2017-18 MTE and Neutral Site Showcase Preview Series: U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

The best game of the 2017 Paradise Jam could very well be the opener, as Ria’n Holland and the Mercer Bears take on the Liberty Flames in the quarter-finals. (Source: Mercer Bears)

CALGARY, Alta. — The 2017-18 season is just around the corner, and while there’s a debate on Twitter as to when the season actually starts, it can’t get here soon enough.

Schedules are being released with each passing weekday, and many of them feature early-season tournaments and multi-team events all throughout non-conference play. According to Chris Dobbertean and Blogging the Bracket, there are over 30 multi-team tournaments, and another handful of neutral site showcases and non-exempt events.

So, with the season coming up, we thought we would go through and preview all of the early-season tournaments, the non-exempt tournaments, and a wide array of the neutral site showcase events. In total, we will preview 75 different events over the course of the next 75 days, culminating on opening day.

We selected the events at random, and have broken some up into two pieces, like the Phil Knight Invitational, since there are two separate brackets.

Today, we take a look at the 2017 U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.

Event: U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam
Location: University of the Virgin Islands; U.S. Virgin Islands
Dates: November 17th – 20th, 2017
Number of Teams: Eight
2016-17 Winner: Creighton Bluejays

About the Paradise Jam

Back in 2000, the Paradise Jam tournament was introduced. Year one was only a women’s tournament, and a six-team field. The teams were split into two groups of three, and a round-robin was played within the groups. Then, the standings were used to determine the participants in the Championship, Third Place, and Fifth Place games.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders won the inaugural Paradise Jam title.

In 2001, a men’s tournament was introduced, and it followed a similar format to the women’s, where six teams took part and each played three games over the event.

It wasn’t until 2006 when the current format was introduced. Now, eight teams partake in a bracketed event to ultimately decide a champion. Since 2001, no men’s team has repeated as champion.

Over the years, the Paradise Jam has become one of the marquee early-season MTEs, as it tends to feature a healthy mix of power conference and talented mid-major programs. Upsets are commonplace in the event, and it is truly anyone’s event.

Last season, the high-powered Creighton Bluejays came away with the title, notching an 86-77 win over the Ole Miss Rebels in the Championship game.

2017 Field

On the surface, people will flock to three teams in particular: the Colorado BuffaloesWake Forest Demon Deacons, and Houston Cougars. It’s tough to blame people for looking at them first, as they are the three biggest programs in the event. However, don’t overlook the smaller programs in the event, as they are more than capable of pulling an ‘upset’ or two in the four-day event.

Entering the season, the Houston Cougars appear to be the favourites in the event. Senior guard Rob Gray is back to lead the way, and is a top contender for American Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2017-18. He averaged an impressive 20.6 points per game last season, to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest. Red-shirt junior Valentine Sangoyomi will suit up for the Cougars this season, and will add some size and muscle to the front court.

The addition of graduate transfer Nura Zanna from the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds will also provide the Cougars with a healthy dose of experience and talent up front. If Houston can get a second guard to step up and complement Gray, the Cougars will be a sneaky team in the AAC.

The Drexel Dragons, who face off against the Cougars in the quarter-finals, boast a talented guard of their own who is on the verge of becoming a household name on the national scene. In 32 games as a freshman last season, Kurk Lee finished second on the Dragons in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game. He also averaged a team-best 5.0 assists per game, and shot an even 40.0% from three point range.

With Rodney Williams having graduated, Lee becomes ‘the guy’ for the Dragons this season, and he will give his opponents all kinds of problems.

The other match-up of the top portion of the bracket is the event opener, and it will be a dandy.

On one side, you have the senior-laden roster of the Mercer Bears. Led by a core group that features Ria’n HollandStephon JelksJordan StrawberryDesmond Ringer, and Demetre Rivers, the Bears are a sleeper pick in the Southern Conference. Their top seven scorers are all back from last year’s team, which is a big boost. But, their experience is the biggest thing. You can’t put a price on experience in the NCAA, and the Mercer Bears have experience in spades.

Their opponents on November 17th may not have the same level of experience, but they make up for it with talent and depth, especially in the back court. The Liberty Flames bring forth one of the more underrated back court rotations in the country, let alone the Big South Conference. Led by Georgie Pacheco-OrtizRyan KemriteCaleb Homesley, and Lovell Cabbil, the Flames can go with several different looks on the back end.

Up front, there are question marks for the Flames, as several of their forwards are unproven. If they can find their groove early on in the season, Liberty will turn some heads this season.

The bottom half of the bracket isn’t as strong as the top half, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a plethora of talent on display.

The marquee match-up of the bottom half will be the last game of the quarter-finals. Reed Timmer is one of the most underappreciated scoring guards in the entire NCAA. Over his first three seasons with the Drake Bulldogs, the 6’1” guard hasn’t averaged below 11.5 points per game in a season, and that was his freshman average.

Drake also hired Niko Medved as their next head coach this off-season, and he has the team heading in the right direction in year one.

In their opener, the Bulldogs square off against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in what should be a better game than most people anticipate. While the Demon Deacons are without John Collins, who made the jump to the NBA, they return scoring guards Bryant Crawford (16.2 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Keyshawn Woods (125 ppg, 4.2 rpg) to lead the way. Up front, replacing the production and sheer presence of Collins will be tough, but expect Danny Manning to find a suitable replacement and make them into an impact forward.

Heading into the 2017-18 season for the Quinnipiac Bobcats, the question ‘what if’ has been floating around. The Bobcats lost freshmen sensations Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon on the transfer market, and the duo were the team’s top two scorers last season.

Forward Chaise Daniels is set to become a household name for the Bobcats this season, and he’s the top returning scorer from a season ago. The 6’9” forward averaged 13.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while shooting above 50.0% from the floor for the first time in his collegiate career (51.4%). Daniels will have his hands full with another star forward in the Bobcats’ opener.

Lastly, the Colorado Buffaloes are the third and final power program, and they may have the easiest opening round game of the three. Their top two scorers are gone from last season, in Derrick White and Xavier Johnson, both of whom will be tough to replace.

Despite their losses, the Buffaloes return the likes of George King (11.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Dominique Collier (6.0 ppg). King is among the best players in the Pac-12, but his supporting cast is unproven, and haven’t been in a starring role at Colorado. How they adapt to an increase minutes and a bigger role will be a big determining factor for the 2017-18 season.

2017 Bracket (Full Bracket Here)

Quarter-Finals (November 17th, 2017)

Mercer Bears v. Liberty Flames (2:30pm)
Drexel Dragons v. Houston Cougars (4:30pm)
Quinnipiac Bobcats v. Colorado Buffaloes (6:30pm)
Drake Bulldogs v. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8:30pm)

Championship Semi-Finals (November 19th, 2017)

Winner of MER/LIB v. Winner of DREX/HOU (6:30pm)
Winner of QU/COL v. Winner of DRKE/WF (8:30pm)

Consolation Semi-Finals (November 18th, 2017)

Loser of MER/LIB v. Loser of DREX/HOU (4:30pm)
Loser of QU/COL v. Loser of DRKE/WF (6:30pm)

Finals (November 20th, 2017)

Championship (9:00pm)
3rd/5th Place Game (6:30pm)
4th/6th Place Game (4:00pm)
7th/8th Place Game (1:30pm)

*All times are approximate.



Mercer v. Liberty
Winner: Liberty Flames

Drexel v. Houston
Winner: Houston Cougars

Quinnipiac v. Colorado
Winner: Colorado Buffaloes

Drake v. Wake Forest
Winner: Wake Forest Demon Deacons


Liberty v. Houston
Winner: Houston Cougars

Colorado v. Wake Forest
Winner: Wake Forest Demon Deacons


Houston v. Wake Forest
Winner: Houston Cougars

– T. Bennett