The 6th annual Old Spice Classic is ready to tip-off this Thanksgiving weekend. The Gophers are heading into the tournament probably as the favorite to come out with three wins. Is this team good enough to win the tournament?
This will be the Gopher's second trip to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic. The last time they participated in this particular holiday tournament they finished 8th losing to Marist, Southern Illinois and Montana in 2006. That was the final season with Dan Monson as the Gopher's head coach. It was a bad season that was maybe at it's worst during the Old Spice Classic. Seriously we lost to Marist and Montana within days of each other! Aren't you glad I brought that memory back up?
This year the Old Spice Classic has a number of BCS Conference teams and a few good mid-major programs. Represented is the Big Ten (of course), Big East, Big 12, ACC and Pac 12. That is an opportunity to get some wins over major programs and boost the resume, at least that is what one could assume. I'm coming around to the idea that the major conference teams may all lose in the first round on Thursday. Let's take a closer look at the other seven teams in the @OldSpiceClassic.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Conference: Big Ten
Player to Watch: Trevor Mbakwe
Most of those reading this post are pretty certain of what we'll see from the Gophers. They sport a big frontcourt that will score the bulk of their points. The backcourt is yet unproven and inconsistent. The key to the Gophers winning is rebounding, forcing turnovers and getting the the free throw line. They will lose if they shoot a lot of threes and allow their opponent to shoot a lot of open threes.
Mbakwe is the player to fear for the Golden Gophers. He is a physical beast who pretty much records a double-double every night. His free throw shooting has dramatically improved which takes away the hack-a-shaq approach to stopping "In-n-Out". Assuming the Gophers win a couple games he will certainly be on the all-tournament team.
The backcourt for the Gophers is an evolution. Freshman Andre Hollins has been given the keys to driving the Gopher offense but his contributions have been hit and miss. Back to back games hitting double-digits in points bodes well for the Gophers. If the younger Hollins starts to play with more confidence and becomes more comfortable with the offense then I think the Gopher offense will start to play with greater efficiency.
DePaul Blue Demons
Conference: Big East
Player to Watch: Cleveland Melvin
A year ago the Blue Demons were the worst team in the Big East and it wasn't even close. The good news is they returned their top two leading scorers and really four of their top guys from last season. This year DePaul has played just two games against a couple very weak teams so it is hard to get a firm grip on how good this team is or is not.
Cleveland Melvin is a 6-8, sophomore forward who led the team in scoring last season and was second in rebounding. Not bad for a freshman playing his first season in the Big East. The matchup of him and Mbakwe should be an interesting one. Krys Faber will start at center. Gopher fans may remember that name as Faber very nearly committed to the Gophers out of high school. He is a big body who should challenge Sampson quite well in the first round game.
In the backcourt Jeremiah Kelly and Brandon Young have been rather productive in their two games this year. They are combining to average 33 points and 11 assists per game. Kelly is currently leading the Blue Demons in scoring, largely behind his 9-18 shooting from behind the arc. Young has been rather turnover prone, which may be a bonus for the Gophers if they choose to apply some pressure.
DePaul is a good shooting team, through their two games, which could be a problem for the Gophers who tend to not defend the three very well. But they tend to turn the ball over a little too much. The Gophers are not a dominant team, but I do believe they should be good enough to take care of DePaul.
Indiana State Sycamores
Conference: Missouri Valley
Player to Watch: Jake Odum
The Sycamores were pegged to finish third in the Missouri Valley based on the preseason coach's poll. That might seem a bit low considering they won the MVC Tourney and return four starters (six of their top seven scorers). This is a solid team, do not sleep on them just because they are a Missouri Valley team.
The strength of this team is their defense, they box out and they keep opponent FG percentages down. Their offense is very balanced having their top five scorers a year ago averaging between 8.6 and 10.9. Odum is their PG who is averaging 6 assists per game and Jordan Printy is their three-point shooter who made over 47% last year.
They won't play at a frenetic pace and may resemble what most believe is a Big Ten style team. I am thinking that ISU may be in line to upset Texas Tech in the first round and I would not be shocked to see the Gophers facing the Sycamores on Friday.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Conference: Big 12
Player to Watch: Ty Nurse
The Red Raiders are undefeated in their three games but five point wins over North Texas and Stephen F Austin are not inspiring.
Ty Nurse is averaging 19.3 ppg this year and Jaye Crockett is chipping in 11.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. Nurse is a Canadian product who comes to the Red Raiders via the JUCO ranks. He has been instant offense for Texas Tech including a 29 point performance in their win over Troy. Crockett has come off the bench in his two games yet the 6-7 sophomore leads the team in rebounds and is second in scoring.
This team can score, mostly because they can shoot. They are shooting a very high percentage from behind the arc in the early part of this season. BUT they are also turning the ball over a lot, like 28% of their possessions and they are not exactly keeping opponents from scoring. My money is on the Sycamores in this game unless Billie Gillispie can get his team to take better care of the ball and shoot the ball as well as they have been with a good Sycamore defense in their faces.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Player to Watch: Travis McKie
Wake is a fun team to watch, they play at quite a fast pace and have a couple dynamic players. Travis McKie is averaging 22.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. C.J. Harris has seen his scoring average go from 10.3 last year to 20.3 this one. These two are averaging nearly half of Wake's points. Inside they have a solid, 7-foot center Carson Desrosiers. Should Minnesota face Wake, Desrosiers should pose an interesting challenge inside for Sampson and Mbakwe.
This team scores a lot but in all three of their wins they have been out-rebounded by the likes of North Carolina Central, Georgia Southern and Loyola (Md). This has to be a concern for the Demon Deacons. As they face tougher competition this may be a significant road block to more wins.
This might be the best of the first round games in the Old Spice Classic.
Conference: Atlantic 10
Player to Watch: Chris Johnson
The Flyers are a deep and balanced team. They currently have seven guys averaging 20+ minutes per game and two more guys with 13 or more. Overall they are pegged as a middle of the pack team in a good A10 conference. They are 2-1 with both wins being dominant performances and the lone loss was an overtime loss to Miami (Ohio).
Chris Johnson is a model of consistency. The senior has averaged 11 points and six rebounds for the last two seasons and is right at those numbers again this year. The 6-6 forward is also a very good three-point shooter. In fact this team is built on shooting and making a lot threes. What they don't do is get to the free throw line. If they are shooting well and getting open looks from the flow of their offense this isn't a huge problem.
Looking at their efficiency stats nothing jumps off their page but they do everything well. They shoot well, they score efficiently, they play good defense and they rebound well. Some of these numbers are slightly skewed this early in the season when they are facing weak or mediocre opponents, but they are solid. This should be a well-played game against Wake.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Conference: Pac 12
Player to Watch: Trent Lockett
Interesting that a Minnesota (Hopkins) kid is the key player for the Sun Devils. ASU is currently 1-2 having lost to a good New Mexico squad and Pepperdine. Lockett is leading the team in points (17.0) and rebounding (7.7) in their three games.
Turnovers have been a pretty significant issue for the Sun Devils, particularly from their PG, Chris Colvin. The Chicago native and former Iowa State Cyclone leads the team with 14 in three games. As a team they are turning the ball over on 26% of their possessions. They will shoot a lot of threes and crash the offensive glass pretty hard.
Overall this team is struggling to find it's stride early in the season.
Player to Watch: Rakim Sanders
The Stags should be a familiar team to Gopher fans, we just played them last week and were fortunate to come away with a win. Fairfield is big, talented, balanced and an experienced team. Minnesota was lucky to catch them on a cold shooting night, because the Gopher defense didn't force many of the misses.
Rakim Sanders is the key player for the Stags. The 1,000 point scoring transfer from Boston College is leading the Stags with 17.0 ppg. But this team has some size with the seven-foot Ryan Olander inside and others who can step up to score on many nights.
Maurice Barrow recently had a double-double in their win over Holy Cross. Derek Needham led the team in scoring last year and is currently fourth on the team this year. He is solid point guard.
This team has done a nice job of forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the glass and they generally shoot well. I would put my money on them to beat ASU in the first round and I wouldn't be completely shocked to see them in the finals.
This isn't an outstanding field of ranked teams. Based on KenPom rankings Minnesota, Dayton and Fairfield are the only top 100 teams. There is a very real possibility that the other three first round matchups (not Minn/DePaul) could be won by the smaller conference team.
Enjoy watching some OSC basketball during commercials of NFL football.