This Friday eight solid college basketball programs will send their teams to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the 10th Annual Paradise Jam tournament.
As the Purdue Boilermakers are part of this year's event, it's only fitting that a Boilermaker columnist cover the Jam and offer some predictions on the outcome.
Two Top-10 programs, Purdue and Tennessee, headline the tournament, which also includes two teams that reached last season's NCAA Tournament, Northern Iowa and Boston College.
UNI and Purdue, in particular, have a little familiarity with each other, with the Boilermakers ending UNI's NCAA ride in last year's first round. Unfortunately, the rematch would not occur here unless the two meet in the championship or fourth-place games.
But, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Up next is a game-by-game analysis and prediction of this year's Paradise Jam.
DePaul started strong with a 59-53 victory over Columbia, but we've seen that before.
The Blue Demons were 4-0 to start last season and went 8-5 in non-conference games. Then they stumbled to an 0-18 record in Big East games.
Mac Koshwal played well against Columbia with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists, but UNI is a bit of a step up from the Ivy League.
Northern Iowa also recorded a six-point win in their opener, 71-65 over Denver. Like Koshwal, UNI's 7'1", 290-pound workhorse Jordan Eglseder went for a double-double, notching 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Koshwal and Eglseder will wage a very interesting battle inside, but the game will be decided on who can take the pressure off their big men.
Blue Demons senior Will Walker gunned 71 three-pointers last season and scored 15 points against Columbia. However, he will need more help scoring against UNI.
Ohio State transfer Eric Wallace is expected to help out, but he got off to a shaky start, scoring 10 points against Columbia on 1-of-7 shooting from the free throw line while committing four fouls in 24 minutes. As a team, Depaul shot 9-of-24 from the line in their opener.
Eglseder had lots of help against Denver, with three teammates joining him in double-figure scoring.
UNI guards senior Ali Farokhmanesh and junior Kwadzo Ahelegbe combined for 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-11 from long range.
Look for this one to be close early, with DePaul fading in the second half due to fatigue and foul trouble.
Crystal Ballin' Forecast: UNI 70, DePaul 57
The Vols have gotten off to a hot start, beating Austin Peay by 29 and absolutely crucifying UNC-Asheville by a score of 124-49 on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, East Carolina has suffered through a rough four-day stretch, winning their opener before losing big to Wake Forest and falling to Campbell.
ECU point guard Brock Young has done his best to prop the team up, scoring 17 and 19 points, respectively, in the two losses. However, he was held without an assist against Wake and committed nine turnovers against the Campbell.
Both outcomes could reoccur when he faces off with the Vols' tandem of guards Melvin Goins and Bobby Maze.
For Tennessee, sophomore Scotty Hopson has been explosive, scoring 41 points combined in the team's two wins and shooting over 70 percent from the floor. Forwards Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith have been content to let Hopson take over so far, but either could go for 25 points against the overmatched Pirates.
Crystal Ballin' Forecast: Tennessee 97, ECU 62
The Atlantic 10 and Atlantic Coast conferences collide in Game Three, and both teams are getting offense from pleasantly surprising sources.
BC's main man in their two wins this season has been senior forward Tyler Roche, a foot soldier for his first three seasons.
In wins over Dartmouth and St. Francis, he's played like a general, scoring 30 against the Big Green and adding 19 against the Terriers.
BC will be getting suspended starters Corey Raji (brother of the Green Bay Packers' B.J.) and Rakim Sanders back for this game, which will likely cut into Roche's production.
St. Joe's has benefited from great bench production, almost all of it from the hands of freshman guard Carl Jones. Jones scored 18 against Holy Cross and made four huge free throws that sealed the game.
Darrin Govens, the 6'1" senior gunner, has totaled 30 points in the Hawks' first two games, though on only 29 percent shooting. Todd O'Brien, a 6'11" Bucknell transfer, had a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) against Holy Cross, but the rest of the team was dominated inside, out-rebounded by a 50-to-33 margin.
Lacking a lot of dynamic scoring options thus far, St. Joe's will have to rely on Govens to shoot and someone to rebound the misses. Unless Idris Hilliard and O'Brien can put up a stiff fight against BC's bangers inside, the Eagles may be able to hold St. Joseph's to a lot of one-shot possessions.
Crystal Ballin' Forecast: BC 74, St. Joe's 62
The seventh-ranked Boilers have been dealing with the news that point guard Lewis Jackson, who was slated to return from a suspension for this game, is now out indefinitely with a foot injury.
While the loss of a 30-game starter from last season would be a huge one for most teams, Purdue has been able to slot in veteran Keaton Grant and let freshmen D.J. Byrd and Kelsey Barlow pick up the slack.
South Dakota State has a team somewhat similar to Purdue's, a guard-heavy roster with a couple of solid inside players. The problem for the Jackrabbits will be having 6'7" Anthony Cordova and 6'6" Kai Williams try to match up with 6'11" JaJuan Johnson. Look for Williams to spend most of his time outside.
SDSU has been able to find perimeter success in their wins to open the season, knocking down 19-of-43 three-point shots. Wyoming and Maryville State, however, don't have many perimeter defenders like Grant and Chris Kramer.
If Clint Sargent and Garrett Callahan can get their shots off and falling, SDSU could hang in a little longer than expected. If those shots are off the mark, though, SDSU may be that rare team that Purdue can dominate on the glass. The 'Rabbits only outrebounded the NAIA's Mayville State by two on Monday.
Crystal Ballin' Forecast: Purdue 85, SDSU 62
Game 5: DePaul- East Carolina
Look for Mac Koshwal to rebound from a rough night against UNI with a solid game inside.
CBF: DePaul 67, ECU 65
Game 6: St. Joseph's- South Dakota State
This could be the tournament's big upset special. Once again, SDSU has to get their shots to fall, but it's likely they could have a much easier time of it against St. Joe's than against Purdue.
CBF: SDSU 75, St. Joe's 70
Contrasting styles will be at work when UNI tries to slow down the run-happy Vols.
The Vols have forced 48 turnovers in their first two games, and if they can rattle the veteran Panthers, this could be an easy win. If not, the tempo could end up much less frantic than Bruce Pearl's team would prefer.
The interior matchup will once again be the story, as Jordan Eglseder and Wayne Chism will likely be paired. If UT gets to run, look for Chism to beat the bigger man down the court for some easy dunks.
In the end, UNI can play some rugged defense, but they'll need someone to step up and make some shots and the Vols are no defensive slouches themselves. The Panthers lack that dominant scorer like a Chism or a Hopson, and that should swing the balance Tennessee's way. However, it will quite likely be a much more difficult win than one might expect.
CBF: Tennessee 68, UNI 63
This is going to be difficult to say, but I think I see an upset brewing here in the semis.
With a game for the suspended players to get their legs under them, BC may hit a rhythm in their second matchup. Joe Trapani and Josh Southern may be key for the Eagles in this game.
Trapani could be seen as a poor man's Robbie Hummel, blending a hard-nosed inside game with perimeter ball skills and a decent jump shot. The battle between those two could make this game an instant classic.
The 6'10", 252-pound Southern will be the first really large test this season for JaJuan Johnson, and he's not coming in alone. Between Southern, Tyler Roche, Evan Ravenel, and Corey Raji, there are several Eagles itching to take the ball straight inside at Johnson.
Two games in three days may be a workload that Purdue's freshmen aren't quite used to yet, and if Byrd, Barlow, and Patrick Bade can't step up and give the starters quality rest, BC could wear the Boilermakers down late in the game.
For the record, I really hope I'm wrong here, but...
CBF: Boston College 77, Purdue 73
Game 9: East Carolina- St. Joseph's (seventh-place game)
St. Joe's finally gets a solid all-around game, just in time to avoid finishing last. It could be an interesting matchup if Hawks' coach Phil Martelli tries to put 6'5" defensive stopper Garrett WIlliamson on ECU's spark plug, Brock Young.
CBF: St. Joe's 68, ECU 62
Game 10: DePaul-South Dakota State (fourth-place game)
SDSU won't go down quietly, but I will anticipate that they go down and finish sixth in the Jam.
DePaul will need Will Walker to get hot for this to come to pass, and if SDSU tries their hardest to swarm Koshwal, Walker and Jeremiah Kelly may get several open looks.
CBF: DePaul 58, SDSU 54
We may just get that NCAA rematch after all.
After a struggle with Boston College, the Boilermakers should come out angry, which does not bode well for UNI. JaJuan Johnson should be able to outmaneuver Eglseder inside, and may spend a big chunk of the day on the free throw line.
In last season's tournament game, the Boilers harassed all-MVC forward Adam Koch into a terrible game (3-14 shooting with five turnovers). It's unclear if Koch could get that rattled this time, but look for Purdue to crank the defensive pressure up a notch and try to do just that.
CBF: Purdue 74, UNI 65
After what could easily be a great semi-final game, UT could have an anticlimactic cakewalk on their hands in the final.
If BC springs the upset on Purdue, a letdown will be the first thing everyone will watch out for. Coach Al Skinner's not one to let his team overlook anyone, especially not the No. 10 team in the nation. It's just not likely that BC will be able to hang with Tennessee's athleticism for 40 minutes.
Scotty Hopson and Wayne Chism had their turns to dominate, and in the final it could be Tyler Smith in control. He could spend most of the game with the ball in his hands, making Tyler Roche and Joe Trapani work themselves ragged to keep up.
Tennessee also has more strong rebounders than Purdue does, which will make cleaning the glass that much more difficult for BC. By the end of the game, the Eagles' legs could start to go, resulting in more rimmed shots, and, if they can't get to the offensive glass, Tennessee could run away with the game at any point.
CBF: Tennessee 87, Boston College 72