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November 15, 2007

Ranked teams rare in early tournaments

Whither the preseason tournament?

Forty teams are participating in various events that start or started this week, but of those 40, only two are in The Associated Press Top 25.

The Preseason NIT, formerly a premier early season event, is a shell of its former self. In a 16-team field, it has one team (No. 15 Texas A&M) in the AP poll.

Tourney time
*All times eastern
Puerto Rico Tip-Off, San Juan
Houston vs. VCU, 9 a.m.
Marist vs. Miami, 11:30 a.m.
Temple vs. Providence, 2:30 p.m.
College of Charleston vs. Arkansas, 5 p.m.
Top of the World Classic, Fairbanks, Alaska
Alaska vs. Tennessee State, 10 p.m.
Colorado State vs. Oregon State, 12:30 a.m.
Akron vs. South Carolina-Upstate, 10 p.m.
Portland State vs. IUPUI, 12:30 a.m.
Paradise Jam, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Charlotte vs. Georgia Tech, 1 p.m.
Illinois-Chicago vs. Winthrop, 3:30 p.m.
Baylor vs. Wichita State, 6 p.m.
Monmouth vs. Notre Dame, 8:30 p.m.
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, which starts Thursday, landed No. 18 Arkansas (1-0) in its eight-team field. The Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands have no ranked teams in their eight-team fields.

Perhaps the proliferation of high-profile league-vs.-league "challenges" has kept some teams out of the preseason tournament frenzy. And to be sure, there are more events coming up that feature multiple ranked teams (the Maui Invitational has Duke and Marquette, the Great Alaska Shootout has Butler and Gonzaga, the Old Spice Classic has NC State, Villanova and Kansas State), and some ongoing events that started last week have some top-25 flair (the CBE Classic has No. 12 Michigan State and No. 2 UCLA).

Arkansas, which faces the College of Charleston (0-1) at 5 p.m. (EST), has gone through rigorous preseason practices under new coach John Pelphrey in an effort to create a deeper, well-conditioned team. The Hogs are looking for a team that can substitute frequently, much like the squads Pelphrey played on while under Rick Pitino at Kentucky in the early 1990s.

"I think the new, quicker style we've implemented will definitely help us in this tournament," Arkansas 7-foot senior center Steven Hill said. "Our practices have been pretty tough since we began on Oct. 13. There's been a big emphasis on getting up and down the floor."

Arkansas has a clear edge in experience. The Razorbacks beat Southern Illinois, Marist (which also is in the Puerto Rico field) and West Virginia over the span of four days to win the 2006 Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

Every starter and major contributor from that team is back.

"A lot of it is mental," Hill said about battling the fatigue that comes from playing on little rest. "You have to play your hardest when you are tired. You have to be strong mentally to do that."

Having a deep crop of big men also helps. The Razorbacks can wear down opponents with their size on the inside. Senior power forwards Charles Thomas (6-8) and Darian Townes (6-10) and Hill have starting experience. Junior forward Vincent Hunter (6-10) has been a part of the rotation for two seasons, and sophomore Michael Washington (6-10), the highest-ranked recruit of the group, also is expected to contribute.

"We can throw a lot of fresh bodies at you," Hill said. "That's what we want to do."

Hill landed in early foul trouble in Arkansas' season opener, and Townes came off the bench to score 14 points (all in the first half), block five shots and grab five rebounds to lead the Hogs to a 67-45 win over Wofford.

No more hot seat for Hamilton?

The news last week that Florida State gave sixth-year coach Leonard Hamilton a two-year contract extension - through the 2011-2012 season - came at a bizarre time.

It appeared Hamilton's job security was in jeopardy entering this season. While there have been numerous close calls, Hamilton has yet to take the Seminoles to the NCAA Tournament. Also, athletic director Dave Hart, who hired Hamilton, is on his way out of town. Hart's contract is set to terminate on Dec. 31.

Unlike predecessor Steve Robinson, Hamilton can't blame the results on poor resources. The Seminoles built a 40,000-square-foot practice facility at the cost of $10 million before his first season in 2002.

Hamilton has turned that into success on the recruiting trail, beating out some elite programs for high-profile prospects and consistently landing some of the ACC's top classes. But there have been some puzzling and costly moves along the way.

Anthony Richardson, a former McDonald's All-American, got steadily worse under Hamilton (after averaging 12.4 ppg as a sophomore, he scored 6.4 ppg as a senior). Von Wafer, who scored 29 points in the 2003 McDonald's game, looked like a future star. But Wafer clashed with Hamilton, was benched near the end of his sophomore season, then left early for the NBA that year (Wafer was drafted in the second round and now plays for the Denver Nuggets).

An ultra-soft schedule was to blame for missing out on the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles, who had a 9-7 mark in ACC play that year, had the 316th-ranked non-conference schedule, according to the RPI.

The contract extension may have had recruiting motives behind it. The Seminoles already had three commitments from the class of 2008 at the time, and four-star forward Chris Singleton committed to FSU over Kentucky on Wednesday. With the new deal, Hamilton could tell each recruit he would be at the school for the duration of their college careers.

Kansas State stepping up in weight class

The preliminary bouts for the young Kansas State Wildcats are about to come to a close.

To continue the boxing analogy, Michael Beasley & Co. have dispatched of Sacramento State and Pittsburg State like the tomato cans everyone figured they would be, with another on tap this Saturday (Western Illinois).

After that, K-State will be stepping up in weight class. Of its next six opponents, five posted winning records last season and three played in the NCAA Tournament.

First up for the Wildcats is the Old Spice Classic in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend. K-State draws George Mason in the first round. The Patriots didn't make the postseason last year, but they did go to the Final Four two years ago and still have two starters from that team. They're one of the favorites to win the Colonial Athletic Association.

If the Wildcats get by that one, they play the winner of host school UCF and No. 20 Villanova. Each of those teams won at least 20 games last season. If the tournament holds true to form, K-State would get No. 21 NC State in the Old Spice championship game.

After the Orlando event, K-State plays host to No. 12 Oregon on Nov. 29 in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, takes on Notre Dame Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Basketball Classic, then returns home to play California on Dec. 9.

So we'll know soon if the Wildcats are a real heavyweight contender.

Stats of the Week

  • South Carolina point guard Devan Downey was one rebound shy of putting together the second triple-double in school history Monday night. Downey, who transferred from Cincinnati, matched a career-high with 11 assists, scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Gamecocks' 103-42 rout of The Citadel. Downey also had six steals, matching another career-high.

    Chuck Eidson posted the Gamecocks' only triple double in 2002, when he scored 25 points, pulled down 10 boards and had 10 assists in the Gamecocks' 82-65 win over South Carolina State.

  • Richard Hendrix's 23 rebounds in Alabama's 84-72 win over Troy last week were the most by an Alabama player in more than 30 years. Reggie King grabbed 23 rebounds against Oklahoma State in 1976.

  • Colorado guard Richard Roby got off to an inauspicious debut under new coach Jeff Bzdelik, scoring just one point and committing five turnovers in 33 minutes as the Buffaloes dropped their season opener to New Mexico 54-47 on Friday. Roby averaged 17 ppg in each of the two previous seasons.

  • UNC-Asheville's Kenny George doesn't look like a novelty act anymore. George, a 7-foot-6, 360-pounder, was a major factor in the Bulldogs' 78-75 win over Furman last week. George came off the bench to score 12 points, grab seven rebounds and block five shots. George nearly put together a triple-double in the Bulldogs' 74-48 thrashing of Lees-McRae College on Sunday, scoring 15 points, blocking 10 shots and grabbing nine boards. That production is a sharp improvement from last season, when George averaged 10.5 minutes a game.

  • Through three games, the nation's most balanced team is Stanford (3-0). Eleven players have seen action for the Cardinal, with none averaging more than 24.3 minutes per game and none averaging less than 13 minutes per game. Every one of the 11 is averaging at least five points per game and none is averaging more than 15.7 points. Ten of the 11 are averaging at least two rebounds; the only one who isn't is second-leading scorer Drew Shiller, who comes off the bench. The starters are averaging 48 points; the bench is averaging 43.7 points. This is all bound to change if and when Brook Lopez returns after missing the first semester because he's academically ineligible.

    Injury Watch

  • No team has been hit by the injury bug harder than Gonzaga. It could be without its best player and a highly touted freshman who was expected to be a major part of the rotation for more than a month.

    Junior center Josh Heytvelt (foot), who missed the final nine games last season after an arrest for drug possession, and freshman guard Steven Gray (wrist) both had surgery earlier this week and are expected to miss four to six weeks.

    Heytvelt was averaging 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds at the time of his suspension. Gray was the No. 64-ranked prospect in the 2007 class.

    The injuries come at a particularly bad time for the Zags, who, as usual, play the toughest part of their schedule in November and December. Heytvelt and Gray will miss a matchup with Western Kentucky in the Great Alaska Shootout, possible games with Texas Tech and Butler, trips to Saint Joseph's and Connecticut and a visit from Washington State. They could also miss a road trip to Oklahoma on Dec. 20.

  • Kansas guard Sherron Collins will miss at least six weeks after undergoing surgery Monday for a stress fracture in his left foot. Collins was off to a strong start this season, averaging 16.0 points and 5.0 assists for the 2-0 Jayhawks.

  • It's unclear when Kansas State forward David Hoskins, who missed the Wildcats' first two games, will return. Hoskins had knee surgery last week. The senior forward also had surgery on the same knee in August, and coach Frank Martin is concerned that he returned too quickly from the first operation. Hoskins, who averaged 14.6 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, plans on seeing a knee specialist soon.

  • UCLA guard Darren Collison, who has yet to play because of an MCL sprain, went through some drills Tuesday without experiencing any pain. The Bruins (3-0) are hopeful he can return for their matchup with Maryland (2-0) in the semifinals of the College Basketball Experience Classic in Kansas City, Mo.

    Other absences

  • Northwestern remains without leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Coble (13.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) as it prepares for its season opener Thursday night against Stanford. Coble, a sophomore forward, left the team in October to return home to Phoenix to be with his mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

  • Prize New Mexico State freshman forward Herb Pope remains ineligible. The NCAA has requested additional paperwork from Aliquippa (Pa.) High School on the former four-star recruit. The Aggies are off to an 0-2 start without Pope.

    Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com. Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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