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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Inside the Lines: Fresh season welcomed

By Matt Tiano
Executive Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

Temperatures are below freezing. Christmas decorations are up before Thanksgiving. We cannot wait for winter, for days of prolonged snowfall, for days in which we spend a total of three minutes outdoors.

That's precisely why I enjoy college basketball. It gives me an excuse to not go outside, to be inside by my television for days upon days.

Here is your annual college basketball preview where we talk about the Gophers hiring of Tubby Smith, this year's freshman class, what it takes to play into April and why I no longer make predictions.

It's Tubby Time: In this space last spring, I commended newly-hired 'U' football coach Tim Brewster for his commitment to finding a way to win despite having a roster of undersized Minnesota homeboys. "We're taking the Gopher Nation to Pasadena!" raised some eyebrows, including mine. Let me translate for Brewster: "We'll stay competitive against I-AA opponents!"

Now we're into basketball season as Minnesota's football team has a lone victory, and surprisingly, there is legitimate (hoops) hope in the cold Minnesota air.

Smith, who must be loving life after leaving the pressure-packed, hoops-hysteric state of Kentucky, maintains that "there's a lot of question marks about what we're capable of doing, but I expect us to be very, very competitive in every game we play." No motivational speeches. Tubby's all business all the time with the personnel that he has. So far? 1-0 (and two victories against Division II schools, which didn't happen last year).

Youth Movement: Let me just say it; I love the new NBA minimum age requirement. We get to see future NBA all stars thrive in a team environment where they make the four-year college player better. After losing freshman sensations Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant the draft, this year's class features several phenoms to round out a very deep class. Here are four freshmen to watch:

Kevin Love (UCLA): The National High School Player of the Year is touted as the next Bill Walton. The 6-10 big man can throw an outlet pass on a dime, and will send the Bruins flying in transition.

Derrick Rose (Memphis): McDonald's All-American Rose has single-handedly propelled the Tigers into the top-three, and several pundits have predicted John Calipari's first title. The 6-3 Rose has the size and court vision that Jason Kidd possesses.

Eric Gordon (Indiana): Gordon canned 33 points in his Hoosier debut. Boxscore: 9-of-15 from the field, 7-of-11 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists. Enough said.

Michael Beasley (Kansas State): Regardless of ego, this guy can flat-out play. Find me another guy that had a double-double with 7:39 to go in the first half, or 17 rebounds in the first half alone. (He finished with 24 rebounds, a Big XII freshman single-game record.) And if that wasn't enough, Beasley also had four assists, four blocked shots and two steals.

What it takes: The ingredients for a NCAA championship are complex. Follow the bread recipe exactly right, but put oz. more yeast into the pot and your bread doesn't turn out.

The same idea works on the basketball court. To be standing on April 4, you better have the right amount of yeast, but also flour, eggs and water. Key ingredients: balance of frontcourt and backcourt scoring, ability to play 94 feet defensively and a coaching staff that preaches defense and toughness before anything else.

Prediction(s): Historically, I have let my emotions get the best of my NCAA tournament predictions. I refuse to let my emotions get the best of me this time around, but here is my list of could-bes come San Antonio: North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, Kansas and Louisville. Remember the beauty of the game. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night.

Even if yeast equations don't quite measure up.

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