(ed. note: if you’re looking for the 2009 NIT Bracket, click here.)
The Preseason NIT, the Granddaddy of all the Preseason Tourneys, begins tonight, with all sixteen teams in action at four regional pods (Chestnut Hill, MA; W. Lafayette, IN; Norman, OK; Tucson, AZ). Unlike many of the D2 and whatever-else teams thrown into the pods of the CvC last week, the PNIT at least uses all D1 teams for its sacrificial lambs. A new feature is that each of the sixteen teams was seeded, although we’re not sure how BC and Arizona ended up with protected seeds over Davidson (also, why isn’t #1 Purdue playing #16 Miss. Valley St., and #2 v. #15, etc.?). We suppose BC fans would buy more tickets in Manhattan next week? Whichever. Below is the regional bracket, and our thoughts and picks follow.
Best first-round game.#8 St. John’s v. #9 Cornell. You don’t think that Big Red is looking forward to sticking it to their Big East brethren to the south? Click here if you don’t believe us. These two NY teams have never played, but we’re thinking that Cornell will ride its three-point shooting to the upset win in Chestnut Hill tonight.
Other Upset Possibilities. Keep an eye on these two games in the Tucson regional:
#3 Arizona v. #15 Florida Atlantic. Nobody has a clue how Arizona is going to respond to all of its turmoil from the offseason, or whether half of its players will even be available tonight (apparently so), but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about college basketball and despite trite cliches to the contrary - adversity generally does NOT end well. New FAU head coach Mike Jarvis knows how to coach up a team for one game, and this could be a rude awakening for Russ Pennell as a D1 coach.
#7 UAB v. #11 Santa Clara. The recipe for an upset here is clear. WCC talent is generally underrated. This is a west-coast team playing an east-coast team in the Pacific time zone. John Bryant inside the paint. Robert Vaden may still be feeling the effects from his recent arrest hanging over his head (4 pts last game on 2-13 FGs). UAB head coach Mike Davis has been known to lay an egg or two in his career. UAB will have no answer for Santa Clara big man
Will MVSU Break 30?#2Oklahoma v. #16 Mississippi Valley St. Knowing what we know about Oklahoma’s defense, and knowing also what we know about MVSU’s inability to score the basketball, we foresee something along the lines of 75-35 in this game.
They Should Roll.BC at home v. Loyola (MD). Purdue at home vs. Eastern Michigan. And Davidson in Norman vs. James Madison. No way any of these three loses tonight.
Two Evenly Matched Bad Teams.#6 Georgia v. #10 Loyola (IL). Wow, the PNIT should commend itself for getting two Loyola into this tournament. Was Loyola Marymount not available? No further comment on this game, other than to say either team could win, and Purdue will blast said winner tomorrow night.
Regional Picks. We’ve got BC, Purdue, Davidson and Santa Clara (taking advantage of the FAU upset). We really didn’t want to pick against Oklahoma at home, but then again, how do you justify picking against Stephen Curry? If the Wildcats can contain Blake Griffin inside, they can win that game and head to MSG.
Enough with ESPNU!!!! Three of the four televised games tonight in this tournament are on the U. Look, we understand why the games are on there. But why not also put them on the ESPN Full Court package so that those of us held completely hostage by our cable companies can actually take advantage of those games as well? We already pay for the FC service, so what possible harm could it do to expose more paying customers to your product? Make us pay $10 if you like, but just give us access to it!
WYN2K. The story of Conference USA basketball the last few seasons has been the absolute dominance of Memphis. This year should be no different as the Tigers return a great combination of veteran talent and blue chip freshmen. To put it in perspective, they have not lost a Conference USA game since an 80-74 loss at UAB on February 2nd, 2006. Despite the recent Tiger dominance, the arrival of quality coaches like Tom Penders (Houston), Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Ben Braun (Rice) has helped raise the level of play. There is enough talent in the conference to get two NCAA tournament teams and a few other teams in the other postseason tournaments. There will be close calls, but in the end none of the other teams will score that elusive upset over Memphis.
Predicted Champion.Memphis (#2 seed NCAA). It’s really too easy to predict this one. I realize that the three most valuable players from last season: G Derrick Rose, G Chris Douglas-Roberts and C Joey Dorsey are all gone, but there are some talented players ready to step in. The star of Memphis coach John Calipari’s latest collection of blue-chip prospects is G Tyreke Evans from American Christian in suburban Philadelphia. Evans was one of the most highly-sought out prep point guards in the nation and is the heir apparent to Rose at the position. The other incoming player that should see a lot of action is F Wesley Witherspoon, a small forward from Lilburn, Georgia. Among the returners, F Robert Dozier is without a doubt the best athlete in the low post and is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg), rebounder (6.8 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg). Depth abounds at the guard position where Willie Kemp, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack all have proven they can step up in key situations. The only area where the Tigers lack a proven commodity is at the center position, where Joey Dorsey starred the past couple of seasons. But there is the enough talent on this roster to dominate the Conference USA field and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament. Here’s a bone for UM fans (last year’s highlight mix)…
Others Considered. Do not sleep on UAB(NCAA #9) this season. If there is any team in this conference with a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament outside of Memphis, it’s these guys. They were missing point guard Paul Delaney III for practically all of last season and still ended up finishing second behind Memphis in conference play. The Blazers also return the best shooter in Conference USA, Robert Vaden, and a solid scoring threat at small forward in Lawrence Kinnard. I could definitely see these guys getting in the dance as #9 or #10 seed if they avoid the costly slip-ups. Don’t call these guys one year wonders either because Blazer coach Mike Davis’ 2009 recruiting class is one of the best in the country. There is an outside shot that Tulsa (NIT) could make the NCAA Tournament with their very experienced squad. The Golden Hurricanes have Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who has the NBA scouts drooling and is poised for a breakout year after a dominant finish last season. It doesn’t hurt Jordan that he has an all-conference point guard in Tony Uzoh getting him the ball. There is an interesting collection of incoming talent on this Houston (NIT) squad, including former St. John’s F Qa’rraan Calhoun and G Desmond Wade, a point guard from New Jersey who led his high school team to two state titles. But the Cougars lost way too much talent to seriously consider making the NCAA tournament. I have similar feelings about UTEP who returns one of the best athletes in this league – Stafon Jackson – and in the low post they bring in talented Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper. The Miners return most all of their key players from last season, but I’m just still not sold that they can put it all together under Coach Tony Barbee and make the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, the Miners will be extremely tough on their home floor, the Don Haskins Center. Former national Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy has the most experienced team in the league at Southern Miss. Guards Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley are all-conference level guards who give the Eagles and Eustachy a shot at being a top-echelon C-USA team.
Important Games. Every time Memphis plays a top-half Conference USA team it could be an interesting contest, since a lot of teams seem to ‘play up’ for the Tigers. But I doubt anyone will beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum this season, so the road games will be the most interesting challenges. Specifically, trips to El Paso and Birmingham loom large on the Tigers’ schedule. There are also a couple of contests that will determine who is behind Memphis in the conference pecking order.
UAB @ Houston (01.10.09)
UAB @ Tulsa (01.28.09)
Memphis @ UTEP (02.21.09)
Memphis @ UAB (02.26.09)
Conference USA Championship Game (03.14.09)
RPI Boosters. If this league wants to move past its status as a ‘one-bid’ league then they’ll need to pull of at least a few decently high-profile upsets in the non-conference season. There are opportunities for every team in the league to get a marquee win at some point. Memphis will not be included in this particular list because they will be favored in most, if not all of their games this season. Not all of these are booster games against big conference foes, there are also some interesting match-ups against other mid-major teams.
Tulsa @ Oklahoma State (11.20.08)
UNLV @ UTEP (11.24.08)
VCU @ East Carolina (11.25.08)
Miami (FL) vs. Southern Miss (11.21.08) @ Paradise Jam (VI)
Rice @ Texas (11.27.08)
Western Kentucky @ Tulane (12.06.08)
SMU @ Texas A&M (12.17.08)
UAB @ Louisville (12.29.08)
Houston @ Mississippi State (01.03.09)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. As compared to the past few seasons, this is a much deeper and generally more talented group of Conference USA teams. Even the middle of the pack teams like Marshall, UCF and Tulane could put some scares into the top teams. But this conference is still fundamentally Memphis and the proverbial eleven dwarves at the end of the day. The other teams are gradually getting stronger and this could become one of the better “mid-major” conferences in the next few seasons.
I know I’ve made the point ad nauseum, but Memphis has absolutely dominated the Conference USA competition in the past three seasons. The Tigers’ combined record in C-USA play in those three seasons: 45-1. If that’s not domination, frankly I do not know what is.
Since basketball powers Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2005 there’s only been one season where the C-USA has had multiple NCAA tournament teams. In the 2005-06 season, both Memphis (#1 seed) and UAB (#9 seed) qualified for the tournament. No C-USA team besides Memphis has made it to the Big Dance since.
Incoming UCF freshman big man Jakub Kusmieruk may be the biggest guy in all of college basketball since the 7’7” Kenny George of UNC-Asheville had to retire due to injury. Listed at an astonishing 7’4” and 295 pounds, this native of Poland is worth keeping an eye on. He probably won’t see too many minutes in his first season, but all indications are that the kid has a good work ethic and can become a force in the low post for the Golden Knights.
65 Team Era. It’s amazing how far CUSA has fallen since the great exodus of 2005. Consider that in 2004, the league earned SIX bids to the NCAA Tournament, racking up four first-round wins. Now it’s very fortunate to get a team other than Memphis into the Big Dance (only happening once – UAB in 2006). Thus, the historical stats (48-42, .533) don’t hold much meaning because the league has changed so much from its current iteration.
Final Thought. The quality of basketball in Conference USA has taken a dive since the “basketball” teams all left for the Big East and Atlantic 10. But it would be foolish to presume that no team outside of Memphis is worth talking about. In fact this conference’s best days of basketball are ahead of them. UAB is bringing in a top-rated recruiting class and has a couple of serious NBA prospects on their roster currently. UTEP has Stafon Jackson and he could be the best athlete in all of Conference USA. While they aren’t tournament contenders right now, Marshall brought in an impressive recruiting class that includes Florida’s Mr. Basketball, Shaquille Johnson. Outside of Memphis few C-USA teams have players leave early for the draft, but Jeremy Wise is a great combo guard and could be the best player in Southern Miss history. There are multiple strong OOC games for C-USA teams to prove themselves in. Basically the onus is on the teams outside of Memphis to make a name for themselves and continue to elevate the national opinion when it comes to Conference USA basketball.
Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now. We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube.
#19 – Where You Can Paint That Line Wherever You Want Happens
It’s already been an exciting few days with Marcus Ginyard‘s and Terrence Williams‘ injuries and it only continues to get better as the news came out today that UAB sharpshooter Robert Vaden was arrested in Bloomington, Indiana, last weekend for public intoxication. What was he doing there? You may recall that Vaden was one of the IU players who followed Mike Davis to UAB after his dismissal from Indiana University in 2006. After a scintillating junior campaign (21/4/3 assts) at UAB and a last-minute decision to come back to school for his senior season, Vaden is poised to have an all-american year for the Blazers.
UAB basketball standout Robert Vaden was arrested on a preliminary charge of public intoxication last weekend while visiting friends in Bloomington, Ind. The news comes on the same day that Conference USA coaches voted Vaden, a transfer from Indiana, as their Preseason Player of the Year. The Bloomington Herald Times, which reported the story Tuesday, said Bloomington police Officer Ian Lovan saw a man who appeared intoxicated and was pushing people on a downtown Bloomington street. The man, later identified as the 23-year-old Vaden, failed dexterity tests to determine if he was drunk and was booked on the public intoxication charge, according to the newspaper. Vaden is on probation after a disorderly conduct arrest in Birmingham in 2007. Vaden was one of five current or former UAB players arrested outside a Southside club in late August of last year.
This could be extremely problematic for the fortunes of Mike Davis’ 2008-09 team, which is predicted to make a run at the CUSA title and an NCAA Tournament bid. A PI is usually nothing to worry about, but getting a PI while on probation is potentially an entirely different matter. Even just the arrest with no sticking PI charge could cause Vaden’s original charge of disorderly conduct to re-attach (including any possible jail time), depending on the moods of his probation officer and/or judge. At minimum, we would expect even a Mike Davis player to merit a suspension of several games for this stunning lack of judgment.
As for the news breaking on the same day that Vaden was awarded Preseason POY by the CUSA coaches, well, we just can’t help but think that somewhere a snivelling John Calipari had something to do with this.
So Wednesday was Day 2 of the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp (Day 1′s notes are here), and once again we’ll try to synthesize some of the reports coming from various sources who are actually attending the camp. Hopefully we’ll start to get a sense as to who is improving or shatting all over decreasing their stock. Our sources today are DraftExpress, NBADraft.net, Jeff Goodman and Doug Gottlieb.
Players Doing Well So Far:
Lawson Really Must Not Want to Return to UNC (photo credit: USA Today)
Ty Lawson, UNC
DraftExpress – Ty Lawson was a cut above everyone else on the floor here, showing incredible quickness taking an outlet pass and getting his team out in transition, and fantastic court vision finding open teammates on the move. He made the game very simple for all of his teammates, as all they had to do was run with him and make sure their hands were ready for the pass.
Gottlieb – Best point guard here so far – UNC’s Ty Lawson, trailed closely by Sean Singletary. While Singletary is more refined than Lawson and seems to be using his experience from being here last year to his benefit, Lawson has an extra step that you just cannot teach.
NBADraft.net -(10pts, 5ast, 3stl) From the moment he came on the floor he changed the tempo of the game. Pushing the ball in transition, he made some nice decisions finding open teammates or getting to the hoop and finishing. The highlight for him may have been the fact that he completely outplayed Lester Hudson, the man he was matched up with. Not only did he get by Hudson at will of the dribble, but he held him scoreless for the longer part of the game.
Gary Parrish also wrote an article yesterday explaining how shocked Ty Lawson has been by UNC fans’ reactions to his attempts to enter the NBA Draft. Many of the same people who congratulated him as a Tar Heel are now trashing him through this process. Maybe that’s why he’s playing so well?
Joe Crawford, Kentucky
DraftExpress – Joe Crawford had a very strong game with 19 points on 6-11 shooting, thanks to an extremely hot and aggressive start that kept his team in the game. He took the ball to the rack extremely well, showing smoothing body control, solid ball-handling skills and impressive overall scoring instincts, and also knocked down a number of shots from outside.
Gottlieb – Kentucky’s Joe Crawford and UAB’s Robert Vaden both looked very much at ease with the added 3-point range needed for this level of basketball. Crawford looks smaller that the 6-5 he has always been listed at, but he was explosive in terms of scoring in the first half of his first game.
NBADraft.net – Joe Crawford was one of the big surprises of Day One. His 19 points were the high point total on the day. Crawford was able to use his quick first step to get by his man and to the rim. He also knocked down 2-3 from 3 showing the ability to pull up off the dribble from distance. Crawford appears on his way to claiming a spot in the second round if he can keep up his quality play.
Pat Calathes, St. Joseph’s
DraftExpress – Pat Calathes only got to play 15 minutes (sitting an extensive amount of time between stints), but really made the most of his time out on the floor, scoring 10 points and dishing off 5 assists (compared to just one turnover), many of the spectacular variety. His ball-handling skills, vision and all-around creativity were on full display throughout, looking aggressive and intelligent while not forcing the issue in the least bit. He would have had even more assists playing with some more skilled big man. He seems like a lock to get drafted at this point, and may be able to work himself considerably up the board if he continues to play like this in the next two days.
NBADraft.net-(10pts, 5ast) Showed some nice moves off the dribble and in transition, he was able to use his quickness to get by the defense. He seems to have put on some weight since Portsmouth, but still looks extremely skinny. He can knock down the mid-range shot, but with his unorthodox release he seems to lack range out to the NBA 3.
JR Giddens, New Mexico
Gottlieb – Giddens looked like, well, J.R. Giddens of old. He can still shoot the deep 3, runs like a deer, had a nice two dribble pull-up jumpers and generally looked good in trying to score. He did pout and not run back on defense a couple of times, he struggles to handle the ball on pick-and-roll situations, and he is not a pure guard by any stretch of the imagination. The consensus is Round 2.
DraftExpress – (not the most skilled with the ball, but capable as a spot-up shooter and constantly making plays offensively and especially defensively thanks to his trademark length and explosiveness)
Players Hurting Themselves:
Can Shan Foster Do Anything Other Than Shoot? (photo credit: vanderbilt.edu)
Davon Jefferson, USC
Gottlieb – Davon Jefferson will be taken in this draft. He moves well offensively off screens and looks like he will become a solid pro shooter. But he has no left hand and seems lost defensively. Jefferson will knock heads will Walker both in workouts and maybe the D-League.
NBADraft.net – (7pts, 6rebs, 3ast) In the early going it seemed as if Jefferson may have made a mistake showing up this week, as he was almost non-existent. Although his performance was still not spectacular, he was able to salvage the day as he put up a decent 10 minutes together to finish the game off. His offensive skill is still in need of much work, but one cannot deny his terrific frame, and explosiveness.
DraftExpress – Who hurt himself the worst? Most likely Davon Jefferson. He came here out of shape, and has barely been hustling at all for the past two days. Although he was able to use his freakish athleticism to make some plays on the glass and in transition, NBA types can’t be crazy about what they are seeing here. He needs to realize the urgency of the situation quickly if he wants to avoid destroying what otherwise might be a very promising future. At this point it looks very obvious that the 21-year old freshman is not ready to be in this draft, and definitely made a hasty decision hiring an agent
Wayne Ellington, UNC
DraftExpress – The most intriguing story might have been the incredibly poor play of North Carolina shooting guard Wayne Ellington—projected by some as a first round pick, but looking like anything but one from what we’ve seen in the first two days so far. Ellington was 1 of 8 from the field until the game was pretty much over with two minutes left and he managed to make his boxscore look somewhat respectable with two garbage-time baskets. He forced a number of shots badly, dribbled the ball off his foot on his way to 6 painful turnovers, played poor defense and did not grab even a single rebound in 27 minutes. He finished the game with 8 points, and is looking like he’ll be on the first plane back to Chapel Hill to kick off his junior season once this camp is over unless he can turn things around in a major way.
NBADraft.net – Wayne Ellington was one of the day’s big disappointments. He scored a couple buckets late to salvage his stats to a degree but in reality he was thoroughly outplayed by Gary Forbes who appears to have strength, size and experience over Ellington.
Gottlieb – If UNC gets Wayne Ellington back, which they should, Roy Williams should thank Deron Washington. Washington played picture-perfect defense on the UNC sophomore the entire first half of their matchup. Ellington got just two contested looks and struggled to separate himself from Washington’s long arms and great lateral quickness.
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
DraftExpress – Shan Foster was a big disappointment once again, continuing the same trend we saw in the morning and the day before. He looks completely out of his element mentally, forcing bad shots and even air-balling one 3-pointer by about five feet, which is completely uncharacteristic of the player widely considered the top shooter in this draft class. He got chased off the 3-point line way too easily, getting caught into the trap of being forced to use his ball-handling skills, which he is much less effective at than just spotting up from behind the arc. He looks like he’s putting way too much pressure on himself, and will need to settle down a bit and remember what got him here.
NBADraft.net – Shan Foster struggled to get on track with just 7 points on 2-7 shooting. His lack of a great handle and ability to get by opponents appears to be getting exposed some. He’s a great shooter, but still must show a more diverse offensive game.
Danny Green, UNC
DraftExpress – Also on the negative side of the spectrum we found Danny Green (forcing the issue way too much, especially from behind the arc [0-4], and looking clearly hobbled by his sprained left ankle).
Gottlieb – Green is dribbling too much and seems stuck between wanting to be a 2 guard and playing more like his natural 3 position. He has plenty of upside since he is only 20, but family concerns may keep him in this draft.
Goodman – He said he felt somewhere between 75 and 90 percent. Green also sounded upset that Roy Williams didn’t initially include him among the Big Three (Tyler Hanbsrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington), when he was getting early reports from NBA executives on where his players were projected
More takes on some of the other players at the Pre-Draft Camp:
Gottlieb – Richard Hendrix looks leaner (he said he has lost 15 pounds and wants to lose more), and he was much more agile because of it. Hendrix, Maryland’s James Gist and Memphis’ Joey Dorsey are three very different, yet very draftable big men who give teams in the late first round and the early second round interesting options. Hendrix, who looks like the only one who could go in Round 1, is a skilled wide body who can face up and beat you with a catch and shoot off the pick-and-pop, and he is a good rebounder/outlet passer. Gist is the lean athlete who can block shots, has streamlined his jumper to 18 feet and runs the floor very well. Dorsey is a beast. He caught two alley-oops that counted, he is a pretty solid passer both on the outlets and in the offense, and his long arms make up for his lack of great height.
NBADraft.net -LR Mbah Moute (9pts, 5rebs) He seemed to have tweaked his ankle in the early going, but showed some character fighting through and still put up a decent performance. With his length and athleticism, he is always able to alter plays defensively, and convert on hustle baskets offensively. Devon Hardin had three thunderous dunks but struggled to display any touch or post skills. As impressive a physical specimen as he is, he appears to be a big tease, a player who gives the impression that he can become a force, but lacking the focus and direction to get there. Patrick Ewing (14pts, 5-7fg) With Ewing Sr. in attendance, the younger Ewing put in a decent game. He was able to convert on a number of open jumpers and showed some nice athleticism, but his overall skill set has glaring holes and he does not have a natural position on the floor. James Gist displayed his tremendous athleticism with a reverse jam in which he was fouled and missed, followed by a nearly identical reverse dunk in which he was able to covert. He also showed a mid range game knocking down a number of 12-15 foot jumpers. And while he still needs to add consistency to his shot, there’s some reason for optimism about his offensive game.
DraftExpress - Richard Hendrix had a solid outing with 12 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes. He was extremely unselfish and did a great job crashing the glass, showing a good feel for the game but also struggling a bit defensively on the perimeter and not being very effective finishing around the rim in traffic. Malik Hairston’s stat-line might not have been that impressive on paper (8 points, 4 assists, 3-4 FG), but he did a very nice job finding teammates within the flow of the offense and playing with and off of Pat Calathes, who he seems to have nice chemistry with. His athleticism looked better than advertised getting off the floor and elevating for dunks. DeMarcus Nelson was intense and aggressive, but looked a bit out of control at times too with some of his drives. Trent Plaisted had some flashes with his ridiculous athleticism, but was a bit too quiet in stretches, not making his presence felt enough.
Update: See our summary of Days 3 & 4 of the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp here.