2010 Legends Classic Preview

Dylan Burkhardt

Jeff Eisenberg ranked the NCAA preseason tournaments from most to least intriguing and the Legends Classic came in a 11th out of 12. The only tournament ranked below the Legends Classic was the Cancun Challenges which features just two high-major schools and few intriguing mid majors.

The Legends Classic follows the recent NCAA trend of automatically advancing a certain group of host schools to the final rounds. In this case that means that Syracuse, Michigan, UTEP, and Georgia Tech all receive free passes to Atlantic City. Albany, Bowling Green, Detroit, Gardner-Webb, Mercer, Niagara, Western Carolina, and William & Mary will get together in regional rounds and face off versus each other.

View the Legends Classic Bracket

At first glance, the field looks intriguing. Syracuse, Michigan, and Georgia Tech are all big name programs and UTEP made an NCAA appearance and won the Conference USA last season. When you start to look a little closer, excitement begins to wane. All four squads lost at least one player to the NBA this summer. That includes Michigan’s Manny Harris, Syracuse’s Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, UTEP’s Derrick Caracter, and Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. If any of those players were on their old teams, they might be the the preemptive favorite to win MVP of the tournament.

Of the schools involved, most haven’t quite started the new season on the right foot. Georgia Tech was already upset by Kennesaw State. Jim Boeheim is telling anyone that will listen that Syracuse is “not a good team right now” and they were almost upset by William and Mary. UTEP opened the season with a loss to Pacific. It’s fair to say all four teams involved have a number of question marks entering the weekend.

We preview every team involved in the Classic, which tips off Friday evening on HD Net, after the jump.

Syracuse (4-0)

Rick Jackson, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, and Scoop Jardine all played major minutes last year for Syracuse but will be forced to take on significantly more offensive responsibility this season. Jackson is a monster down low, averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds through his first four games of the season. Jardine is the best setup man for the Orange, averaging 7 assists per game to go along with 13 points. Joseph was a double digit scorer last season but has struggled shooting the ball this year, connecting on just 31% of his attempts.

While their core group of returning players is strong, Syracuse has found themselves in preseason top 10 rankings yet again because of their loaded freshman class. Ranked the #2 class behind Ohio State, Syracuse’s incoming class includes Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, CJ Fair, and Baye Moussa Kieta.

Melo, at 7-foot tall and 244 pounds, is averaging just 15 minutes, 2 points, and two rebounds per contest. From the limited footage I’ve seen of Syracuse this season, Baye Moussa Kieta might be the most impressive Orange freshman. He is extremely long and athletic player that is active all over the court on defense and on the glass.

Despite their early struggles, Syracuse still has the most talent on paper. Syracuse has struggled offensively but they haven’t let that affect their defense, which is up to their established standards. If the shots start falling, the Orange could run away with this tournament.

Michigan (3-0)

Michigan is young and projected to be the worst team in the tournament. They’ve handled business early on, knocking off three subpar teams en route to a 3-0 record. Overlooking the fact that those 3 teams have combined to beat just one Division I team, Michigan has shown signs of life.

With a roster chalk full of players with little to no proven track record, it’s tough to judge which players on the Michigan roster can keep up their strong play. Darius Morris (15), Tim Hardaway Jr. (14), and Jordan Morgan (12) lead the Wolverines in scoring. Michigan has also gone deep into their bench, with 9 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

Michigan’s defense has perhaps been most surprising early-on, as the Wolverines have stifled their opponents, holding them to 30.5% shooting. The encouraging stat for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines are shooting 37.7% from three point range, those are shots that they are going to need if they want to upset Syracuse.

UTEP (2-1)

UTEP made the NCAA tournament last season but they are a new team this year. Former head coach Tony Barbee has moved on to Auburn and has been replaced by Tim Floyd. (Don’t ask me how he got a new coaching job, I have no answers for you.) Floyd loses the bulk of the Miners” interior presence in Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie but still has a team picked near the top of the Conference USA.

6-foot-7 guard Julyan Stone stuffs the statsheet for the Miners. He’s averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, five assists, and one block per game over UTEP’s first four games. 6-foot guard Randy Culpepper can fill up the scoring column, averaging twenty points per game while shooting 47% from three point range.

UTEP might be one of the most experienced teams in the tournament as they have four seniors in their starting lineup. Not only are Stone and Culpepper seniors, their other double digit scorers, 6-foot-4 Christian Polk and 6-foot-7 Jeremy Williams, are seniors as well.

The loss to Pacific sounds bad, but the Tigers are predicted to win the Big West and UTEP shot just 18% from three in that contest. In the games they did win, there was one common denominator: free throw attempts. The Miners shot a total of 78 free throws in their last two games combined.

Georgia Tech (3-1)

Georgia Tech was one of the best defensive teams in the country last season thanks to blocking shots at an astronomical rate and holding opponents to dreadful shooting averages inside the arc. The problem this season is that their two best shot blockers, Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, are both in the NBA.

The Yellow Jackets still possess some talent. 6-foot-5 guard Iman Shumpert is a high volume shooter that has NBA athleticism but is not all together a very efficient offensive player. To his credit he does have an uncanny ability to pick up steals and grabs rebounds at an above average rate for a guard. Freshman center Daniel Miller anchors the interior, where he’s been a presence on the defensive end. Glen Rice Jr., Brian Oliver, and Mfon Udofia provide a trio of versatile and athletic wing guards that average between 10 and 12 points per game. Georgia Tech does almost all of their scoring inside the arc, as Oliver is their only decent (33%) perimeter shooting threat.

Last year’s Yellow Jacket squad turned the ball over more often than all but two high major schools. Early returns point to this team being a little better in that regard, but turnovers are still a concern. Alas, it was turnovers (and shooting) that doomed the Jackets in their upset loss to Kennesaw State, as they coughed it up on 26% of their possessions. To their credit, the Tech defense has done a tremendous job in forcing turnovers early on this season, accumulating steals at a higher rate than just about any other team in the country.


Semis: Syracuse over Michigan. UTEP over Georgia Tech.
Finals: Syracuse over UTEP
Consolation: Georgia Tech over Michigan

Syracuse is playing closest to home and has the most talented roster. Their underwhelming offensive performances early on should serve as a wake-up call and I suspect we will see a much improved team step on the floor. UTEP versus Georgia Tech will likely be a sloppy game abundant with turnovers but I think UTEP’s experience wins out in the end. The consolation game with Georgia Tech and Michigan could go either way, but I’m skeptical to pick the Wolverines to pick up a win on their first trip away from home.

  • JimC

    Brackets in November, sweet!
    As far as predictions, I’ll have to go with yours Dylan, until we actually beat a good team, and show we can win on the road.

    But it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!
    Who’s with me!

    • SubAlum_06

      He’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards.

      • steve

        not to quibble but it was the japanese that bombed pearl harbor… anyways go blue!

        • Kevin


        • Mith

          Steve, it’s a quote from Animal House.

      • Ronny

        I think he was alluding to this

  • Kenny

    I say our boys will come back from the tournament with at least one win.

  • Beast1530

    If Michigan can pick up where they left off plus an another hot shooting night at 3 point line, they can win the tournament. Tall task, but not entirely impossible.

  • Loving the Blue

    I keep thinking back to the UCLA win from a few years ago. A win like that on friday night is possible, but not at all likely.
    Will be at the saturday set of games, and looking forward to watching this young team in person.

  • jihadistjohn

    no reason we can’t go 1-1…not discounting our chance of springing an early season upset, but there would be no shame whatsoever in losing to the ‘cuse and then taking care of business against a team that already dropped a home game vs. whatever a kenesaw state is…still can’t understand the doom & gloom and low projections…this is beilein’s first team that is void of any and all players who were recruited by an unwanted, unqualified worthless dewkie…so far, so good early on…hopefully HDnet has the good sense to give us lots of nice close-ups of julie boheim!

  • Mith

    I think we’ll lose to Syracuse, although I hope we give them a battle. I’ve got a good feeling we can get a win on Saturday though. Looking forward to both games!

  • GregGoBlue

    I’ll be in Atlantic City for the Syracuse game. Any other UMHoops-ers going to be there?

    • Brian

      I’ll be there this weekend… making the trip from Syracuse… (Yes, I will have to sit with my Syracuse buddies and hear all about it). If we win any game this year.. for me.. it’s this one.

  • C weezy

    Thats the same place where Paul Williams got knocked out at this past Saturday!!! Lol

  • sven

    These won’t be our first games on the road. Didn’t we play 4 games on another continent 2 months ago. :)

    Against teams loaded with double digit NCAA scorers no less.

  • Bill

    This is a smart team I liked how they adjusted to Gardner Webb’s quickness and found ways to score. This is the most talented team they have played and it should be fun to see how they respond. Win or lose the main thing is keep improving and have fun. It will be a good challange and they will find out where their at. Who knows maybe they suprise everyone.

    • Kenny

      not only smart but well coached. I like the starting 5, all can score, pass and play good defense, and Stu is as good as the sixth man. McLimans and Vogrich can bring sparks on offense from the bench but both need getting stronger, they are both capable of having some big games of their own this season. Christian and Horford are not serious scoring threat yet but bring in good defense. Overall, I see this team, albeit young, better than last year’s, which was too small, and depend too much on two players.

  • Taddie

    Wouldn’t the consolation game be our SECOND game on the road?

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Technically.. Yes. I revised it a little bit. Good call.

  • Adam

    When discussing players lost to the NBA you forgot to include Andy Rautins from Syracuse too

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Good call. Thanks

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Michigan State loses to UConn in Maui. Kemba Walker is playing out of his mind.

    • Grandchamp

      MSU doesn’t even look like a top 20 team right now, obviously they are gonna improve though.

      • Beast1530

        Too early to tell. MSU doesn’t always start out hot, but they get better and better as the season goes on. I would expect MSU to be in the top 5 when all is said and done.

        • matt d

          I don’t expect them to be in the top 5 when all is said and done. I said this in preseason and was ripped for it on this site, but MSU is WAY OVERRATED at #2. Fact of the matter is that they lacked a post presence last year, and were a jump shooting team for the most part. Fast forward to this year and they lost their best inside scorer in Morgan, and that loss was made even more pronounced because they lost their best outside shooter in Chris Allen. Payne might have great upside, but right now he’s essentially a 6’11 guard – he’s much more comfortable shooting from the outside then playing with his back to the basket.

          MSU has some serious problems right now, they were certainly turnover prone last year, but this year that problem has become a bigger issue as they can’t really play a half court set because of the lack of post game. They only have 2 more assists than TO’s for the entire season, and they’ve been outrebounded the last 2 games – keep in mind that the first of those 2 teams was a Division II team in Chaminade.

          Long story short – MSU is a good team, not a great team, and certainly not the #2 team in the country. I expect them to finish 2nd or 3rd in the B10 behind OSU and/or Illinois. I actually think they’ll take another dip next year after losing Lucas and Summers. They will lack experience other than Lucious and Green.

          • Beast1530

            MSU is exactly like that every year yet they consistently go deep in the NCAA tourney. This is no different than any other MSU team. They’re still a jump shooting team who can defend and rebound without any low post presence. MSU always start out slow and finish strong.

  • AG2

    That shot he hit to take the lead over Sherman was sick.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Yeah, last year’s MSU team got blown off the floor by Florida at the Legends Classic. These early season losses are a routine for them.

  • Adam

    I don’t understand why these early season losses are so routine for them. It doesn’t make sense. They have nearly every significant contributor back from a Final Four team. They have tons of talent, tons of depth, tons of leadership, great senior point guard, good size, good athleticism, everything you could want in a basketball team. It doesn’t make sense. I just don’t see why it has to be par for the course that MSU struggles early and turns it on in the tourney. Can’t they just play to their potential?

    • Grandchamp

      That is why everybody makes such a huge deal out of their tournament runs as if they came out of nowhere. They under perform during the regular season 95% of the time and then live up to their potential in the NCAA tournament.

  • Grandchamp

    I found an awesome iphone app called tunein radio. I was able to listen to either the msu or uconn feed. It has a million different stations and you can go into the sports category then choose college bball and it will show all the different games and then feeds. Hope this is ok to post.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Very weird watching thee games at the Sprint Center. Feels like yesterday that I was down there for the NCAA tournament games two years ago.

  • Reese’s Peanut Butter ads on the floor of KSU’s arena–hope Michigan can avoid crap like that.

    Lot of vaunted teams struggling early this season. More than is usual? Seems like. Everyone keeps talking about parity but by season’s end it always seems more illusory than real. . .

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I suspect that the floor will look very similar during the Legends Classic. The Gazelle Group runs the Legends Classic, 2k Sports Classic, and CBE Classic. Both the 2K and CBE have had the Reese’s stickers.

  • Sam

    You added Andy Rautins, but he went to Syracuse, not UTEP.

    Also, I know a lot of people will rip on me for this, but is it not fair to say at this point that Tom Izzo simply cannot prepare a team in the regular season whatsoever? I mean this is a UConn team that has lost almost everybody in the last two years save Kemba Walker and a State team that returned almost everybody from a Final Four last season and they can’t win? My goodness. Time and time again Izzo fails to live up to expectations, they get a bad seed, then they go deep in the tournament and everybody bends over for Tom Izzo cause they think he is some coaching god, not realizing that it is solely his fault in the first place for the low seed.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      And this is why I shouldn’t edit posts on my phone while I’m driving :-)

    • Adam

      I’m with ya Sam. Tom Izzo is a great coach and all but I think he is up on this pedestal that he shouldn’t be on. His teams always underperform during the regular season when they have so much talent. People can cry that it’s the hard schedule, but they have more talent than pretty much every team in the country, and they have more experience than the UNC’s, Kansas’s, Kentucky’s, etc. because they have very few players leave early for the NBA. So they have everything you could want in a college bball team almost every year and every year MSU goes into March as an underdog. Why not coach up to potential with all the talent and experience and earn yourself a 1 seed for a change?

  • Beast1530

    Watching Duke/Kansas State game. Kansas State doesn’t look like they’re deserve to be in the same court as Duke much less the #4 ranking. Duke is dominating the game despite the 11 point lead in the first half. Jacob Pullen is having a terrible game so far and Kyrie Irving looks to be the real deal.

    • Beast1530

      Duke is in a class all by themselves. It’s hard for me to forsee Duke not losing a game. They basically return everybody from last year plus a highly touted freshman class and Seth Curry from transfer via Liberty. They are stacked.

  • Beast1530

    Kentucky/Washington game is a good game. A lot of good talents on both side. N’Diaye is a beast as a defensive center.

  • matt d
    • Beast1530

      IU got a good one in Ferrell. He’s a baller and is lighting quick. Michigan would’ve gotten Ferrell if Trey Burke didn’t commit to Michigan. Either way, Michigan got a good PG to back up Morris.

  • AG2

    I don’t think its fair to knock Izzo because his teams underperform early in the season. I mean, they play a lot of tough games, and it actually does help them do well in the tournament, and is that not what matters the most? Besides, it hasn’t hurt their ability to win conference titles.

    • matt d

      Yes, MSU does do well in the tourney – PRE Final Four. However, when the games are for all the marbles in Final Four, Izzo simply doesn’t get it done. I do acknowledge that it is an incredible accomplishment to go to 6 Final Fours in 12 years, but to only come away with 1 championship is dissapointing to be honest about it. In terms of percentage, you have a 25% chance of winning the championship if you’ve made it to the Final Four, and Izzo has a winning percentage of 16.666.

      The reality is that when MSU faces of a team of equal or better talent, they simply can’t get it done, and the coach should shoulder some of the blame in those scenarios. Izzo is considered a basketball god, but to be blunt, I simply don’t see it. He is perhaps the best motivator in the country, but in terms of X’s & O’s, he’s just an average coach. In fact, given the same talent, I actually think Coach B could do more.

  • HLC

    Side story that I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned: Tim Hardaway Jr (UM) father played/starred at UTEP/NBA, Glen Rice Jr (GT) played/starred at UM/NBA, and the fathers were friends during NBA playing days.