Preview: Preseason NIT - Spokane Region

Preview: Preseason NIT - Spokane Region

Gonzaga will have its work cut out for it to advance to the Preseason NIT Tipoff Classic finals in New York City's Madison Square Garden. Star players like Morris Almond of Rice, Jason Smith of Colorado State and Aaron Bruce of Baylor invade the Spokane Arena November 14 & 15.

THE RICE OWLS

Head Coach: Willis Wilson
League: Conference USA
Last Season: 12-18

Key Players: F – Morris Almond (2005/06 stats = 32.2 MPG, 21.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 44% 3PT); G – Lorenzo Williams (2005/06 stats = 33.6 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.1 APG, 30% 3PT); F – Patrick Britton (2005/06 stats = 27.4 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG)

2006/07 Outlook: The biggest question facing the Owls during the offseason was whether Morris Almond would be returning. Almond performed very well at the NBA predraft camp, but decided to come back once he realized that he wasn't likely to be a first round pick. He returns as not only Rice's top returning scorer, but also Conference USA's top returning scorer. Almond is a highly versatile scorer from all over the floor, but he is particularly deadly from 3 point land – his 44% 3 point percentage was the best of all C-USA players who shot 100 or more 3 balls. The Owls also return another double digit scorer in Lorenzo Williams, a fantastic floor general who improved his offense last season. Patrick Britton is a combo forward who plays with great tenacity. Cory Pflieger at the off guard is a really good long distance shooter. Big man Greg Killings provides bulk and shot blocking prowess in the paint. The Owls are picked by most publications to finish in the upper half of C-USA; The Sporting News is predicting a 4th place finish.

THE COLORADO STATE RAMS

Head Coach: Dale Layer
League: Mountain West
Last Season: 16-15

Key Players: F – Jason Smith (2005/06 stats: 28.7 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 52% FG); C – Stuart Creason (2005/06 stats = 22.1 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 62% FG); G – Stephan Gilling (2005/06 stats = 19.5 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 42% 3PT); G – Cory Lewis (2005/06 stats = 29.9 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 39% 3PT)

2006/07 Outlook: Very much like Rice and Morris Almond, there was some worry that big man Jason Smith might bolt early for the NBA, but he too decided to come back. Smith is a 7-footer with small forward agility and skills. A first team all-MWC player, Smith spent most of his offseason bulking up in the weight room. Creason gives the Rams another big body that allows Smith to slide over to the 4 where he really belongs. Lewis is a quick point guard with long distance shooting ability. Gilling is the team's best returning long range gunner. Forward Freddy  Robinson is one of the best wing defenders in the MWC. The Rams bring in a couple of really nice juco players in wing Alton Robinson and shooting guard Tyler Smith, who was once a top 60 player in the 2003 recruiting class that produced LeBron James. The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is predicting a fifth place finish in the MWC for the Rams.

THE BAYLOR BEARS

Head Coach: Scott Drew
League: Big 12
Last Season: 4-13

Key Players: G – Aaron Bruce – (2005/06 stats = 31.1 MPG, 13.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 41% 3PT); G – Curtis Jerrells (2005/06 stats = 33.4 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.3 APG, 37% 3PT); F – Kevin Rogers (2005/06 stats = 21.1 MPG, 6.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 39% FG); G/F – Patrick Fields (2005/06 stats = 16.9 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 45% 3PT)

2006/07 Outlook: Last season Baylor became the first division one program in history to not be allowed to have a non-conference schedule. Predictably, that led to a poor showing in the Big 12. After 3 years of scholarship limitations and all sorts of program difficulties in the wake of the infamous Dave Bliss fallout, Drew appears to have Baylor moving in a real positive, upward direction. One reason for Drew to be smiling is the return of one of the best backcourts in the Big 12 in Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells. Bruce, a native of Horsham, Victoria, played on the Australian National Team this summer as a part of the FIBA World Championship. Bruce draws a lot of comparisons to Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash. He is a tenacious competitor and highly skilled in most phases of the game. Jerrells made the Big 12 All Freshman team last season. He led Baylor in scoring, assists and steals. Rogers is Baylor's most athletic player. Field's possesses a scorer's mentality and is perhaps Baylor's best long range shooter. Big man Mamadou Diene, who's injured now, possesses nearly an eight foot wingspan. The best of the incoming freshmen is Demond "Tweety" Carter, a scoring point guard who is the first McDonald's All American the program has landed. Most preseason publications are projecting the Bears to finish near the middle of the Big 12.

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