Unlike the postseason NIT, the preseason one is an event that teams actually want to be a part of. In addition to Iowa State - who we covered last time out - two top-50 teams will be joining Xavier at the Barclays Center. Also, the event is apparently called the NIT Season Tip-Off. We all know what it actually is though.
Memphis comes into the season as veterans of the postseason NIT, having gone there twice in three years under coach Penny Hardaway. They won it last year, which - while probably not their goal at the season's outset - isn't nothing. Hardaway has had a top-5 defense in the nation two years running and has managed to parlay that into zero NCAA bids thanks to offenses that couldn't reliably score in 5-on-0 drills. His teams crush the glass, force tough shots from all over, and force turnovers at a nearly elite level. On offense, they have trouble knocking down shots and haven't helped themselves with ball security, though last year they further hamstrung their efforts by ranking 340th in the country in FT%.
Virginia Tech is led by Mike Young. He may not want all the smoke, but what he likely wanted and now has is a Sporting News Coach of the Year award from 2019 while he was at Worried and the ACC Coach of the Year award from last season at Va Tech. His teams have always played incredibly slowly and valued the ball. His offenses of late have been predicated on shooting (and making) a ton of threes; his three-point rate and three-point percentage have been comfortably in the top 100 of the nation for the past six years. His defenses have been less impressive - including a recent stretch where his Wofford teams landed between 243 and 247 for three straight years - but they have lately concedes the arc and focused their efforts on the glass. They don't force turnovers.
Memphis guard Boogie "Rejean" Ellis averaged 10 PPG as a little bit of a chucker, and he's now a USC Trojan. Wing DJ Jeffries has taken his excellent defense and 10 and 5 averages to Mississippi State, and Moussa Cisse - an absolute giant of a rebounder and rim protector - has headed down the road to Oklahoma State.
Virginia Tech lost Tyrece Radford, a wing who averaged a very efficient 12 and 6 last year, to Texas A&M. They almost lost him to the streets in January, when he was arrested for DUI and carrying a concealed weapon. He then had a positive reading on his ignition interlock device in July that had him back in court ahead of his transfer. Guns, alcohol, and driving don't combine well. There's more to life than basketball, and I sincerely hope moving half a continent west gets Radford away from trouble for long enough that he can grow into a person that isn't going to hurt himself or someone else. Guard Jalen Cone struggled with some injury troubles last year, but he still averaged 9 a game and is a career 41% three-point shooter in 246 attempts. He has transferred to Northern Arizona.
Sticking with Tech, you've gotta start with Keve Aluma. He's a senior forward who measures at a solid 6'9", 235 and led VT in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots last year (15.2, 7.9, and 1.3, respectively). He's a three-level scorer who hit a respectable 44% of his two-point jumpers in addition to jarring 20 threes. Naheem Alleyne is a 6'4" guard who averaged 11 per game and shot more than 40% from deep.
Justyn Mutts is a big who is kind of Diet Aluma. He went for 9.5 and 6.4, hit 15 threes, got to the glass at both ends well, and blocked some shots. The difference between him and Aluma - besides usage rate - is Mutts's turnover problem. Hunter Cattoor rounds out the valuable returning guys; he's a statistically excellent defender who also drills 43% of his threes.
For Memphis, Landers Nolley II led them in scoring last year with 13.1 per and returns this season. He's a big wing who doesn't board much, and he's kind of a volume scorer. Most of his shots are jumpers; he only took 13.5% of his shots at the rim. DeAndre Williams is a whip thin 6'9", 190-pound big man who is the teams best returning rebounder. He averaged 11.7 and 5.8 last year and also placed second on the team with 3.4 assists per game. Adding to his weird statistical profile is the fact that he's a decent shot blocker and was 7th in the nation in steals percentage.
Lester Quinones and his comically short shorts are also back. He went for 9.5 and 5.8 and was a remarkably efficient offensive player, owing to his low turnover rate and 44-110 mark from deep. Finally, team assist leader Alex Lomax put up 6.0 PPG and 4.2 APG. He's a mediocre shooter and struggled with ball security last season.
They brought in forward Chandler Lawson (who averaged 4.4 and 3.5 in two years at Oregon), guard/wing Earl Timberlake (9.3 and 5.0 at Miami (FL)), and guard Tyler Harris, a 5'9" sniper with 177 career three-point makes to his name over the course of three years, two of which were at Memphis before his most recent at Iowa State.
They also brought in the top freshman class in the nation. Emoni Bates is maybe the most notable recruit. He's a five-star, 6'8" wing who can score it from all over and is a capable if not always willing passer. Speaking of five-star guys, Jalen Duran is a 6'10" center with a ridiculous motor who crushes the glass on both ends and protects the rim at just the one. He also has good touch around the rim.
Josh Minnott is a mere four-star recruit. He's a 6'8" forward who earned a top-50 ranking with his silky smooth shooting stroke. He'd be the gem of a lot of teams' recruiting class. Johnathan Lawson rounds out the top-100 guys. He's a 6'6" playmaking wing who can also get and convert his own shot at all three levels. He can be a bit reliant on his right hand, and he needs to add some weight.
Virginia Tech landed the 90th-ranked class in the country. Combo guard Sean Pedulla is the lone freshman member of the class. He's 6'1", has a solid set of scoring moves when pulling up short of the rim, and has serious range on his jumper.
Also joining up is Wofford transfer Storm Murphy. He has a career 42% mark from deep and has hit 225 of them in his four years. In addition to dropping bombs, he can also run the point, or at least could in the SoCon.
This is going to be a really good game. Memphis figures to be a defensive juggernaut, and if Hardaway can get them scoring at all, they're a national title threat if/when their talent coalesces. Va Tech isn't quite at that level (I think), but they're definitely a team with realistic tournament aspirations. They bring back some good pieces, but I'm not sure it's enough to run with Memphis. Whoever comes out of this game will be a big test for Xavier.