College hoops fans are salivating at the mouth with ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball. Perhaps the crowning moment is the Hall of Fame Showcase on Tuesday night when basketball junkies get their first tastes of nationally-recognized teams playing one another.
Up to this point in the season, it’s been cupcake city for the top teams in the country. In St. Louis, fans will be treated to a double header of Louisville vs. Arkansas and Memphis vs. Kansas.
Louisville vs. Arkansas 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN2:
The Cardinals are playing their first game of the season after a tumultuous off-season in which team leader Terrence Williams defected to the NBA and head coach Rick Pitino battled questions concerning his character after news broke about a past extra-marital relationship. Likewise, Arkansas had its own off-the-court issues which resulted in five players being suspended indefinitely including starting point guard Courtney Fortson.
The Cardinals will rely on a triumvirate of returning players to guide their team: PF Samardo Samuels, PG Edgar Sosa, and SG Jerry Smith. The Razorbacks will hope for big games from PF Michael Washington and SG Rotnei Clark who set a record in their opening game by going 13 of 17 from three point land.
Another interesting sub-plot in this battle involves the coaches. Arkansas coach John Pelphrey played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky in the early 1990s and was an instrumental piece in the Wildcat’s return to success under Pitino. In the end, the 22nd ranked Cardinals have too much depth for Arkansas to overcome. Expect a competitive game early with Louisville gradually pulling away in the end.
Memphis vs. Kansas 10:00 p.m. ET ESPN:
The preseason number one Jayhawks will headline the Hall of Fame Showcase when they play the Memphis Tigers in what is a rematch of the 2008 championship game. The situations surrounding the two teams are vastly different now. Memphis is undergoing a transition from John Calipari to a rookie head coach, Josh Pastner. Bill Self leads arguably the most loaded team in the country which returned five starters from last season as well as adding sensational freshmen Xavier Henry (former Memphis commit), Elijah Johnson, and Thomas Robinson.
These two programs provided one of the most competitive championship games in history, but now one has to wonder how Memphis will fare in this rematch? The Tigers have a solid starting five, but the bench and front court are extremely thin which doesn’t bode well for a match-up against the talent-laden Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks will use its team depth to their advantage. Self’s teams are known for playing great defense and one shouldn’t expect any difference with this team. Where Kansas can punish Memphis the most is the front court. Memphis will rely on a senior in Pierre Henderson-Niles, who has never logged significant minutes but did lose substantial weight in the off-season in order to play more, and junior college transfer Will Coleman. Coleman is an athletic freak, but he’s had problems adjusting to the energy and level of play needed to compete in Division I.
Like the first game, you can expect a relatively competitive match early on, but Kansas should eventually pull away. Many eyes are sure to be on Memphis coach Josh Pastner as well, though. He’s making his national TV debut after creating waves in the recruiting world this past week.
College basketball is a game of upsets so maybe we see one tonight despite what we all expect (#5 Kentucky nearly lost to Miami Ohio last night). Very rarely do ranked teams like Kansas and Louisville play teams of the quality Memphis and Arkansas possess this early. Tune in, it should make for some entertaining basketball.