STARTING OFF RIGHT: COACHES VS. CANCER TOURNEY

You have to like the match-ups in this season’s opening tournament. That’s one of the great aspects of college basketball compared to college football. In college basketball you get top-notch games – involving nationally ranked opponents – early and often.

Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky and St. John’s are the marquee names in this year’s Coaches Vs. Cancer Tournament, which marks the beginning of this year’s college basketball season. Kansas and UCLA will square off in the opening game on Thursday, November 9, with Kentucky versus St. John’s immediately following. Friday will see the losers of Thursday’s games battle it out for the consolation trophy and the winners playing for the championship.

The first game should be an interesting match-up. Kansas is currently ranked 6th in the Hoops4U.com Top 25 and UCLA has a lot of good young talent. Kansas has more depth on the frontline with Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, Eric Chenowith and Ashante Johnson all returning from last year’s team. Kansas’ best defender, Kenny Gregory, will probably draw the duty of guarding UCLA’s Jason Kapono. The sharp-shooting Kapono could have a difficult time getting free to get his shot off.

The Bruins could have an advantage at the point, as the underrated Earl Watson returns to lead his team. The Bruins are hoping that he can cause some problems for the Jayhawks with his ability to get into the paint via the dribble. Defending dribble penetration was a problem for the Jayhawks last year.

Traditionally the Jayhawks start the season swiftly while the Bruins usually stumble out of the blocks. Look for the Jayhawks and Coach Roy Williams to start the season 1-0 while the Bruins and Coach Steve Lavin will have to regroup for Friday’s game.

The second game is another great match-up. Kentucky is 16th on the Hoops4U.com Top 25 while St. John’s is ranked 21st. It should feature a battle between Kentucky’s frontcourt and the Red Storm’s backcourt.

Kentucky has plenty of talent returning in Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans. They also get a brilliant addition with the freshman Jason Parker. Head Coach Tubby Smith will again turn to his son, Saul Smith, to run the club.

Saul will have his hands full on Thursday. He will have to deal with the official unveiling of Omar Cook. With Erick Barkley leaving early for the NBA, Cook will have to step in and lead this St. Johh’s team. Is he capable? You bet he is. He’s a star waiting to go supernova. The Red Storm also lost high school sensation, Darius Miles, to this year’s NBA draft. They still have plenty of talent on the frontline and a special delivery man in Cook.

Early season games are not always the best-played games of the year but these match-ups are intriguing enough to be labeled as “can’t miss games.” Besides, it’s definitely time for some hoops. My withdrawal pains are getting way too much for me to handle.