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Early Season Tournaments Part 1

My projections for 351 teams will be revealed by Sports Illustrated next week. But today I want to use those projections to compute the odds for this year's early season tournaments.

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Semis

Final

Champ

Texas A&M

38%

12%

7%

Dayton

62%

26%

18%

College of Charleston

11%

2%

1%

Connecticut

89%

59%

45%

New Mexico

55%

26%

8%

Boston College

45%

20%

5%

George Mason

36%

16%

4%

West Virginia

64%

38%

13%

UConn is likely to use a 4-guard lineup with Ryan Boatright, transfer Rodney Purvis, JUCO Sam Cassell Jr, and five-star freshman Daniel Hamilton at times this year. I’m looking forward to seeing that lethal offensive attack unleashed.

Texas A&M's odds of winning the tournament got a lot better when it was announced that transfer Jalen Jones would eligible in November, but they have to go through two NCAA tournament teams from a year ago, Dayton and Connecticut, just to reach the finals.

Charleston Classic

Charleston Classic

Semis

Final

Champ

USC

52%

17%

7%

Akron

48%

15%

6%

Drexel

18%

7%

2%

Miami FL

82%

61%

39%

Penn St.

71%

38%

19%

Charlotte

29%

10%

3%

Cornell

10%

1%

0%

South Carolina

90%

51%

25%

Miami (FL) won't be 100% in this tournament as Ivan Uceda must sit out the start of the season and cannot play until January. But with transfers Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez leading the way, and redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett now healthy, they are still the tournament favorite.

I understand why Penn St. and South Carolina aren't getting more love nationally. After the way their teams have performed historically, people tend to write them off before the season starts. But both teams have veteran lineups with more skilled players than most people realize, and don't be surprised if one of those teams wins this tournament.

2K Sports Classic

2K Sports

Final

Champ

Texas

60%

40%

Iowa

40%

22%

Syracuse

64%

27%

California

36%

11%

Texas has a deep and talented frontcourt with Cameron Ridley, Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes, and Connor Lammert. But so does Iowa. Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni aren't just going to roll over. Their first-round game is a great early season match-up.

Cal is an underdog in this field, but they have over a 50% chance of winning at least one game, and any victory in this tournament will resonate on Selection Sunday.

Paradise Jam

Paradise Jam

Semis

Final

Champ

Clemson

76%

42%

19%

Gardner Webb

24%

7%

2%

Seton Hall

70%

40%

19%

Nevada

30%

11%

3%

LSU

66%

45%

29%

Old Dominion

34%

18%

9%

Illinois St.

77%

33%

18%

Weber St.

23%

4%

1%

The bracketing here didn't do tournament favorite LSU any favors. First round opponent Old Dominion has a veteran team that should be much improved thanks to the addition of transfers Jonathan Arledge and Trey Freeman.

If Clemson and Seton Hall meet in the second round, it should be a great matchup. Clemson has a veteran team that plays outstanding defense while Seton Hall has a talented young recruiting class led by super-scorer Isaiah Whitehead.

Coaches vs Cancer

Coaches vs Cancer

Final

Champ

Stanford

66%

19%

UNLV

34%

6%

Duke

90%

72%

Temple

10%

3%

If you love watching elite freshman, this is the tournament to watch. Duke has Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen, while UNLV has Rashad Vaughn, Dwayne Morgan, and Goodluck Okonoboh. Meanwhile Stanford has Reid Travis, Robert Cartwright, and Michael Humphrey. But all anyone will be talking about is the possibility of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Final

Champ

Massachusetts

40%

19%

Notre Dame

60%

36%

Providence

46%

20%

Florida St.

54%

25%

This might be the most important holiday tournament this year. All four of these teams project as bubble NCAA squads and the winner of this tournament will pick up two critical non-conference wins. I have Notre Dame as the favorite as I think the return of Jerian Grant is going to improve the Irish substantially.

Maui Invitational

Maui

Semis

Final

Champ

Purdue

28%

4%

1%

Kansas St.

72%

19%

9%

Missouri

9%

3%

1%

Arizona

91%

75%

57%

Pittsburgh

99%

45%

13%

Chaminade

1%

0%

0%

BYU

32%

14%

3%

San Diego St.

68%

41%

16%

I’m looking forward to the contrast in styles between offensively dominant BYU and defensively dominant SDSU.  All seven of the D1 teams in the field have the talent to finish in the Top 100. Missouri is probably the worst of these squads, as they must replace almost all of last year's top scorers, but they have some quality recruits who are capable of pulling an upset.

Legends Classic

Legends

Final

Champ

Villanova

61%

44%

VCU

39%

24%

Michigan

66%

25%

Oregon

34%

8%

This looked like one of the best early season tournaments in the land, with four very talented teams. But the news that Oregon's Michael Chandler is injured and the news that JaQuan Lyle is ineligible makes the Ducks an underdog.

CBE Classic

CBE

Final

Champ

Arizona St.

28%

7%

Maryland

72%

32%

Alabama

27%

12%

Iowa St.

73%

49%

Iowa St. vs Alabama presents another great contrast in styles. Fred Hoiberg has been an offensive genius for the Cyclones while Anthony Grant has been a dominant defensive coach (with the exception of last year.)

MGM Grand Main Event

MGM

Final

Champ

Oklahoma St.

87%

47%

Oregon St.

13%

2%

Auburn

44%

21%

Tulsa

56%

30%

There are lots of new faces in this tournament. I'm looking forward to seeing how transfer Anthony Hickey fits in with Oklahoma St., how quickly new head coach Bruce Pearl can build Auburn into a winner, and how Tulsa adjust to new head coach Frank Haith.

Oregon St.’s roster is in terrible shape which makes Oklahoma St. the favorite even though they might not be an NCAA tournament team.

Cancun Challenge

Cancun Challenge

Final

Champ

Virginia Tech

35%

16%

Northern Iowa

65%

40%

Miami OH

30%

9%

Northwestern

70%

35%

If the MVC is going to get two NCAA bids this year, Northern Iowa must win here. Chris Collins begins year two of the Northwestern rebuild while Buzz Williams begins year one of the Virginia Tech rebuild.

The Big Mistake: Measurables Vs. Situation

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

Thomas Robinson was seen as one of the safest picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. At 6'9 240, he was an elite athlete with prototypical size for the power forward position at the NBA. A first-team All-American, Robinson averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior, leading Kansas to the NCAA championship game. 

The Sacramento Kings took him with the No. 5 overall pick, expecting to plug him into the starting lineup next to DeMarcus Cousins. Instead, Robinson lasted only a few months with Sacramento before being shipped to the Houston Rockets and then the Portland Trail Blazers, becoming the rare Top 5 pick to be on three teams in less than a season.

So what happened?

Robinson, like many of Bill Self's players, looked better than he really was at Kansas. While Self gets his fair share of elite recruits, he has won ten Big 12 championships in a row because he recruits players who fit his system, which maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. 

At Kansas, Robinson shared a frontcourt with Jeff Withey, a second-round pick in 2012. Withey, at 7'0 235, was an elite shot-blocker who cleaned up a lot of Robinson's mistakes on the defensive end. On offense, Withey could play high-low with Robinson and knock down a 20-foot jumper.

Self's inside-out offense slowed down the pace of the game and put guards who could space the floor around Withey and Robinson, giving them a ton of room to operate in the paint. At that point, there wasn't much the vast majority of NCAA front-lines could do against a 7'0 and a 6'9 who would play in the NBA.

However, when he faced big men who could match his size and athleticism, Robinson was a fairly limited offensive player. He couldn't consistently knock down a perimeter jumper, couldn't put the ball on the floor, couldn't score out of the low post and couldn't create shots for his teammates.

His struggles in their two games against Kentucky, one of the only teams they faced with multiple NBA-caliber big men, should have been a red flag. At the next level, every frontline looks like Kentucky’s.

Rather than being a safe pick, Robinson was a fairly substantial gamble. He projected as an average defender at PF, an average shot-creator, a minus shooter, a minus passer and a plus rebounder. Whoever drafted him would need to spend several years developing his offensive game before he would be a starting-caliber player.

After spending their whole lives as the biggest and baddest players on the court, the vast majority of big men become just another guy at the highest level of the game. Unless you are Andre Drummond, you don't enter the league bigger and faster than everyone you face.

Drummond was taken by the Detroit Pistons at No. 9 in 2012, four spots after Robinson. After one season at UConn, he was seen as one of the biggest gambles on the board, a raw big man who hadn't proven he could channel his physical gifts into consistent production.

At 6'11 275, Drummond has an unprecedented combination of size and athleticism. We have never seen a man his size do the things he can do in the air - he can take the ball between his legs and dunk in one motion. Nevertheless, despite going up against much smaller and less athletic players on a nightly basis in college, he averaged only 11 points and 8 rebounds a game. 

Unlike Robinson, Drummond wasn't in an ideal situation in college. He shared a front-court with Alex Oriakhi, a fringe NBA prospect who couldn't shoot the ball. Since neither Drummond nor Oriakhi could stretch the floor, opposing teams packed the paint against UConn.

On the perimeter, the Huskies never replaced Kemba Walker, who had left for the NBA draft the year before. Shabazz Napier, their starting PG, was still learning the game, more comfortable looking for his own shot than setting up his teammates. Ryan Boatright, their other PG, spent most of the season in NCAA limbo.

Soon after Drummond enrolled at UConn, the program got hit with APR (academic) sanctions that would make them ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. To top it off, John Calhoun came down with cancer in the middle of the season.

Scouts looked at Drummond's tools and lack of consistent production as a freshman and wondered whether he loved the game. What they should have been asking is whether any of that would have mattered.

Would it have made Oriakhi a better shooter? Would it have made Napier a better passer? Would it have kept Boatright out of the NCAA's crosshairs? Would it have stopped the APR sanctions from coming down or kept his coach from getting cancer?

When you are scouting a player in college, you have to scout his teammates and his coaching staff too. If you don't know what's going on with his team, you will only get an incomplete picture of what's going on. Their team can make them look better or worse than they really are.

In the NBA, where Drummond has played with PF’s who can shoot and PG’s who can pass, he has been unstoppable on the pick-and-roll. He is bigger, more coordinated and more athletic than every center in the league - he has a lot of value standing in front of the rim.

If he were an NFL prospect, the draft conversation around him would be much different. The NFL scouts would have taken one look at him in the combine and lost their mind - Drummond had measurables as good as any prospect coming into the NBA in the last generation.

Two years later, does anyone care what Drummond or Robinson did in college? When projecting players to the NBA, past production doesn't necessarily mean anything. 

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Returning Point Guards

With the deadline for declaring for this year’s draft behind us, we now know who will and who won’t be returning to school next season. As is usually the case, the vast majority of players projected to go in the first round ended up declaring. Nevertheless, there are still a number of interesting prospects left in the college game. Even in a draft like 2014, which features a loaded freshman class, there’s still plenty of room in the first round for upperclassmen.

This far out, it’s hard to make any type of comprehensive list of the best players in the 2015 draft. Instead, we’ll be going position by position, taking a look at the best prospects in the college game at each position and how they stack up against each other. This is not a list of the who the best college players are, but of who I think has the most pro potential. These guys are unfinished products - who they are today isn’t necessarily who they will be in November or next April.

We’ll start with the point guard position, which features a familiar dichotomy - the biggest PG’s struggle with their jumpers while the best shooters are undersized. The holy grail are the guys who can do both, but even in the NBA, they tend to be few and far between. The smaller guards probably aren’t going to grow much in their late teens and early 20’s, but the bigger guards can make themselves a bunch of money this summer if they can return with a three-point shot.

1) Delon Wright, Utah - One of the most underrated players in the country. The younger brother of Dorell Wright, Delon burst onto the scene this season, after a lengthy trek through the junior college ranks. At 6’5 180, he isn’t quite as big as his older brother, but he’s every bit as athletic and he has a far more well-rounded game. He was a one-man team at Utah this season, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1 block a game on 56% shooting.

Wright turns 23 next season, which is a huge red flag for many NBA teams, but his combination of size, athleticism and feel for the game is pretty unique. There’s a lot of Rajon Rondo in his game - his one weakness is his lack of a three-point shot. He’s a reluctant shooter who went 12-54 from beyond the arc last season. If he could consistently make that shot, he would be a lottery pick, but even without it, he will still be a fascinating player to track as a senior.

2) Marcus Paige, UNC - It’s all set up for Paige at UNC. After two slightly down years, the Tar Heels are returning a lot of talent upfront and are bringing in a loaded recruiting class full of wing players. If Paige can be the triggerman for the secondary break offense, they should be right back in national title discussion. And when Roy Williams can put elite talent around a future NBA PG, good things tend to happen. See: Ray Felton in 2004, Ty Lawson in 2009.

At 6’1 170, Paige is undersized for the position at the next level, but he’s a very quick guard with excellent ball-handling ability who can stroke 3’s off the dribble. He averaged 17 points and 4 assists a game on 44% shooting last season, shooting 39% from 3 on 6.5 attempts a game. With a more balanced roster around him next season, he will be asked to be more of a playmaker. It’s almost impossible for a guy his size to start in the NBA and be a shoot-first player.

3) Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s - While Rysheed didn’t get a ton of press as a freshman, his size (6’4 185) and athleticism alone make him a player worth watching. He averaged only 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game on 42% shooting, but he also didn’t get much of a chance to play with the ball in his hands. With Jakarr Sampson declaring for the draft, that should change next season. If he can come back with a three-point shot, he will start flying up draft boards.

4) Andrew Harrison, Kentucky - After one of the most up-and-down freshman seasons in recent memory, the Harrison Twins both opted to return to school, something few would have predicted nine months ago. At 6’5 210, Andrew has great size for the PG position, but his lack of athleticism puts a clear ceiling on how good he can be at the next level. If he can become a better three-point shooter he should have a chance to stick, but stardom probably isn’t in the cards.

5) Ryan Boatright, UConn - Along with Shabazz Napier, Boatright exploded at just the right time last season, carrying UConn all the way to an unlikely national championship. Generously listed at 6’0 170, Boatright is extremely undersized for the NBA game, but he has the speed and quickness to at least get a shot at the next level. As a senior, scouts will be watching to see if he can make the same type of jump Napier made, in terms of becoming a better floor general.

Other names to watch: Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College)

A Champion Is Crowned

Should Kentucky have played more zone this year, why Niels Giffey made a lot of fans happy, and how Napier survived a few frustrated moments to lead his team to victory.

UConn-Kentucky Title Game Shows Changes In College Basketball

Kevin Ollie didnít recruit most of his roster, but his offense and maneuvering of lineups have been essential to reach the championship. The Huskies starting lineup has shown a change of the times as well.

Final Four Saturday

Kentucky continues to overcome the odds, Wisconsin's season was historic even without a Final Four win, and I break down the simulcasts.

Rudy Gay Faces Difficulty Of Recapturing Budding Stardom

Rudy Gay reached a peak three seasons ago, and at 27 now he hasnít attained the individual or team milestones that his gifts were expected to bestow. Three games into the Raptorsí season, his shooting is pedestrian and he admits heís hastily searching for an offensive rhythm.

Why Comparing Players By High School Class Makes More Sense

Once players leave AAU basketball and enter college, their careers diverge quickly, even those with similar amounts of talent. Some declare too early, others too late. A perfect example of how our perceptions can change is to compare Jeremy Lamb to Victor Oladipo.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

2012 Big East Power Rankings

Syracuse finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and were predictably significantly better than any Big East rival.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 2: Big East, Pac-12

How important is it to have Jim Calhoun on the sideline, Oklahoma's late game gamble, and other observations from Wednesday of Championship Week.

The Audacity Of The NCAA On Ryan Boatright

The Ryan Boatright situation proves once again that the only third party allowed to profit off college basketball players is the NCAA itself and theyíll fight to the bitter end to ensure it stays that way.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGMís weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

Big East Prospect Watch

With Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Big East once again has several high-quality NBA prospects.

Talent Squandered: College Basketball's Ultimate Underachieving Teams Since 2003

Georgia Tech in 2003 with Chris Bosh, Michigan State in 2006 with Shannon Brown and Paul Davis, Connecticut in 2010 one year before winning the championship and a 2010 North Carolina team with Ed Davis, John Henson and a host of other top recruits.

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