The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is the will get Thursday started at 10:30 a.m. ET. The eight-team tournament sports a ton of talent, including three possible Final Four contenders: Virginia Commonwealth, Michigan, and Georgetown.
1. Virginia Commonwealth
VCU (3-0) has looked sharp through three games. The Rams blew out Illinois State and Winthrop, and they already have a quality win at Virginia. Treveon Graham is emerging as a potential Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and Briante Weber has done a great job of fulfilling the role of starting point guard. So far, Weber is averaging 9.7 points, 4.7 assists, and four steals per game. He is coming off a career-high 16 points against Winthrop.
The Rams also have a dominant forward in Juvonte Reddic. Reddic only played 18 minutes against Illinois State because of VCU’s commanding lead and 22 minutes against Virginia because of foul trouble, but he is still averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
VCU opens the tournament against Florida State, which enters at 3-0. However, the Seminoles have struggled taking care of the basketball with 19 turnovers per game, so HAVOC could cause some major issues for them.
Georgetown (1-1) has three playmakers in Markel Starks, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and Joshua Smith. Starks, who had a great junior year as Otto Porter’s right-hand man, is leading the Hoyas in scoring through two games with 19.5 points per game. He is coming off a phenomenal performance against Wright State where he posted 23 points, six assists, and only one turnover.
Smith-Rivera broke out during the second half of the season, and he was also great against Wright State with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Smith, a UCLA transfer who struggled at his previous school, has been great offensively for Georgetown. In the season opener against Oregon, Smith recorded 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
This trio will be too much for Northeastern, Kansas State, and Charlotte to handle, and the Hoyas should not have much trouble getting to the championship game. The only question is whether they could beat VCU or Michigan to take home the trophy.
Even with Mitch McGary returning to the lineup last weekend, Michigan (2-1) lost at Iowa State, 77-70. The Wolverines should have no trouble with Long Beach State on Thursday, but a probable matchup with VCU on Friday could be problematic.
Michigan sports a freshman starting point in Derrick Walton, and VCU’s pressure could devour him. So far this season, the three freshmen guards that have faced VCU averaged 5.7 turnovers and 1.3 assists per game against the Rams. When the Rams faced Akron in the NCAA tournament last season, then-freshman Carmelo Betancourt had five turnovers.
It is tough enough for any point guard to handle HAVOC, but a freshman playing in only his fifth game is bound to struggle. Whether Walton is up to the task could be in the biggest factor in determining if the Wolverines will play for first or third place on Sunday.
4. Kansas State
Kansas State (2-1) opened up its season with a very disappointing loss to Northern Colorado, but since then the Wildcats have wins against Oral Roberts and Long Beach State.
This will be the Wildcats’ first game away from home this season, and they begin the tournament with a 10:30 a.m. matchup against Charlotte. The 49ers are a young team with only four upperclassmen whereas Kansas State has seven.
The tournament will provide a good test for freshman guard Marcus Foster, who has exploded for 42 points and eight three-pointers in his last two games.
5. Florida State
Florida State is 3-0 and has a respectable win at UCF. This team does not have the pieces to compete with VCU and its defensive pressure, but it should have no trouble getting a top-six finish. The Seminoles will most likely face Long Beach State, which has struggled so far this season, and a win would put them in the fifth-place game.
Northeastern (1-2) lost close games to Boston University and Stony Brook, a pair of very good mid-majors, to begin the season, but then beat Central Connecticut State last weekend.
The Huskies will not have enough to compete with Georgetown on Thursday, but they could definitely knock off Kansas State or Charlotte to put themselves in a position to win the loser’s bracket.
Northeastern does not have much depth, but it has a pretty good starting five. Forwards Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer are averaging a combined
Charlotte (2-1) has had a relatively easy schedule in the early going, but it has still had some struggles. The 49ers squeaked by East Tennessee State in their season opener, then lost at Charleston, and finally had a comfortable win against SoCon favorite Elon last Friday.
The 49ers have a very talented junior guard, Pierria Henry, who is definitely worth watching. Henry has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 17 points, six rebounds, four assists, and 4.7 steals. Last season, he averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.7 steals, and 2.5 steals.
Also, sophomore guard Shawn Lester, who was academically ineligible last season, has been off to a great start with 17.7 points per game.
8. Long Beach State
Long Beach State (1-3) enters with a three-game losing streak. The 49ers were blown out by Arizona, lost a close game to Loyola Marymount, and then lost by 13 to Kansas State, which they could rematch on Sunday.
The 49ers have a pair of proven players in point guard Mike Caffey and forward Dan Jennings, but they are struggling to find other options.
Head coach Dan Monson likes to challenge his team, but this year they do not have the talent to compete with high-caliber teams.