October 12, 2007

Midnight Madness rings in new season

When it comes to Midnight Madness, nobody puts on a show quite like Kentucky.

For the third consecutive year, the Wildcats expect to fill up Rupp Arena with more than 23,000 fans for tonight's "Big Blue Madness." The school spends the bulk of its massive basketball budget on the event.

This year it should be bigger than ever with new coach Billy Gillispie taking over the reins of one of the most tradition-rich programs in college basketball. All tickets were distributed weeks ago.

With the NCAA allowing the first practice of the year tonight, some schools will hold a "Midnight Madness." We take a look at eight of the biggest events being held across the nation. ESPNU is televising tonight's festivities at Georgetown, Memphis, Southern Illinois and Davidson.

Midnight Madness: The biggest events
Doors Open: 7 p.m. at McDonough Arena
Giveaways: T-shirts, interactive video games, 3-point shooting contest, burgers, refreshments, prizes awarded for fans with the craziest outfit and personality.
Agenda: No other Midnight Madness may be tougher to get to. Tickets are free for students, but the 56-year old gym holds only 2,500 fans. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 6:45 p.m., and the university recommends that fans begin lining up no later than 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., festivities will begin outside, and at 8:45 the doors will open to the arena. The main highlight will be the unveiling of the Hoyas' 2006-07 Final Four banner. The men's and women's teams won't scrimmage, but they will go through drills. There will be player introductions, along with performances from the dance team, cheerleaders and pep band. For those that don't make it inside, the events will be broadcast live on a 15x20 screen outside the arena. There will also be more festivities in the parking lot from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
What to Watch: This will be the first chance for most Hoyas fans to see five-star recruit Austin Freeman. A future NBA player, Freeman would start instantly at most schools. But with the return of four starters from a Final Four team, he'll likely be coming off the bench for the Hoyas. Freshman point guard Chris Wright, a four-star prospect, broke his foot last month and won't be available until December. The loudest cheers of the night will be reserved for senior center Roy Hibbert, who would have been a first-round pick but chose to stay in school.
Recruits Attending: Coach John Thompson III pulled off a major coup when he convinced Greg Monroe, the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2008, to make his official visit this weekend. Monroe will be joined by 14 other prospects at the event.
Doors Open: 5:30 p.m. at Assembly Hall (Admission is $5 or two canned goods)
Giveaways: Player autographs
Agenda: The players will sign autographs between 6-7 p.m. Cards will be provided. No outside items are allowed. A volleyball match against Michigan State begins at 7; after that, the women's team will take the court for a 3-point shooting contest. The men's team then will go through some drills and hold its own 3-point contest. The men's and women's winners then will square off. The men will follow with a dunk contest and what is being called a "brief" scrimmage.
What to Watch: The start of the Eric Gordon era. No freshman may be surrounded by more hype or controversy. Gordon, a shooting guard from Indianapolis who was the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2007, originally committed to Illinois. But soon after Kelvin Sampson was hired at Indiana, he convinced Gordon to visit Bloomington. Gordon's presence and the return of senior D.J. White, one of the nation's premier big men, will put the Hoosiers in the national-title hunt.
Recruits Attending: Two of the top guards from the class of 2009 are headed to Bloomington: five-star prospects Lance Stephenson and Dexter Strickland. Five-star small forward Devin Ebanks, one of three commitments from the class of 2008, and 2009 commitment Derek Elston also are among the 14 invitees.
Doors Open: 9 p.m. at Rupp Arena
Agenda: This will be the third consecutive year the Wildcats have held the event in Rupp and a capacity crowd is expected again. More than 23,000 fans showed up each of the past two years, and all tickets have been distributed for this year. There will be player introductions for the men's and women's teams. The men's team will hold a dunk contest and a 20-minute scrimmage with a running clock. Fox Sports South will televise the event live.
What to Watch: The introduction of new coach Billy Gillispie may bring the Rupp noise to a level that hasn't been seen in years. With the much-maligned Tubby Smith now at Minnesota, Wildcats fans enter this season with a sense of renewed optimism. This will be their first chance to see the four freshmen Gillispie signed, including five-star power forward Patrick Patterson. The Wildcats are counting on Patterson to play heavy minutes immediately.
Recruits Attending: Gillispie has put together a star-studded guest list. The biggest names are two uncommitted prospects from the class of 2008: five-star center J'Mison Morgan and four-star forward Chris Singleton. Ralph Sampson III, the son of the former Virginia great, also will be in Lexington. And four Wildcats commitments are making the trip: 2008 prospects DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller and 2010 prospects Dakotah Euton and K.C. Ross-Miller.
Doors Open: 7 p.m. at the FedEx Forum
Giveaways: Player autographs, T-shirts and mini-basketballs.
Agenda: The men and women will begin signing autographs at 7. Player and coach introductions start at 8. The men then will hold a dunk contest, followed by a 15-minute scrimmage.
What to Watch: There's no debate that Derrick Rose, the No. 3 prospect in the class of 2007, is the main attraction. The last time Memphis had a freshman receive this much attention, his name was Anfernee Hardaway and the school was called Memphis State. A dynamic playmaker, Rose will add a new dimension to a Tigers offense that is loaded with proven weapons. Rose's arrival has overshadowed the two other newcomers: four-star recruit Jeff Robinson and Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart.
Recruits Attending: The 11-man group features local prep star Elliot Williams and Oklahoma City guard Xavier Henry. Williams, who has narrowed his choices to Duke, Memphis, Tennessee and Virginia, is the No. 16 prospect in the class of 2008. Henry is No. 2 in the 2009 rankings.
North Carolina
Doors Open: 6 p.m. at Smith Center (admission is free)
Agenda: ESPN anchor Stuart Scott (a North Carolina alum) will be emceeing the event for the third consecutive year. The men and women will go through player introductions. The men will perform a series of skits often the highlight of the night followed by drills and a scrimmage.
What to Watch: The Tar Heels didn't add any freshmen or transfers, but fans are anxious to see how sophomore power forward Deon Thompson performs. There is hope Thompson can fill the major void created by the departure of lottery pick Brandan Wright. Thompson has slimmed down to 235 pounds and was one of the Americans' top players at the U-19 World Championships this past summer.
Recruits Attending: It's shaping up to be a pivotal recruiting weekend in Chapel Hill. As many as five five-star prospects are expected to be in town, including 2008 commitment Ed Davis, twins David Wear and Travis Wear and Dominic Cheek (2009) and Kendall Marshall (2010).
Doors Open: 6:45 at Allen Fieldhouse
Agenda: The men's and women's team will hold scrimmages. There also will be player introductions, video highlights and music from the school pep band. Former KU football great John Riggins, who is being added to the Ring of Honor during Saturday's game against Baylor, will be making an appearance.
What to Watch: The Jayhawks' big man of the future: center Cole Aldrich. He will get a chance to develop slowly with starters Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun coming back. Freshman guards Tyrel Reed and Conner Teahan also are new additions. Tehan was offered scholarships by some Missouri Valley Conference schools, but chose to be a walk-on at KU. Star small forward Brandon Rush continues to recover from a torn ACL and won't be available.
Recruits Attending: UNC isn't the only school hosting twins. Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris, senior post players from New Jersey, will be in Lawrence. So will four-star guard Travis Releford, one of the Jayhawks' two commitments from the class of 2008.
Kansas State
Doors Open: 10: 30 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum
Agenda: This will be a simple format, with player introductions and a dunk contest, which could be one of the best in the nation with the return of explosive forward Bill Walker (he missed most of last season with a knee injury) and the debut of forward Michael Beasley, Rivals.com's No. 1 prospect from the class of 2007. The men will also hold a 20-minute scrimmage. New coach Frank Martin will talk to the crowd afterward.
What to Watch: Beasley. K-State never has had a recruit with this lofty a status. He has tremendous physical gifts and a reputation for being entertaining, which should make for a great fit for this type of event. Walker also will be getting a lot of attention; people want to see if he has regained his athleticism after his injury.
Recruits Attending: The Wildcats are welcoming two top-100 prospects from the class of 2009: big man Wally Judge and shooting guard Rodney McGruder.
Doors Open: 9 p.m. at the Galen Center
Giveaways: Fan shooting contest, 2008 season football and basketball tickets, airline tickets, free tuition, iPods, X-Box 360s, Play Stations, Disneyland tickets, video games and gift certificates.
Agenda: The event will begin after the women's volleyball match against Oregon, which starts at 7. The men's and women's coaches will introduce their players. Both teams will hold 10-minute scrimmages, and there also will be a "two-ball challenge" (men and women team up together for a shooting contest) and a dunk contest.
What to Watch: The O.J. Mayo show. The five-star guard surprised many when he chose the Trojans over a host of elite schools. His presence overshadows that of freshman forward Davon Jefferson, who was a five-star prospect in the class of 2006. Mayo and Jefferson will be expected to carry much of the offensive load.
Recruits Attending: It looks as if the Trojans' success on the recruiting trail could expand exponentially. They're hosting the top-ranked prospects from the class of 2009 and 2010 in Renardo Sidney and Jeremy Tyler, respectively. Five-star commitment Demar Derozan also will be dropping by the event.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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