This week started the flurry of early-season tournaments featuring some great matchups in Puerto Rico and Charleston. Some stick to a true tournament format, while others have pre-set final fours, and I will be providing quick primers on what to expect and players to keep an eye on.
The Paradise Jam kicks off today in the US Virgin Islands and features a nice mix of high, low, and mid-major squads, as well a solid group of talent to keep your eye on.
2010: Old Dominion
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Who to watch
Expectations were not high heading into the season for the Huskies with the retirement of Jim Calhoun, a ban from the NCAA Tournament, and some transfers. However, new coach Kevin Ollie has led the team to a quick 2-0 start, including a win over ranked Michigan State. The Huskies’ offense and defense starts with their backcourt, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Both are quick, can pressure the ball fullcourt and can jump passing lanes to get quick turnovers. On the offensive end, they can both get into the lane and make plays, though Boatright may be the better distributor. Shot selection is an issue for both, though they have both shown they can hit from long range. DeAndre Daniels was highly recruited and should be a major contributor this season. He is long and athletic and can make some spectacular plays around the basket. He needs to work on staying focused defensively and not getting caught in poor situations. Freshman guard Omar Calhoun has the potential to be a fantastic scorer at the college level.
Paul Hewitt is looking to get his George Mason squad back to the NCAA’s after being left out last season. Sherrod Wright has good size, and get to the rim or hit his jumper from 3. Bryon Allen does a good job facilitating the offense, he plays tough defense, and can score if needed. Forwards Johnny Williams and Marko Gujanicic are both more comfortable on the perimeter, but they can knock down shots and hit the boards.
Howard Moore knows his team will be outmanned in many situations, but he uses a strong ball-control offense to keep the Flames in most games. Former Oregon and Central Florida big man Josh Crittle brings his wide body and soft touch to Chicago. He has good footwork for his size and he holds his own on the defensive end against taller players. Eastern Illinois transfer Joey Miller is a quality perimeter shooter and a good perimeter defender. Point guard Gary Talton is an excellent leader on the floor, makes smart passes and can get to the basket in isolation. He also does a good job keeping the team focused on defense and setting the intensity.
Tim Cluess’ squad got an at-large NCAA bid last season behind the leadership of Scott Machado and Mike Glover. They have moved on, but Cluess has a nice combination of players which should put Iona in the running for another NCAA trip. Lamont “Momo” Jones is in his 2nd year at Iona after starting his career at Arizona. Jones is capable of playing the point or playing off the ball. He is quick, can get into the lane, and either score or draw-and-dish. He has improved as a defender and is capable of picking up fullcourt. Iowa State transfer Tavon Sledge was recently declared eligible and give another roption to push the ball quickly and pressure the ball on defense. Sean Armand is a deadly three-point shooter and runs the floor as well as any wing in the country. Junior college transfer Tre Bowman is a very good athlete who can finish in transition and guard multiple positions.
Bob Hoffman’s Bears struck a blow for small programs around the country last season when his team won the postseason CIT. Most of the pieces are still in place and Mercer should be in the running for a NCAA bid this season. Jakob Gallon plays bigger than his 6’6 frame and can score inside and out for the Bears. With Langston Hall injured, Travis Smith has stepped up and done a good job running the point and providing another deep threat. Bud Thomas is a versatile wing who can play multiple roles on both ends of the floor. Mercer will go with a deep bench and will do a good job spreading the ball, not relying on any one player to carry the scoring load.
Steve Alford’s Lobos have high hopes heading into this season and have gotten off to a solid start with an opening win against Davidson. They like to push the ball and have a good group of athletes who can out in transition and finish. Tony Snell is a lengthy wing who is aggressive getting to the basket and finds ways to get shots off around the rim. Kendall Williams has a quick first step and likes to get into the lane and draw contact. He does a good job using his quick hands and feet to cause disruptions on defense. Australian Hugh Greenwood is a savvy offensive player, capable of playing either guard spot. Demetrius Walker may be well known from his role in George Dohrmann’s Play Their Hearts Out, but he has turned into a solid distributor and decent defender. Big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow use their size to try and help disrupt opponents on offense, though neither is very athletic . Kirk has the potential to be a good inside-out scoring threat.
Tom Moore’s Bobcats have won 63 games over the last 3 seasons and should be in the running for another 20-win season this year. Junior Ike Azotom is one of the NEC’s best and a threat for a double-double almost every night. He uses his length well to score and rebound and can be a disruptive defender in the post or on the perimeter. Dave Johnson is a solid distributor and does a good job pressuring the ball on the defensive end. Senior Garvey Young has the potential to be a solid perimeter threat and he uses his athleticism well on both ends of the floor. Expect the Bobcats to go 8 or 9 deep to try and keep up with the more athletic schools in the tournament.
The Demon Deacons have hit hard times recently, but there is still some good talent in Winston-Salem. Travis McKie is athletic and scoring threat from anywhere on the floor. He rebounds well for his size and uses his body well to guard multiple positions. Point guard C.J. Harris needs to pick up a much bigger scoring load for this team, but he is still a capable distributor and an underrated defender. Freshmen Codi Miller-McIntyre, Tyler Cavanaugh, and Devin Thomas will all play big roles immediately. The team short on experience, so they will rely on McKie and Harris to handle the load. They will bear down on defense and look to control the tempo on the offensive end. Head coach Jeff Bzdelik likes a ball-control offense and the team will run multiple offensive sets.