This season’s other opening eight team bracketed event is the innagural Myrtle Beach Invitational. Based on what we know about each team thus far, this is how I see the tournament playing out.
8. Monmouth – Unfortunately, this years’ Hawks team has fallen off a ways from the competitive teams under King Rice in past years. They come to the Beach with an 0-3 record, all losses by double digits against Lehigh, Colgate, and St. Joe’s. This appears to be a rebuild and learning year for the Hawks. It would be great to see them pull off an upset here but there is no way I am predicting that. More learning experiences this week for Monmouth and hopefully they squeeze in some beach time, it’s a long season.
7. Wake Forest – The Deacs have only played once this year, so this one was pretty tough to gage. But they play three Frosh and two Soph’s fairly heavily. Junior Bandon Childress had a nice opener with 18, 6 Assists, 4 Rebounds. The bench appears to be pretty thin, which can really hurt you in this quick turnaround type of format. Wake has St. Joe’s in the opener and that should be a real tight game, I slightly favor the Hawks in that one, then I have the Deacs getting caught off guard on Day 2 against a veteran team from California (will discuss soon). Finally Wake fans can have a reason to celebrate when they take care of Monmouth in the 7th place game.
6. Cal State Fullerton – Senior Kyle Allman is probably the best player in the Big West, in fact he is the best player in the Big West. Don’t believe me? Call one of your friends at Arizona State and ask them about Mr. Allman. All he did was carry the Titans with 35 points and 7 rebounds, in a crushing double overtime loss on opening night. Fellow senior Khalil Ahmad poured in 31 points. Fullerton does a nice job of mixing small lineups and big lineups. Could be a factor keeping them fresh this week. The Titans drew UCF in round one, which will be pretty interesting. I’m going with UCF in that one because they have to be upset after giving a game away to FAU. More on them later. Then I see CSUF coming out more focused than Wake Forest and hanging on to beat them. On Day three I see them falling short against…
5. Valparaiso – The more and more I dissected this Crusader roster, the more I like what I see. We don’t know much about on the court yet as Valpo has not faced a D1 team. But they brought in veteran Ryan Fazekas from Providence, solid Frosh Javon Freeman-Liberty, another vet Deion Lavender from UAB and SIU, and Bakari Evelyn is now a fourth year junior. I think this should be a much improved season for Valpo. Really interesting draw against WKU who has solid vets as well plus a young phenom. I’ll go with WKU in the opener, but I see Valpo easily taking care of Monmouth and finishing on a two game win streak with a nice win over Fullerton in the 5th place game.
4. Western Kentucky – Here is a team I had in my First Four as part of the preseason bracket exercise I went through. Tons of talent, solid leadership from Jared Savage and DeSean Murray give the Hilltoppers a shot at a special season. They will be a dangerous matchup for anyone in Myrtle Beach. After getting past Valpo, I do not believe they will have enough firepower to beat a hungry West Virginia squad. In the 3rd place game, it should be another battle but I again have them falling short due to seasonality of this roster. But fully expect WKU to pick up a big win or two in December, the opportunities are there.
3. Saint Joseph’s – The Hawks arrive in Myrtle Beach feeling fantastic. They already have a couple of 15 point wins over ODU and Monmouth. Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown have looked real good early. Pierfrancesco Oliva is a stat sheet stuffing 6th man. This Hawks team has some nice pieces and I am anxious to see how they fare this week. They drew Wake Forest and I like the Hawks in that one. The game against UCF could really go either way, I like the UCF roster a tad bit better, but I am higher on Phil Martelli coaching vs. Johnny Dawkins. In any event, I have to make a pick, so I have the Hawks here and ending with a really nice high note by beating WKU. The A10 really needs it.
2. UCF – The Golden Knights have the roster to win this tournament. However they have always struggles to realize potential it seems like, and that showed up again last week when they gave away a large lead before losing to Florida Atlantic. Back to the drawing board for the Knights and not an easy draw at all against CS Fullerton. I think the Knights will have just enough to squeeze two tight wins over CSF and St. Joe’s before running into…
1. West Virginia – Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, James Bolden and more. The Mountaineers are again armed with firepower. They will need to take care of the basketball. Blowing the big lead and losing to Buffalo only happened because they got overwhelmed by traps and presses. Something that you would think they have a lot of practice with. Mountaineers get to open with Monmouth and I suspect that will restore their confidence prior to the WKU game, which is dangerous. Ultimately I believe they get that win and jump on a tired UCF team in the Championship game.