They be jammin’

Stephen Buszka

This weekend the ‘Cats will pack their bags and their passports for a trip outside the country to the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament. Villanova will kick off the tourney on Saturday night against the College of Charleston Cougars. Depending on the outcome of the game, the ‘Cats will then go on to face the winner or loser of the Xavier-Virginia Commonwealth matchup the next day. They will finish up the tournament with a third game on Tuesday.

Location, location, location

Paradise Jam takes place in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. More specifically, it takes place at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. Despite some top-tier teams, the games won’t draw a huge crowd since the arena only holds roughly 4,000 spectators. Crowd involvement shouldn’t really affect any of the teams involved in the tournament, but what could prove to be distractions are the 81 degree daily temperatures and world-class beaches.

A little bit o’ background

According to the Paradise Jam Web site, the tournament began in 2000 when it was held in a local high school gym; the current location was still under construction and first housed the tournament games the next year. In 2003, Basketball Travelers, Inc. agreed to a five-year deal with the University of the Virgin Islands to host the tournament.

St. Thomas welcomes the tournament and all the tourism it brings. Next to the Carnival Festival, this tournament brings in the most people of any single event the island hosts and is a nice way to kick off its tourist season which is highlighted by a string of sunny days.

The tournament is also used as a learning tool for the community of St. Thomas. Local high school students are given the opportunity to work alongside tournament directors, administrators and promoters to gain insight about the inner-workings of an event like this.

The field

This year’s tournament features one of the strongest fields in the tournament’s brief history. It features four teams that received bids into the NCAA tournament last year, including Villanova (1-0), Iowa (1-0), Xaiver (1-0) and No. 10 Alabama (1-0). Others teams accepting invitations to the tournament are Toledo (0-1), Middle Tennessee State (1-1), Virginia Commonwealth (1-0) and the College of Charleston (1-0).

Paradise Jam will not be a cake walk. Going into the tournament, all but two teams are undefeated. (Yes, one win still counts as undefeated.) The teams’ combined average margin of victory is 22 points. En route to the title game, a team will almost inevitably face an AP Top 25-ranked team or at least one that received votes. Should Villanova make it to the title game on Monday, there is the chance it would need to knock off College of Charleston, Xavier (92 Top 25 votes) and No. 10 Alabama (1,131 votes).

Roadblocks for ‘Nova

The first team Villanova will need to get past is the College of Charleston. The Cougars, from the Southern Conference, scored their first victory against Georgia State, from the Colonial Athletic Conference. The Cougars pulled away after the break under the scoring of senior guard Dontaye Draper (19 points), last year’s Southern Conference Player of the Year and perennial All-American candidate.

The Wildcats will also need to focus on senior center Philip McCandies. He is the second tallest player on the team at 6-foot-9 and, so far, is the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder with 16 and 11, respectively. McCandies should be a good matchup for the Villanova big men who usually have to compensate for a lack of size with quickness and aggression, but they will be on an even keel against McCandies.

Should the better team win in the Xavier-Virginia Commonwealth matchup, the ‘Cats will take on the Xavier Musketeers in the semifinal game. Xavier should prove to be a tougher matchup than the Cougars, as the Musketeers are ranked ahead of Villanova in the AP rankings. The A-10 competitor dominated Coastal Carolina in its first game of the season with junior guard Stanley Burrell leading the team with 19 points in only 26 minutes of play.

Like the Cougars, the Musketeers are of comparable size to the Wildcats, which may benefit the ‘Cats. Aside from 7-foot senior Adam Simons, who does not see significant playing time, the next tallest player is 6-foot-9 tall. The 1-inch that Will Sheridan would give to the Cougars’ and Musketeers’ big men should not prove to be a disadvantage; Sheridan matched up well against Connecticut’s Hilton Armstrong, out-rebounding him in both matchups and either equaling or surpassing Hilton’s point total in each game between the teams last year.

A potential championship matchup for the Wildcats could be Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense will challenge the defense of Villanova. The Tide return three of the team’s four leading scorers from last year and put on a showcase in its first game, with three players scoring over 15 points in the win.