Posted: 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013
The pre-season NIT pairings are set and we might as well start with the teams which will not win: Farleigh Dickinson, Metro State, Rutgers, Canisius, Elon, Drexel, Stillman, Georgia State, McNeese State, UNC-Asheville, ECU and Norfolk State.
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That leaves Arizona, Rhode Island, Alabama and Duke. We list Rhode Island simply because we respect Danny Hurley as a coach. He won’t win either but he might exceed expectations. Winning at Arizona’s McKale Center is really tough, though.
That leaves Arizona, Alabama and Duke. We’d be surprised if Alabama lost before a potential meeting with Duke, and we’d be surprised if any of the teams in the Durham pod managed an upset.
Alabama is what you’d expect from Anthony Grant. You’ll remember that Grant was the VCU coach when Duke lost to the Rams in the tournament (we can promise you that Coach K remembers).
You may also remember Jon Scheyer bleeding at the end. Nothing dirty there, just a warning. Alabama will be hard-nosed.
Arizona could be a different story, assuming Duke gets to the finals. The Wildcats bring a lot back, but they also add an absolute stud in Aaron Gordon, a player who has been compared to Jeff Capel’s star recruit at Oklahoma, Blake Griffin.
Transfer point T.J. McConnell may actually make a bigger difference. He’s a natural point guard and he’ll get Gordon the ball where he can use it. That applies to the rest of the team.
If you watch just a little bit of video on Gordon, you’ll see that he may in some ways be more fundamentally skilled than Griffin already. The kid is a solid ballhandler, for one, passes well, and, highly unusually for a high flying forward, on several occasions simply catches his opponent’s shots. What could possibly be more intimidating than that?
One factor which rarely gets mentioned when people talk about UCLA’s recent struggles is that Arizona has recruited California exceptionally well. Lute Olson always did, and Sean Miller currently has eight Californians on his roster.