With the Paradise Jam Tournament getting under way from the US Virgin Islands tomorrow, let's take a few moments and take a look at the field and provide the odds for winning.
The Blue Devils were a team last season that pulled off one of the greatest feats in college basketball that these eyes have seen. They managed to go winless in the Big East regular season at 0-18. That in and of itself would have been impressive enough, except that the Blue Devils made gamblers a ton of money as they broke their 18 game losing streak by ousting Cincinnati in the first round of the Big East Tournament, before putting a scare into Providence in the 2nd round but ultimately falling. The Devils return 3 of their top 5 scorers from last season, but lost senior standout Dar Tucker. For DePaul to make a run in the tournament, leading returning scorer Mac Koshwal will need to be a dominant force inside as he was in the season opening win against Columbia (19 pts, 12 rebs).
The undisputed dark horse of this tournament from the undisputed dark horse conference in the country (Missouri Valley). Rated as the 7th best mid-major team in the country, the defending MVC champions return all 5 starters and most of their bench and should be an exceptionally dangerous team in this thing. Led by a back court featuring Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Ali Farokhmanesh, the Panthers are a terrific outside shooting team with a low rate of turnovers. In addition they can pound it inside with Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder.
The favorite for this tournament in my book. The 11th ranked Volunteers boast a ton of returning talent in Wayne Chism, Scotty Hopson, and Tyler Smith and currently have 5 players averaging double figures. Chism and Smith in particular provide a punishing and athletic front court that will provide match up issues for everyone short of Purdue because of their outside shooting ability. Scotty Hopson might well be the best individual player in the tournament. He scores from everywhere on the floor and is lights out from 3. They'll be tested against Northern Iowa in the second round, but it will take a supreme effort to oust this team from this tournament.
Being led by point guard Brock Young, the Pirates certainly aren't the most talented team in the field, but they do have depth, and will probably rotate 9 players throughout the tournament. They rebound well for a mid major (4 players averaging at least 5 boards a game. What will hurt this team ultimately in this tournament (besides the opening round game against Tennessee) is the turnovers. They've averaged just over 20 a game this season so far. Unacceptable.
The Eagles definitely qualify as a darkhorse in this tournament as they bring better than expected depth to the court, solid perimiter play, but major questions under the basket. Rebounding will continue to be a problem for the Eagles and is something that will have to be addressed in order for them to have a shot to take this thing. The big advatange that the Eagles have going into this tournament is that nobody has film to study on them because they haven't been at full strength yet thanks to the suspensions of starters Rakim Sanders, Corey Raji, and reserve forward Courtney Dunn. BC could use this to it's advantage and possibly spring the upset over Purdue in round 2.
What looked initially like the best first round match up (St. Joe's vs. BC), turned into something of a ho-hum affair. The Hawks lost a ton of talent from last seasons NCAA Tournament team and don't have a to replace it with. True freshman Carl Jones will do his best though and is off to a good start (15 ppg), but he doesn't have much help as Darrin Govens is the only returning starter. Junior Todd O'Brien has done a nice job in his first season as a starter inside for St. Joe's as he leads the team in rebounding and nearly averages a double double (9.5 ppg, 9.0 rebs). For the Hawks to spring a few upsets or win this tournament they'll need to find ways to manufacture points off turnovers and offensive rebounds. Otherwise they simply won't have enough ammo to bring to a gunfight against some explosive offensive teams.
The Boilermakers enter the season ranked 7th in the country and with aspirations of a Final Four appearance. All the pieces are certainly in place as their top 3 players are back in Robbie Hummell, JaJuan Johnson, and E'Twaun Moore. Hummell in particular is probably the toughest guard in the tournament because of his versatility, he can shoot the deep ball and is also a skilled ball handler and post player. Healthy this season after struggling with back trouble, he makes Purdue easily the 2nd best team here, and you can make an argument for the best overall. The Boilers did get some bad news today though when PG Lewis Jackson had surgery to repair a broken foot. He'll be out for this entire tournament. Senior Chris Kramer will take his place. Simply put, if center JuJuan Johnson is able to lead the team defensively and Hummell and Moore do their thing, Purdue will be probably be in the final opposite Tennessee.
Projected Winner: Tennessee
Projected Finish for BC: 4th (loses to Northern Iowa in consolation game)
Stay Tuned For:
We'll break down Fridays first round match-up between BC/St. Joe's tonight, and then get you ready for BC-North Carolina football game tomorrow!