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Charleston Classic Preview

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The Bracket

Image: @ESPNCharleston

The Teams

Connecticut

When UB Would See Them: First Round

Record: 2-1 Kenpom Ranking: 77

The Connecticut Huskies are the Bulls’ first match-up down in Charleston, and it figures to be a good one. The Huskies opened as just two point favorites for the first round night cap. The Huskies pass the airport test in that you see them in sweats and you can tell they’re a basketball team. UConn starts a front line of 6’9”, 6’9”, 6’11”, and brings 6’7” and 6’8” reserves of the bench. Fortunately for the undersized Bulls, who are without their 6’11” starting center Brock Bertram, the Huskies don’t play true to their listed heights. Despite their length, the Huskies rank just 228th in the country in defensive rebounding rate. The Bulls will look to attack that deficiency by crashing the offensive glass, an area that Josh Mballa in particular has excelled this season. Additionally UConn forwards Tyler Polley and Akok Akok (prep school teammate of Mballa) tend to linger on the perimeter, not taking advantage of their 6’9” frames. The pair has combined to take 51.1% of their shots from three, which would rank eight highest in the country among teams, and this is coming from the Huskies’ 6’9” SF and PF. UB’s small, versatile lineup may force UConn to play smaller, 6’11” starting center Josh Carlton got just 16 minutes in their home loss to another smaller team in Saint Joseph’s.

While the big storyline going into the game is the size differential, UConn’s top player is in their backcourt in Christian Vital. Vital leads the Huskies in scoring (19.3), rebounding (9), and steals (4). UConn’s backcourt has been a two man show so far this season with Vital and PG Alterique Gilbert, but they are getting reinforcements heading into Charleston. Freshman James Bouknight is coming off a three game suspension and could prove to be an X-factor for UConn in Charleston. Bouknight was a top 75 recruit nationally coming out of high school, but it’s yet to be determined what his impact will be on Connecticut.

Xavier

When UB Would See Them: Second Round

Record: 4-0 Kenpom Ranking: 28

The Xavier Musketeers are led by a core of four upperclassmen that played roles on the Xavier team that earned a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament two seasons ago. In the front court Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones combine for over 30 points and 14 rebounds per game. In the backcourt Paul Scruggs and Quentin Goodin are both skilled playmakers, with Scruggs being the more polished scorer of the two at 12.7 points per game. Aside from Xavier’s big four, the top two Musketeers minutes wise, are up-transfers from the MAC. UB fans will remember F Jason Carter from his Ohio days, and G Bryce Moore from his WMU days.

Xavier’s length, athleticism, and physicality allows the Musketeers to excel on the defensive end and on the glass. Their biggest weakness is their touch on the offensive end. Currently they rank in the bottom 10 nationally in three point shooting at just 20.9%. While some positive regression is to be expected in that department, shooting was not a strength of last year’s team either shooting just 33.1% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line.

Towson

When UB Would See Them: Second Round

Record: 2-2 Kenpom Ranking: 147

The Towson Tigers are led by all-CAA second team guard Brian Fobbs. Fobbs, a Rochester native, is averaging 13.5 points per game this season despite starting the year an uncharacteristic 0-15 from three. In addition to Fobbs the Tigers feature three other double digit scorers Allen Bertrand, Juwan Gray, and Jason Gibson. Gray is a sharpshooting 6’8” wing that transferred to Towson from San Diego. To complement the four scorers, the Tigers also return all-CAA defensive team forward Dennis Tunstall.

Florida

When UB Would See Them: Third Round

Record: 2-2 Kenpom Ranking: 33

The Florida Gators have all the makings of a national title contender, and were #1 in some rankings and rating systems, however it has yet to all come together yet. The Gators are led by F Kerry Blackshear, who was the top grad transfer on the market this off-season after leaving Virginia Tech following his all-ACC season. So far this year Blackshear has averaged 14.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. Florida’s second fiddle is Andrew Nembhard, a 6’5” pure point guard, averaging 5.8 assists per game. Flanking Blackshear and Nembhard are a pair of knock down three point shooters in Noah Locke and Tre Mann. If that isn’t enough talent for you, the Gators also feature a 5 star freshman, and potential NBA lottery pick on the wing in Scottie Lewis.

Like Xavier, the Gators have also struggled from three so far this season shooting just 24.1%. Those shooting woes have cost the Gators so far this season in two early season losses to UConn and Florida State. Florida currently plays at one of the slowest tempos in the nation. It will be interesting to see if Florida coach Mike White (brother of former UB AD Danny White) looks to utilize the team’s athleticism and skill, and push the tempo to jumpstart the struggling offense. White has a history of playing fast, ranking as high as 16th in tempo at his previous stop, Louisiana Tech, but has ranked lower in tempo each successive season at Florida.

Miami

When UB Would See Them: Third Round

Record: 3-1 Kenpom Ranking: 60

The Miami Hurricanes are keyed by four double digit scorers, including 5’7” sparkplug Chris Lykes. Lykes makes up for his diminutive frame with his quickness, and playmaking skill. Lykes is complemented on the wings by Kameron McGusty a 6’5” athlete, and 6’3” Dejan Vasiljevic, a three point sharpshooter. The fourth double digit scorer is freshman combo guard Harlond Beverly, a top 75 recruit. Beverly has provided a spark off the bench in relief of Lykes and Vasiljevic thus far this season, averaging 12.0 points per game. The guard heavy Hurricanes have taken good care of the ball this season, currently boasting the 5th best turnover rate in the nation. The Hurricanes don’t have the highest ceiling of the teams in the tournament, but they won’t beat themselves and will be a tough out.

Missouri State

When UB Would See Them: Third Round

Record: 2-2 Kenpom Ranking: 153

The Missouri State Bears were being touted in the preseason as potentially one of the top mid-major teams in the country, and for good reason, however the Bears struggled a bit out of the gate. The Bears are hoping that the tide has started to turn though after a close three point loss on the road to Xavier their last time out.

Missouri State returns a first team all-MVC selection in Tulio Da Silva, as well as a third team all-MVC selection in Keandre Cook. Cook currently leads the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game, while Da Silva leads the team in rebounding at 8.0 rebounds per game. In addition to the returners the Bears have a highly regarded group of transfers this season. Starting PG Tyrik Dixon transferred in from Middle Tennessee State where he started many games next to UB’s own Antwain Johnson on two very good MTSU teams. The Bears second leading scorer is 6’8” wing Lamont West who transferred in from West Virginia. Bulls fans will remember that he led WVU in scoring with 22 points in the Bulls upset win in Morgantown last season. The final transfer for Missouri State is forward Gaige Prim, Prim was rated as the second best JUCO recruit in the country last season. While Missouri State hasn’t lived up the preseason hype yet this season the potential is definitely there to make some noise in Charleston.

Saint Joseph’s

When UB Would See Them: Third Round

Record: 2-2 Kenpom Ranking: 201

Saint Joseph’s style this season in the first year under new head coach Billy Lange is characterized by, at most points in the game, having five guys on the floor that can shoot the ball. UConn felt the wrath of that style earlier this year when Saint Joe’s shot 13-33 from three and beat Connecticut in Hartford. The Hawks are led by 6’5” guard Ryan Daly, a transfer from Delaware that sat out last season. Daly has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game this season. Two seasons ago when he was at Delaware, Daly scored 22 points against UB, while nearly leading his team to an upset win.

Daly is supported by four other double digit scorers. 6’8” forwards Lorenzo Edwards and Taylor Funk are both adept shooters from the perimeter, 6’7” wing Myles Douglas, a transfer from UCF, has good skill for his size, and 6’3” guard Rahmir Moore has been very efficient as a freshman.


Predictions

Outcome

  • 1st Place: Florida
  • 2nd Place: Xavier
  • 3rd Place: Miami
  • 4th Place: Buffalo
  • 5th Place: Connecticut
  • 6th Place: Missouri State
  • 7th Place: Saint Joseph’s
  • 8th Place: Towson

All-Tournament Team

  • F Kerry Blackshear (MVP), Florida
  • F Naji Marshall, Xavier
  • G Andrew Nembhard, Florida
  • G Christian Vital, Connecticut
  • G Ryan Daly, Saint Joseph’s