Let's take a quick look at the eight teams set to play in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands beginning today.
The Crimson Tide get their first true test in this tournament to see how far along coach Anthony Grant is with his rebuilding project. Prized point guard recruit Trevor Releford has impressed in the early going after taking the reins of the offense. He led the team in scoring in two exhibition games and is also getting his teammates involved. JaMychal Green provides a powerful inside presence alongside Tony Mitchell, who leads the team in rebounding. Senario Hillman is a senior who gives Releford an athletic sidekick in the backcourt that opponents must account for.
Devin Booker is currently leading the team in scoring and rebounding, following in the footsteps of older brother Trevor, who led the Tigers last season in the same categories and is now playing for the Washington Wizards. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is new to the starting lineup, and his early production has given first-year coach Brad Brownell another option to rely upon. The Tigers also have veterans Tanner Smith, Jerai Grant, Andre Young, Demontez Stitt in the lineup, with former McDonald’s All-American Milton Jennings looking to have a breakout sophomore season coming off the bench.
Hawkeyes guard Matt Gatens has yet to make his season debut after undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon in his non-shooting hand last month, but the team's returning leading scorer made the trip and could play. Gatens' return would especially be welcomed after Fran McCaffery saw his debut as coach spoiled when South Dakota State upset the Hawkeyes on their home court. Forward Eric May has stepped up coming off a fine freshman season, but the McCaffery will need more weapons to emerge if the Hawkeyes are going to be a factor in the stacked Big Ten.
Long Beach State
49ers coach Dan Monson called point guard Casper Ware the team's motor, as the junior is currently averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists and will look to get T.J. Robinson and Larry Anderson going. Robinson is especially looking to reassert himself after a six-point, six-turnover game against San Francisco State. Monson could also use this tournament to get a look at his bench players considering none of them have much Division I experience. After the team wore down late in its season-opening loss to San Diego State, it's apparent that depth will have to emerge.
Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor interviewed in the offseason with Clemson, and now the two teams could very well meet in the semifinal round of the tournament. It was Taylor’s success at Old Dominion that got him the interview, and the defending CAA champions showed they’re once again a dangerous team to face by going down to the final possession in a season-opening loss to Georgetown. Under Taylor, defense and rebounding are priorities, and the Monarchs look to 6-foot-9 Frank Hassell along with wings Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney for production.
The Kevin Willard era is off to a decent start, with the Pirates putting up a fight against a ranked Temple team and routing Cornell. That the major elements from a team that last season went to the NIT remain in place help make for a smoother transition. Jeremy Hazell continues to be an explosive scorer, and consistent double-double threat Herb Pope is settling in after undergoing surgery to correct a heart defect during the offseason. They, along with Jeff Robinson, decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and will need time adjusting to playing for Willard.
How much did the Peacocks struggle in their season-opening loss to Robert Morris? They made only six field goals and half their free throw attempts, scored 30 points and lost by 25. With returning leading scorer Wesley Jenkins out with a knee injury, the Peacocks will rely on fellow preseason all-MAAC seniors Nick Leon and Ryan Bacon to step up after they averaged double-digits in scoring last season. The team has an experienced roster that can improve on a 16-win season. Now the Peacocks just need a strong showing in the tournament to build their confidence.
Musketeers point guard Tu Holloway is off to a hot start, leading his team to a come-from-behind, season-opening win against Western Michigan and then an overtime win against IPFW. But coach Chris Mack’s team is a work in progress while it adjusts to losing Jordan Crawford as an early entrant in the NBA draft. It doesn’t help that sharpshooter Brad Redford is out for the season with a knee injury, freshman forward Justin Martin is academically ineligible this season, and Jamel McLean is just coming back from a fractured orbital bone. The Musketeers coming off a Sweet 16 appearance have already lost an exhibition game this year and are still looking to get on track.