The regular season officially gets going on Friday night for a bunch of the A10 schools and the marquee match-up will take place in Annapolis when Tennessee and VCU square off in the inaugural Veterans Classic at the Naval Academy. The tip is set for 6:30 and will feature two teams that want to run, run, run, and run some more.
It wasn’t that long ago where this game would have been the biggest of the season for VCU. While that is no longer the case, this is still a big time game in what should be an exciting and somewhat “rowdy” environment. Everyone knows about VCU’s style of play and how they want to create “HAVOC” on the court. What a lot of casual fans might not realize is that Tennessee and new coach Donnie Tyndall also want to play fast and use high pressure defense to create turnovers and speed up the game. It also looks like Donnie Tyndall has some NCAA “HAVOC” following him around these day but that is another story for another day. This could make for a very interesting game since it will be the first for both teams and typically in early season games things tend to get a little ragged and sloppy. Here are a couple of things I’ll be watching for on Friday night:
1. If you put lipstick on a pig….
You know that old saying about putting lipstick on a pig? Unfortunately I do and I hate it. Were there a bunch of bored/crazy farmers decorating their bacon providers with lipstick and other decorative ornaments back in the day? It is a really stupid saying, probably why I’m using it, but it kind of applies to Tennessee’s point guard situation these days. I don’t know if Josh Richardson can be a point guard. I think he is really good player and a plus defender but is he really going to be an effective point guard? It seems like Tyndall is asking an awful lot out of Richardson this year. They are going to need him to score as it is and the pressure that comes along with running the show at the 1 isn’t a joke. If Richardson can pull it off though, the Volunteers will be in business for sure on Friday night. Of course VCU doesn’t have Briante Weber available for the game so Richardson does catch a huge break there.
2. Men with whistles
Do you remember November basketball in 2013? 57 fouls called in a half. Four hour games. Coaches having aneurysms before the first television timeout! The emphasis on hand-checking was taken to heart by numerous officials in the beginning of last season and the results were games that quite frankly were hard to watch at times. As the season wore on, the refs tended to lighten up on the whistles but there were still plenty of games where teams were in the bonus with 15 minutes to go in a half.
Both of these teams want to play as fast and physical as possible so the way the game is called will be a factor in the outcome. Hopefully the refs will let the play a little bit and not slow things down too much but you never know. Different crews have different styles and sometimes individuals wind up wanting to be more of a part of the game then they should. See Karl Hess. I know that teams have to adapt based on the way refs officiate games but you would hope that things can be fair and reasonable for a game like this one. I’m probably a little sensitive on this topic due to my general disdain for referees but the men with whistles are a major component of each game.
3. New Kids on the Block
Lots of new faces on both teams. VCU’s highly touted freshmen class vs. the mix of freshmen, transfers, and Junior College players for Tennessee. It happens every year where a 1 or 2-star recruit steps up and out-preforms the heralded 5-star recruit with the big time high school resume. Shaka Smart was able to get Terry Larrier, Justin Tillman, Michael Gilmore, and Jonathan Williams to commit to VCU last year and that group is the consensus top-ranked freshmen class in the conference. Who is going to show up and who won’t be able to handle the moment? Tennessee has Devon Baulkman and Kevin Punter coming in from the JC ranks and transfers Dominic Woodson and Ian Chiles plus their freshman class which is led by Detrick Mostella and Tariq Owens. Like I said earlier, LOTS OF NEW FACES. Baulkman and Punter have solid experience at the JC level. Mostella is a straight-up scorer and has the ability get buckets in bunches. How all these new parts fit together will be interesting to watch.
I think this could be a really good game. I’m very interested to see how the Volunteers get after it on the defensive end under Donnie Tyndall. He has won at Morehead State (he coached the Manimal!!!) and Southern Mississippi, not exactly basketball blue-bloods, and his teams have played fast with great efficiency numbers and lots of steals per game. Of course they happen to be playing the team who has led the country in steals for the past three years so… I don’t really do predictions since I know how all those casinos were built and where the bodies are buried out there in the Nevada desert (not really, I’ve just watched Casino about 87 times) but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is tight game coming out of the final television timeout. Either way I’m just pumped as hell that college hoops is here again! Let the games begin!