Sunday, October 14, 2007

NIT 2007, teams 17-32

Penn State (Big 10)

What to like: The Nittany Lions return their best 5 players and add perhaps the best recruiting they've ever scored.
Weakness: Defense. PSU isn't as bad a team as the Big Ten made them look last season, but that defense has got to improve.
Who to watch: Geary Claxton. A better player than Alando Tucker, he deserves a NCAA tourney appearance, but his support might not be enough. Watch the recruits, and also the redshirts 6-8 Andrew Jones and 6-6 David Jackson. Jackson especially posses the mindset and intangibles to improve this team's defense.

Purdue (Big 10)

What to like: A great group of freshmen will join scrappers Chris Kramer and Gordon Watt, and get more wins than they should.
Weakness: Not a whole lot returns from last season outside of Kramer and Watt, and the frosh will have to pick up defensive schemes in a hurry.
Who to watch: JaJuan Johnson and Etwuann Moore. These two will have to be starters right away, and will have to be able to play and not throw the ball away if the Boilers are to have any chance of a postseason.

Rhode Island (Atlantic 10)

What to like: A lot of old faces and a couple of quality adds should equal a strong push for a NCAA berth. Coach's son Jimmy Baron is a top point guard.
Weakness: The Ram were more mediocre than fantastic last season, and some of this will probably continue. The frontcourt needs to hang onto the ball better.
Who to watch: Newcomers 6-9 Juco Jason Francis and 6-6 transfer Ben Eaves could carve out a starting spot by the end of the year. Will Daniels is the star, though.

Saint Mary's (WCC)

What to like: 6-11 Omar Samhan is a rising star. A solid defensive team, the Gaels should be the second-best squad in the WCC.
Weakness: The offense wasn't impressive, and the WCC is not known for its defense. If Samhan continuse to improve, this could be solved.
Who to watch: Samhan and forward Diamon Simpson. If Simpson can improve a little outside, this could be a devastating 1-2 punch.

Southern California (Pacific 10)

What to like: Arguably the nation's top recruiting class and few valuable pieces from last year's NCAA team.
Weakness: Emphasis on the "few" in players from last season. Most folks left, and while the role players should be able to support the freshmen, there's no veteran leadership.
Who to watch: OJ Mayo, of course. Often considered the best player in the class, his stock dropped when people started talking about his selfishness. It's time to prove how good he is.

Southern Mississippi (Conference USA)

What to like: Everybody returns, and a solid recruiting class gives Larry Eustachy options to improve on a 20-win season.
Weakness: Last year's team was held back largely due to mediocre shooting and a lack of consistent post options.
Who to watch: Kevin Branch is the freshmen to watch, but the real key to the season will be bigs Demar Dotson, Gijo Bain, and Andre Stephens. If Bain can contribute anything other than blocked shots, the Golden Eagles can take a real step forward. Guard Jeremy Wise needs held, and Craig Craft has the shooting eye to take the heat off of him.

Syracuse (Big East)

What to like: A wicked recruiting class, some solid vets, and Jimmy Boeheim's own magic that keeps the Orange always in the postseason.
Weakness: There's a lack of reliable scoring or interior depth. Newcomers will have to fill the middle, and opponents will exploit that advantage.
Who to watch: Three freshman could be starters from the first game on (Johnny Flynn, Donte Green, Rick Jackson). Green has the NBA upside, but Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf do all the little things that will ensure another postseason .

Texas Tech (Big XII)

What to like: Coach Knight's system keeps Texas Tech competitive every year. This year Knight's got a returning point guard in Charlie Burgess and a star scorer in Martin Zeno.
Weakness: Three starters graduated, including go-to Jarrius Jackson. But it's the guys in the paint that really need replacements, and the defense wasn't very good last season.
Who to watch: Juco 6-11 Ricardo De Bem and 7-0 Esmer Rizvic will duke it out for the starting center spot. But freshman Dwalyn Roberts might be the guy to step into the starting five and surprise everyone.

Utah State (WAC)

What to like: Mega-scorer Jaycee Carroll returns from a flirtation with the NBA draft, and has 6-8 Stephen DuCharme inside to add some balance. Top-notch Juco Gary Wilkinson should make a splash as well.
Weakness: This was a fairly slow team, and the defense wasn't great on per-possession results. The defense has to drastically improve if this team is to have a shot at the WAC championship.
Who to watch: Ohio State transfer 6-9 Brayden Bell could help with interior depth, but small forward Nick Hammer is probably the biggest question mark in the starting line-up.

Valparaiso (HOR)

What to like: Four double-digit scorers and two capable point guards, plus a 7-1 center to bring off the bench. The Horizon has a new conference power.
Weakness: Strength inside. Outside of 6-8 Urule Igbavboa, there are no rebounders on this team, and even he isn't a shot-blocker.
Who to watch: 6-8 guard Samuel Haanpaa could be a real star, and while Zach Payton is the freshman to watch, if 7-1 Calum McLeod can play starter's minutes, Valpo could be worthy of a NCAA berth.

Vanderbilt (SEC)

What to like: The Commodores have become a perennial challenger for NCAA at-large bids, and should hang around again this season behind star wing Shan Foster.
Weakness: A lot was lost to graduation, but the most missed will be Derrick Byars. Byars did it all, a replacing such a productive and creative presence will be a tall order.
Who to watch: 6-10 newcomer Andrew Oglivy. Comparisons to fellow Aussie Andrew Bogut will be unfair, but will happen.

Villanova (Big East)

What to like: Scottie Reynolds became the freshman sensation of the Big East for a very good Wildcats club. Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher look to join Reynolds to create one of the most dangerous backcourts in America.
Weakness: With all of the hubbub about the backcourt, noone's talking about the loss of star Curtis Sumpter, who provided everything to last season's club. And Mike Nardi's steady leadership will also be missed.
Who to watch: Cassein Drummond and Shane Clark, who will be asked to help out Dante Cunningham inside. The 6-10 Drummond needs to be able to handle at least role player minutes, and 6-7, 195 Shane Clark will probably be pressed into play at the 4-spot. I imagine most sportswriters are overlooking the lack of interior players due to Jay Wright's success in playing 4-1 sets. But there ain't a 6-0 rebounder here like Kyle Lowry was then.

Washington (Pacific 10)

What to like: Jon Brockman, inch for inch, may be the best inside player in the country. A host of talented freshmen bigs join four-double-digit scorers,
Weakness: Who replaces Spencer Hawes? Do these Huskies have what it takes to improve and get to the NCAA's? And Brockman has a tendency to cough up the ball too much.
Who to watch: Certainly whoever fills the center spot will be important (redshirt 7-0 Joe Wolfinger?, frosh 6-10 Matt Bryan-Amaning? reserve 6-8 Artem Wallace?), but the guy to watch is probably 5-11 Justin Dentmon. Dentmon needs to shoot better, and turn the ball over a lot less.

West Virginia (Big East)

What to like: The defending NIT champions return four double-digit scorers, and welcome new coach Bob Huggins. Alex Roff and Joe Alexander are especially dangerous multi-dimensional players.
Weakness: Clash of styles? How does a group of kids used to playing zone defense and living by the three-pointer adjust Huggins' bruiser-ball style? Especially considering the lack of wide-bodies available.
Who to watch: 7-0 Jamie Smalligan, who averaged less than 15mpg last season, has to be able to take on a starting role. Freshman John Flowers also better be able to provide some rebounding, as the top two rebounders from last season's club graduated (Rob Summers and the heroic Frank Young) and it's hard to see any Huggins' club succeeding without rebounders.

Western Michigan (MAC)

What to like: No personnel losses of consequence, and promising 6-9 Jon Workman returns from an injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season.
Weakness: Size. Even with Workman back, there's still not a lot of size here. Also, the ball control wasn't exactly sterling. Center Joe Reitz does do everything, but he shouldn't be so proficient at turning over the ball.
Who to watch: Workman's health is probably the key to getting major improvement and MAC title contention. Freshman Juston Hairston could be a sleeper, too. Of all the teams in my projection, I felt the worst about leaving the Broncos out of the top 65. But, pragmatically, the MAC always gets hosed by not only NCAA selection committee, but the NIT as well.

Wyoming (MWC)

What to like: A dynamo backcourt of Brad Jones and Brandon Ewing combine for nearly 40ppg, 8.4rpg, 7.6apg, and 2.8spg! A deep bench and large recruiting class looks to fill in for offseason losses.
Weakness: The defense wasn't fantastic last season, and losing their only significant inside presence won't help. Also, the whole team was pretty bad at holding onto the ball last year.
Who to watch: Besides the amazing backcourt, Joseph Taylor is probably the guy to watch. Taylor showed a knack for shotblocking, but he needs to do a better job at well, at everything else. Also, although the loss of James Spencer is unfortunate, his back-up Eric Platt might be a better fit with Ewing and Jones.


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