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November 14, 2006

Tournaments early focus for hoops

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The first few weeks of the college basketball season can be a little confusing.

A lot of major programs are playing schools many of us don't know. New tournaments are being held, many in multiple locations. Several coaches, including a handful of high-profile names, have switched jobs (61 schools made coaching changes in the offseason). Plus, there are also a slew of new players to get to know.

It's a lot to take on for sports fans, especially with the college football season still going strong. So, we decided to eliminate all the work.

Here's a full breakdown of the second week of the season, complete with all the important matchups and what and why you should be keeping an eye on during the early season action.

Most of the attention will be centered around New York City on Thursday night, where the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic one of those new tournaments gets under way.

Maryland (3-0) should get its first real test of the season from St. John's (2-0). The Terrapins have rolled to three easy wins over small schools, but still look much-improved with the addition of freshman point guard Eric Hayes.

Texas (2-0) faces Michigan State (2-0) in a matchup of programs that lost nearly all their key players from last season.

The Longhorns are starting three freshmen - including Rivals.com's No. 2 prospect from the class of 2006, Kevin Durant. Through two games Durant is averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.

On Tuesday, No. 2 North Carolina starts its season and officially unveils the nation's top-ranked recruiting class with a visit from Sacred Heart. The focus there is more on the young players. Will top-10 prospects Brandan Wright and Tywon Lawson start? How will Wright look when paired with star center Tyler Hansbrough?

The day is also loaded with a handful of intriguing matchups.

Mid-major power Western Kentucky (1-0) travels to Georgia (1-0), which could be a sleeper in the talent-laden SEC East. The Bulldogs have one of the league's best backcourts and one of the its best young players in sophomore guard Mike Mercer.

Wake Forest (1-0) travels to Bucknell (0-1), where Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser will face his son, Mark. The younger Prosser is on the Bison coaching staff.

Colorado's road trip to New Mexico features one of the best one-on-one matchups of November with talented wings Richard Roby and J.R. Giddens going against one another. The smooth and versatile Roby might be the best player in the Big 12. The athletic Giddens, who transferred from Kansas, impressed in his first two games. The former Jayhawk is averaging 18.5 points per game.

Rice star Morris Almond, the best player in Conference USA, will get one of his few chances to play against a big-time opponent when the Owls head to Gonzaga (1-0).

Wednesday's action is highlighted by season openers for 2006 national-runner up UCLA and Vanderbilt, neither of which can be criticized for starting out with a so-called cupcake.

The No. 6 Bruins play host to BYU, which is coming off a 20-win season. The Cougars have been picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference.

The Commodores play host to No. 8 Georgetown (1-0), which features one of the nation's top inside tandems in Jeff Green and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert.

Here's a list of other teams and players to keep an eye on this week:

Defending national champion Florida (1-0) faces North Florida and Jacksonville on Tuesday and Thursday. While both matchups should produce a pair of blowouts, it will be interesting to see if any of the four freshmen play in the main rotation. Forward Dan Werner was the only one who saw significant minutes in their season-opening win over Samford.

USC opens its new arena - the 10,258-seat Galen Center - with a visit from South Carolina on Thursday. It should be an emotional night for the Trojans, who are playing their first game since point guard Ryan Francis was shot and killed in the offseason.

Alabama heads to the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, but it remains unclear if power forward Jermareo Davidson, one of the SEC's top post players, will make the trip. Davidson was a passenger in a one-car accident on Saturday in Atlanta in which another Alabama student, 21-year-old Brandy Nicole Murphy, was killed. Davidson wasn't seriously injured and Rivals.com learned that he practiced with the team on Monday.

Oregon freshman guard Tajuan Porter started off the season on a remarkable hot streak, scoring 27, 28 and a school-freshman record 38 points in his first three games while shooting 21-of-33 from 3-point range. He and the Ducks face UC-Irvine on Thursday.

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