Today ends the look at the WKU non-conference schedule with Arizona and Virginia. It may be a bit presumptuous of me to preview Arizona when the Tops will first have to defeat UCF to get to the Arizona/Sam Houston State winner in Tucson, but I'm an optimist. By no means is this a slight toward UCF, but if WKU does win against the Golden Knights, there is a 99% chance that the Hilltoppers will face Zona on their home court. Tomorrow, I will begin revealing my preseason bracket with the four 1/16 matchups.
Provided that WKU can get past UCF (NOT a given), the Tops will square off against the Wildcats in the McKale Center on December 21. WKU met Zona in Tucson in the 2002-2003 season and was torched by a shooting display normally reserved for 4th of July and millennial celebrations. This Zona team will not have the kind of firepower that those dudes had, but they will be a solid club.
The Cats did lose two HUGE pieces of last year's Elite 8 team that had Illinois on the deck, only to see the cagey Illini get off the mat and snatch away an unlikely win in the waning minutes. Zona lost C Channing Frye and deadeye shooter SG Salim Stoudamire; arguably their two best players. However, they return nearly everyone else (they also lost little-used Matt Brase) from that team including G/F Hassan Adams (12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg), F Ivan Radenovic (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), and PG Mustafa Shakur (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.5 apg). Experienced seniors C Isaiah Fox and G Chris Rogers will have to be leaders and increase their production. They also need a big boost in production from C Kirk Walters. Talented F Jawann McClellan was recently declared ineligible for the fall semester, but he is appealing the decision. Arizona, per usual, has two big-time recruits ready to contributee in 6-6 G J.J. Prince and 6-7 F Marcus Williams. The Wilcats are a consensus Top 10 team in the preseason.
In addition to the Pac-10 and Fiesta Bowl Classic games, Zona's other highlight games include the LOADED Maui Invitational (vs Kansas first round), at Utah, at North Carolina, and the Cats host Saint Mary's and Virginia. They have a tremendous schedule. If this game materializes, it will likely be the toughest opponent that the Tops face in the regular season.
Oh, what a bitter loss the Tops took in Charlottesville last winter. The double-OT battle came down to a scrum for a loose ball that was eventually seized by Cavs G J.R. Reynolds, who laid it in for the game winner. Ugh. That UVA team went on to finish 14-15, and they have lost A LOT. Coach Pete Gillen has been relpaced by Dave Leitao. Their two top scorers, F/C Elton Brown (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and F Devin Smith (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), exhausted their eligibility. Then, F Gary Forbes (9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) announced that he was transferring. The Cavs return guards T.J. Bannister (4.5 ppg), J.R. Reynolds (10.5 ppg), and Sean Singletary (10.7 ppg), but there are HUGE questions in the frontcourt. Big-time production is needed from F Adrian Joseph (4.2 ppg), F Jason Clark (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and a host of unproven centers. The perimeter should be solid, but the interior is going to make or break UVA.
In addition to a rugged ACC slate, the Cavs have highlight games at Arizona and at Gonzaga. The rest of their lineup is pretty soft. They play Northwestern in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Longwood, UM-Baltimore County, Liberty, Loyola (MD), and Hartford round out the home slate. Yikes. The Cavs also visit Richmond. I like the Tops chances for revenge in Diddle, but UVA will have one of the better backcourts that WKU will see this year.
From the "Please, I Deserve a 93rd Chance" department, it appears that the UL-Lafayette sometimes-center is enrolled in fall classes and is eligible for his senior campaign. Apparently, Southall was able to keep up with enough academic work WHILE IN JAIL and then take enough summer courses to gain eligibility for his final season. If he meets Coach Robert Lee's stipulations, he is in line to suit up this season. If you are unfamiliar with Southall's background, here's a primer:
1. Signed with Kentucky. Busted for marijuana. Headed south to Georgia Tech.
2. Busted for pot (again). Sent packing by GT. Landed at ULL.
3. Played spottily through arrests (wonder why?) and academic issues. Completely off the map last year.
4. Served a jail term.
5. Somehow maintained eligibility and now claims he has everything together.
We'll see how this turns out. He has some talent, but this guy has been nothing but bad news since Day 1 everywhere he has been. Stay tuned.