AZ College Hoops Fans, Get Your Popcorn Ready!

Personally, this is my favorite time of year.

I am a college basketball nerd. I know the common outlook on college hoops these days is that the season really starts in February and March. For the casual fan, I guess I get it. But for me, the season starts when it actually starts in November.

This weekend there are a ton of storylines around the Arizona schools as they put exhibition games aside and begin their 2016-17 seasons.

Starting with the Arizona Wildcats as they have traveled to Hawaii for the annual Armed Forces Classic. This double-header has consistently showcased big time matchups over the years and there Arizona will be going up against Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans to begin their season. It won’t be easy for Sean Miller and company as this fall has already seen their share of adversity. First the rumors surrounding Allonzo Trier, who reportedly did not make the trip with the team to Hawaii, then Chance Comanche’s indefinite suspension which looks to be over as he is expected to play in this game and lastly, Ray Smith’s re-injuring of his ACL and retiring from the game of basketball.

But since we are excited about the start of the season and want to keep this positive, I have absolutely loved what I’ve seen from freshman Lauri Markkanen after a Red-Blue game and two exhibition games. He is incredibly skilled for his size and age. He has fantastic footwork around the basket, good rebounder, can run the floor, and a perfect looking perimeter jump shot. I think Markkanen could be a top ten pick by season’s end if he continues to improve from where he already is. I am also eager to see how Kadeem Allen steps up now playing primarily off the ball as a wing scorer which will be especially important with Trier not on the bench.

And if you haven’t seen, the uniforms they will be wearing are pretty amazing.

Arizona State also begins their 2016-17 campaign on friday with a home matchup with Portland State. ASU fans need to learn the name Sam Cunliffe now so they can appreciate him while he is here. Is he a one-and-done guy? Probably not at this point but this is a player with NBA potential. I am of the opinion that we did not truly appreciate James Harden for most of his two years in Tempe. I am not thrusting Cunliffe as that level of player but ASU fans should be proactive with this young player and see him now.

ASU’s guard play will be without question the strength of this team but how Coach Bobby Hurley develops his front court could be big in their pursuit to jump up the Pac-12 standings.

Portland State coming to town also means a return home for many. The first is Calaen Robinson who initially committed and played for Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils before leaving the program and transferring to the Vikings. It will be his first game at Wells Fargo Arena since wearing an ASU uniform. Joining Robinson is another Corona del Sol alum in freshman Tyrell Henderson as well as fellow freshman in 6-10 Rincon High alum Brenden Rumel. Lastly, there are two seniors with AZ connections on this roster with Khari Holloway who went to Mountain Pointe and Mesa Community College prior as well as Namdi Okonkwo who attended Westwind Prep in Phoenix.

Portland State Assistant Coach Jase Coburn has been the catalyst for the Vikings to recruit Arizona has he comes from here having been the head coach at McClintock and prior to that an assistant at Phoenix College and Corona del Sol all from 2004-2011.

In another major matchup this weekend, Dan Majerle and the Grand Canyon University Antelopes are headed to the famous Cameron Indoor to face Duke on Saturday. Nothing new now with GCU playing marquee opponents in the non-conference and boy, do they hit the ground running with a team many believe is the pre-season number one. Josh Braun is back and was named the pre-season WAC player of the year. They will rely on him and returning senior DeWayne Russell in the backcourt to lead the way on this tough road trip.

Oddly enough, if there was an ideal time to face Duke at Duke, it’s now. Sure that might sound crazy but this is a young Blue Devils team that is learning each other and is already dealing with some tough injuries. One of which is prized freshman Harry Giles who has battled injuries going back to the end of his high school days. He will not play in the game for Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

How about Gilbert Christian alum Mitch Lightfoot making his presence felt already in Lawrence, Kansas! At their end of their recent exhibition game against Emporia State, Lightfoot went viral with this video of him blocking a shot on one end and then a big dunk on the break going the other way which sent the Allen Fieldhouse into a frenzy including fellow freshman Josh Jackson (number 11 in video below) who could be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. A pretty incredible moment for a young man who grew dreaming of playing on that court as a kid growing up in Kansas.

NAU gets their season started this friday against Santa Clara. For Jack Murphy, he gets key seniors back from injury and will get to see how all the freshman he played last season have grown up now as sophomores. Jordyn Martin was set to be one of their leaders last year before going down with a season ending injury. Now after being granted a medical redshirt, he looks to go out with a bang for the ‘Jacks.

Opposite Jack Murphy on the bench for Santa Clara is a familiar face to us in Arizona. Herb Sendek is entering his first season as the head coach of the Broncos.

Finally, the Arizona Christian Firestorm head out on the road for a big exhibition matchup against New Mexico State. They have played one game that does count against West Coast Baptist during the last week of October before having two exhibition games. This weekend will be a good tune up before the real games return for good playing a division I NCAA Tournament team from a season ago on the road. Head Coach Jeff Rutter looks to keep the success rolling in 2016-17 coming off a year where the Firestorm advanced as far as the second round of the NAIA Championships.