A.J. Reeves and the Friars face a step-up at Wisconsin in the Gavitt Games (Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
This is Season Seven of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, the annual early-season matchups of Big East and Big Ten college hoop teams.
The series has been fun, competitive, solid TV and mutually beneficial. It’s hard to believe anyone in charge at the conference offices in New York and Chicago think differently.
So why are Top 25 outfits Connecticut, Villanova, Maryland and Purdue not joining in on the fun this season? Bad timing/planning but it was never the plan to feature only the very best teams. Throughout the series each of the 11 Big East teams was scheduled to play six times while the 14 Big Ten teams were booked for a minimum of four games. Some natural rivalries (Wisconsin-Marquette; Rutgers-Seton Hall) have played under this umbrella, but also marquee matchups like Michigan-Creighton and Ohio State-Villanova came together for some early-season fun.
What’s truly unique is the Gavitt Games brings together schools that would never, or rarely, even pick up the phone to create a game. Consider the array of opponents that Providence has seen in the series. The Friars own a 1-3 mark after a win over Illinois and losses to Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern.
Win or lose the games are outstanding for everyone’s NET ratings, KenPom status and other metrics. It’s a perfect for Fox Sports, which owns contracts with both conferences and, most of all, great for the fans. No one wants to tune in and see PC-Sacred Heart, Purdue-Wright State, Indiana-Marshall or Marquette-Jacksonville State.
No one, except the coaches of the teams that is. They see their `buy’ games as glorified exhibitions, nearly guaranteed wins that help them evaluate their teams and give younger players the requisite experience. They are correct, but this is a luxury only the upper crust teams in conferences like the Big East and Big Ten enjoy.
Anyways, here is this year’s Gavitt Tipoff Games Schedule
Monday, Nov. 15
Providence at Wisconsin
Illinois at Marquette
Looking like a few tough draws out of the gate for the Big East. First the Friars in Madison to face the 2-0 Badgers. Greg Gard’s team is picked in the middle of the Big Ten pack and is off to a blazing start against two cupcakes. The average margin of victory over St. Francis (NY) and Green Bay (no, not the Packers) was 30.5 so this is the team’s first test.
A year ago the Badgers under-performed despite a veteran lineup. This time around Gard has 10 players – 10 – who can be classified as freshmen, or repeating their freshmen season. Only four returnees saw nine or more minutes per game. Wing guard Brad Davison is the key. He entered the year with more points (1,363), rebounds (425) and 3-pointers (222) than the rest of his teammates combined. That’s a grizzled veteran, so look for former Big Ten (Indiana) foe Al Durham to shade his way most of the evening.
Surrounding Davison is a true freshman point guard, Chucky Hepburn (Omaha) and legit size. Sophomore Steven Crowl (7-foot/217 lbs.) can step away from the basket and make shots, while Cincinnati transfer Chris Vogt (7-1/260 lbs.) is a load inside capable of bumping and grinding with PC’s Nate Watson.
Up in Milwaukee, new coach Shaka Smart is rebuilding his roster with a heavy dose of transfers and two in particular. Cumberland’s Tyler Kolek starts at point guard and is adjusting to life in the Big Time after starring in the Atlantic 10 at George Mason. He was not a factor in a narrow 75-70 win over New Hampshire but has drawn raves from Smart for his passing and composure. Maryland transfer (and PC transfer target) Darryl Morsell (23.5 ppg) certainly was. After not scoring more than 20 points in 126 games at Maryland, Morsell has tossed in 21 and 26 in his first two games at Marquette. Big man Justin Lewis (17 ppg, 11 reb) is building off a strong freshman season and is a keeper.
Illinois, 10th in this week’s AP Poll, will roll into Fiserv Forum with some serious talent. Guard Ayo Dosunmu (Chicago Bulls) may be in the NBA and big man Kofi Cockburn is sitting out a 3-game NCAA suspension that ends after this tilt but the experience of Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo and Jacob Grandison is hard to overlook.
Tuesday, Nov. 16
Seton Hall at Michigan
Creighton at Nebraska
The national cognoscenti always overlook a few Big East teams (and overrate Big Ten teams, but that’s just my opinion) and a leading candidate this year is Seton Hall. The Pirates ripped (80-44) a pretty good Yale team Sunday so are on a quick turn-around. The addition of burly Alexis Yetna (6-8) alongside 7-2 Ike Obiagu and Jared Rhoden makes the Pirates tough up front and transfer guards Jamir Harris (American) and Kadari Richmond (Syracuse) may be the best additions in the Big East.
Wednesday, Nov. 17
Michigan State at Butler
St John’s at Indiana
Big East people think St. John’s is underrated. Big Ten observers feel the same about Indiana. Something’s got to give.
Thursday, Nov. 18
Ohio State at Xavier
Rutgers at DePaul
Ohio State is in the Top 25 (No. 19), and Xavier would like to play its way into the elite. The Musketeers will wait on such a move until star big man Zach Freemantle (foot) returns but in the meantime they’ll be primed for the upset at a sold-out Cintas Center behind tough guard Paul Scruggs, shooter Colby Jones and two good transfers: Indiana’s Jerome Hunter and Iowa’s Jack Nunge.
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