With the sad, sad news coming in that the Twins locked up Gardy until 2012, I thought I'd turn my attention to more pleasant things, such as the World Renowned NABC Classic, taking place this weekend at Williams Arena. At first glance, the teams may look pretty inconsequential, but a closer look shows that we can learn a bit about our beloved Gophers from two of the three games. I'm ignoring Concordia here, because who cares, really, but lets focus on Georgia State and Bowling Green.
Bowling Green will be the Gophers' opponent on Saturday, and is the only game I will be able to attend this weekend so I am most interested in this game. The Falcons finished last season 13-17, 7-9 in the MAC which was a disappointment after some early season success, including wins over Belmont and at Cincinnati. The good news for them is they have the entire team back from last season and are expected to compete for the MAC East title.
They are led by 6-4 shooting guard Nate Miller, who led the team in scoring (13.2) and steals (1.5) and was second in rebounding (6.5) and third in assists (2.7). He does have his weaknesses, including poor shooting (29% from three, 40% overall) and turnovers (2.6ppg) that he will have to guard against if the Falcons are going to upset the Gophers. He can be deadly when he puts it all together as evidenced by his 21-11-5 against Toledo last season.
Speaking of turnovers, two of the other wing players struggle there as well, as starting point guard Joe Jakubowski turned it over 2.5 times per game last year, and wing Darryl Clements 2.6 times. Clements is a brutal shooter, shooting just 38% from the field and 28% from three, which didn't stop him from chucking up 89 3-pt attempts last season anyway. Jakubowski isn't a major scoring threat, but can get hot from the outside at times.
The starter at the 3 spot is Brian Moten, who is great outside shooter (43% from three) and isn't afraid to chuck it up, and scored in double figures in 13 of 16 league games.
In the paint, the Gophers will have to worry about 6-7 power forward Chris Knight, an excellent rebounder and was the team's second leading scorer last season. He's joined down low by 6-9 center Otis Polk and 6-7 Erik Marschall, returning after missing all of last season to a knee injury. Marschall was one of the team's best players two seasons ago, and getting him back will be a real boost.
Overall, Bowling Green doesn't shoot well, score much, or take care of the basketball, and they don't play very good defense. But they do rebound well. Really, there's no reason the Gophers shouldn't win this game. Now, the Falcons do have three players with the potential to have big games, and as long as the Gophers play good, intense defense they should be able to pressure BG up and down the court and force turnovers. Gophers win 77-60.
Sunday's opponent is Georgia State, and they have some potential but are pretty much on the same level as Bowling Green, which is not a very high level to be on. It would be like the Strawberry level on Ms. Pacman. They are picked to finish seventh in the Colonial Conference, not a terrible group of teams, but certainly not as good as they were in their halcyon days of just a few short seasons ago.
The Panthers return their top three scorers in guards Leonard Mendez (16.0ppg) and Trae Goldston (9.3ppg) and forward Rashad Chase (7.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and have a whole group of interesting transfers becoming eligible this season: Dante Curry from South Florida, Shamaine Dukes from Wake Forest, Trey Hampton and Xavier Hansbro from Ole Miss, and Bernard Rimmer from Mississippi State. All had interest from BCS conference teams out of high school, while Curry was a Rivals Top 150 (#133) and Hansbro made Rivals Ten Transfers to Watch list this season.
There is a lot here, and certainly more talent than you would expect a Georgia State type team to have, but it's a question of how it will all come together with so many talented new faces. The upside of that is they are dealing with transfers, not freshmen, so these guys have at least all practiced together. Something tells me this will be the toughest test for the Gophers this weekend, but I don't see them falling; Gophs win, 68-60.
I was going to write about the five other tournaments that are going on this weekend, but I realized that I write like, way, way too much. I just wrote about 750 words freaking Bowling Green and Georgia State for God's sake. Ok, fine, I'll keep this short though:
Charleston Classic (true tournament style, Charleston, SC). First round games are TCU vs. Western Michigan, Temple vs. E Tenn State, SIU-Edwardsville vs. Charleston, and Clemson vs. Hofstra. Definitely the most interesting of the weekend tournaments, and it's nice it's not some round robin crap. Clemson should waltz through this as a probable NCAA tournament team, but Western Michigan has a MAC POY candidate in David "Menthol" Kool, we can find out if Brandon Smith is really on TCU or not, Temple is the best bet to finish second in the A-10 to Xavier, and Charleston is a good team who could challenge Davidson in the SoCon and has home court advantage. Hey, it's pretty slim pickins until next week, but this is the best of the lot.
World Vision Classic (round robin, Ames, IA). Participants are host Iowa State, UC-Davis, UW-Milwaukee, and Loyola-Marymount. Basically an ego feeder for the Cyclones, something they desperately need this season. All three visiting teams are bottom feeders in their conferences, which I guess means all four teams in this thing are horrible teams.
Tip-Off Classic (round robin, Honolulu, HI). Participants are host Hawaii, San Francisco, CSU-Fullerton, and Texas State. You don't hear much about San Francisco since Bill Russell graduated, but they've been a pretty good program over the years in the WCC, just way overshadowed by Gonzaga and St. Mary's and are decent again this season. Fullerton would be more interesting next year for us with Bryce Webster joining the Titans, but they are a top Big West team and have one of the best shooters I have personally ever seen in Josh Akognon, and Hawaii has the best conference background but lost seven players from last year. This is probably the most evenly balanced of the weekend tournaments.
100 Club Classic (tournament style, Kennesaw, GA). First round games are Northern Illinois vs. Maine, Western Illinois vs. Kennesaw State. Definitely the lowest of these low tier tournaments. None of these teams has even the slimmest glimmer of slim hope of getting anywhere near a slim hope of making the NIT. Northern Illinois has last year's MAC freshman of the year coming back. That's the only remotely interesting thing about this tournament.
Garden State Challenge (round robin, various sites). Participating teams are Rutgers, Delaware, Robert Morris, St Bonaventure, and Marist. I'm not really sure how to classify this, but all five of these teams play each other, the games take place at various sites, and it takes place spread over a week. The interest hear lies in Rutgers results. They have a very bally-hooed recruiting class this season, and if they want to take any kind of step in the Big East this season they need to breeze through these stiffs 5-0.
That is certainly a lot of words.