UConn is getting an early jump on Thanksgiving by giving Husky fans a bountiful feast of basketball this weekend in the Paradise Jam. There's been a lot going on in UConn land of late, what with the shocking upsets, nearly-blown football games and twitter wars, so you'd be forgiven for overlooking the tournament, but that's why we're here, to catch you up in a flash.
What is the Paradise Jam? It's one of college basketball's many, many preseason basketball tournaments. It's not the most prestigious, but it's a fine way to spend a few days in a tropical location gorging on basketball. As a bonus, it's actually played in an athletic arena, and not some bizarrely converted theater like the tournament UConn played in last year (also, Harvard beat UCF in the championship game of that tournament, while UConn played Florida St. in the consolation game -- last year was weird).
Hasn't UConn played in the Paradise Jam before? Yep, they won it back in 2008,
which wasn't a half bad season until A.J. Price's knee exploded against San Diego. However, I think the real thing to take from that is that UConn has never won a Paradise Jam without going to a Final Four 16 months later, so feel free to book you 2014 Final Four tickets if UConn comes home with a trophy. Forget the Final Four tickets, I got my years mixed up. It was pointed out on twitter that 2008 was actually the start of the Final Four season. Here's hoping UConn is able to delay its gratification this time around.
Aren't the women also playing in the Paradise Jam? Yep, in fact the tournament started as a women's tournament back in 2000. However, the women's tournament is next weekend, so the Huskies won't be down there at the same time.
Will UConn's games be televised? Probably. Tonight's opener definitely is, a win tonight guarantees that the remainder of UConn's games will be on as well. CBS Sports Network is broadcasting (there's a good chance you get it, even if you don't think you do). A win tonight mean's UConn's second round game will be on Sunday and its final game will be on Monday. A loss means no TV the rest of the way, with the second round game tomorrow before the finale on Monday. You can check out the whole bracket here.
Whose UConn's first opponent? Wake Forest, who is neck-and-neck with Arizona St. for the dubious distinction of being the worst power conference team in college basketball.
C'mon, the can't be that bad, can they? Oh yes they can. Sure Tim Duncan and Chris Paul once played there, but those days are long gone. KenPom ranks Wake Forest as the 208th best team in the country (for comparison DePaul checks in at 117), which is very, very bad.
Can you define how bad they are in one word? Can I? No. But luckily I am friends with a Wake Forest alum who was willing to answer that very question for me: "Sieve. Like our defense and our ability to retain players." He wasn't joking either. KenPom says Wake has the 268th best defense in the country and the transfer problem is so bad that their roster currently features ten freshmen.
Ten? You must be joking. Nope. That same friend was also kind enough to compile a quick list of recent Wake transfers for me: Chennault - Nova; Woods - Oregon; Stewart and JTT - USC; Tucker - UTEP; Tabb - Kent St; Desrosiers - Providence (sitting out);Fields - Bradley (sitting out). So yeah, apparently no one wants to stick around Winson Salem, which is too bad because I like Jeff Bzdelik, who deserves to succeed somewhere.
So Wake Forest is bad, but do they have any players that are good? Yep. C.J. Harris, their lone senior, averaged more than 16 ppg last year and put up 19 in their opener against Radford. Even more dangerous for UConn's purposes might be Travis McKie. He's a 6'7" forward who can shoot the three and nearly averaged a double-double last year (16.1 points and 7 rebounds). After that it gets dicy though. Expect sophomore shooter Chase Fischer to get some minutes, but after that UConn will be drowning in a sea of freshmen.
They really can't be that bad though, really? Here's a thread from a popular Wake Forest message board asking what fans would want to feel good after the UConn game. The first answer: "not wanting to kill myself?" followed by a crying, wanking-motion emoticon.
Alright, what happens if UConn get by Wake Forest? First of all, they better, if only to guarantee me a lot of UConn on TV. But win or lose UConn will play either Iona or Quinnipiac, based on the winner of their matchup today. Both teams are solid, if unspectacular teams (think Vermont-level, maybe a little bit better in Iona's case). The obvious draw for UConn fans would be a game against Quinnipiac, which is coached by former UConn assistant and one-time Calhoun heir-apparent Tom Moore.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but what sort of matchup could UConn be looking at in the finals (or the consolation game)? The best team on the other side of the bracket is probably New Mexico, and KenPom currently rates the Lobos as better than the Huskies as well. A final featuring those two would be a lot of fun. New Mexico is playing Illinois-Chicago today, so they might as well have a buy into the second-round.
But what if its not New Mexico? Is there another team on the other side of the bracket that might fill me with white-hot burning rage? Oh, you mean a little school by the name of George Mason? Yeah, those $#@!ers are here too, and they very well could be matched up against UConn in the finals. However, to do that the usurpers would have to get by a good Mercer team (that's probably the best game of today) as well as New Mexico. Still, if it happens that game will be a lot of fun.
So what should we be expecting from the Huskies? These tournaments can be a bit of a crapshoot, whoever wins this is going to have to win three games in four days, early in the season, and in a strange location. It's a great recipe for upsets. Still, Kevin Ollie's contract situation doesn't lend itself well to upsets. At the minimum UConn should be looking at a run to the title game. There'd be no shame in a loss to New Mexico, but from a public-perception angle UConn (the only ranked team in the tournament) should be a favorite. I won't say you should expect UConn to win, but it'd be a great boost for Ollie, who'd kick off his career with a 5-0 start that featured two trophies. Can't do much better than that.