Friday, November 8, 2013

Empire State of Twine

By Jonathan Lowe

Over the course of the holiday season, many folks travel from one part of the country to another. Some from north of the Mason-Dixon flock to warmer climates, while others head to more frigid locales. When you talk about college basketball, most of the tournaments are held in a place known for sun and fun. One of the exceptions is the Preseason NIT. The allure of Madison Square Garden overrides any chill or snow that New York can bring over Thanksgiving weekend.

The Biggest Headline of the Tournament

There are always multiple story lines going into this tournament. Most times, it will revolve around the players. In this tourney, a lot of the focus will go to Duke forward Jabari Parker. It will be the second big showcase for people to check out the freshman phenom (shortly after his tete-a-tete with fellow frosh Andrew Wiggins, and Kansas, in Chicago). However, I think a more interesting follow will concern Eddie Jordan's first voyage into college coaching.

In my own recollection, I can't remember any coach in Jordan's situation (a former NBA coach who went to a power conference program without serving one game as a college head coach). It will be interesting to see his pro influence on these young minds, and at a program that has had more down than up since he led the Scarlet Knights to the 1976 Final Four.

The Biggest Darkhorse of the Tournament

The above being said, I'm not sure how Rutgers garnered the fourth seed in this event. Sure, among the field, they are the fourth-biggest name after Duke, Arizona, and Alabama. Of course, the RAC is a more-than-decent locale to hold a regional. But for a squad that finished 15-16 last season, with three of the five starters returning, this seems like huge praise.

If a team can spoil the alum-based warm and fuzzies in this pod, it would probably be an experience-laden team who might have won a few games the previous season. Enter Elon. The Phoenix won 21 games last season, as well as the North Division of the Southern Conference. All five starters return for coach Mike Matheny, looking to top a conference that contains past NCAA darlings Davidson and College of Charleston. If a favorite falls, I'd look here for the result.

Can Arizona or Duke Miss Out on the Title Game?

No. Not as far as I can see. I would really like to see the Phoenix go up against the highly-ranked recruits that the Wildcats have to offer. But I can't envision Elon get past, through, or around Sean Miller's talent, including returning seven-foot center Kalib Tarczewski.

As far as Duke is concerned, they have the most talented team in the field. Will the Blue Devils miss Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee? Sure. But the return of Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, and Marshall Plumlee, along with the addition (for a year) of Parker should relieve any stress Mike Krzyzewski might feel. Even though Alabama (who have laid a few eggs to lower competition) might try to out-tough the Devils, I don't see the Tide hanging around for 40 full minutes.

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