CBE Classic (Nov 24-25)
Syracuse vs. Florida
Kansas vs. Washington
Before you turn on the TV for this tournament, do yourself a favor. Forget about last season. None of these teams resemble what you saw a year ago.
National champion Kansas lost no less than eight players from their roster, five of them to the NBA Draft. For just about any other program this would mean a dreadful rebuilding year. Not Kansas.
Coach Bill Self has yet again proven why he is one of the very best recruiters anywhere. Not only has he landed a stellar freshmen class, but also welcomes JuCo transfer Mario Little, who could well wind up as a first team all-conference guard (though he's unfortunately out for the first month). Throw in the fact that Sherron Collins will be back (already scoring 20 ppg), and that they will be playing in Kansas City, the Jayhawks could walk away from this tournament seemingly not missing a beat from seven months earlier.
Interestingly enough, should Kansas get by Washington, they could face a rematch of the 2003 title game with Syracuse, a game that could almost be as good as the last one.
Before the start of last season, Syracuse was not only hungry to avenge their NCAA Tournament snub, but had their sights set on a low seed. Then their go-to shooters each blew out a knee and were lost for the season. Soon after, troubled guard Josh Wright left the team mid-season, leaving the Orange with all of seven scholarship players, forcing just about every starter - especially freshmen Jonny Flynn and Donte Green - to play as much as 38 to 40 minutes a game. The team wore down faster than the season, and Syracuse once again ended up in the NIT, only this time it was no snub.
Now Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins are back and healthy, and ready to boost emerging star Flynn in the backcourt. Greene is off to play for pay, but this still looks like a team that can contend in the Big East, especially if the development of junior bruisers Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku continue on the path they have been.
Contrary to popular belief, Washington will not be counting entirely (just mostly) on senior Jon Brockman, who led the team in scoring and had twice as many rebounds as anyone else on the roster, to help them put together a winning season this time around. No, this year, they are putting their faith in a freshman.
Isaiah Thomas, a 5-8 guard from South Kent in Connecticut, is one on the most hyped freshmen ever to come to Seattle. His incredible speed and scoring ability is expected to bring back the high-flying, up-tempo style Washington loves to play. This should be an improved team from the one that lost in the first round of something called the College Basketball Invitational last year.Florida will be the one team that bears the closest resemblance to the team they fielded last season, returning all their starters except Marreese Speights, who left for the NBA. Still, this team should be greatly improved as their incredible freshman class from a year ago gets ready to take the next step, especially Nick Calathes, who could well be the player of the year in the SEC. The Gators also feature no less than six freshmen on the roster, with a couple of 6-10 forwards - Eloy Vargas and Kenny Kadji - leading the way. It would be shocking if Florida does not find itself deep into the NCAA Tournament next March.