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Tuesday, November 28, 2000
'Nova has high hopes in NIT

Steve Lappas is giddy over Michael Bradley, so much that he's not even trying to downplay his impact.

"He's got the base, got all of it and then some, he's a great player," the Villanova coach said of his Kentucky transfer center. "You should see the things he can do. He hit two 3s, had three dunks and two nice touch passes (in an exhibition). Malik (Allen) was a good player but this kid's feel for the game is so much different."

Michael Bradley
Bradley was happy to be back on the court.

Wow. Talk about pumping a player up before his first game.

Bradley gets his chance to answer the pub Tuesday night against Fairfield in the Preseason NIT. If the Wildcats win that game as expected, they'll likely meet Duke Thursday in Durham, N.C. The Blue Devils play host to Princeton in John Thompson's debut as head coach at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

The Preseason NIT semifinals and finals are Nov. 22 and 24 at Madison Square Garden.

If the Villanova-Duke matchup occurs, Lappas thinks Bradley will give the Wildcats as much of a physical presence as Allen did last year. But he'll also force Duke's center Carlos Boozer to defend him out on the perimeter after he scored 28 points on 11 for 14 (two 3s) in an exhibition loss to the One World All Stars last week.

Bradley can step outside for Villanova because he's got help inside in 6-10 forward Brooks Sales, who Lappas said bulked up from a year ago. Ricky Wright and Aaron Matthews will rotate inside next to Sales and Bradley, giving Villanova its most physical frontcourt under Lappas. And, to make sure Lappas is spreading his praise around, he said his guards -- senior Jermaine Medley (38.1 percent on 3s last season) and all-Big East rookie guard Gary Buchanan -- will be two of the best shooters in the Big East this season.

The only problem is they might have to wait until they play at St. John's on Jan. 20 to get into the Garden. Villanova, a favorite of the postseason NIT, wasn't given any favors by the Preseason NIT with the matchup against Duke.

"ESPN wanted a second-round matchup I guess," Lappas said. "We would draw real well in New York because we're so close. I thought we would get two home games. If any coach was asked which game they wouldn't want to stay alive in an elimination tournament, it would be at Duke. But it will be a great experience."

The rest of the NIT field:

Delaware at Temple, Monday: Former Duke assistant David Henderson makes his debut with the Blue Hens. But, so too, does Temple?s new look of Lynn Greer at the point. The staff said Greer is giving the Owls a different look than Pepe Sanchez. Greer's job is easier now that Quincy Wadley, in his fifth year, is a shooter first but can help run the team. Former Clemson signee Ronald Blackshear could be a big-time scoring guard, but he?s not ready to start yet. But either Alex Webber or former Tulane signee David Hawkins could get the nod at one forward.

George Mason at New Mexico, Monday: The Lobos will travel to Philadelphia if they defeat 27-year-old George Evans and the Patriots. The key to the Lobos thus far has been the play of JC scoring guard Eric Chatfield, who made 27 points in an exhibition. The Lobos are getting more out of forward Brian Smith then they thought after he scored eight points in 14 minutes despite nursing a nagging knee injury. Meanwhile, Malcolm Battles had 17 in 20 minutes inside. Guards Tim Lightfoot, who had an eye infection, and Marlon Parmer, who was nursing a bad ankle, are expected to play.

Mississippi State at Cal, Monday, 11:59 p.m., ESPN2: Next to Pepperdine-Indiana, this might be the best matchup in the Preseason NIT. Cal needs a breakthrough tournament to prove it can play in the top five in the Pac-10. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have one of the most underrated frontcourts in the nation. Coach Rick Stansbury said McDonald's all-American Mario Austin came in with an inspired work ethic and could start at one forward. He'll join returnees Tang Hamilton and Robert Jackson, a beefy pair of bookends in the SEC. Antonio Jackson and Tyrus Boswell give the Bulldogs one of the deeper frontcourts in the SEC and could tie up Cal's Sean Lampley, Nick Vander Laan, Saulius Kuzminskas and Solomon Hughes. Guard play will be decisive Monday where the Bears' Joe Shipp, Brian Weathers, Donte Smith and Shantay Legans might hold the edge.

Navy at Texas, Monday: The winner of Cal-Mississippi State will likely get shipped to Austin to face Texas. The Longhorns are awaiting the anticipated debut of Wichita State shooting guard Maurice Evans. Forward Chris Owens has been stellar in practice after getting even more cut in the offseason. The Longhorns will miss guard Darren Kelley (ineligible for the fall), and the depth injured guard Roosevelt Brown provided. The pressure is on point Fredie Williams to get the ball to Evans and Owens.

South Alabama at Marquette, Tuesday: The winner is likely on the road if Indiana beats Pepperdine in their bracket. The Golden Eagles are still a year away from prime time but have the pieces in place to be tough team to face. Senior center Greg Clausen has played well early, but the Golden Eagles will need some production out of freshman forward Terry Sanders in his debut.

Pepperdine at Indiana, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN: Mike Davis makes his interim coach debut with the Hoosiers. Davis will push the tempo, but more important he'll have McDonald's All-American Jared Jeffries handle the ball as much as possible. Look for the new pro-style offense with Jeffries being the focus. Dane Fife will start at the point and have more freedom to score at will. Look out for a jump hook from sophomore George Leach that wasn't available to the Hoosiers last season. Pepperdine isn't the same Wave team that crushed the Hoosiers last season. Guard Brandon Armstrong is back, as is center Kelvin Gibbs, but the Waves will miss center Nick Sheppard and the team's best defender in Tommie Prince.

Watch the scores
BCA Classic, Winston-Salem, N.C., Thursday-Friday: (Wake Forest vs. Mount St. Mary's; Air Force vs. Houston): The Demon Deacons should sweep but debuts of Princeton offense at Air Force and Houston freshman Alton Ford are worth checking out.

Looking back
Team of the Week
Kansas: The Jayhawks got out to two fast starts against UCLA and St. John's, before holding off both clubs in a Coaches vs. Cancer title. Kansas lived up to its preseason hype by being a better scoring team and one that could be the envy of most uptempo style coaches. While defense was suspect at times, the Jayhawks showed they've got plenty of character by handling duress this early in the season.

Player of the Week
Joseph Forte, So., North Carolina: Forte scored a career-high 38 points in a NABC Classic title victory over Tulsa on Saturday. His previous high was 28 in the Elite Eight victory over the Golden Hurricane last March. The production came after Forte was a mere mortal 2 for 11 for 10 points in a squeaker victory over Winthrop the previous night. All-Americans rise to the bigger games and Forte answered his call, making 10 of 18 shots, 12 of 13 free throws, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Climbing up
St. John's: Start serving the crow. The Red Storm didn't make our top 25 cut but certainly played like a team worthy of consideration during the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. While the Red Storm found a go-to scorer (Omar Cook), they need more production out of their wings. However, they were as active around the basket as any team in the field. They'll have a say in defending their Big East title.

Better watch out
Kentucky: The Wildcats can recover from 0-2, just like Duke did a year ago. But they've got to get more production out of Tayshaun Prince on the perimeter. Prince was a combined 2 for 14 on 3s in the two losses to St. John's and UCLA. Meanwhile, freshman Jason Parker has to understand rebounding is his first priority. Parker had 10 boards in the loss to St. John's but then only two in an overtime loss to the Bruins.

Top Five
Drew Gooden, So., Kansas: Did he blow up or what? Gooden looks bigger, more skilled and so much more confident handling the basketball after putting up 22 off the bench in Kansas' victory against St. John's. The 6-9 forward has made himself into a potential pro over the past year.

Kenny Gregory, Sr., Kansas: The forgotten man on Kansas' roster was everywhere during the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney. He outran every player on St. John's and UCLA to get transition baskets. He was all over the offensive backboards. And he was more mature than Cook when he got in Gregory's face during free throws Saturday night.

T.J. Cummings, Fr., UCLA: All the attention leading up to the Coaches vs. Cancer was on Cook, but Cummings deserved equal billing. Cummings scored 24 in his debut, the most ever by a UCLA freshman. He already has got the corner jumper and baby hook down and just needs to get stronger to catch teammate Dan Gadzuric.

Omar Cook, Fr., St. John's: Few players live up to their hype this fast, but Cook has in two games. His off-Broadway debut at 34th and 8th was sensational after dispelling the myths that he couldn't shoot with nine 3s in two games. St. John's should be in every game because of Cook.

Brendan Haywood, Sr., North Carolina: Like Forte, Haywood arrived for the big game when he scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had six blocks in the victory against Tulsa. Haywood had five blocks but not much else with only an average 10 points in the victory against Winthrop. Haywood and Forte combined for the team's first 23 of 25 points. If Forte and Haywood are the inside-out combo they were against Tulsa then Carolina can be a contender.

Top of the Word Classic, Fairbanks, Alaska, Thursday-Sunday (Alaska-Fairbanks vs. Colorado, Jackson State vs. Austin Peay, Davidson vs. South Florida, Santa Clara vs. Utah State): Seth Greenberg and Stew Morrill must not be well-liked by the organizers. South Florida and Utah State should be the favorites yet are playing in the second round. Colorado needs a strong showing in this field but the Bulls and Aggies might need the victories more in March.

CoSIDA Classic, Raleigh, N.C., Friday-Saturday (N.C. State vs. Penn; Fordham vs. Charlotte): This is one of the best foursomes assembled short of Coaches vs. Cancer. N.C. State needs to win at home for its confidence and ultimate power rating, but Penn is the favorite in the Ivy. Charlotte was's preseason No. 25 because of newcomer Rodney White.

What's at stake
Florida State's pride: The Seminoles host Florida in a season opener Friday before the Saturday football game between the two schools. The Seminoles were crushed a year ago in the same game in Gainesville.

Calipari's crusade: Memphis coach John Calipari wanted a marquee opener and he couldn't have found a better one than Temple. Calipari and John Chaney nearly came to blows after an UMass-Temple game earlier in the '90s. The fans are expecting a victory on Friday's opening night at the Pyramid.

Cheney road bragging rights: Gonzaga coach Mark Few and first-year Eastern Washington coach Ray Giacoletti both live off Cheney Road in Spokane, Wash. The two spent weekends riding their bikes to each other's house in August and now open the season against each other at Eastern Washington Friday.

Vanderbilt's decision on an opener: Choosing to play South Carolina State could be a dangerous first game Friday in the pool-play format of the America's Youth Classic in Nashville (Western Carolina and St. Joseph's are the other teams). Cy Alexander has the Bulldogs on track for the MEAC title again.

Louisville's confidence: Denny Crum wanted to play a game before the Maui Invitational, but he didn't choose BYU-Hawaii or Hawaii-Pacific. He's playing at Hawaii on Friday in a game that the Warriors have waited for all summer in their need to make an early-season splash. Louisville's games in Maui are against Maryland in round one, likely UNLV (against Illinois) in the second game and a possible third game against host Chaminade.

Oakland's chance to make a name in Michigan: Oakland University in Michigan opens up Friday and Sunday playing host to Michigan and traveling to Michigan State. Win one and in-state recruiting could get a lot easier.

Carolina's toughness: If the Tar Heels weren't tested enough by Winthrop and Tulsa at home, how about a road game opening up Appalachian State's new arena Friday?

Hofstra in the post-Speedy era: Remember the names of guards Rick Apodaca and Norman Richardson. Both will help Jay Wright win without Speedy Claxton in the Flying Dutchmen debut Friday and Saturday against Northern Illinois in the Florida International (FIU vs. Belmont) Tip-Off Classic in Miami.

What's working
Officiating the new rules: Officials called tighter games in New York and it resulted in higher-paced games, albeit 32 free throws each for UCLA and Kansas Thursday night.

Matt Doherty's energy: Doherty got a technical in his first game, threw out T-shirts to fans and basically enthused his fans and team in Carolina's two-game sweep of the NABC Classic.

Exempted tournaments: Two close, euphoric tournaments opened the season. Both were exempted. Neither would have had the same four teams if they weren't. Any questions?

Zone defense: Officials are calling the games tighter, which leads to more fouls, which leads to more zone. Kansas played a lot of it, but it worked to diffuse St. John's. They won't be alone in trying more zone this season.

Exhibition games: If the conference commissioners have their way, exhibitions will be gone, too. But Kansas wouldn't have been as prepared without the two exhibition games prior to New York. Athletics directors might have a say, too, when they see two more home games taken off the season-ticket package.

What needs correcting
Chenowith's foul problems: The Kansas center has maximized his minutes with better scoring with fewer shots, but he's got to watch the fouls. He fouled out of both games in New York but he'll need to stay on the floor longer when the Jayhawks get into the more physical Big 12.

The trapezoid lane: One official said he wasn't sure where to line up the players. The experimental lane is only here for the exempted tournaments. It shouldn't last past the New Year.

Calls in the last few minutes: While officials did call the games tighter overall, they still let the players play in the final few minutes. A few missed calls were made in the last few minutes in New York that probably would have been whistled earlier in the game.

Gadzuric and Barnes: UCLA showed it has the potential to be a Pac-10 contender, but only if they get everyone producing. The Bruins can't afford to have two of their three inside players -- Dan Gadzuric and Matt Barnes -- disappear in games as they did against Kansas. They showed up for Kentucky and the Bruins won.

Winthrop's power rating: Any chances for a potential at-large bid in March might hinge on upsetting Nebraska and Clemson on the road. The Eagles blew a chance to pull off November victories against North Carolina and Arizona State that would have been remembered in March for one of the Big South's favorites.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at His Weekly Watch on the week ahead and the previous week in college basketball is updated Mondays throughout the seasons.
NIT at a glance

Katz: Coaches vs. Cancer a sizzling start

Weekly Word

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