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Friday, August 2, 2013
No summer vacation for these 14 teams


Foreign trips can be the jump start to a successful season or, in the rare instance of an injury, the beginning of a derailment.

Teams get 10 practices before a trip and can go on a foreign soil excursion once every four years.

After talking with the head coaches involved, here is a look at a handful of upcoming August trips for some high-profile teams heading outside the United States. (This isn't a comprehensive list, but rather an intriguing group of teams and the challenges they face.)

New Mexico (Australia, Aug. 2-13)

Mission: New coach Craig Neal said developing chemistry with this new group will be critical. He needs to see how Kansas transfer Merv Lindsay, redshirt Devon Williams and Nick Banyard play and how much they have improved.

Most pressing question: Neal wants to see how the perimeter shooting develops. He said bigs Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk can and will make face-up shots. But the loss of Tony Snell means someone else has to pick up the slack. The Lobos have Mountain West Player of the Year Kendall Williams back, add juco guard Deshawn Delaney, Arthur Edwards and Craig's son, Cullen, and return guard Hugh Greenwood and Cleveland Thomas.

Who can't go: Neal said 2012 recruit Obij Aget hasn't been cleared to go yet, but Neal is confident he'll be eligible later in the month. Greenwood and Bairstow are already in their native Australia and will meet the team on the trip and come back to Albuquerque afterward.

The benefit: "The biggest benefit is letting me coach them," Neal said. "Steve [Alford] did an unbelievable job here, and it's hard to replace him. We've had great success wherever we've been. It's a chance for me to finally coach and be the head coach. I know we'll have to play a little bit faster. Using the 24-second clock will be unique for us. This will allow me to coach a few games before we get started. It couldn't come at a better time."

Projection: Neal has inherited the MWC title favorite. Returning four of five starters gives the Lobos a real shot to avenge the Harvard loss in the NCAA tournament round of 64. New Mexico has a challenging nonconference schedule, and this Australian trip should be a precursor to another conference title run.

Auburn (The Bahamas, Aug. 2-9)

Mission: The Tigers need some calm waters after an awful offseason. Tragedy struck the program with the death of former Tiger Korvotney Barber, the ongoing Varez Ward point-shaving case, the departure of transfer Jerome Seagears back to Rutgers and the dismissal of Shaq Johnson. Embattled coach Tony Barbee needs games and time with the team to navigate the upcoming season.

Most pressing concern: Barbee said developing team chemistry with seven newcomers is what is needed most on this trip. He said the team will benefit from incorporating the youth with a few of the veterans.

Who can't go: Bsides the aforemented defections, the Tigers should have everyone else available in the Bahamas.

The benefit: Barbee said the point guard battle between Tahj Shamsid-Deen and juco transfer Malcolm Canada will be the tussle to watch. He said Virginia transfer K.T. Harrell will be the biggest beneficiary of the trip since the "talented scorer should have a big year."

Projection: The expectations are low for Auburn in the SEC. Any kind of improvement for the Tigers will be a plus. If this trip can start a positive vibe and calm the chaos, it will be well worth the summer commitment.

Rhode Island (Italy, Aug. 2-12)

Mission: This is Year 2 for coach Dan Hurley. He piled up a host of transfers and new faces, and the game plan was to show significant improvement by the second season. Losing his brother, Bobby, to the head-coaching position at Buffalo is an interesting development. Dan can certainly stand on his own and has a star assistant in Preston Murphy. This edition of URI will define his early tenure, and a trip like this will certainly help.

Most pressing concern: Hurley said a new style of play, a fast-attacking style at both ends, will be on display on the trip. "We need to play 10 guys," Hurley said. "We're figuring out our rotation. There will be so much competition for minutes."

Who can't go: No one. URI has zero issues on this front.

The benefit: Hurley said Xavier Munford and Gilvydas Biruta should be two of the top players in the Atlantic 10 at their respective positions. But he wonders, "Can they lead the young talent around them? We had four players who sat out last year. All will have significant roles as well as talented freshmen. We've got to blend it all together in Year 2. That's a challenging situation but a great problem to have. We'll be much better."

Projection: Rhode Island finished 8-21 overall, 3-13 in the A-10, in Hurley's first season. He knew this was a two-to-three-year project to get the Rams up and going at a higher level. The recent overhaul in the A-10 should make for a smoother transition and offers a real opportunity for the Rams to make more of an impact sooner.

Butler (Australia, Aug. 3-12)

Mission: Butler needs to find itself a new go-to scorer with the departure of Rotnei Clarke and inside anchor Andrew Smith. Oh, then there's that whole coaching thing. Brad Stevens is off to the Celtics, and Brandon Miller is the new coach. "Brad intended this to be a trip against some really good teams when they planned it, so we are excited about that and we know our guys are excited about that," said Miller. "Obviously, you are somewhat limited in how much you can do with 10 practices, but we've been pleased about the approach of all 16 guys in these practices."

Most pressing concern: Miller has to be seen as the head coach, a new role for him and for these players. He hasn't been in an authoritative position since he just came back to Butler in the spring. The Bulldogs have returning starters Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Alex Barlow, but the six freshmen, whom Stevens raved about, will be on display. "We are excited to look at different combinations of lineups," said Miller. "We graduated some terrific seniors who made great contributions, so this will give us an early look at guys in different and, in some cases, increased roles."

Who can't go: No one. Everyone is healthy and eligible.

The benefit: The Bulldogs are in their third conference in three years. Going into the new Big East presents a host of challenges, and heading in there with a new head coach is yet another hurdle. "We do have some new faces, and there is great value in that aspect on these foreign trips," said Miller. Building a bond together, ensuring this team plays the Butler Way and giving Miller a chance to lead will all be pluses when the Bulldogs return.

Projection: Butler is likely to be picked behind Creighton, Marquette and Georgetown. The question is, can Butler move ahead of Villanova, Xavier, St. John's and Providence in the likely second tier? This trip may shed light on that possibility.

Towson (Montreal and Ottawa, Aug. 3-9)

Mission: The Tigers face a crucial season with the CAA wide open. The departure of VCU two years ago and now George Mason, Old Dominion and Georgia State gives Towson an opportunity to emerge from a muddled pack. James Madison, Northeastern and Drexel are still around and expected to contend, but the once-hapless Tigers have a chance to rise from the dirt to be a real threat.

Most pressing concern: Coach Pat Skerry said he's looking for a backup point guard to Jerome Hairston on this trip. He said the Tigers must cut down on turnovers. He also said his team needs to find rotation players behind starting forwards Jerrelle Benimon and Timajh Parker-Rivera.

Who can't go: Skerry said Marcus Damas is hurt, and Benimon chose playing in the adidas Nations event over the trip.

The benefit: Vermont transfer Four McGlynn sat out last season and needs game experience, Skerry said. Not having Benimon on the trip means the staff will get to see how Parker-Rivera handles being the focal point inside and the go-to scorer. That could occur during the season if there is foul trouble.

Projection: Towson wasn't eligible for the CAA tournament last season due to poor APR scores. So this is new life for the Tigers, who had quite a turnaround with an 18-13 record (13-5 CAA) after a 1-31 disaster in 2011-12. Towson has a legitimate shot to compete for the league title, and this trip should be a starting point.

Oklahoma (Belgium and France, Aug. 6-16)

Mission: Coach Lon Kruger said this group hasn't logged major minutes in the Big 12. He said finding leadership and who will step forward on this team could be discovered on this tour. The Sooners have just two seniors (Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal), but they'll need to be much more assertive. "We'll have a lot of time together, a lot of bonding," said Kruger. "This should be good for us to get reps and playing games."

Most pressing concern: Kruger said learning more about Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler will be a critical outcome from the trip. "He needs to be a key guy," said Kruger. "We're giving him the opportunity to be a leader. He's a real hard worker. This gives him a chance to establish himself." Kruger said Isaiah Cousins will slide over to the wing and become more of a scorer so he won't have to play as much point guard.

Who can't go: Kruger said Buddy Hield isn't ready from the broken foot he suffered in February. Hield could go, Kruger said, but they'll sit him out for precautionary reasons. Kruger said juco forward Keshaun Hamilton isn't done with his summer school work and needs to stay behind. But this was known when Hamilton signed with the Sooners, Kruger said.

The benefit: Getting point guard minutes for freshman Jordan Woodard could be one of the most beneficial parts of the trip. Kruger said he hopes Woodard emerges as an established point after the tour.

Projection: The Sooners reached the NCAA tournament with an 11-7 Big 12 record, losing to San Diego State in the round of 64. But the core of the team is gone, and this is a reshuffling time for OU. Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor are expected to be the top three in the league, with Iowa State and Kansas State likely next. Oklahoma has to find a way to wedge its way in there. This trip should help define who the Sooners will be this season.

Clemson (Italy, Aug. 8-18)

Mission: The Tigers must find themselves on this trip, discovering who they are going to be this season.

Most pressing concern: Clemson coach Brad Brownell needs to find out if 6-foot-10 Landry Nnoko can start at center. Nnoko averaged just one point a game last season, but the Tigers lost Devin Booker inside and need someone to emerge.

Who can't go: Brownell said newcomer Ibrahim Djambo can't go on the trip but will be eligible in the fall. He also said redshirt freshman Jaron Blossomgame is still recovering from a broken leg but will make the trip. Incoming freshman Sidy Djitte is still in jeopardy, Brownell added, saying the school hopes to know by next week if the Tigers will get him for the trip.

The benefit: Brownell said he wants to see how Devin Coleman has recovered from a torn Achilles. He added that Jordan Roper will get plenty of time at point guard. The Tigers are replacing Milton Jennings and T.J. Sapp and will need Roper to produce. Clemson will be led by K.J. McDaniels, but he'll need Roper to be assertive.

Projection: The Tigers are not expected to challenge for a top-four finish in the ACC. That's why they are in desperate need of a good start, using this trip as a beginning to a surprising season. The five wins in the ACC last season should be a cellar, not a ceiling, but without multiple given scorers, it will be hard to expect too much more than that.

Alabama (Netherlands, Belgium and France, Aug. 8-19)

Mission: The Crimson Tide need to have some positive vibes on this trip with Trevor Lacey transferring to NC State. Alabama has had moments when it looks like an NCAA team in the past two seasons but hasn't been able to clear that hurdle. This is a necessary trip to get this group going in the right direction.

Most pressing concern: The Tide need to find a backup point guard behind Trevor Releford, according to coach Anthony Grant. "We have a couple of possibilities that I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop," Grant said. Bama has nine scholarship players remaining after the attrition of the past year. "We should be able to get competition across the board, provided we stay healthy," said Grant.

Who won't go: Transfers Michael Kessens of Longwood and Ricky Tarrant of Tulane can't come.

The benefit: Grant said the two freshmen (Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale), as well as juco transfer Algie Key, will likely get the most out of the trip. Grant needs to figure out where they fit and how much he'll need them going forward. This team will lean heavily on Releford. He needs help, and the newcomers will have to provide plenty.

Projection: Alabama is in that group in the SEC where any team could finish from third to 14th and no one would be shocked. The only givens in that league are that Kentucky and Florida should be the top two contenders.

Florida State (Greece, Aug. 8-18)

Mission: Coach Leonard Hamilton said he was not a fan of a traditional foreign trip, playing potentially inferior teams. He wanted a real challenge, to mimic the USA basketball minicamp where top players have gone against the national team as prep work. "The last two times we went on a trip, the competition was so bad," said Hamilton. "We got something educational out of the trip, but I wanted something more. I like the model of college kids going against the national team." So Florida State will practice and play against the Greek national team. He said this will prepare his team to deal with zones and man-to-man defense.

Most pressing concern: Hamilton said his back line is set and has no issue with that part of the floor. But he said his bigs need to play in big games, and he hopes this trip will provide just that. He said his frontcourt players will be tested against the Greeks, more so than going against a lower-division club team in Europe.

Who can't go: Hamilton said sophomore Montay Brandon has an ankle sprain and hasn't been able to practice. He's been in a boot and will likely not play.

The benefit: The Seminoles have a stud guard in Ian Miller, but they lost the clutch Michael Snaer, who bailed them out of many situations last season. Developing consistent scoring on this trip will be a key development. There were plenty of droughts a season ago.

Projection: The ACC got deeper and tougher with the additions of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt. Hamilton usually is pumping up the Seminoles this time of year, but he's being a bit coyer this time around. This trip should give him more of an indication about how much he can boast about FSU's chances to make a move in the league.

Penn State (Belgium, England and France, Aug. 10-17)

Mission: The Nittany Lions won just two games last season in the Big Ten but were riddled with injuries. If Penn State can be healthy and play with the passion Pat Chambers coaches with on a daily basis, there is hope for them to climb higher in a once-again loaded Big Ten. This trip couldn't have come at a better time for PSU.

Most pressing concern: If Tim Frazier is healthy, the Nittany Lions can be a factor. Frazier is one of the best guards in the country but played in only three-plus games last season, injured in Game 4 against Akron. Without Frazier, PSU was pesky but had no chance to be a player in the league. Chambers said developing frontcourt depth is a major priority on this trip.

Who can't go: Transfers John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson aren't eligible to go on the trip.

The benefit: If Frazier plays through any issues and produces in Europe, this will be a home run tour. Chambers said Frazier must get back to dealing with the speed and physicality of the game. He had been out for nine months and is going through 10 practices prior to the trip. Adding fifth-year player Allen Roberts and the influx of freshmen will be a huge benefit to Penn State, too, if they play well.

Projection: If Frazier is healthy, PSU will be a tough out. He's that good. But it's hard to move the Nittany Lions up too high in the Big Ten standings -- or at least out of the bottom third.

Saint Joseph's (Italy, Aug. 11-21)

Mission: The Hawks were picked to win the A-10 last year then finished deep down the standings at 8-8, 18-14 overall. C.J. Aiken made the mistake of declaring early for the NBA draft and wasn't selected. Butler, Temple, Charlotte and Xavier are all gone, but George Mason is on board. The A-10 will begin with VCU, La Salle, Saint Louis and UMass. This is an important season for St. Joe's to show progress and make a claim for an upper-tier spot.

Most pressing concern: Coach Phil Martelli said he needs to find out who can score in practice before the trip. Building a rotation during this stay in Italy is also important, especially up front.

Who can't go: West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown isn't eligible to go on the trip.

The benefit: The Hawks will lean heavily on Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts Jr. Martelli said incorporating the younger players on this team with the core veterans who didn't get a lot of time last season will be a crucial return off this trip.

Projection: Saint Joseph's is a bit of a mystery. There is a group in the A-10, teams like Richmond and St. Bonaventure, that are all jockeying to crack the top five. The Hawks usually find a way into this group by season's end. Any kind of push early will help.

Temple (France and Italy, Aug. 14-23)

Mission: The Owls have never taken a foreign trip. It simply wasn't John Chaney's thing. Fran Dunphy said he took two teams overseas with Penn, and the timing of this trip for his team couldn't be any better. Temple is going through a rebuilding phase of its roster and conference affiliation after being an anchor in the A-10. Temple thought it was joining the Big East but now is in the American Athletic Conference. "This will be a really helpful thing for us, the 10 days of practice, the meshing and seeing when we get over there what works and what doesn't," said Dunphy.

Most pressing concern: Dunphy said he needs to see the defense come together so it can be as solid as normal for the Owls. He needs to see the offense make quality decisions. Eight players are back from an NCAA tournament team, including two starters in Will Cummings and Anthony Lee. They'll have to help indoctrinate the Temple culture to the newcomers.

Who can't go: Texas transfer Jaylen Bond isn't eligible to go on the trip.

The benefit: Dunphy said he'll need a lot of new faces to step up and produce. The Owls lost the productive Khalif Wyatt and need to know Cummings, Lee and others can be counted on to score. "There will be different leadership roles for these guys," said Dunphy. "And we really need Dalton Pepper to have a good year for us."

Projection: Remember this is a Dunphy-coached team. Temple was never out of the mix for the A-10 title, and to discount its chances to contend in the new American would be foolish. But Louisville is the class of the league, and UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati should be on the Cards' heels. Temple must attempt to crack that foursome.

Syracuse (Montreal and Ottawa, Aug. 20-25)

Mission: The Orange haven't gone on a foreign tour in more than a decade. Coach Jim Boeheim never saw the need, but he does now. The timing is perfect. Syracuse lost guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, and James Southerland was a constant presence on the wing in the Big East portion of the schedule. But the Final Four Orange return a frontcourt of C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant and DaJuan Coleman and have an influx of talent once again. "This will be much more for our backcourt," said Boeheim. "Our frontcourt guys are a pretty veteran group. We lost two guards in Michael and Brandon who played pretty much the whole game."

Most pressing concern: The five freshmen, led by Canadian Tyler Ennis, will play significant roles. Ennis had a superb summer playing for the Canadians. He should step in as a leader on the perimeter. Developing a backcourt rotation will be a must on this trip.

Who can't go: Boeheim said there were still a few things to work out with the eligibility of a few freshmen. "We're not sure if they'll get cleared or not in time for the trip," he said. Boeheim didn't indicate any of them would be an issue for the season, but more the traditional backlog of clearance the NCAA goes through at this time of year as it tries to get fall sports done first. "Hopefully it will all be taken care of."

The benefit: Fair is going to be the go-to player for the Orange. His silky smooth shot along the baseline will be a staple for the team. "He's been the third option, and now he'll be the go-to guy," said Boeheim. "This will be good for our big guys to get the ball. This will be good for our whole team. And [Tyler] is really the only true point guard we have. This will be important for him to play in these games. It should be very helpful for him."

Projection: Syracuse has the talent to challenge for the ACC title in Year 1. The key will be Ennis and the rest of the perimeter shooting. Expect the Orange to be in the mix in some form in the top four at the very least.

Wisconsin (Ottawa and Toronto, Aug. 20-26)

Mission: Coach Bo Ryan said the Badgers need to figure out how this team should defend. "We've got eight guys who haven't played college basketball, of the 16 who are going."

Most pressing question: Ryan said establishing Frank Kaminsky as the primary frontcourt player is key, but Ryan also wants to develop a backup to Kaminsky. Sam Dekker will be one of the forwards, but the other spot is open.

Who can't go: Everyone is eligible to play, but the question will be about Josh Gasser's health. He hasn't been cleared from his ACL injury, but Ryan expects by the time of departure he will be. "He just can't do the contact stuff yet," said Ryan. The Badgers have depth at the position with Traevon Jackson, who played the point in Gasser's absence last season.

The benefit: Ryan said he wants to see how players handle game conditions. They'll get that chance in Canada.

Projection: The Badgers shouldn't be a Big Ten title contender, but we say that every year it seems yet Wisconsin ends up battling for the title and proving us all wrong. Finishing in the middle of the conference and reaching the NCAAs is a sensible expectation for this group. But would anyone be shocked if UW once again finishes in the league's top four?