Wichita State (1-0)
Last Season (25-10, NIT First Round)
G – Toure’ Murry (6-4, Jr.)
G – David Kyles (6-4, Jr.)
F – Graham Hatch (6-4, Sr.)
F – Aaron Ellis (6-9, Sr.) / J.T. Durley (6-8, Sr.)
C – Garrett Stutz (7-0, Jr.)
The Shockers are coming off of a 25-10 season that saw them lose to Nevada, 74-70, in the first round of the N.I.T. Their loss to Nevada was their lone loss at home the entire season, as they finished 16-1 at Charles Koch Arena. They finished 12-6 in league play a season ago and one of those victories was against a Northern Iowa team that went on to upset Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Gregg Marshall returns four starters this year and most publications are picking them to win the Missouri Valley Conference. They opened this season with a 79-67 victory over Texas Southern, who features former Wildcat Kevin Galloway.
Toure’ Murry and J.T. Durley are the Shockers top two returning scorers as both averaged double figures a year ago. Murry does a little bit of everything, as he is coming off of a season where he averaged 5.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.1 turnovers. He is a decent threat from deep and in his two years has knocked down 93 three’s, while shooting 33-percent.
Junior guard David Kyles is prime to have a breakout season for Wichita State and he started the season with a career-high 20 points in their opener. Kyles is an athletic guard that is a real threat from deep. In their opener he finished 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.
This is an experienced team with a ton of depth and in the opener Marshall played 12 guys. They run an extremely balanced offensive attack and have a lot of players that can score in the variety of ways.
Last Season (18-16, NIT Second Round)
G – Kemba Walker (6-1, Jr.)
G – Jeremy Lamb (6-5, Fr.)
F – Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (6-7, So.)
F – Tyler Olander (6-9, Fr.)
C – Alex Oriakhi (6-9, So.)
The troubles surrounding Jim Calhoun and the Connecticut basketball program have been well publicized. Then last year they compounded their issues by struggling on the basketball court and missing the NCAA Tournament.
It was an up-and-down season for Connecticut, that unfortunately saw more downs than ups. The Huskies had talent and that talent was evident in wins over Texas and West Virginia. But, they lost way too many games to the bottom half of the Big East, which cost them any hope of making the Big Dance. They ended their season with a second round loss to Virginia Tech in the N.I.T.
They lose Stanley Roberts and Jerome Dyson from a year ago, but return super-quick Kemba Walker and a add core of young guys that hope to get the Huskies back into the NCAA Tournament.
In their last game, a 89-73 win over Vermont, Walker put up a career-high 42 points, shooting 15-for-24 from the floor. He fills the box every night and is coming off of a season that saw him average 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.9 turnovers.
This year there is no denying that this is Walker’s team and that, combined with their improved bigs underneath, could provide them with the consistently that they lacked last year. Alex Oriahki is their best big underneath and he was the only other starter to finish in double figures in the Vermont game, as he had 11. Also, look for freshman Roscoe Parrish to provide them with some inside presence.
Michigan State (2-0)
Last Season (28-9, NCAA Final Four)
G – Kalin Lucas (6-1, Sr.)
G – Darrell Summers (6-5, Sr.)
F – Draymond Green (6-6, Jr.)
F – Delvon Roe (6-8, Jr.)
C – Garrick Sherman (6-10, So.)
The Spartans ended last season as they do pretty much every season, with a trip to the Final Four. They enter this year as a consensus Top Five team and if the cards fall as everyone expects them to, it will mean a third strait appearance in the national semifinals.
Making last year’s Final Four appearance even more remarkable was the fact that they did it without the services of star guard Kalin Lucas, who suffered an injury to his left foot in their second round game against Maryland and did not play in their final three games. In his junior season he led the Spartans in scoring (14.8) and assists (4.0).
They return three of five starters from a year ago, with Durrell Summers and Delvon Roe joining Lucas. Summers is the most athletic Spartan and he has the ability to get the rim and shoot from the perimeter. In their first two games this season, he is leading them in scoring with 19.5 points-per-game.
Roe, who has endured two major knee surgeries while at Michigan State, appears to finally be healthy and head coach Tom Izzo expects big things from the 6-8 junior. Roe is known for his ability to bang underneath and is the Spartans’ best defender. He even has the ability to step out and guard smaller players on the perimeter.
Korie Lucious did an admirable job stepping in for the injured Lucas a year ago, but the Spartans need their senior leader on the court. Playing three games in three days will be a huge test for Lucas and Spartan fans will quickly see if his foot is 100-percent, or not.
Last Season (10-15)
G – Chris Curtis (6-3, Jr.)
G – Chandler Pearson (6-3, Sr.)
G – Steven Bennett (5-6, Sr.)
F – Shane Hansen (6-6, Sr.)
C – Mamadou Diarra (7-0, Jr.)
They have an awesome nickname in the Silverswords, a guy named Mamadou Diarra at center, and they get to live in Hawaii, but that is about the only positive things you can come up with leading into this tourney. They are coming off of a season where they really struggled and I wouldn’t read much into their 3-0 start. They have five wins in the 26 years of the tournament, with their last one coming against a really, really bad Princeton team in 2007. Don’t expect them to bring home win number six this year.
Last Season (13-18)
G – Cade Davis (6-5, Sr.)
G – Steven Pledger (6-4, So.)
G – Cameron Clark (6-6, Fr.)
F – Nick Thompson (6-9, Jr.)
F – Andrew Fitzgerald (6-8, So.)
At 13-18 last year, the Sooners were one of the most disappointing teams in the country. This year head coach Jeff Capel hopes to turn around that disappointment despite losing their top four scorers.
Their biggest loss, production-wise, is that of guard Willie Warren, who led them in both points and assists. But, the loss of Warren, despite his ability, could actually prove to be addition by subtraction, because it didn’t always appear that the team’s effort was in his best interest.
Capel brings in nine newcomers this year and their top returning scorer is Cade Davis, who averaged just under ten points a game. Through their first three games they are 3-0, but they survived an overtime scare against North Carolina Central in their second game. In their last contest they crushed Kevin Galloway’s Texas Southern team, 82-52. I should have had Kevin Galloway write this preview, seeing that he has played two of these squads and actually spent a year at Kentucky.
Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Davis are all averaging double digits through their first three games. Pledger and Davis are both threats from beyond the arc, while Fitzgerald is their best rebounder.
The Sooners are big, but that is about it, and they will more than likely escape Maui with just one win, and that one win will come against D-II Chaminade.
Last Season (35-3, NCAA Elite Eight)
G – Brandon Knight (6-3, Fr.)
G – Deandre Liggins (6-6, Jr.)
G – Darius Miller (6-7, Jr.)
F – Terrence Jones (6-8, Fr.)
F – Josh Harrellson (6-10, Sr.)
Kentucky is coming off of a season that saw them fall a game short of their first Final Four appearance since 1998. However, they lost five players to the first round of the NBA Draft, in John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton.
Head coach John Calipari quickly reloaded with three top freshman in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb. In their first two games, Knight and Lamb have appeared unfazed by the NCAA game and Jones had 25 points in the opener before struggling a bit against Portland, which is his hometown. The 25 points are the most ever by a UK player in his debut.
Calipari is known for his recruiting capabilities, but the one thing that many overlook is his ability to get his teams to play stifling defense. This UK team seems to have already grasped how important defense is and on Friday they put on a clinic against a Portland team that shoots the ball really well. The Pilots missed their first 11 shots and finished 18-for-59 from the field.
Last year one of their weaknesses was consistency from beyond the three-point arc. Two games into this season and it appears that this will be a much better shooting team. They were 13-for-26 from deep in their opener against East Tennessee State and followed that with an 8-for-18 clip against Portland. Lamb is leading the way from beyond the arc as he has started the season 6-for-9 from distance.
Last Season (15-16)
G – Mustapha Farrakhan (6-4, Sr.)
G – Jontel Evans (5-11, So.)
G – Joe Harris (6-6, Fr.)
F – Mike Scott (6-8, Sr.)
C – Assane Sene (7-0, Sr.)
In Tony Bennett’s first year at Virginia they got off to a decent start, with a 14-6 overall record and a 5-2 clip in league play. But, the Caveliers would go on to lose 10 of their final 11 games, en route to 15-16 record.
They return just two of five starters, with their top returning scoring being Mike Scott, who averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds a year ago. He is leading them in both scoring and rebounding so far this year, with 15.0 and 9.0 respectively. Their other returning starter is Mustapha Farrakhan and he is averaging just under 12.0 points through three games.
Virginia enters the Maui Invitational as the lone team with a loss on their resume, as they fell 81-60 at Stanford in their last contest. In that game, the Cardinal shot 55-percent from the floor and 57-percent from three.
Bennett’s teams always play a slow, methodical style. They defend, run clock in an attempt to shorten the game, and protect the basketball. With their lack of playmakers, those three attributes become even more vital. They simply cannot allow teams to shoot over 50-percent from the floor, if they do they will get run out of the gym as they did against Stanford.
Last Season (26-10, NCAA Sweet 16)
G – Isaiah Thomas (5-9, Jr.)
G – Abdul Gaddy (6-3, So.)
F – Justin Holiday (6-6, Sr.)
F – Matthew Bryan-Amaning (6-9, Sr.)
F- Darnell Gant (6-8, Jr.)
Head coach Lorenzo Romar has led the Huskies to back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament and last year they advanced to the Sweet 16, eventually falling to West Virginia.
They lose Quincy Pondexter from a year ago, but return their other four starters. The key returnee is the 5-9 Isaiah Thomas, who is an absolute blur with the basketball. After averaging 15.5 points as a freshman, he followed that up with 16.9 points last year. After averaging just 3.2 assists-per-game last year, he nearly doubled that in the NCAA Tournament, with 19 dimes in his three NCAA Tournament games. This year he looks to focus on distributing even more, because the Huskies are loading with playmakers.
Senior Venoy Overton almost serves as point guard 1A for the Huskies and he is pesky defender who will drive opposing point guards crazy. They also feature sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who came to Washington as the second rated point guard recruit in the nation, behind John Wall. He disappointed a bit a year ago, but he has scored in double figures in both of their games this year while averaging 5.5 assists, proving that he may be ready for a breakout season.
It doesn’t stop with the backcourt as Matthew Bryan-Amaning is one of the best big men in the Pac-10. He is averaging a double-double through two games, at 21.0 and 11.5, while shooting 62-percent from the floor. Senior wing Justin Holiday is a glue guy that does whatever necessary to win. He is a long defender and through the first two games this year is averaging 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds.
This is a deep basketball team that has the ability to explode offensively. They can score from the inside and from the outside and have a full stable of guards that they can throw at you. This team can win the whole tournament and their potential matchup with Kentucky in the second round is very interesting because of the whole Terrence Jones recruitment.
Wichita State over Connecticut
Michigan State over Chaminade
Kentucky over Oklahoma
Washington over Virginia
Michigan State over Wichita State
Washington over Kentucky
Connecticut over Chaminade
Virginia over Oklahoma
1st – Washington over Michigan State
3rd – Kentucky over Wichita State
5th – Connecticut over Virginia
7th – Oklahoma over Chaminade