Originally Published: November 18, 2012

College basketball offers up an early feast

By Robbi Pickeral

We were teased with a true opening day.

We got mesmerized by the 24-hour Marathon.

And if that, in these pre-conference college basketball days of wacky matchups and could-be upsets, isn't enough to be thankful for: This week, we get to feast.

No, I'm not (just) talking about that can-shaped cranberry log, Mama Kay's marshmallow-topped yams or your second cousin's turducken (do people actually eat those?), but about dazzling dunks and missed free throws and that highlight play from some bench guy you've never heard of but won't soon forget.

From Alaska to Maui, from Vegas to Orlando, from the Bahamas to South Padre Island, basketball teams will be carving out some early-season storylines this week.

Here are some issues/teams/players to chew on while you're defrosting the bird, pecaning the pie or making reservations because of last year's deep-fryer incident:

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesFlea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers got what he wanted -- Shabazz Muhammad will suit up for UCLA.


Whether you agree or disagree with the NCAA's decision to finally declare superfreshman Shabazz Muhammad eligible to play (after repaying $1,600 in impermissible benefits and sitting out three games), he is finally eligible to play. We will find out what this much-anticipated UCLA team can be.

Without the left-handed wing, the 13th-ranked Bruins posted blowout victories against Indiana State and James Madison, but they needed overtime to escape UC Irvine. But with Muhammad -- the consensus national high school player of the year last season -- many think UCLA's return to prominence could take a Final Four turn.

The 6-foot-6 playmaker from Las Vegas is already projected to be a top-10 NBA draft pick should he choose to go one-and-done. He will make his season debut Monday against Georgetown in the Legends Classic, joining a heralded freshman class that also includes Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker. No. 1 Indiana or Georgia will be next on the docket, meaning Muhammad has a chance to have a fast impact.

It will be interesting to see how Muhammad's college debut compares to other highly ranked rookies in his class.

Nerlens Noel, the only player in ESPNU's Top 100 who was ranked ahead of Muhammad, went 2-for-6 with nine rebounds, three blocks and three missed free throws in a three-point win over Maryland in his first start for Kentucky. Baylor center Isaiah Austin, ranked No. 3, shot 10-for-12 for 22 points in his first start, a 22-point win over Lehigh. And No. 4 Kaleb Tarczewski finished 2-for-4 with four points and four rebounds in his debut with Arizona, a victory over Charleston Southern.


Indiana's Yogi Ferrell and North Carolina's Marcus Paige don't match up until Nov. 27 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but this week should set up both freshmen -- as well as a few other rookie point guards -- for the spotlight. While Ferrell and the Hoosiers face Georgia, then UCLA or Georgetown in the Legends Classic, Paige will be playing three games in three days (with potential matchups against Butler, Marquette and/or Texas) in Maui.

How will two of the top three ball handlers in ESPN's 2012 Top 100 handle the pace, the spotlight and some pretty good foes? Pittsburgh's James Robinson, the fourth-ranked point guard in his class, also will be in action at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and Tyler Lewis, an NC State reserve ranked the fifth ball handler in his class, can be seen Sunday night during the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.


During halftime of Kentucky's loss to Duke last week, coach John Calipari accused the Blue Devils of "flopping all over the place. In the NBA, they'd all be suspended."

After the game, he said it was a joke. But to those who don't like the physicality of the game -- or the instances of pretend physicality that dot every conference -- it's no laughing matter.

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Paul Abell/US PresswireJohn Calipari fanned the flames when he brought up the block-charge subject during the UK-Duke game.

Try this. Flip on your tube (or 70-inch flat-screen, should you be luckier than most of us) during one of the tournaments this week and time how long it takes you to see this: Some little guy will be driving to the basket. A big guy will step in front. And despite only a whisper of contact (if that), the bigger guy will fall theatrically to the ground, forcing officials to make a split second call (or no-call) that will be debated for days in the Twitterverse.

The NBA now can fine its players for such repeated, flopping antics. Perhaps, then, the NCAA should reconsider enforcing an old rule that allows officials to call a technical foul if a player repeatedly flops. It's not the physical nature of the game that bothers me; it's the players who only act like they're trying to make a physical play -- and who give actually taking a charge a bad rep.


The reason so many fans love the NCAA tournament in March is the underdog factor.

So is it all that wrong to hope for a November Cinderella as well?

Remember: This year marks the 30th anniversary of tiny Chaminade's upset over Ralph Sampson's top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982. The stunner by the then-NAIA school (in what was supposed to be an easy stop-over game for the Cavaliers on their way home from Tokyo) spurred creation of the Maui Classic, now known as the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Chaminade, now a Division II school, still serves as host -- and hopeful spoiler.

So keep an eye out for the Silverswords, as well as the Quinnipiacs and Longwoods of the world in various tournaments.

During Feast Week, you never know who might give your chosen team heartburn.

Team of the Week: Duke

The Blue Devils beat third-ranked Kentucky 75-68 at the Champions Classic in Atlanta. The win sent a strong message to the ACC and the rest of the nation that the Blue Devils will be a factor in the chase. Seth Curry proved he can be a leader who isn't shy about taking a big shot, and Mason Plumlee was the more dominant big man among the more touted Kentucky bigs.

Duke doesn't have the depth of many of its fellow contenders, but it has the experience and competitiveness to make this a tough out. How the Blue Devils handle the neutral court at the absolutely loaded Battle 4 Atlantis will be just as intriguing and an even better clue as to how this season will go for Mike Krzyzewski's group. Duke opens with Minnesota, then faces either Memphis or VCU and possibly Louisville or Missouri in the third game. If the Devils are in this space a week from now, they will be a true national title contender.

-- Andy Katz

Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Sunday, Nov. 11, to Saturday, Nov. 17.

Five more that impressed us

Alabama: Bama won the 2K Sports Classic with a late-possession win over Oregon State and then a hammering of Villanova at Madison Square Garden. The Crimson Tide aren't really highly skilled in some key spots, but they are extremely athletic and play with confidence in late-game situations. Trevor Lacey is emerging as a star, and bringing Trevor Releford off the bench has proved beneficial as his productivity increases.

Florida State: The Seminoles looked downright awful in a season-opening loss to South Alabama. So there was every reason to give up on Florida State. But the Noles played up to their potential and won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn with consecutive wins over BYU and Saint Joseph's. Leonard Hamilton was convinced he had an ACC title team, and now FSU is starting to play with that potential. Perhaps the opening debacle will prove to be a fluke.

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James Snook/US PresswireElias Harris and Gonzaga gave West Virginia a knockout punch at The Kennel.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs put on the most dominating performance of the Tip-Off Marathon by pounding West Virginia by 34 points in Spokane, handing the Mountaineers their worst season-opening loss ever. Gonzaga wasn't even at full strength with Kelly Olynyk suspended. That's scary. I said it before the season, and I'll say it again now: The Zags are a legit Final Four contender.

SMU: Larry Brown took over what was supposed to be a major rebuilding job. But it's three games into the season (two on the road), and the Mustangs haven't lost. This young SMU team has really defended well, giving up only 61 points to rival TCU and 58 to Loyola Marymount. It's hard not to credit Brown with the turnaround. It's a long season, and some struggles are still likely, but this is a promising start.

Xavier: The Musketeers were supposed to be in a major rebuilding mode. And perhaps they still are. But now they are doing it without missing a beat. Xavier completely took apart Butler during the Tip-Off Marathon and is 3-0 on the young season. Chris Mack's group was picked ninth in the preseason A-10 poll. There's no way that will happen.

Shoutout-worthy: Albany, Bucknell, Cal State Northridge, Colorado, Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Michigan State, Santa Clara, Wichita State

-- Andy Katz

The Weekly Starting Five

Five players who stood out during the week that was:

Keith Appling, Michigan State: The MSU guard led his Spartans to a 67-64 upset over No. 7 Kansas in Atlanta. He scored eight points in the last seven minutes of the game, a flurry that included a crucial layup with 16 seconds to play. The victory helped Appling (19 points, 3 assists) and the Spartans bounce back from a season-opening loss against Connecticut.

Seth Curry, Duke: The senior guard gave the Blue Devils 23 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in a 75-68 upset against No. 3 Kentucky during the Champions Classic. Curry was 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game. And his late buckets and free throws preserved Duke's lead.

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Geoff Burke/US PresswireCarl Hall and WSU were supposed to be rebuilding. Maybe not?

Carl Hall, Wichita State: WSU lost the bulk of its starters from last season, but Hall & Co. are off to a 4-0 start. The senior had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Shockers' 53-51 road win over VCU. He followed that performance with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in a 71-57 victory over North Carolina Central.

Mike Muscala, Bucknell: Bucknell, not All-American C.J. McCollum's Lehigh squad, looks like the best team in the Patriot League right now. Muscala, a 6-11 senior, has led the Bison to a 4-0 start. He was the anchor in Tuesday's 61-56 win over George Mason (16 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks), Friday's 88-71 victory at Niagara (18 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks) and Saturday's 62-49 win over New Mexico State (24 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks). Remember, this team that opened the season with a win at Purdue.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart has lived up the hype thus far, although turnovers (nine total) have been a challenge. The Oklahoma State freshman has led the Cowboys to a 3-0 start. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Smart had 16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists in a 69-65 overtime win versus Akron. On Friday, he pushed OSU into Sunday's tourney title matchup against North Carolina State with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in a 62-45 win against Tennessee.

Other performances of note:

Askia Booker, Colorado: 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 67-57 win against Dayton; 19 points, 3 assists and 3 steals in 60-58 upset over No. 16 Baylor

Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State: 27 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in 100-72 win over UC-Santa Barbara; 21 points, 3 rebounds and 4 blocks in 86-84 overtime win against Drexel

C.J. Fair, Syracuse: 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals in 62-49 win against San Diego State

Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: 30 points, 5 assists and 7 steals in 74-62 win at Saint Louis

Erik Murphy, Florida: 24 points on 10-of-10 shooting and 8 rebounds in 74-56 win over Wisconsin

Alex Poythress, Kentucky: 20 points, 8 rebounds in 75-68 loss to Duke; 22 points, 5 rebounds in 101-49 victory against Lafayette

Trevor Releford, Alabama: 14 points in 80-49 win against West Alabama; 14 points, 5 assists and 2 steals in 65-62 victory against Oregon State; 25 points in 77-55 win against Villanova

-- Myron Medcalf


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