Deadlines abound, so you get this early. Or, right on time. Of note: we’ll summarize and wrap this up, to give you some continuity. But that’s a next week thing.
We’ll start with the #9 Georgia State Panthers. They also shuffled a smoodgie when Rashanti Harris did not show up on campus and thus cannot enroll until at least the second semester.
Blue Ribbon Open
LAST SEASON: 12-20 (.375)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 8-10 (8th)
RETURNING STARTERS: 3
HOMECOURT: Georgia State Sports Arena (4,200)
COACH: Rod Barnes (Mississippi ’88)
RECORD AT SCHOOL: 21-41 (2 years)
CAREER RECORD: 162-150 (10 years)
ASSISTANTS: William Small, Paul Graham, Scepter Brownlee
TEAM WINS (last 5 yrs.): 14-7-11-9-12
RPI (last 5 yrs.): 146-238-232-282-230
2008-09 FINISH: Lost in CAA Quarterfinals
Key for Georgia State: The Panthers need to prove they are good, both to opponents and to themselves. They entered February last season with only three wins over division one opponents, but won five of their final seven games down the stretch. The only two losses were to conference champion VCU.
Barnes admits the problem last year was that the seniors didn’t provide the leadership he was expecting. It took until February for everything to jell, and by then it was too late. Georgia State needs to realize they can win in this conference by middle January.
Guy You Think Is Important, and He Is: Joe Dukes. It’s a shame more people don’t see this third team All CAA selection. Dukes led the Panthers in scoring, assists, minutes, and steals, and he was second on the team in rebounding. He prefers a power midrange game but can also shoot it from deep—he hit 35% of his threes last year (25-72).
The step: he needs to be the guy, not a good player. “I told him we need him to be more assertive, more selfish,” says Barnes.
Guy Who Is Actually More Important: Trey Hampton. He’s 6-7 and has proven he can be a force on the blocks. The issue is consistency. Hampton blitzed UNCW with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, an assist and a block last season. Barnes would love to see a little more of that, because Hampton also spent half the year on the side of milk cartons.
Guy Who Could Play On My Team: Ousman Krubally. He’s lanky and catches everyone with unintentional stray elbows (including officials and security guards), but Krubally is a fun player to watch if only because he plays at one speed: full tilt. He has a wide grin and seems to have fun playing. Oh, and he was a walk on who earned a scholarship. His free throw (in)accuracy is part of the legend—Krubally was 15-34 (44%) last year.
Guy I’m Not Sold On: Xavier Hansbro. He is 6-10 and has an array of post moves and is comfortable stepping out to the three-point line (11-50 from beyond the arc). Hansbro dropped 16 points against Bowling Green in his first GSU game, and repeated the effort against George Mason but reached double figures only two other times all season. He seems to have everything except will.
Coach Seems To Like: Dante Curry. The transfer from South Florida quietly battled a sore Achilles all season that limited his effectiveness. He stopped attacking the basket and settled for jump shots, but Barnes says he has a better all-around game than he showed.
Games I Will Not Miss: @ Florida State (12/16)–the Panthers played the Noles pretty tough last year. Hosting Mason on 2/3. This becomes very winnable and important–at home, and Mason has JMU before and @Drexel after. It’s the kind of win that jumpstarts end season runs. It was a similar win over Delaware last year that kicked off the strong finish.
The Towson Tigers wrap it up as your #8 preseason squad.
Blue Ribbon Open
LAST SEASON: 12-22 (.353)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 5-13 (t-10th)
RETURNING STARTERS: 5
HOMECOURT: Towson Center (5,000)
COACH: Pat Kennedy (Kings College ‘75)
RECORD AT SCHOOL: 58-96 (5 years)
CAREER RECORD: 474-407 (29 years)
ASSISTANTS: Jim Meil, Danny Nee, Allen Edwards
TEAM WINS (last 5 yrs.): 5-12-15-13-12
RPI (last 5 yrs.): 303-216-156-235-216
2008-09 FINISH: Lost in CAA semifinals
Key for Towson: Rabbit’s feet, eye of gnut, four-leaf clovers, and anything else they can think of to stave off the bad karma. Something seems to happen to this team every November that submarines their season. Last year it was losing prized recruit Rico Brown to a campus brou-ha-ha, and Tommy Breaux’s injuries became legendary. Kennedy seems to need a season of consistency—as much for having the same guys playing roughly the same minutes as anything. Continuity, maybe?
His Tigers played four scattershot months last year, employing 16 different starting lineups with no player starting all 34 games and six players nabbing 17 or more starts.
Little known fact that fits nowhere: Pat Kennedy coached his own college team at Kings. Pretty decent way to start your career, no?
Guy You Think Is Important, and He Is: Troy Franklin. The 5-11 rocket blasts the ball into the frontcourt, and it is difficult for a defender to stay in front of him. While his 106 turnovers, 103 fouls and six DQs were team highs, Franklin also led the Tigers in minutes played (982), assists (142) and steals (59). Translation: Kennedy will put the ball in his hands to allow him to create opportunities. The freshman-to-sophomore jump is huge in this case.
Guy Who Is Actually More Important: You pick: Robert Nwankwo, Calvin Lee, Jarrel Smith, or Someother Guy. Towson needs a post scoring presence in the worst way. Nwankwo is more of a rebounder and garbage man around the hoop; Lee is a smooth midrange player and not a physical force; Smith is a tad undersized but skilled and unafraid. Someother Guy I haven’t seen so I cannot comment.
The point: one of these guys needs to step outside his comfort zone.
Guy Who Could Play On My Team: Josh Thornton. Never met a shot he didn’t like, and distance doesn’t factor into his mind. Kennedy said in the offseason that Thornton began to find himself late last year and settled down a bit. While that’s good for Towson, I think that’s a shame. Picking up a loose ball and firing a scud from 27 feet with 25 seconds left on the shot clock is entertaining basketball.
Guy I’m Not Sold On: Brian Morris. I know he was second in the CAA in assist to turnover ratio (2.1/1), but Morris is a precise and calculating player on a team chock full of race horses. Don’t get me wrong, Morris is a solid player—just doesn’t seem to be a good fit.
Coach Seems To Like: David Brewster. The Richmond transfer didn’t get off the bench during last year’s run to the CAA semifinals, but Brewster played a lot and played well in the team’s trip through Canada in August.
Games I Will Not Miss: 11/28 at Dayton. Big litmus test game for more reasons than W/L…also, I’m interested to see them open hosting Hofstra on 12/5. It seems like yesterday freshman Timmy Crossin dropped 10 assists and zero turnovers on Loren Stokes.