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The Afternoon Before College Basketball: Scott Cross is back, Steve Pikiell’s big season and more

It has already been a fun start to the 2019-20 college basketball season, and there are a lot of things that already stand out about the new campaign.

We’ve seen incredible freshman performances, incredible team performances, and incredible referee performances. Yes, I know some of you won’t agree with the latter of the group, but it’s early so let’s try to be positive.

Thursday night’s college basketball slate isn’t the best, but there are still some things worth watching for.

Let’s dive into The Afternoon Before College Basketball, which surveys the college basketball landscape before the action gets started.

Scott Cross returns to the head coaching ranks

Blake Lovell (@theblakelovell): After spending a season as Jamie Dixon’s assistant at TCU, Scott Cross is a head coach again. And everyone knew he’d back in that role after his surprising firing at UT Arlington. Cross led the Mavericks to unprecedented success, with the program earning 21 or more wins in his last three seasons on the job.

However, despite the frustrations with how that situation unfolded, he’s embracing his opportunity with Troy after learning from one of the nation’s top coaches.

“I had the opportunity to learn from a Hall of Fame coach in coach Dixon,” Scott Cross told me this summer for my Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook preview of the Trojans. “His preparation – the way he prepares his teams for games – I thought it was pretty remarkable. No matter what type of adversity we faced, his demeanor with the guys was pretty amazing. It was a very beneficial year.”

Troy will face some adversity as Cross tries to rebuild the program, but he’s a proven winner that’s excited to be a head coach again. The Trojans will tip off their season on Thursday night in an intriguing in-state matchup against UAB.

Rutgers Until The Day I Die

Joseph Nardone (@JosephNardone): The Rutgers Scarlet Knights would have entered the season with far more hoopla had Steve Pikiell not lost his best player to the transfer portal realm of doom, but it remains an important campaign for the program.

It’s not an easy school to win at. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with it, but there does happen to be a history of debacles and scandal in the school’s history. It’s why the hiring of Pikiell was such a big deal when it happened, as he represents a coach who can maximize value even if there’s little around to play with.

Rutgers will open its season against the famed Bryant Bulldogs. It’s not exactly going to result in a basketball loving nation turning in to see what the Scarlet Knights have to offer or anything, but these are the kinds of games Pikiell can no longer afford to lose.

We’re now in year-four of the Steve Pikiell era. He’s yet to take the team beyond 15 wins; although there’s been clear signs of growth within the program. By no means does he have to take Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament or anything this season, especially after losing his best player, but a continued upward trajectory has to be shown.

Pikiell is the right man for this job. The school needs to remain patient. Nevertheless, the former Stony Brook Seawolves coach, who eventually righted that ship, will need to give the school a reason to believe.

Eran Ganot stepping away

Blake: Hawaii has announced that head coach Eran Ganot is taking a temporary medical leave of absence. The Rainbow Warriors are set to tip off their season on Friday against Florida A&M, but they’ll certainly have more on their mind than just the game itself.

“Although it pains me to leave the team, there are certain health issues that I need to address,” Ganot said via the school’s official website. “I have a plan and I will return. I appreciate my coaches, players and the administration and I look forward to returning to the court as soon as possible.”

Ganot is a well-respected coach and first-class individual, and the Hawaii program isn’t alone in wishing him a full recovery so he can get back to coaching his team.

He has compiled a 77-48 record in his four seasons on the job, and the Rainbow Warriors should be one of the top teams in the Big West this season.

Fake College Basketball Programs Are At It Again

Joseph: There’s not too much going on in the way of good games on Thursday evening; though there’s plenty of programs playing that are likely invented by some random dude on the corner.

According to the schedule, as if we should believe it to be a historical document, schools called Ferrum, KY Wesleyan, Crown College, Peru State College and many other supposedly real universities are set to play on Thursday night.

Division I college basketball programs playing schools with enrollment sizes similar to a poorly attended high school is nowhere near as bad as when it happens in college football. In that sport, there’s violence happening on blades of grass. The discrepancy in talent can literally result in a lesser-talent being mauled, injured or worse.

To be fair, this could be worse. We could be watching in-conference games to start the season; well before either of those teams are ready for high-level competition with so much at stake.

Wait… what’s that? The ACC is doing what now?!

Still, it would be nice if Division I shooty hoop schools didn’t also do this. The games mean next to nothing, there’s zero resemblance of growth, and so on.

But hey, at least we get to see William Jessup face UC Davis… I guess?

Game of the Night

Seattle travels to Washington State to take on the Cougars, who are set for the Kyle Smith era. But it won’t be an easy task for Smith’s squad, as the Redhawks return a lot of production and should be one of the best teams in the WAC.

The game tips at 9 p.m. EST.

You can listen to and subscribe to the Cutting The Net Podcast on Apple here or at Soundcloud here. 

Blake Lovell is a national writer for ClutchPoints. He’s also a contributor for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine. He hosts two podcasts: Marching to Madness (CBB) and Establish the Pass (NFL). 

You can follow him on Twitter @theblakelovell.

Joseph Nardone has been covering basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. He currently contributes to Forbes and Clutchpoints. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.

Also, be sure to follow the ClutchPoints NCAA Facebook page for more great basketball, Scott Cross, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Steve Pikiell, recruiting, original analysis and whatever other kinds of discussion. We’re also on Twitter over here. Give us a follow.