I’m giving Gary Parrish a break this week with the Five for the Weekend. He needs one final hibernation period before the season really gets going.
I’ve been running around on my annual preseason tour — so we’ll lead with that.
1. I know you’ve been on the road over the past week or so attending a bunch of practices. You’ve seen North Carolina, Duke, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier and Michigan State thus far. What team, other than the top-ranked Tar Heels, has impressed you the most?
Most would figure it would be a battle between Ohio State and Duke, but it was actually Xavier. I think people underrated the Musketeers — who are loaded. Tu Holloway is arguably the top point guard in the country and his backcourt mate, Mark Lyons, is talented and is playing with more poise and maturity. The front line features big man Kenny Frease (who shouldn’t be suspended for much longer), a big-time transfer in Travis Taylor and a highly regarded freshman in Dez Wells. Brad Redford, one of the nation’s elite shooters, is back after missing last season due to injury and Xavier also added one-year Vanderbilt transfer Andre Walker. Chris Mack will have no shortage of depth — and these guys could make a deep tourney run.
2. Who are a few players who have surprised you on your trip?
• I’ll start with Michigan State big man Derrick Nix. He averaged just 8.2 minutes last season as a sophomore, but he’ll be the Spartans starting center. Talk about a complete body makeover. He arrived on campus at 314 pounds and is down to 267. Now he can be a factor on the court.
• Xavier’s 6-foot-8, 220-pound power forward Travis Taylor. I mentioned him earlier, but this kid should start for the Musketeers. He goes hard on every possession and just gets things done. He’ll be an effective rebounder and can also score in the post.
• Miles Plumlee. I know we’ve heard it before, but the Duke senior absolutely destroyed his brothers (Mason and Marshall) and Ryan Kelly in practice. If he can carry it over to the games, the eldest Plumlee could be a legitimate factor this season.
• Indiana’s Will Sheehey. I always liked this kid from back in the AAU days, but the 6-foot-7 athletic forward has added a perimeter shot to his arsenal now. Before he leaves Bloomington, Sheehey will be an all-league guy.
3. Does North Carolina have any holes or chinks in their armor?
That’s a tough one. They appear to have it all — a star wing who has his swagger back in Harrison Barnes, a couple of talented, experienced bigs with Tyler Zeller and Johnson Henson and shooters with Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. Dexter Strickland is that glue guy and James McAdoo is an elite level talent who gives UNC a quality big man off the bench. The only thing that will stop North Carolina this year are injuries and internal issues. Chemistry will be critical and Roy Williams’ most important task will be making sure his guys focus on a national title rather than their NBA stock.
4. Iona received the news that Lamont “Momo” Jones was cleared to play this season after transferring from Arizona. He received a waiver and won’t have to sit out due to the health of his grandmother. What does this mean for the Gaels?
This is a team that was already picked by just about everyone to win the MAAC. My concern is whether Jones, who almost averaged double-digits a year ago at Arizona, will defer his ego for the team. Remember, this is Mike Glover and even Scott Machado’s team. If Jones can buy into the team concept, Iona could be one of the top mid-major teams in the country. If not? Well, I wouldn’t want to be head coach Tim Cluess.
5. You guys have absolutely been crushing it with your Preseason coverage. Your Preseason Top 25 was terrific, you guys had four guys at your top four teams for Midnight Madness and then you did a ranking of the Top 100 players. Do you regret putting anyone on the list or leaving someone off?
We made a mistake by putting on Ryan Kelly and I take the blame on that one. He’s a solid piece, but not one of the Top 100 players in the country. I also think my colleagues put Missouri’s Justin Dentmon a little high at No. 19, but all in all, I think it was a pretty good list.
The Basketball News Digest delivers the latest basketball news and rumors. This article was distributed by X2 news wire and aggregation service, For more news see: Five for the Weekend: Underrated Musketeers turning heads.