Today's preview covers the two home game opponents connected to the Las Vegas Invitational. The Tops will play Florida and Ball State in Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend.
Tennessee State Tigers (13-15, 11-9 OVC)
Tennessee State fought the good fight last season and finished with a respectable record. They also picked up a flurry of wins to close the season, prevailing in five of their last six regular season contests. They did this despite losing G Bruce Price, who had averaged 19.5 ppg before going down with a torn ACL in December. With Price, TSU was likely a winning team and an OVC contender. How big of a loss was Price? Well, he shot an astounding 67 free throws in six games and was playing over 36 mins per outing. He returns this season for his junior campaign. EDIT: Sadly, Price tore his ACL again recently and will miss the upcoming season.
In addition to losing Price, the Tigers lost two other starters in Kareem Grant and Wayne Arnold, who combined for over 25 ppg. But they do return 6-10 C Larry Turner (6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), PG Reiley Ervin (9.1 ppg, 4+ apg), and 250 lb. F Clarence Matthews (13.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg), who is a horse down low.
Statistically speaking, the Tigers were a decent offensive team and were quite efficient from 2-pt range (#38 nationally in 2-pt FG%). The defense was pretty sorry (#280 Adjusted Def Efficiency). They will need to step it up on defense to play with the cream of the OVC. TSU has enough talent to make some noise in the OVC if a couple of the incoming players can provide some depth and they can shore up the defense.
Towson Tigers (12-16, 8-10 Colonial)
This other species of Tiger returns a lot. They lost one starter from last year's club and they return one of the best players under the national radar. Gary Neal, a LaSalle transfer, rang up 26.1 ppg last season after he became eligible at mid-season. Neal was the A-10 rookie of the year his FR season and was 2nd-team All-A-10 at LaSalle. He is not solely a scoring machine either. He had one of the lowest TO-per-possession ratios in the country last season and he also averaged 2.9 steals and nearly three assists. He shot 80% from the line and .405 from downtown. This cat can play, and he has a little help coming back.
The loss of quality big man Lawrence Hamm (15.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) will hurt, but 6-9, 250 F Dennard Abram returns. With a solid triumvirate of guards available in Neal, Tim Crossin (8.9 ppg, nearly 5 apg) and Velmar Coleman (6.1 ppg, 3+ apg), Towson has some quality players. Much like TSU, they need depth to take a step up in the conference this season. And, also like TSU, they will have to improve their defense (#291 in Adj Def Eff). They will play fairly fast and score the ball, but their long-term success depends on their ability to upgrade the D.
Previews for Florida and Ball State coming tomorrow.