Dallas Colleges: Early-season tournaments
The basics: Nov. 15-16, 18 at Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The set matchups: Nov. 15 -- Akron vs. Oklahoma State, 10:30 a.m. ET; UNC Asheville vs. Tennessee, 1 p.m.; NC State vs. Penn State, 5 p.m.; Providence vs. Massachusetts, 7:30 p.m.
(For the full bracket, click here.)
The favorite: NC State. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the sixth-ranked Wolfpack, and for good reasons: a strong finish last season that led to an NCAA Sweet 16 berth; the return of junior forward C.J. Leslie; and the addition of a heralded freshman class led by Rodney Purvis. This is the chance for Mark Gottfried’s squad to show it can, and will, build off last March.
Jeremy Atkinson, UNC Asheville: The Bulldogs lost their top three scorers from the squad that won the Big South and came oh-so-close to beating Syracuse in the NCAA tournament last season. Now they’re counting on this senior forward. He is averaging 20.5 points and eight rebounds for a team that has already beaten Western Carolina by 10, but lost to UNC Wilmington by eight.
Lorenzo Brown, NC State: The Wolfpack have plenty of weapons in Leslie, Purvis, Scott Wood and Richard Howell, but to be consistently successful, Brown has to be the leader of the Pack. He posted 15 points and seven assists in their season-opening blowout win over Miami (Ohio), and those stats are great. But his most important contributions may well be his calm, his confidence and his leadership when this team is tested.
Tim Frazier, Penn State: The guard was the only Division I player to average at least 17 points and six assists per game last season, setting a PSU season assist record (198) and recording 17 20-point games in the process. Pretty impressive, considering the team averaged only 61.8 ppg. The senior got off to a similar start this season, notching 23 points and six assists in a win over St. Francis (PA).
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: The preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year recorded 8 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and just 1 turnover in 34 minutes in his regular-season college debut against UC Davis. Highly praised for his competitiveness and court vision, the point guard’s versatility and decision-making will be key to how far the Cowboys advance.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee: Stokes wasn’t quite sure of his identity as a player when he joined the Volunteers out of high school during the middle of last season. But now the 6-8, 260-pound sophomore is a bruiser and a low-post threat. He recorded 10 points and five rebounds in the Vols’ season opener, and he will be looking to make things tough in the lane for foes this week. Making him even tougher: the fact that he has so many veterans around him.
FIVE BIG QUESTIONS
Will NC State live up to its ranking?
In this tourney, the Wolfpack are playing for more than what they hope will be the first of several championships this season; they're also playing for credibility. Win, and the kudos continue. Lose, and folks might wonder if NC State is ready for the spotlight. This tournament could set the tone for the rest of NC State's season.
How does Providence fare without Vincent Council?
Ricky Ledo’s ineligibility and a shoulder injury to Kris Dunn had already left the Friars with only seven scholarship players. Council’s hamstring injury not only cuts that to six but also means Providence will be missing the guy coach Ed Cooley considers the best guard in the Big East. Bryce Cotton started at point guard in Council’s place against Bryant and posted a double-double (24 points, 11 rebounds), but the competition is about to get a whole lot stiffer.
Can Oklahoma State rebound?
In their season opener, the Cowboys had trouble putting away a UC Davis team that won only five games last season, and one of the concerns remains their lack of size. OSU -- playing without expected starting center Michael Cobbins, who injured his toe during the preseason -- was outrebounded 40-28 versus UC Davis. The Cowboys will face some tall challenges during this tournament, beginning with Akron’s Zeke Marshall, and possibly continuing with Tennessee’s Stokes.
Who else will step up for UMass?
There’s no doubt that guard Chaz Williams is the star of this team, but the other Minutemen need to step up in big moments, too. They did just that earlier this week against Harvard, as Jesse Morgan and Sampson Carter bookended a Williams-forced turnover with 3-pointers to win by three points. Who’s next?
Who’s that guy with the 7-5 wingspan?
Why, that’s the aforementioned 7-foot Akron senior Zeke Marshall. He entered the season as the Zips’ career leader in blocked shots (246) and is averaging 4.5 blocks to go along with 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. And according to the school’s website, he was the first top-100 recruit to sign with a Mid-American Conference program since Rivals.com began its ranking system in 2003.
Opening games: Oklahoma State over Akron; Tennessee over UNC Asheville; NC State over Penn State; UMass over Providence
Semifinal games: Tennessee over Oklahoma State; NC State over UMass
Championship game: NC State over Tennessee
Murray State lost just two games last season and returns a preseason All-American in Isaiah Canaan. This year’s Colorado team is even better than the one that upset UNLV in the NCAA tournament. St. John’s touts one of the most athletic rosters in the country, while Dayton should be greatly improved under second-year coach Archie Miller.
Expect a lot of exciting games and close scores this week.
The basics: Nov. 15-16, 18 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.
The set matchups: Dayton vs. Colorado, 12:30 p.m. ET; Baylor vs. Boston College, 3 p.m.; St. John’s vs. Charleston, 5:30 p.m.; Murray State vs. Auburn, 8 p.m.
(For the full bracket, click here.)
The favorite: Baylor. The Bears have the best chance of any team to end Kansas’ string of eight straight Big 12 titles. Point guard Pierre Jackson is a Wooden Award candidate, and 7-foot-1 freshman forward Isaiah Austin may be, too, after a few more weeks. Austin, Cory Jefferson and Ricardo Gathers may form an even better frontcourt than the unit that had three players (Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller) drafted last season. And the Jackson-led backcourt is six deep. Baylor went 30-8 last season and reached the Elite Eight. This team may be even more dangerous.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor: Austin may have more upside than any player in college basketball. How many other 7-footers can bring the ball up the court, swish a 3-pointer on one possession and then drive to the basket for a dunk on the next? Physically, Austin needs to gain weight and strength. Still, despite being a bit frail, he’s one of the most unique players in college basketball.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Big-school coaches have been kicking themselves the past two years for not recruiting Canaan, who may be the best point guard in America. Canaan has the green light to take shots from 5 or 6 feet beyond the 3-point arc, and his strength makes him tough to stop when he’s slashing to the basket. Canaan averaged 19 points for a Racers squad that went 31-2 last season.
Andre Roberson, Colorado: Roberson may be the best pure rebounder in the country -- and he’s only 6-foot-7. That didn’t stop the Buffaloes forward from averaging 11.1 boards per contest last season along with 11.6 points. Roberson may be even more productive this season thanks to the presence of standout freshman center Josh Scott, who will make it difficult for opponents to double-team Roberson.
Andrew Lawrence, College of Charleston: Lawrence was one of just two current college players to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London, where he represented his native Great Britain. A point guard, Lawrence averaged 13 points and 5.5 assists as a junior last season. He’s hoping to lead the Cougars back to the NCAA tournament under first-year coach Doug Wojcik.
D'Angelo Harrison, St. John’s: Harrison averaged a team-high 16.8 points for the Red Storm last season -- and he was only a freshman. Impressed as Steve Lavin was with his performance, the head coach wants Harrison to improve his shot selection, as he connected on just 37 percent of his field goal attempts in 2011-12. Harrison scored 22 points in Tuesday’s victory over Detroit.
FIVE BIG QUESTIONS
Who else steps up for Murray State?
Everyone knows about Canaan, but the senior point guard can’t do it all by himself. The Racers lost three starters from last season’s team, leading some to believe they won’t be nearly as dangerous in 2012-13. Head coach Steve Prohm is confident seniors such as forwards Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson will flourish in increased roles.
Will Austin play for Baylor?
The freshman sprained his ankle midway through the second half of the Bears’ season-opening victory over Lehigh and was held out of a game against Jackson State two days later. Baylor coaches were hopeful Austin could return for today’s game against Boston College. The Bears don’t need Austin to beat the Eagles, but his presence will be vital in the semifinals and final.
How much has Dayton improved?
The Flyers won 12 of their first 16 games in Archie Miller’s first season but then fizzled down the stretch. A few key returnees -- especially senior Kevin Dillard -- will make Dayton dangerous in 2012-13, but if the Flyers don't notch a quality win or two in Charleston, they’ll still be regarded as a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team.
Can Auburn compete?
The Tigers haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2003, but strides are definitely being made. Other than Kenny Gabriel, Auburn returns virtually every key piece from a squad that went 15-16 last season. Tonight’s opening-round game against Murray State will be tough, but look for Tony Barbee’s squad to play some tight games in the consolation rounds.
Can anyone in this field beat Baylor?
Absolutely. The Bears may have looked like one of the top teams in college basketball last weekend, but it’s not as if they don’t have kinks to work out. Jackson can be careless with the ball, sharpshooter Brady Heslip is in a funk from 3-point range and it appears Austin won’t be 100 percent. Personnelwise, Colorado would appear to have the best chance of upsetting the Bears. The Buffaloes will certainly be motivated, as Baylor beat Colorado in last season’s NCAA tournament.
First round: Colorado over Dayton; Baylor over Boston College; St. John’s over Charleston; Murray State over Auburn
Semifinals: Baylor over Colorado; Murray State over St. John’s
Championship game Baylor over Murray State
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