Happy Holidays to you all. Before getting into a preview of today's action, here are two stories here and here that you all will enjoy (h/t to Jameson Fleming of CBSSports.com and College Hoops Journal).
The only games being played on Christmas Day are out in Hawaii, with the Diamond Head Classic wrapping up. The title game matches Long Beach State (7-5), who has played one of the toughest schedules in the country to date, and a Kansas State (9-1) team that's been better than some expected. After beating Xavier in the first round the 49ers took care of business against Auburn in a matchup that would have done more harm in a loss than good in a win from a resume standpoint. As for Kansas State, they've beaten both Southern Illinois and UTEP in games they were expected to win, with the latter offering up more of a challenge than many anticipated going into the event.
The question for the Wildcats is how they go about defending Long Beach State point guard Casper Ware (16.7 ppg, 3.8 apg), who runs the show for the 49ers while also being asked to lead the team in scoring. Ware's shooting percentages aren't all that impressive, but that's got more to do with the number of shots Dan Monson has him take in their offense than shot selection. A key factor for the 49ers, both this weekend and in Big West play, will be freshman Michael Caffey. Caffey played very well in their win over Xavier, and his emergence off the bench will both keep Ware fresh and allow the senior to do more work off the ball when paired together with Caffey.
Kansas State has also had a reserve emerge while in Hawaii, as freshman Angel Rodriguez (7.7 ppg, 2.6 apg) has averaged 16.5 points per game in the tournament. Rodriguez made 10 of 16 shots from the field in the two wins, by far his best performance this season. If he can keep this up the freshman will be a nice addition to starters Will Spradling (11.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) and Rodney McGruder (10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg) not to mention fellow reserve Shane Southwell. Long Beach State overall has more firepower on the perimeter however, with senior Larry Anderson (14.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and junior James Ennis (9.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg) also being key cogs in their attack.
The battle up front will be interesting to watch, with the Wildcats being the bigger of the two teams. But that doesn't mean that life will be easy for them, as the experienced T.J. Robinson (12.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Eugene Phelps (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) anchoring things for the 49ers. Long Beach State can also bring Edis Dervisevic off the bench, and this is something they may have to do against the K-State attack. Jamar Samuels (12.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) leads the way for Kansas State while freshman Thomas Gipson (11.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) has the build of a player far more experienced than he actually is.
There's also junior Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, who has progressed a great deal in his two-plus seasons in Manhattan. He'll be a key figure for the Wildcats going forward into Big 12 play, as they'll encounter some deep frontcourts. Kansas State has been the better rebounding team of the two, and they even average more possessions per game than Long Beach State. The 49ers have to hold their own on the glass in order to win, and given their schedule to date they're more than capable of doing so. Keep an eye on turnover margin as well, with both teams breaking even on assist-to-turnover ratio while forcing at least 16 turnovers per game defensively.
In the other games in Honolulu Xavier looks to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Hawaii against Southern Illinois, and the truth is that Chris Mack's team should win by a good margin. The Salukis have a good player in senior Mamadou Seck, and they have been competitive in their two games on the island, but Chris Lowery's bunch is in for a tough time in the Missouri Valley.
Clemson and host Hawaii play in the fifth-place game, as Tanner Smith stepped up for the Tigers in their win over SIU. Forwards Josten Thomas and Vander Joaquim provide a tough matchup inside however, meaning that it's time for Devin Booker to step up with Milton Jennings suspended. And in the third-place game UTEP, led by Jacques Streeter and the surprising Michael Perez, takes on Auburn in what should be a toss-up.
Top 25 Games
2:00 PM Southern Illinois vs. #14 Xavier (ESPN3)
NCAA Division I Games
4:30 PM Clemson vs. Hawaii (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Auburn vs. UTEP (ESPN2)
9:30 PM Kansas State vs. Long Beach State (ESPN2)