Preseason NIT Preview: East Bracket

Joe CampioneContributor IIINovember 13, 2011

Preseason NIT Preview: East Bracket

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    Welcome to Part 2 of my four part series previewing this year's Preseason NIT. Yesterday, we looked at the North Bracket. Today, we're looking at the East Bracket, which Virginia Tech is hosting in Blacksburg, Virginia.

    This is going to be one of the most competitive brackets in the Preseason NIT this year, and may be the only bracket where the host isn't necessarily the favorite. Without further adieu, let's take a look at the teams competing in Blacksburg in the East Bracket.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    2010-11 Record: 22-12

    2010-11 Postseason: NIT Tournament 2nd Round

    Key Losses: Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Terrell Bell

    Key Player: Erick Green

    Overview: Last season, the Hokies again missed out on the NCAA Tournament, despite scoring a huge late season win over No. 1 Duke and actually having the same record as Final Four gatecrasher VCU. This marked the 4th consecutive season where Virginia Tech went to the NIT, where they were ousted on their own floor against eventual champions, Wichita State.

    At least Virginia Tech actually wants to participate in this NIT Tournament, so that should make them more motivated on their own floor.

    The biggest problem so far for the Hokies has been that injury bug that just doesn't seem to leave them alone. Last season, Tech had just seven scholarship players left on the roster thanks to injury. 

    All of this leads to a lot of unknowns concerning Virginia Tech. In their first game against East Tennessee State, only two seniors were on the floor for the Hokies, and they were led by sophomore Tyrone Garland and freshman Robert Brown and Dorian Finney-Smith.

    Unfortunately, relying on the young guys is what Virginia Tech is going to have to do all season, and I'm going to be interested to see how the freshman and sophomores react to facing teams a little bit stronger than East Tennessee State.

Monmouth Hawks

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    2010-11 Record: 9-21

    2010-11 Postseason: None

    Key Losses: RJ Rutledge, James Hett

    Key Players: Mike Myers Keitt, Ed Waite

    Overview: It may be a long season for Monmouth. The team struggled mightily last season, finishing 11th in the Northeastern Conference.

    To make matters worse, the Hawks' schedule is brutal, with them having to play five power conference schools, including No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 1 North Carolina. Also, they don't have a home game until December 10.

    The only real silver lining in all of this for Monmouth is that they have not lost a lot of players from last season's team, with leading scorer Mike Myers Keitt returning, as well as three other seniors, to give Monmouth a pretty experienced squad.

    The Hawks do have a decent amount of size on them, including seven-footer Phil Wait, giving them a good chance for offensive rebounds and extra possessions. Monmouth's biggest problem on offense, however, is their absolute lack of three point shooting.

    Last season, only two Hawks players attempted over 100 three pointers, and one of them is gone this year.

    For Monmouth to compete in the NIT, they're going to need to be physical on the boards and give their guys extra possessions. They've already been dismantled once this season, albeit by Villanova, but hopefully that will help them be prepared for the challenges that await them in Blacksburg.

George Mason Patriots

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    2010-11 Record: 27-7

    2010-11 Postseason: NCAA Tournament, 3rd Round

    Key Losses: Cam Long, Ike Tate, Luke Hancock

    Key Players: Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison

    Overview: Last season was one of the best in George Mason's history. They won a school-record 27 games, won the CAA regular season title, and scored a win over Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.

    Unfortunately, Mason followed up one of their best seasons ever with one of their worst offseasons ever.Longtime coach Jim Larranaga left for Miami, NCAA Tournament hero Luke Hancock transferred, and returning senior and three point specialist Andre Cornelius was suspended for the first 10 games of the season.

    Notwithstanding, this Patriots team has a lot of talent and is hungry for a return to the NCAA Tournament. Despite only having two seniors currently on the floor, Mason returns seven men who played on last season's tournament team, alongside three freshman, including super freshman Erik Copes. 

    Mason's first game of the season, a thrilling overtime victory over Rhode Island, showed that there are still some growing pains for the Patriots new coach Paul Hewitt's system. Although the offense was explosive, scoring 92 points, the defense left a lot to be desired.

    If Mason wants to win this bracket, they are going to need to bring their A game every night and tighten up on defense while being smarter with the basketball.

Florida International Golden Panthers

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    2010-11 Record: 11-19

    2010-11 Postseason: None

    Key Losses: Marvin Roberts, Phil Gary, Eric Frederick

    Key Players: Dejuan Wright, Jeremy Allen

    Overview: Isiah Thomas's second season with FIU started with a promising 4-1 last year, but much like his first season, fell apart as the season went along, sputtering to a last place finish in the Sun Belt East conference.

    Unfortunately, things did not get a whole lot better for the Golden Panthers in the offseason after losing starters Marvin Roberts and Phil Gary to graduation, as well as losing one of their top scorers and rebounders, Erick Frederick, who transferred.

    The one real bright spot for Florida International this season is the return of their star player, Dejuan Wright. Dejuan did it all for the Golden Panthers last year, leading them in points, rebounds, and steals, as well as nailing over 50 percent of his shots.

    Florida International's problem, much like Monmouth's, is a lack of outside shooting. No one on the returning roster fired more than 66 threes last season, and when you're playing from behind, as the Golden Panthers were for much of last season, that's a major problem.

    For the Golden Panthers to be successful, they are going to need to lean heavily on their two seniors. This is still a young team, with seven freshman and sophomores on the roster, who will need every bit of Dejuan Wright to do any damage in the tournament.

Predictions

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    This is going to be one of the most hotly contested brackets in the entire Preseason NIT. For the opening round games, the matchups are Virginia Tech-Monmouth and George Mason-FIU.

    For the Tech-Monmouth game, I have to go with Virginia Tech. Even shorthanded, the Hokies have way too much firepower for the Hawks and should win easily.

    For Mason-FIU, it's George Mason all the way. Granted, they struggled against URI, but it's going to the FIU's first game of the season, and Mason is just too fast and too strong on offense for the young Golden Panthers to hang with them.

    In the consolation game between Monmouth and Florida International, I'm picking FIU. I think the star power of Dejuan Wright will be enough to carry the Golden Panthers past a middling Monmouth team, although expect this one to be a slugfest down low.

    As for the championship game, a highly anticipated matchup between Virginia Tech and George Mason, I'm going with the upset and picking GMU. Call me a homer, but with all of Virginia Tech's injuries and the fact that they will not have seen a real strong team until this point, I think George Mason will have enough to sneak by in a tight one. The big wild card in this game is whether Erick Green plays.

    So there are my picks. Be sure to check back tomorrow as I preview the West Bracket, featuring Stanford.