles make the NCAAs is if they can defend. Skinner said that's the big unknown right now with this squad. If they can defend well enough, they have a shot.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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