2006 South Padre Island Tournament
For most of the programs in this eight-team preseason event, they couldn’t be happier with the sun, surf and vacation during its Thanksgiving break. It is worth mentioning the gym that hosts the event in Texas has a capacity of 1,500 so television viewers and fans may be disappointed with early struggles as teams fail to shoot and bring high intensity in front of such a small, neutral crowd.
However, this event provides an early indication on potentially NCAA Tournament teams and contenders to go further than the first weekend of March Madness.
No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers – The seventh-ranked Wisconsin Badgers are clearly the favorite in this event as head coach Bo Ryan brings in a squad that returns 90 percent of its production from last year’s team that with all its academic casualties and injuries still managed to make the dance. Preseason All-Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker and guard Kammron Taylor lead this team as the veterans but with all the Big Ten big man talk revolving around Ohio State’s Greg Oden, most people are forgetting about the Badgers’ junior center Brian Butch. Butch was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Appleton (Wis.) High School and is coming off fourth career double-double in Wisconsin’s 64-52 home win over Delaware State.
“Brian played a whale of a game,” Ryan said after the victory. “He seemed to be the guy who they had a hard time keeping from catching it and making something happen on the offensive end.”
Tucker has not disappointed coming out of the gate in 2006-07 by averaging 20 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field in the Badgers’ four cupcake wins by an average of 26 points.
“He has been through more over the years of the nagging little nicks that a guy can take. And to be able to come back into his final year and have that (player of the year honor) bestowed on him, that’s pretty exciting,” Ryan said.
The Badgers do not typically play in preseason tournaments and during Bo Ryan’s tenure at Wisconsin have never entered an event as a favorite to win (preseason, conference or postseason tournaments) and therefore must be prepared to travel with the bulls eye on its back. The only concern for the Badgers is free throw shooting as Wisconsin is only making 60 percent from the charity stripe. There are two guarantees during this tournament and that’s Ryan will not be unprepared for Missouri State and the winner of Auburn/Oklahoma State and a win in the event will look better as the season goes along to the tournament committee.
Oklahoma State – The good news for Cowboys new head coach Sean Sutton is he won his first five games in Stillwater. The bad news is he still has no idea how good his team really is. The return of Mario Boggan, JamesOn Curry, Byron Eaton and David Monds is reason to be excited along with currently having four guys averaging double figures. However, with five home games in the one of the most intimidating venues (Gallagher-Iba Arena), Sutton cannot properly evaluate if his team is progressing toward making a quality run in the Big 12 Conference. This is why he publicly dressed his team down after its 75-59 win over Southern Tuesday night.
“I thought tonight was one of the most disappointing and most embarrassing performances we have had in the time that I have been at Oklahoma State,” Sutton said after the game. “We have to play much better if we want to win this tournament this weekend in South Padre.”
Even with the veterans on this team, Sutton has proven with his substitution pattern that this team is only seven-men deep and that may hurt them come January.
The question is if this team will respond to its coach’s challenge like expected and play Wisconsin for the title or be like last year’s disappointment and lose two games to quality teams.
Missouri State – This is the moment the Bears have been waiting for since Selection Sunday. The issue doesn’t need to be rehashed (RPI ranking of 21 and no bid) but if Missouri State can beat the Big Ten best (Wisconsin) and a Big 12 power (Oklahoma State), they will not get snubbed by this committee this year. However, do not be fooled by the scoreboard because these are neutral site games and the Bears need to go 1-1 to feel comfortable about an at-large bid – not just be competitive in both games but lose. “This is one of the rarest opportunities that we have to play, quote, unquote, a BCS conference school,” said Missouri State coach Barry Hinson. “We will play anybody in the country, whether it be neutral (court) or home-and-home, any time.” While it’s clear the Missouri Valley is now a multiple bid league, Missouri State must lean on all-conference selection Blake Ahearn for an upset. The senior guard is averaging 16 points per game and shooting 57 percent from both the floor and beyond the arc. The St. Louis native must continue his hot shooting during the trip and the Bears must find a way to compete on the boards with bigger and stronger teams. After the early season upsets, don’t be shocked if MSU walks off the island with the trophy but Henson’s squad is the clear dark horse if not long shot of the event.
Auburn – The Tigers lost to NAIA Auburn University at Montgomery in one of its exhibition games. This clearly means they aren’t even the best school who uses the name Auburn. Seriously, that is the moment you know Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo is in rebuilding mode.
“We have a young and fragile group and this hurts our kids’ confidence,” Lebo said after the embarrassing loss. “But at least this game doesn’t count against us.” No argument there I suppose.
Former McDonald’s All-American Korvotney Barber is now averaging a double-double (13. 5 ppg, 10.8 rpg) per contest and is one of three Tigers averaging double figures. The process for Lebo includes 10 underclassmen and no player over 6-foot-9. Auburn is clearly the bottom of the SEC this season and will be lucky to win either game down in South Padre.