We are now in September, and that means we are closing in Midnight Madness and the start of the NCAA season. The Early Preview series continues now with the Paradise Jam at the University of the Virgin Islands. The field this season has a nice selection of teams, and potential NBA Draftees, including Alabama (JaMychal Green), Xavier (Tu Holloway), and Clemson (Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant). Also here are some programs with new coaches looking to turn their programs around – Seton Hall and Iowa. Rounding out the field are some good mid-major programs in St. Peter’s, Long Beach State and Old Dominion.
Make sure to check out the other Early Previews here, and come back next week as we wrap up the rest of the great match-ups before the Conference Seasons start.
Now on to the Paradise Jam……
Paradise Jam Pre-Preview
Coach Anthony Grant has done a nice job putting the pieces together to help get the Crimson Tide back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. Star Mikhail Torrance is gone, but Coach Grant does have JaMychal Green back. Green is a fantastic athlete, though he is still developing as a basketball player. He has done a good job turning himself into a post player, but to play in the NBA he will need to develop a perimeter game, or at least the ability to step out and hit a 15 foot jumper. He has great shot-blocking instincts and has the athletic ability to defend on the perimeter. He will be joined by small forward Tony Mitchell in the frontcourt. Mitchell was a heralded prospect coming to Alabama and they will need him to step up and show more this season. He is a good athlete and has done a good job adding muscle to his frame. He has a good first step, has the ability to beat his player in space, and can finish strong at the rim. He really needs to improve his mid and long range jumpers, as well as working without the ball. Defensively, he does a great job rebounding for his size, uses his athleticism well to keep his man in front of him and to alter shots. Guard Andrew Steele will be back after missing his sophomore season to injury. An excellent perimeter defender, Steele is very strong and can guard either guard position. He also has the ability to play either position on offense, though he needs to improve his jumper to be considered a legitimate threat at the 2. Freshman Trevor Releford and senior Senario Hillman will likely round out the backcourt, with both men capable of scoring and defending, though both need to work on their decision-making and passing.
The Tigers didn’t lose much from last season, but what they did was lose was very important. Team leader Trevor Booker is now with the Washington Wizards, and Coach Oliver Purnell is now heading up the DePaul Blue Demons. Fortunately for new coach Brad Brownell, almost every other important player from last year’s team is back. Demontez Stitt will have the opportunity to fill the scoring void left by Booker’s departure. An excellent perimeter shooter, Stitt also has the ability to get to the rim, though he needs to make better decisions on his shots. Stitt has the ability to be a good on-ball defender, though his effort needs to be more consistent. Andre Young will have the chance to move into the starting lineup this season. Extremely quick, Young has the ability to get out in transition as well as get into the lane, though his size (5’9) sometimes makes it tough for him to get a good shot off. Returning starters Tanner Smith and Jerai Grant should round out the starting 5. Grant has the chance to take a major step this season and get himself noticed by NBA scouts. Athletic, with long arms, Grant is extremely active around the rim and is an excellent offensive rebounder. This season he will need to show the ability to be a legitimate post presence, including developing a set of post moves. Defensively, he can be a pest in the lane, showing very good timing on his block attempts.
Fran McCaffery has headed out to the Midwest and will try and get the Iowa basketball program out of its downward spiral. Unfortunately, there are very few returning players who will make a difference. One who will is Matt Gatens, the only returning player who averaged double digit points (12.3). Gatens reminds me of former Gonzaga player Matt Bouldin the way he controls the court. He can shoot, rebound, has good court vision, and makes smart passes. As the focus of opposing defenses, he will need to find a way to get good looks, but that just happens to be his biggest weakness. If he can create good looks for himself, he has the ability to keep Iowa in games. Sophomore Eric May is a guard in the same mold as Gatens, though he is more athletic and a much better defender. A trio of freshmen will wings will have a chance to contribute early. Melshan Basabe, Zach McCabe, and Roy Marble Jr. Basabe is a very good offensive player with the ability to take the ball strong to the rim or score off of offensive rebounds. He needs to become a more consistent mid-range shooter and he also needs to add some muscle to handle the physical play in the Big 10. McCabe is an undersized power forward who finds ways to rebound and score against stronger opponents. Marble is the son of Hawkeye legend Roy Marble and he has skills that will remind many of his dad. He is a smooth scorer, and has improved the range on his jumper. Once he gets stronger and becomes a better perimeter defender, he could be a special player. One other quick thing about the Hawkeyes: the new Video Coordinator is former Hawkeye great and NBA player Ryan Bowen, who was one of my favorite college players back then. I am sure this is first step in what will be a great coaching career.
The Bobby Gonzalez fiasco is now over and Kevin Willard will need to pick up the pieces. It’s a major task, but Willard was mentored by 2 legends, Rick Pitino and Kevin’s father, Ralph. Luckily, he has some good players to help make the transition. The man who will shoot from anywhere, Jeremy Hazell, is back, and if he learned the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, he could be a pretty good player. He has fantastic range on his jumper, but a lot of that comes from him not being strong enough to go to the rim. Don’t expect much more out of him other than scoring, as he is an average defender and not much of a ball-handler. Herb Pope, coming off a good season which ended in the worst possible way (Ejection for a cheap shot in the NIT), collapsed while playing in the off-season. He will be back and ready to go, and if you haven’t seen him play, he is something else to watch. A wide body with a soft touch, and the ability to outrebound anyone, Pope makes things tough for anyone around the lane. However, he isn’t a great defender, especially off the blocks, and he needs to develop a more varied offensive game. Jeff Robinson and Keon Lawrence are both back for their senior season, and they will be joined by Jordan Theodore and Ole Miss transfer Eniel Polynice in the guard rotation. Watch for freshman Fuquan Edwin, a New Jersey native, who will become an instant fan favorite among Seton Hall fans with is ability to score in a variety of ways, and his high energy, athletic defensive play.
Coach Chris Mack and the Musketeers will be looking to bounce back from the heartbreaking overtime loss to Kansas State in last year’s Sweet 16, and they will need to do it without Jordan Crawford, now of the Atlanta Hawks. Luckily, there is still plenty of talent for Coach Mack to rely on, starting with Tu Holloway. Holloway is a reliable point guard who thrives on big moments. He does a great job finding holes in the defense and going hard to the rim. He’s not afraid of contact, and he is one of the best free throw shooters in the country. His decision-making is still a work in progress, but he showed improvement by the end of last year. The most important thing is that he is a natural leader and his teammates will respond to him. Kenny Frease and Jamal McLean will man the frontcourt and will try to make up for the toughness of the graduated Jason Love. Frease is a great space-eater, but he isn’t going to give you much besides a few points and boards a game. His contribution will be challenging players from getting to the rim. McLean moves well for his size and has a nice touch around the rim. If he can improve his face-up game, he could be come a legitimate threat. Freshman Justin Martin is a Crawford-type player and should be able to be a second scoring option from Day 1.
Coach Blaine Taylor will look to keep the momentum going after last season’s team made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. Leading scorer Gerald Lee has moved on, but the key to ODU’s success has been a team effort, and this season will be no different. The rest of last year’s starting 5 is intact, led by forwards Kent Bazemore and Frank Hassell. Bazemore is a great perimeter defender, capable of guarding multiple positions, while being a great facilitator on offense. Hassell is a very physical player, using his body well to get position and going strong after rebounds. Guards Ben Finney and Darius James will handle back court duties, though both need to become more efficient on offense and more consistent perimeter shooters.
Long Beach State
The 49ers will have one of the top players in this tournament in TJ Robinson, an athletic junior forward who has the ability to score in the post and does a great job going after rebounds. He still needs to add some muscle, and it would be great to see him add a consistent 15 foot jumper. Defensively, he does a great job using his athleticism to alter shots, though he doesn’t have the strength to be a legitimate post defender. Point guard Casper Ware is extremely quick, can get to the rim, and does a great job getting his teammates good looks.
The Peacocks return their Top 8 scorers and rebounders from last season, led by Wesley Jenkins, Nick Leon, and Ryan Bacon. Bacon is one to watch, almost averaging a double-double last season. UTEP transfer Blaise Ffrench is now eligible after sitting out the year and should be able to add another perimeter scoring threat.
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