College basketball just kind of sneaks up on people.
There are reasons for that, and most of them start with “football.”
Starting Monday night and through Tuesday, college basketball both commands and deserves a little attention. Gone are those gimmick games on aircraft carriers; here is the preseason NIT and a 24-hour college hoops marathon.
Of local interest Monday night is Bowling Green vs. Cleveland State at Michigan in the NIT. The winner plays Michigan (assuming Michigan beats IUPUI) on Tuesday night, with the winner of that game going to New York for next week’s semifinal. In another regional in Pittsburgh, we could have Pitt hosting C.J. McCollum and Lehigh on Tuesday night with a trip to New York on the line.
The 24-hour hoops marathon starts at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday with West Virginia at Gonzaga, which whipped the Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament last March to move on and play Ohio State. Eligible for West Virginia after sitting out last year is Dayton native and Dayton transfer Juwan Staten. Both of these teams should be NCAA Tournament games again.
Back in Ohio, Kent State hosts Temple at noon Tuesday and Xavier hosts Butler at 4 p.m. Gifted Xavier freshman guard Semaj Christon is expected to make his long awaited Xavier debut after sitting out the Musketeers’ opener.
Kent State is 2-0 in the hoops marathon, both in games played in the early morning. The Flashes beat Robert Morris in 2010 and won at West Virginia last year. Kent State is a young team this year but started its season with an impressive overtime upset of Drexel last Friday.
At Big Ten Basketball Media Day last month, I asked Michigan coach John Beilein if losing to Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year took anything from away from his team’s regular-season accomplishments that included sharing the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State.
“I don’t think it soured anything at all,” he said. “Our guys hated to lose. We wanted to keep going. But it was a good lesson about the NCAA Tournament and the margin of error. Sometimes you get the lucky bounce of the ball, and sometimes you don’t. Teams that play deep usually get a bounce or two.
“We’re motivated to try to win the Big Ten. We want to get to the NCAA Tournament every year, and when you get there you have to play well. We love playing in the Preseason NIT or something like this because we frame our season to say, ‘Here’s the first championship we can try to win.’
“Just getting out of Ann Arbor to get to New York is going to be difficult. Those two games back-to-back, that’s like being a high seed and needing to win those two games back to back in March. It’s great prep for what we hopefully will see if we can get back to the NCAA Tournament.”
Beilein on sophomore point guard, Columbus native and preseason All-American Trey Burke: “His physical development has been very good. He’s gotten stronger. He has strong hips and a stronger lower body. When you’re only 6-feet tall, there are many times you have to be able to go under somebody and be strong enough to do that, and he’s really done a great job working on that.”
A clerical error by the compliance department — and not something either player did — has Akron forwards Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell suspended for the first three games of the season. They missed an overtime loss at Coastal Carolina last Friday and will miss tonight’s game vs. John Carroll and the opener of the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic.
Suffice to say Akron probably wouldn’t have lost that game with those guys playing and point guard Alex Abreu (ankle) at 100 percent. Abreu is trying to get back to full speed as the Puerto Rico tournament will be played five minutes from where grew up.
The Zips are loaded again, and because Ohio won the MAC Tournament and went to the Sweet 16 last year, it’s easy to forget that Akron won its first MAC regular-season title. There were — and still are — much higher aspirations around the Akron program this year than the first-round NIT exit that ended last season. This is a team good enough to go to Puerto Rico and make a statement, but it will be tough to beat a team as talented as Oklahoma State in the first round without Harney and Treadwell, two of the Zips’ most gifted players.
Also in what’s a very good field in Puerto Rico are NC State, UMass, Penn State, Tennessee, Providence and UNC-Asheville.