The time is here!
Well, the 2006-07 season officially began Friday night, when schools across the nation put held their first practice of the season. This probably shouldn't even be called a practice, since it primarily consists of player intros, contests, and a scrimmage run at the pace of a glorified jog. The primary goals of the players and coaches are to avoid injuries and put last year behind them. This is what I saw in watching Florida's event the other night. Dropping the replica Sears Trophy after raising their national title banner was the perfect way to say that last year is over, and there are new things to accomplish. The must see TV takes place the following morning, when the coaches get to do their thing...and run their players into the ground. But this will never be on TV, so the Friday night style will have to suffice.
The worst news of the opening weekend of practice came from Durham, where Duke announced today that starting point guard Greg Paulus broke a bone in his foot. It's a similar injury to the one that Carlos Boozer suffered in 2001, but don't expect to see Paulus until he's 100%. Boozer broke his foot in the middle of conference play, making it imperative that the Devils get him back for the NCAA Tournament. He took a few games to get back into game shape, but he was there to help Duke win a national title. That's the goal of a school such as Duke, similar to that of the New York Yankees, so who knows when Paulus will be back on the court. This most likely puts the ball in the hands of a committee, including freshmen Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson, and I'm interedted to see how they handle the role change.
With this being a Northeast-dominated blog, there are some things in those leagues that I am looking forward to this year. Can anyone challenge Penn and Princeton in the Ivy League this year? I see Penn as the solid favorite, and Ibby Jabber should make first year head coach Glen Miller's transition that much easier. Is Vermont on the way back in America East? Yes, but they'll have their hands full with Albany, Maine, and Binghamton. Stony Brook should win more than four games this season as well. Iona and Manhattan have to reload after heavy losses, so look for Marist (led by Jared Jordan) to win the MAAC. How Lindy's rated Jordan the 17th best point guard in America is beyond me, but they'll find out how wrong they were when the Old Spice Classic tips off next month in Florida (I'm saying that he'll prove himself to be one of the nation's best).
And the NEC looks to be pretty wide open, with Robert Morris leading the way. Will Wagner believe the hype as they did last year, failing to qualify for the conference tournament? Or will they come out "humble and hungry", to borrow a phrase from Joakim Noah? They've got the talent to challenge for the title, but the intangibles remain to be seen.
I'm calling this upset right now: Fordham over Tennessee in the first round of the Preseason NIT. But don't expect Sacred Heart to beat North Carolina. And I like the new "common site" format, along with guaranteeing each team at least two games. In the past, losing early in the NIT could leave quite a gap in a team's schedule, or congest a schedule for a team not expecting to get to MSG. This should help with those issues.
And with this being the 50th anniversary of the Ivy League, I leave you with this interesting fact. Only seven times in the history of the league has there been a champion (outright or co-) not named Penn or Princeton. I find this to be amazing.