Paradise Jam Returns to St. Thomas with Stiff Competition

Northern Iowa huddles up during their practice at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on Nov. 15.

Paradise Jam returns to St. Thomas tomorrow afternoon after a year hiatus forced by damage from Hurricane Irma and Maria.

When it came time to make a decision if the tournament could return to St. Thomas, Nels Hawkinson, an executive director for Basketball Travelers, said he knew Paradise Jam had to.

“The Virgin Islanders need this more than anyone after the storms that hit them last year and the resilience they have shown,” he said

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This years men’s field features three teams that made the NCAA tournament last year with no. 12 Kansas State, Missouri, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Kansas State made it the farthest, reaching the Elite Eight, doing so in dramatic fashion as they needed a basket with 18 seconds left by Barry Brown to eliminate Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Wildcats did not lose any players to graduation or the NBA after last season and hope to build on that deep NCAA postseason run.

Brown averaged 15.9 points last year and made the Preseason Big 12 Team this season. He joins teammate Dean Wade on that team. Wade averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last year and is the only unanimous selection for All-Big 12 Team and is the preseason conference player of the year. Xavier Sneed is the only other player to average double digits last year, with an average of 11 points a game.

The Wildcats have started the season 2-0, by beating fellow Paradise Jam team Kennesaw State 56-41 and Denver 64-56.

The team will begin Paradise Jam at 8:30 p.m. AST and will face off against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

Eastern Kentucky is lead by first year head coach, A.W. Hamilton, and have started this season with a 2-1 record as they won a close contest versus Chattanooga 81-78, and beat Midway 107-52 but fell to Marshall, 105-77.

Senior Nick Mayo scored 40 points, with 35 coming in the second half, in the team’s come-from-behind win against Chattanooga. Mayo has been an All-Conference Player in his previous three seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Missouri has started this season 1-1, winning at home against Central Arkansas, 86-55, while the loss came on the road to Iowa State, 76-59.

Missouri features the largest roster in the SEC, with 19 players, 10 being players that were not with the program last year.

Mark Smith, a transfer from Illinois that received a waiver for immediate eligibility, is one of the new faces already making an impact. He recorded a double double in his first game for the Tigers while hitting five 3-pointers en route to 19 points and a career high 10 rebounds.

Missouri is coming off a season where they shot 38 percent from behind the arc, a rate that was the second-highest three point field goal in program history.

They will play in the second game of the day against Kennesaw State at 4:30 p.m. AST.

Kennesaw State won their opening gaming this season, 68-57, against Oglethorpe, 68-57, but dropped their next two, Kansas State, 56-41, and Samford, 74-60, leaving them with a 1-2 record heading into the tournament.

The Owls are another team with plenty of new faces as they return just three players that started more than 15 games and have four transfers and four freshman on this year’s roster.

The only player to return from last years team and average double digits in scoring is Tyler Hooker, who set a career high with 25 points in the team’s opening night win.

Penn has jumped out to a quick start this season with three consecutive wins beating George Mason, 72-71, Rice, 92-76, and Lafayette, 91-61.

A.J. Brodeur has started the season off quickly for the Quakers averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds through the first three games and has received the Ivy League Player of the Week Award, as well as the Lou Henson Award for Mid-Major Player of the Week.

Penn has been so dominant of late that they have only trailed for 2:22 out of a possible 80 minutes in the team’s last two games.

Penn is a program on the rise boasting a 73.3 win percentage in the team’s last 45 games.

They will take on the Northern Iowa Panthers on day one of Paradise Jam at 6:30 p.m.

Northern Iowa is 1-1 heading down to St. Thomas as they won their opening game 97-51 against Bemidji State but slipped up against UT-Arlington dropping that game 74-65.

The Panthers have been to the NCAA tournament seven times since 2004, tied for second best in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The team needs to replace their top two scoring options from last season but have some players that can fill that role. Freshman A.J. Green was a consensus top-100 recruit and transfer Trae Berhow received a waiver to be eligible to play for this season. Last year Berhow averaged 10 points and 5.7 rebounds.

The final two teams in this year’s field are Oregon State and Old Dominion and they will face off to start the tournament action at 2 p.m.

Old Dominion is 1-1 so far this season with a convincing 67-44 over Navy, but fell short on the road against St. Joseph’s 79-64.

The team features Ahmad Carver, who is on the Bob Cousy Watch List for the nation’s top point guard and was First Team All-Conference USA and had the 11th best assist to turnover ratio (3.04) in the country last year.

Over the last four years the Monarchs rank 27th overall in terms of number of wins with 96.

Oregon State comes to paradise with an unscathed record at 2-0 with victories over UC-Riverside, 72-59, and Wyoming, 83-64, and with the use of strong inside play they have outscored their opponents in the paint by 90-48.

The team is fortunate enough to return their two leading scoring options from last year with Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson, who averaged 17.6 and 15.8 points per game, respectively, last year. Tinkle has scored in double figures in his last 37 games and posted a double double in three of his last five games. Thompson could pass Gary Payton this weekend on the school’s all-time three-pointers made list as he’s just five threes behind him coming into the tournament.

For more information and tickets visit this link.

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