Pedersen on Sports

Noted sports-themed list maker Brian J. Pedersen notes some players to watch this college basketball season

I'm not just referring to UA basketball season, which as I've mentioned previously is up there with the monsoon on the Tucson list of most impactful things in our daily existence. Yeah, yeah. Go Cats, blah, blah, blah.

Nah, I'm talking about college hoops as a whole: all 362 (!) teams playing in Division I, a number that keeps increasing thanks to the addition of such juggernauts as the Abilene Christian Wildcats, the Incarnate Word Cardinals and the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.

None of those are on the Wildcats' 2013-14 schedule, so odds are most people around these parts had never heard of them before. So, you're welcome for that nugget of knowledge.

I know a little something about all 362 of those teams, not just because I'm in the sports biz and it's sort of a job requirement. It's also because college basketball is, by far, the best sport to enjoy as a fan of the game.

It doesn't have fantasy sports to fuel its fervor, like the NFL; the tailgating aspect isn't nearly as important to the fan experience as it is for college football; and, as much as it pains me to say it, it's much more exciting to watch on television than baseball, the sport I was raised on.

Sure, I'll watch almost anything sports-related that's on television—sorry, equestrian; not enough crashes—but with college basketball I find myself watching it almost every time it's on. Which, thankfully, is almost all the time.

There are games on nearly every night and all throughout the weekend. And in the case of earlier this week, every moment for a 24-hour span.

ESPN and its "family of networks" began a marathon of live games at 5 p.m. Monday that went until after 10 p.m. Tuesday, and it wasn't just the big names you'd expect. Western Kentucky and Wichita State played at 11 p.m. our time, which was midnight in Kansas, while Akron and St. Mary's (Calif.) tipped off at midnight on the West Coast. The New Mexico State-Hawaii game started at midnight in Honolulu.

Not enough? You also had Hartford visiting Florida Gulf Coast at 7 a.m. on the East Coast. Yeah, didn't get much sleep earlier this week.

College hoops will be on with constant regularity until, and including, the pinnacle of all things great about sports: the 68-team NCAA Tournament that will render me completely useless for portions of three weekends in March and April.

Between now and then I'll be keeping my eye on the comings and goings of the 30-dozen-plus Division 1 teams to see who's looking good, who's looking bad, who might be the next Florida Gulf Coast. (Thanks, longtime friend Ryan Eigenbrode, the Loyola (Md.) associate athletic director, for turning me onto the team that would become known as Dunk City way back in early December.)

I'll also be checking in on the eight players from Tucson I found while culling through all 362 Division I basketball rosters:

Brandon Burnett, Indiana State. A Cienega High School graduate, he's a redshirt sophomore coming off the bench for the Sycamores. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.0 rebounds in 18 games last season. The 6-foot-6-inch guard failed to score in one minute of action in ISU's opener Saturday against Ball State.

Bryce Cotton, Providence. The former Palo Verde star led the Big East Conference in scoring last season as a junior, averaging 18.3 points per game for the Friars. The 6-foot-1-inch guard picked up where he left off in Providence's season opener last Friday, scoring 28 points in an overtime win over Boston College.

Talbott Denny, Lipscomb. The Salpointe Catholic grad averaged 2.6 points per game in 18 games as a freshman for the Bisons. The 6-foot-6-inch guard failed to score but did have a rebound and an assist in Lipscomb's opener against Belmont last week.

Tim Derksen, San Francisco. The star of Amphitheater's 2011 state championship team made the West Coast Conference All-Freshman team last season, starting 25 games and averaging 7.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-3-inch guard scored six points in the Dons' season-opening blowout of a Division II school last week.

Matt Korcheck, Arizona. The former Sabino star transferred to the UA last season after excelling at Cochise College in Douglas for two years. He averaged 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 2011-12 as a sophomore, then redshirted last season with the Wildcats. He hasn't played yet in Arizona's first two games this year.

Ajak Magot, Idaho State. The former Cholla standout also played at Cochise College, where he averaged 6.1 points per game last season. The 6-foot-11-inch junior didn't play in the Bengals' opener but he's expected to see action Friday when Idaho State visits Arizona State.

Michael Perez, Nevada. The Pueblo grad played two seasons at UTEP, averaging 11.0 points per game as a sophomore in 2011-12, before sitting out last season following a transfer to Nevada. The 6-foot-3-inch junior started the Wolf Pack's season-opening loss to Pacific and scored 11 points and added five rebounds.

Sama Taku, Pacific. The Tucson High star is the Tigers' top-returning scorer after averaging 8.1 points last season as a junior. The 6-foot-2-inch guard spent two seasons at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College after leaving THS, and had 13 points in Pacific's win over Perez's Nevada.

Though that number pales in comparison to the tally of locals playing Division I college baseball or softball, it's still impressive for a town that's not really been known for prep hoops.

And further reason to track the entirety of the 2013-2014 college basketball season. If that's not your bag, man, no sweat. I'll be doing it for ya.

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