Columbus - It has been four years since I graduated from Ohio State University. It was a great time. The football team was fantastic during my time here, and the basketball team under Thad Matta was quickly becoming a national force. I attended freshman orientation with the likes of Mike Conley, Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, and David Lighty. For as good as the team was, though, this is not a basketball town. Just a year and a half ago, on the night that Ohio State lost to Kansas in the final four, I drove down here to visit friends and have our fantasy baseball draft. On the way down, I expected talk radio to be buzzing over the chance of Matta bringing home the first basketball national title since Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight were around. Nope. Spring football was two weeks away! Here football is king.
But here are the Cleveland Cavaliers hosting a preseason game in Columbus, trying to expand the team's reach past Northeast Ohio. They are smart to do so. Columbus is full of young people that enjoyed the LeBron era and will come back, just as soon as the Kyrie era starts producing some wins. There has been talk in Columbus of attracting an NBA team. That won't happen, at least as long as Dan Gilbert is the owner of the Cavaliers. It is conceivable that, were there a different owner, Columbus would be an attractive spot. Nationwide arena is ready-made and could handle an NBA team. The city has several fortune 500 companies that have bases here to provide corporate support. But Gilbert is committed to the city of Cleveland. And again, Columbus is a football town. The Blue Jackets have an impressive and loyal fanbase. I am not all that certain the city could support two major winter sports that would take place entirely within the window of Ohio State football and basketball. Plus, Seattle is still out there needing a team, and Gilbert isn't going to let another team steal his market share; that's why he has his team playing in Columbus tonight.
But I digress ..
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Where: Schottenstein Center - Columbus, Ohio
When: 7:00 PM Eastern
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio
What to watch with the 76ers:
Evan Turner homecoming! Turner had a lot of great moments playing for Ohio State at Value City Arena. His time here in Columbus led to the 76ers selecting him 2nd overall, a spot that he has thus far failed to live up to. He isn't an efficient scorer, doesn't shoot from distance at a high percentage, isn't a great ballhandler, and doesn't really create for others. He played a lot of point guard at Ohio State. I don't really know where he fits in. The Sixers new management is high on advanced metrics and advanced metrics are not high on Turner. Most think that the organization would love Turner to play well this season .. so that they can deal him. Turner's last rookie year option is next season and it involves him making $8.7 million. He has played at a level where he is worth about half of that. His season will be worth watching; I have already received questions about whether he is a fit for the Cavaliers at small forward.
Outside of Turner's homecoming, the Sixers are young and terrible, and that is by design. They traded Jrue Holliday to the Pelicans for a first round pick in next season's draft, and seem intent on making sure that their own pick is quite high. They still have Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes, a frontcourt that isn't horrendous. It isn't clear if the team is interested in dealing Young or hoping that they are ready to compete again with him at tail end of his prime. Either way, for such a fun player it is sad that he will largely have his talent wasted on a terrible team. Philadelphia will just be looking for signs that Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel (still out due to an ACL tear) can anchor good basketball teams in three or four years. As veterans of an extended tanking expedition, we can understand and symptathize.
What to watch with the Cavaliers:
Dion Waiters struggled on Saturday night, but played really well the game before. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back against his childhood favorite team. The Cavaliers bench is still likely to be missing quite a few pieces in Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, and perhaps C.J. Miles. The Cavaliers will be relying on Anthony Bennett and, to a lesser extent, Sergey Karasev, to be able to come in and give decent minutes off the bench this season. Will be curious to see if they can continue to learn and get acclimated to the NBA game. We know from last season what it is like to have solid starters who leave the court just to see the game fall apart.
But I really am most excited to see the starters continue to learn from each other and grow as a unit. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson have looked really good together, on both sides of the court. Kyrie Irving continues to play preseason games like a poker player slow playing a huge hand. No need for him to show his cards until the home opener against the Brooklyn Nets. And Earl Clark had a good night against the Pistons before struggling with the Pacers. Gee played well against the Pacers. Hard to know who ends up winning that battle.
I will get sentimental when I see the Ohio State court for days gone by, with Mike Conley running flawless fast breaks and making game winning layups against Wisconsin.