ESPN Events: Kansas State
Long Beach is off to a 1-3 start this season, with losses to Arizona, Loyola Marymount and fellow Puerto Rico Tip-Off participant Kansas State. And now they face a Michigan team that came up just six points short against Louisville in last season’s national championship game.
Monson said his scheduling philosophy dates to his first season as a head coach, with Gonzaga in the late 1990s. He took the Bulldogs to the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, where they beat Tulsa (coached by Bill Self), Mississippi State (which was coming off a Final Four appearance) and fifth-ranked Clemson to capture the tournament championship.
“I was a na´ve first-year head coach, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is easy. Why doesn’t everybody do this?’ ” Monson joked. “I’ve taken some poundings along the way since then, but this (type of schedule) is truly for us to get better. Our players are 18 to 20 years olds. They don't need confidence, they need reality. We try to give them reality here of how much better we have to get.”
Though Michigan (2-1) lost several key players from last season’s squad, they do return sophomore forward Glen Robinson III, who is averaging 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Wolverines have three other players scoring in double figures as well as a 10.7 rebounding average from 6-foot-10 junior forward Jon Horford.
“Glenn Robinson has taken on a real leadership role with this team, and he has some good, fine young men to lead,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They love Glenn, and Glenn has provided some great leadership both in his work habits and what he says and does on and off the court.
“The majority of our team has one year of experience or this is their first year. But we’re moving in the right direction. They’re making progress. This tournament will really assist us in growing very quickly early in the season.”
As for Long Beach, Monson said he knows exactly where his team needs to improve in order to compete with the Wolverines. “We only have four things we need to work on now, and that's our offense, our defense, our rebounding and our shooting,” he said. “So we’re excited to play in this tournament and have a chance to use it to get better.”
Kansas State's Bruce Weber and Charlotte's Alan Major first met more than 20 years ago, when Weber was an assistant at Purdue under Gene Keady and Major was a student manager. Major later spent time as an assistant on Weber’s staff at Southern Illinois.
“I’ve known Bruce a long, long time,” Major said. “So regardless of his personnel, I can tell you right now it’s going to be a team that plays very tough man-to-man defense. They’re going to run their motion game really well. They’re going to have a balanced lineup where they’re probably not leaning on one guy to do the damage. And they’re going to be well coached. Without knowing his roster up and down, I can definitely tell you that’s going to be the character of Kansas State.”
Weber has been equally impressed with the job Major has done during his three seasons at Charlotte, improving the 49ers from a 10-20 team to a 21-12 record last season. “Alan Major is a good friend of mine,” Weber said. “He loves basketball, is very dedicated, and has done a great job in trying to reenergize that program. I admire him and his dedication and work ethic and love for basketball. Other than on Thursday, we’ll always be cheering for him.”
Both teams are dealing with a lack of experience during these early season games. Kansas State (1-1) has seven new players (five freshmen and two transfers), which might have been a factor in the team’s 60-58 season-opening loss to Northern Colorado. The Wildcats bounced back with a 71-63 victory over Oral Roberts, led by freshman Marcus Foster’s 25 points.
“I think he’s the second player in the history of K-State to get 25 as a freshman,” Weber said. “He’s been our leading scorer in our scrimmages and one of our better players. And then in the first game, freshman Wesley Iwunda had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds). He’s a long, athletic player who can get to the hoop and is good in transition.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte (2-1) has an experienced starting backcourt in juniors Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams – who have combined to average 31 points and 12.7 rebounds through the first three games – but the rest of the roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. “We’re not quite as deep as I’d like to be, but I like our pieces,” Major said. “They’ve got a great spirit with each other.”
Cary Estes is covering his fourth Puerto Rico Tip-Off. A freelance writer living in Birmingham, Estes spent 15 years working as a sportswriter for daily newspapers, mostly at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Estes has been a fulltime freelancer since 2006 and has continued covering sports for Associated Press, nbcsports.com, SI.com (NASCAR) and several daily newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Observer and Cincinnati Enquirer.
The celebration of 100 years of basketball in Puerto Rico officially began last spring at the Olympic House (the former YMCA building where the first basketball court was located) with a photo exhibition that featured images ranging from the original court YMCA until Jose Juan Barea championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010. Barea was "excited" and thankful about being chosen “to represent a generation of basketball in Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico Tip-Off participant Florida State will play at least nine teams that played in last season's NCAA Tournament and may play two of the four Final Four participants. Coach Leonard Hamilton knows it will be challenge for his team. "We are going to challenge ourselves again this season," he said. “The aspect that makes our schedule even tougher is the high number of quality opponents we will play all season long, including in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off."
Michigan announced its 2013-2014 non-conference schedule Aug. 23 featuring an appearance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. "Once again we will have a very challenging non-conference schedule," said coach John Beilein. "As in our previous years, we expect our overall strength of a schedule will be one of the best in the NCAA."
Making the cut: In an Aug. 21 article on ESPN.com, John Goodman ranked the Top 25 X's and O's head coaches. Making the list were John Beilein of Michigan and John Thompson III of Georgetown. Goodman polled about two-thirds (around 250) of the Division I head coaches.
Worthwhile trip: In an Aug. 26 article by Coley Harvey in the Orlando Sentinel, coach Hamilton of Florida State was quoted as saying the Seminoles' two-week trip to Greece "was an eye-opening experience for our guys." During the overseas adventure, the Seminoles "practiced with and competed against the Greek national team.”
Florida State and Michigan will play on Dec. 3 in the 15th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Wolverines will be at Duke (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the Seminoles at Minnesota (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU) during the first of two days of play. All 12 Big Ten teams and 12 of the 15 ACC schools will participate in the 2013 Challenge, including the three newest ACC members (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse). Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will not play in this year’s event, as reported Aug. 15 on ESPN.com. …
The “Five Biggest Offseason Storylines” for the Atlantic Coast Conference is now available on ESPN.com as Jason King lists Florida State’s Okaro White as a "Most Important Player." White ranked second on the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) as a junior and shot an impressive 81 percent from the free throw line. The loss of clutch guard Michael Snaer to graduation means the onus will be on White and highly-touted freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes to be two of FSU's top performers. …
VCU will play four Atlantic Coast Conference opponents this season with the Rams facing Virginia, Florida State, Virginia and Boston College with three of the four games on a neutral court. Prior to meeting Florida State on Nov. 21 in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, VCU will play at Virginia on Nov. 12. It will be the first meeting between the Rams and UVA and VCU since 1998 and tips off a two-year home-and-home series between the schools. VCU will play Virginia Tech Dec. 21 at the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond with the Rams’ next game Dec. 28 against Boston College in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at the Barclays Center. The VCU-Florida State contest will be the first meeting between the two schools since the Rams' thrilling 72-71 overtime victory over the Seminoles in the 2011 NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal in San Antonio. VCU will host Northeastern on Nov. 29 in Puerto Rico. …
Charlotte's recruitment of hometown players was featured in an Aug. 11 “College Basketball Talk” article by Raphielle Johnson: “In many of the nation’s basketball hotbeds, a point of emphasis for college basketball coaches is to keep their area’s top talents home,” writes Johnson. “In Charlotte that’s been a task far easier said than done, however as many players have decided to play their college basketball elsewhere. But things may be changing for Alan Major’s program.”