Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017-18 Schedule Preview: December

The schedule really picks up in December. Assuming our guys can hold their own in November, the team will have a chance to solidify their non-conference resume with five opponents that could be in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Before we get into that, some news and notes from this past weekend. In addition to the visits I referenced in the previous post (Diante Wood and James Wiseman), Malcolm Dandridge (a 6'8, 200 lb center in the class of 2019) was also on campus. Dandridge and Wiseman both attend East High School in Memphis, and both appear to be top targets for the coaching staff in the 2019 class.

Also of note: Jared Butler (a 6'2, 180 lb point guard in the class of 2018) tweeted that he will announce his college choice tomorrow (Monday, October 16). Alabama is in his final three schools along with Virginia and Baylor. For what it's worth the crystal ball predictions at 247 Sports have Alabama as the favorite to earn his commitment. We will see tomorrow.

Sunday, December 3 - UCF - One of several high profile non-conference games in Coleman this season. UCF had a great season in Johnny Dawkins first season as head coach, finishing 24-12 and reaching the NIT semifinals. Expectations for the Knights should be high entering this season with last season's top scorer B.J. Taylor (17.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg) returning alongside 7'6 big man Tacko Fall (10.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg). In all, UCF returns roughly 60% of its scoring from last season. Dawkins also added a transfer heavy class, with a total of four D-1 transfers eligible to play for the Knights this season.

Wednesday, December 6 - Rhode Island - Another high profile home game. The Rams got over the hump in Dan Hurley's fifth season, winning 25 games, making the NCAA Tournament, losing a tough round of 32 game to eventual Final Four participant, Oregon. Rhode Island will be one of the favorites to win the A-10 this season with two of their top three scorers back and over 50% of their scoring from last season. Their top player from last season - E.C. Matthews - has an opportunity to have an All-American type impact for this Rams program this season.

Saturday, December 9 - at Arizona - A huge opportunity for our guys as they travel to Tuscon to play what may be the preseason number one team in the country. Unfortunately, a dark cloud hangs over the Arizona program after assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson was one of four college basketball assistant coaches arrested in connection with the FBI's corruption investigation. Richardson has been an assistant to Miller since his days at Xavier, leading many to speculate how much Sean Miller did or didn't know about the activities of his longtime assistant. Is his future at the school in jeopardy as a result? The state of the Arizona program could be in a very different place as a result of this whole mess when this game is tipped off. As of now this is still, at worst, a preseason top 3 team. The Wildcats return three of their top four scorers (including Player of the Year candidate Allonzo Trier) from a 32-5 Sweet Sixteen team, and welcome the 3rd ranked recruiting class, headlined by DeAndre Ayton. You have to feel for the Arizona fanbase. This was a fanbase just a month ago with hopes of winning a national championship. That's still a possibility based on how things shake out, but I would wager more important to the Arizona fan is that their proud program doesn't implode in the wake of this scandal. For those of us crossing our fingers that the Kobie Baker mess doesn't affect the program any more than it already has, we can relate.

Tuesday, December 19 - vs Mercer [Huntsville] - The team returns to Huntsville after a successful trip to the Rocket City last season. They will find a tricky opponent in Bob Hoffman and Mercer. It was a tough 16-17 season for Mercer. The Bears finished 15-17, missing the postseason for the first time in six seasons. They should be better this season, returning virtually their entire roster from last season. Most importantly, their top three players - Ria'n Holland (17.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg), Jordan Strawberry (12.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg), Demetre Rivers (11.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg) - return. Bob Hoffman has made a habit of beating SEC teams (including Alabama) during his tenure in Macon. Our guys better not take this team lightly.

Friday, December 22 - vs Texas [Birmingham] - This will be the third consecutive season that Avery has scheduled a game in Birmingham. As with Huntsville, it's been a great idea to play for fans in those two cities during the holiday break when the students are off campus. The problem is that the program is 0-2 in the Birmingham games so far. Hopefully the third time will be the charm this season. It won't be easy. Despite a terrible 16-17 season for the Longhorns, in which they finished 11-22 and a last place finish in the Big 12, Shaka Smart does have another talented roster on his hands, returning roughly 50% of his scoring from last season (including talented sophomore guard, Andrew Jones), while adding a top 10 recruiting class, headlined by probable lottery pick, Mohamed Bamba. Keep an eye on Tulane transfer Dylan Osetkowski. The big man (6'9, 245 lbs) has impressed many during the early practices.

Saturday, December 30 - Texas A&M - The conference season starts (just barely) in December. And it's a mother. The league is expected to be vastly improved across the board. A&M will be no exception. The Aggies return their top five scorers from last season, including big men Tyler Davis (14.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.4 apg) and Robert Williams (11.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 2.5 bpg) along with talented guard Admon Gilder (13.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.9 spg). Talented forwards DJ Hogg (12.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 apg) and Tony Trocha-Morelos (8.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.0 bpg) also return. Point guard was a glaring weakness last season for the Aggies, but that should be addressed with 4-star freshman JJ Caldwell and Marquette transfer, Duane Wilson. This team is experienced, deep and is a trendy pick in the preseason to win the league.

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