What a great start to the 2002-03 college basketball season Thursday night, with Memphis beating Syracuse and Alabama upsetting Oklahoma! We've started on the road to the Final Four in New Orleans -- and come March we'll find out which teams will stand tall, with one capturing the gold trophy and cutting down the nets as the national champion.
It is all tipping off at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of college basketball, baby! The AT&T Wireless Coaches vs. Cancer Classic ends with the final two games Friday night. This year's Classic is a one-game format for all the teams, with no championship game as in previous years.
|Sophomore T.J. Ford leads the Longhorns as one of the nation's best point guards.|
While no champion will be crowned at this year's event, the eventual national champion could come from this eight-team field, which includes five squads ranked in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll: Oklahoma (No. 3), Texas (5), Alabama (8), Georgia (16) and Marquette (19).
As they did on the first night, the fans at MSG on Friday will get their money's worth with exciting action -- a great way to start what should be a super, scintillating, sensational season of college hoops! Let's break down the two Friday night contests:
VILLANOVA-MARQUETTE | Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Wildcats are excited about coach Jay Wright's recruiting class, led by New York schoolboy sensation Jason Fraser. He will be dynamite on the defense end, though he needs to improve offensively. His 6-10 presence will be a factor inside.
Three other freshman are poised to contribute. Like Fraser, guard Allan Ray should be excited about playing in New York City after coming from St. Raymond's High School in the Bronx. Forward Curtis Sumpter comes from Bishop Loughlin High School in the Big Apple. Guard Randy Foye, who comes from the other side of the Hudson River (Newark, N.J.), can pass and shoot from the perimeter.
The Wildcats have a nice blend of youth and experience. Senior guard Gary Buchanan has been bothered by injuries (thumb on non-shooting hand, knee). Junior guard Derrick Snowden can be dynamite on the perimeter, while senior forward Ricky Wright is an unsung hero down low.
Things are looking up big-time for Villanova.
Marquette, meanwhile, is one of the toughest defensive teams in America. Last year, the Golden Eagles were one of the nation's surprise teams. But this club won't sneak up on anyone this season.
Junior guard Dwyane Wade is an explosive high-riser who can flat-out play. He's dangerous as an offensive rebounder, and I expect him to post great numbers all season long. Also keep an eye on senior forward Bobby Jackson, a transfer who started for three years at Mississippi State. He returned home to Milwaukee, and now he'll provide strength and power down low.
Junior forward Scott Merritt must step up and rebound. The arrival of freshman Steve Novak, the 6-10 Mr. Basketball from Wisconsin, will be a big plus. Novak can shoot the rock. Sophomore point guard Travis Diener is another key. It won't be easy replacing Cordell Henry, who graduated last spring.
All-America candidate Wade vs. the 'Nova diaper dandies -- the Garden will be rocking!
TEXAS-GEORGIA | Friday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Georgia has lots of talent, though coach Jim Harrick's Bulldogs will be shorthanded due to suspensions for junior forwards Steve Thomas and Chris Daniels. Depth could be a question in this opener, since Texas returns almost everybody from last year's Sweet 16 squad.
The Longhorns are led by super soph point guard T.J. Ford, the first freshman to lead the nation in assists. An outstanding penetrator, Ford has worked diligently to add to his range as a shooter.
He has a host of people to dish to. Juniors Brandon Mouton and Royal Ivey on the wings, juniors Brian Boddicker and James Thomas inside, plus diaper dandy forward Brad Buckman. Texas will be powerful on the glass.
The Longhorns will be tough to beat. But Georgia has an experienced backcourt with junior Rashad Wright, an excellent defender at the point, and senior Ezra Williams, who can knock down the 3-pointer.
Plus, junior swingman Damien Wilkens is now eligible after transferring from N.C. State, and he'll provide a spark for the Bulldogs. Twin brothers Jarvis and Jonas Hayes must do a strong job on the glass against Texas.
By the way, Jarvis Hayes is one of the top 10 players in America. He is the guts of this Georgia team, capable of scoring inside and outside.
This should be a dandy way to close out two great days of basketball. Fans can get everything they want -- super perimeter scorers, scintillating diaper dandies and sensational coaches. It all adds up to a big-time way to start the season, baby!
Editor's Note: Following are Dickie V's notes on Thursday night's matchups, which contain plenty of valuable information on each team unrelated to Thursday's games.
This game features two well-known coaches in Mr. Syracuse, Jim Boeheim, and John Calipari. Boeheim bleeds orange, and the floor at the Carrier Dome is named after him, deservingly so.
The Syracuse coach is excited about this year's team, largely because of the presence of diaper dandy forward Carmelo Anthony. Remember, the Orangemen went into a big nose dive at the end of last season.
This year there's enthusiasm over Anthony, who turned down the NBA for an opportunity with Syracuse. Anthony is a do-it-all baseline performer from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. He will not be alone, as senior swingman Kueth Duany returns and sophomore center Craig Forth has improved on the inside. Forth, a 7-footer, should be stronger on the low blocks. Sophomore forward Hakim Warrick is another exciting player with quickness and explosiveness.
It should be a big year for Syracuse, though the Orangemen will be tested right out of the gate. Memphis has experience and size inside with senior center Earl Barron, the 7-footer who must give Calipari a strong effort every game for the Tigers to succeed. Barron is a finesse big man with a good jump shot who also can be active around the glass.
Sophomore guard Anthony Rice can be a special performer on the perimeter. Memphis will likely be without junior guard Antonio Burks, who provides good quickness. Burks was suspended pending appeal for what was ruled as an extra benefit.
The Calipari-Boeheim matchup promises to be exciting. And I can't wait to see Anthony in action for the Orange.
This game features two of the most outstanding programs in America. I believe both teams will be in the hunt for a trip to New Orleans.
Coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide have one of the nation's top inside-outside duos in sophomore guard Maurice Williams and senior forward Erwin Dudley. Look for Williams to improve his shooting from the perimeter -- he worked hard on that area in the offseason. This tandem is among the top five in America, in my book.
Oklahoma, coming off last year's Final Four journey, has the potential to return again. Coach Kelvin Sampson has done wonders with the Sooners' program. If you listed the top combinations of football and basketball programs, now that former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier is in the NFL, the tandem of Sampson and Bob Stoops rates No. 1 to me.
The Sooners return a ton of talent, led by senior guards Hollis Price and Ebi Ere. Price is Mr. Clutch on the perimeter, showing intensity on both ends of the court, while Ere should have another big year on the wing.
Junior center Jabhari Brown provides shot-blocking ability, and watch out for the talent and athleticism of freshman forward Kevin Bookout. How good an athlete is Bookout? He could be a candidate for the 2008 Olympics in track and field. Another first-year performer to watch is guard D'Angelo Alexander.
It's not pigskin time, it's hoops time, baby! These two teams belong in the top 10 in the polls.