Today, we're discussing the West Bracket, which tips off tonight at 8:00 p.m. This bracket may be the most hotly-contested bracket in the Preseason NIT this season. All of the four teams are extremely evenly matched. If nothing else, this may be the most exciting bracket to watch, so without further adieu, let's jump right into the previews.
2010-11 Record: 15-16
2010-11 Postseason: None
Key Losses: Jeremy Green
Key Players: Josh Owens, Anthony Brown, Jarrett Mann
Overview: Last year was a disappointing, yet productive season for the Cardinal. Yes, Stanford had a sub-.500 record and yes, they finished eighth in the old Pac-10—but considering Stanford was a team consisting of seven freshmen last year, what more could you really have expected?
Despite the loss of Jeremy Green to the NBA Draft, the Cardinal still bring back plenty of firepower. Seven returning players played in 28 or more games last season, giving Stanford a very deep bench. Despite their youth—Stanford has 10 freshmen and sophomores—they will have a team with plenty of in-game experience.
The Cardinal also return leading rebounder Josh Owens, as well as senior point guard and assist leader, Jarrett Mann.
Standford's biggest problem this year may be their size. The only player exceeding 6'9" in height is unproven redshirt freshman Stefan Nastic. Luckily, Stanford counteracts this with sharpshooting—they shot over 43 percent from the field last year. In their beating of Central Arkansas to start the year, Stanford shot an incredible 54.2 percent.
Obviously, the Cardinal will be facing much stiffer competition over the next few days, but if they can keep this hot shooting going, it will be hard to pick against them going forward.
2010-11 Record: 14-17
2010-11 Postseason: None
Key Losses: Greg Smith, Tim Steed, Nedeljko Golubovic
Key Players: Kevin Olekaibe, Kevin Foster, Garrett Johnson
Overview: After a subpar 2010 season—the Bulldogs finished 7th in the WAC last year—Fresno State had an even tougher offseason. Despite the return of super sophomore Kevin Olekaibe, Fresno State's leading scorer, the Bulldogs lost a huge core of their team, including starters Greg Smith and Nedeljko Golubovic, as well as Tim Steed, who averaged double figures last season.
A big key for the Bulldogs' success will be how well Olekaibe shoots. Last season, Olekaibe attempted a staggering 183 threes. If he's hot, he can keep the Bulldogs in any game, but if he's having an off day, the team will struggle to put up enough points to stay with teams.
The return of Kevin Foster, who spent last season sitting out due to transfer rules, will give the Bulldogs a boost down low and in the scoring department. I can tell you from experience—this guy can be a difference maker.
Fresno State didn't look all that impressive in their first game against Illinois State, but that was to be expected from anyone in their first game of the season. Fresno State is still a young team, so they may still be a year away from really doing major damage, but that doesn't mean that they're not an extremely talented bunch who opponents need to be careful with.
2010-11 Record: 19-13
2010-11 Postseason: NIT, First Round
Key Losses: Andy Ogide
Key Players: Travis Franklin, Wes Eikmeier, Dorian Green
Overview: Say hello to by far the most experienced team in the bracket—and maybe in the entire Preseason NIT tournament. Last year, the Rams were one of the best mid-majors in the country, but a late plunge and an extremely tough division featuring BYU and SDSU led to Colorado State settling for an NIT birth.
Luckily for Colorado State, although they lose their leading scorer and rebounder in Andy Ogide, the Rams return a staggering 10 juniors and seniors, including nine players who played in 28 or more games. Last season, Colorado State nailed a third of their three-point attempts, and they hope to bring that high-powered offense into this season as well.
Colorado State scraped by Montana in their first game of the season, powered by three men in double figures—including a huge game from redshirt senior Wes Eikmeier. For the Rams to be successful in Palo Alto, they will need to rely on their seniors and their overall experience to deal with the hostile crowd and the tough matchups ahead.
2010-11 Record: 20-15
2010-11 Postseason: CIT, Semifinals
Key Losses: Papa Dia
Key Players: Robert Nyakundi, Jeremiah Samarrippas
Overview: SMU had a rollercoaster ride of a season last year. They started the season 15-8 and had dreams of their first NCAA tournament birth since 1993. After stumbling down the stretch, the Mustangs were selected to participate in the CIT and made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Santa Clara.
The CIT, though obviously not the most prestigious tournament, went a long way toward helping this team improve, as it helped build team chemistry and experience.
The returning Mustangs will need to rely on all of that experience—they lost leading scorer and rebounder Papa Dia and currently feature eight freshmen on the roster. SMU will rise and fall with their star player, Robert Nyakundi, the only returning SMU starter who averaged double figures last season.
SMU played their first game against Division III foe McMurry and won handily. SMU will be facing competition a lot tougher, and I'm skeptical as to whether the freshmen will be able to handle the talented teams they'll see in Palo Alto.
If Nyakundi can get hot, though, SMU may be able to hang with anybody, so we'll have to wait and see.
As I said in the opening, these are some of the most closely-contested matchups in the Preseason NIT. The matchups are going to be Stanford vs. Fresno State and Colorado State vs. SMU.
In the Stanford-Fresno State game, I'm going with Stanford. Yes, they are young, but the home-court advantage bodes well for them, and I think that their shooting prowess will be enough to carry them past a Fresno State team which is still learning how to play without its core from last year.
In the Colorado State-SMU game, I have to go with the Rams. Colorado State is a strong, experienced team, and although SMU is talented, I just don't see them getting past the Rams.
My consolation game between Fresno State and SMU is a real tossup for me. I'm going to go with Fresno State. Nyakundi is good, but I just think SMU is too young to handle Fresno State, whose inside play may be too much to handle.
In my finals between Stanford and Colorado State, although I can again see this one going either way, I'm going with the upset and picking Colorado State. This team is a lot more talented than people give them credit for, and at the end of the day, it's hard to argue with a team who went to the NIT last season and brings back seven juniors and seniors.
Once again, this is going to be a game that comes down to the wire, but the Rams' experience will be enough to defeat the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
So there you have it—the West Bracket. Make sure you check back tomorrow as we conclude our Preseason NIT preview with the South Bracket.