After yesterday’s look at the Maui Invitational, we move over to Kansas City and the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic. While not a tournament in a tradiitonal sense, as the top 4 seeds are guaranteed of being in the semi-finals, there are some top teams participating that make it worth watching. Defending National Champion Duke headlines the group, along with Gonzaga, Kansas State and Marquette, and each of those teams have some potential draftees to look at.
As with the Maui, this is just a very early look at these teams and players, and as we get closer to the season, I will be posting more in-depth scouting reports on the players. So lets take a look at the CBE Classic…..
O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic Pre-Preview
Where to start with the defending national champions? Nolan Smith, played both guard positions, has become a much more explosive scorer, and has stepped up as a team leader. Kyle Singler had a somewhat tough transition to playing on the wing, but by the end of the season had started to look more comfortable on the perimeter. He showed good range on his jumper, learned to recognize when he had mismatches and saw the whole court much better. He still needs to improve his perimeter defense, and hopefully his agility improved over the summer. With the graduation of Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, look for Miles Plumlee and his brother Mason Plumlee to log a lot more minutes this season. Mason, a sophomore, is the more skilled of the two, but both need to work on adding some muscle and becoming more assertive in the post. The good thing is both players have the ability to stretch the defense with the mid-range jumper. And what would Duke be without some talented freshman – Kyrie Erving and Josh Hairston lead one of the top incoming classes in the nation, and both have the potential to be one and done players. Both were stellar at the high school level, but I will reserve judgment until I see them in the ACC. If that wasn’t enough, Liberty transfer Seth Curry is now eligible. A dead-eye shooter like his brother, he will be able to keep defenses off-balance with his jumper.
Team leader Lazar Hayward has moved on to the NBA, but Buzz Williams will still have a very competitive team this season. Darius Johnson-Odom will be the go-to guy this season, and last year he showed a good ability to score in bunches. He does a good job getting into the lane with an excellent first step, and was almost a 50% 3pt shooter last season. The main concern will be seeing how he handles being the leader of this team after a few seasons with Hayward, Jerel McNeal, Wes Mathews and Dominic James. Heralded freshman Vander Blue is the other Golden Eagle to keep an eye on. Blue has shown the ability to score, handle the ball and plays tough defense. If he learns the ins and outs of Coach Williams offense early on, he can be counted on for some big games for Marquette.
Another team that will play tough no matter who is on the floor for them, this season’s Gonzaga squad has 2 potential draftees next June, including a potential lottery pick in Elias Harris. Harris, a sophomore with European experience, is a smooth scorer with the ability to use long strides to get to the rim, while also having deep range on his jumper. Defensively, he is still a work in progress, but has shown the ability to defend the ball well, though his footwork needs improvement. He does a good job using his long arms to disrupt passing lanes. The other player to watch is seven-footer Robert Sacre. Sacre needs to add some bulk to his frame, but he does a good job getting position in the post and has a nice touch around the rim. While not consistent, he does have the ability to hit the mid-range jumper. I would like to see him be more aggressive this season and get to the line more often. Defensively, he really needs to work on his positioning, especially for rebounds, where he finds himself often getting pushed away from the ball.
After a wonderful run to the Elite 8 last season, the Wildcats look to have an even stronger team this season. Leading scorer Jacob Pullen returns and looks out to prove that he is NBA material. He has shown that he can be a leader on the court, and is one of the streakiest scorers in the NCAA. Defensively, his effort can be inconsistent, but he does have very quick hands and feet. My guess is that he will end up being the leading scorer in this tournament, but I am more interested in how he handles the tight games, especially with his decision-making. Jamar Samuels has been showing what a top-notch athlete he is while competing for the US in International competition. While he works best in transition, he has shown an improved jump shot and much better defensive skills than he showed last season. Curtis Kelly finally looked comfortable with the K-State team near the end of last season. While only 6’7, he plays much bigger and does a good job muscling shots up against larger defenders. If he wants to play in the NBA, he will need to work on becoming more comfortable outside the lane, on both offense and defense. One player I am interested in seeing how he adjusts to the college level is Shane Southwell out of Rice in New York City. A small forward with a strong upper body, Southwell has the potential to be a big-time scorer in the Big 12, but he will need to make sure he brings his top effort every night.
While the tournament is set up in such a way that these four teams will automatically play in the semi-finals, there are other teams involved in at the regional level. The best of these teams is San Diego State with their star sophomore Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, who averaged a double-double as a freshman, is a bit undersized at 6’7, but is one of the toughest players in college basketball. He has a knack for scoring around the rim and drawing fouls. Hopefully, he has improved his mid-range game over the summer. If so, he will be one of the best players in the country this year and a potential first-rounder next season.
Tomorrow, I will take a look at the 76 Classic, including a look at Virginia Tech, Stanford and Oklahoma State.