Spokane Hoopfest Pod Preview

 

By: Patrick Ronan | @pk_ronan


This weekend, the fifth summer of TBT will tip off with a new wrinkle – the Spokane Hoopfest Pod. Alumni teams from Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah and Air Force will join in on the Spokane Hoopfest action to see which team will advance to the Super 16 in Atlanta. Before these four teams in the West take the court, let’s take a closer look at each roster and what it will take to make it out of the Hoopfest Pod.

#3 Gael Force (St. Mary’s Alumni) vs. #14 Air Force Bomb Squad (Air Force Alumni)

Friday June 29, 8:00 pm ET – ESPN3

Gael Force (St. Mary’s Alumni)

Even with their #3 seed in the West, the Gaels of St. Mary’s could very well be the most underrated team in TBT2018. Simply put, their roster is loaded with some of the best talent to ever come through the St. Mary’s program. Gael legends like Mickey McConnel and Omar Samhan lead a roster that should have St. Mary’s fans drooling. A ridiculous SEVEN of the ten players on the Gael Force roster still rank in the Top 10 all-time at St. Mary’s in at least one major statistical category.

St. Mary’s All-Time Rankings:

Scoring: Omar Samhan (3rd), Diamon Simpson (7th)

Rebounds: Diamon Simpson (1st), Omar Samhan (2nd)

Assists: Emmett Naar (1st), Mickey McConnell (5th), Joseph Rahon (7th)

Blocks: Omar Samhan (1st), Diamon Simpson (2nd)

Steals: Diamon Simpson (1st), Stephen Holt (2nd), Mickey McConnell (8th), Emmett Naar (10th)

FG Made: Omar Smahan (1st), Diamon Simpson (8th)

3PT Made: Calvin Hermanson (2nd), Mickey McConnell (5th)

3PT%: Mickey McConnell (2nd), Calvin Hermanson (6th), Emmet Naar (7th)

There really isn’t a glaring weak spot in the Gale Force roster. Recent graduates like Hermanson (2018) and Rahon (2017) provide young legs, while older St. Mary’s legends like McConnell and Samhan bring veteran experience that know plenty about showing out when the lights are brightest.

This team can run, has size, is deep and almost everyone on the roster is a threat to light you up from 3PT range. They’re a popular pick to give Challenge ALS a run for their money in the West region and once you dig into their roster, it’s easy to see why.

***Important Note: Emmett Naar and Diamon Simpson will not be playing in the Hoopfest Pod, but are expected to join the team in Atlanta if they advance to the Super 16

Air Force Bomb Squad (Air Force Alumni)

The Bomb Squad is hands down one of the coolest teams in TBT. These guys will get buckets and fight for your freedom – seriously. The majority of their roster are still active duty Airmen and most of this team competes for the USA in the International Armed Forces Games. On top of that, they’re just one of five teams to have played in every TBT since the tournament’s inception in 2014.

The core of Bomb Squad’s TBT2017 team is back with the likes of Matt Holland, Mike Fitzgerald, Shawn Hempsey and head coach Scott Stucky. But Holland, who serves a dual role as GM and small forward, has done of great job of surrounding their core with new talent.

Philip Brown, Marek Olesinski and Grant Parker bring strong interior depth with their rebounding and scoring ability. Trevor Lyons is a do-it-all point guard that can fill up the stat sheet and Hayden Graham is a strong wing player than will contribute on the offensive end as well as crash the glass. Bomb Squad might not bring a ton of professional experience, but you can guarantee they’ll leave it all on the floor and take no plays off.

Keys To The Game

For GaelForce, the recipe for a first-round win is fairly simple – play their game and let their talent shine through. Their balance on the offensive end gives Gael Force some solid wiggle room. If the shots aren’t falling from outside, they can beat you in the paint. If their bigs get into foul trouble, they can light you up from deep and blow the game open in just a handful of possessions.

If Bomb Squad wants to pull off the upset, they’ll need to protect the paint and make Gael Force beat them from the outside. Bomb Squad ran into a serious buzz saw (Stickmen) in the first round of TBT2017 and struggled to defend Stickmen’s skilled bigs like Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk. Bomb Squad’s added depth and size on the interior should help this time around, but containing 6’11” Omar Samhan will be pivotal.

 

#6 Few Good Men (Gonzaga Alumni) vs. #11 Team Utah (Utah Alumni)

Friday June 29, 10:00 pm ET – ESPN3

Few Good Men (Gonzaga Alumni)

For the second straight summer, Few Good Men return to TBT with some major roster turnover. Just two players from last summer’s roster are back, but one of those two is the team’s most valuable asset – Steven Gray. In three TBT2017 games, Gray was an absolute monster, averaging 24.7 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 56% from behind the arc.

Losing guys like Jeremy Pargo, Janero Pargo and Malcolm Thomas will definitely hurt, but the new group of players that GM Jordan Piscopo has recruited for TBT2018 have serious pedigree. Here are the major additions to focus on:

  • Matt Bouldin (6’4” point guard): 2010 WCC Player of the Year (15.6 points, 4.0 assists)… 3x First-Team WCC selection…Professional experience in Greece, G-League, Israel, and South Korea… 2014 G-League champion and Finals MVP
  • Casey Calvary (6’9” power forward): 2001 WCC Player of the Year… 2x First-Team WCC selection… Six seasons of professional ball, most recently in Spain in 2007
  • Sam Dower (6’9” center): First-Team WCC selection as a senior in 2014 (14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds)… Professional experience in France, Latvia and Poland.
  • Rob Upshaw (7’0” center): Spent his last season in college with Washington Huskies… Averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.5 blocks (best in the NCAA) in 19 games… Has been playing professionally in the G-League, Estonia, Lebanon, Iran and Venezuela since 2015.

Former Zags shooting guard Drew Barham also joins the roster, as does Washington State product DeVonte Lacy and Eastern Washington alum Jacob Wiley. On paper, this team looks like a sneaky strong #6 seed, but as we’ve seen time and time again in TBT, seeding goes out the window once teams step on the court.

How much does Calvary have left in the tank? Will opposing defenses blanket Gray after last summer’s performance? Can Upshaw channel his ’14-’15 Husky defense and be a high-impact rim protector?

Lots of question surround this TBT2018 Few Good Men roster, but the potential to break their “bounced in the Super 16” streak is certainly there.  

Team Utah (Utah Alumni)

Team Utah also sees a fair amount of roster turnover from TBT2017 to TBT2018. The good news is they bring back the core of their TBT2017 team – point guard Tim “Big Shot” Drisdom, shooting guard Terrance Drisdom, shooting guard Dakari Tucker and power forward/GM Shaun Green. Last summer, those four players combined to account for 77% of Team Utah’s scoring – a stat that can be seen as both a positive and a negative.

Of course, any head coach will gladly take getting back 77% of their team’s scoring from the year before, but the production from the rest of the roster fell off significantly outside of those four players. If Team Utah wants to get out of the Hoopfest Pod and move on to the Super 16 in Atlanta, they’ll need more help from the rest of the roster, something Green obviously had in mind when recruiting new pieces for TBT2018.

Weber State product Nick Covington is a playmaking point guard that has good range and extensive professional experience overseas and in the G-League. Another point guard, 5’10” Brandon Sly (Adams State ’18), provides youth, additional perimeter playmaking ability and plays with heart of a seven-footer. Then there’s the big fella, 7’0” center Akolda Manyang, who recently graduated from Utah Valley with senior season averages of 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

Keys to the Game

Remember, these two teams faced off in the second round last year. Thanks to 54.4% shooting from the field and 40.0% from downtown, Few Good Men was able to squeak out an 85-83 win in one of the most evenly matched games we saw all summer. 

You can expect more of the same this time around. Utah has more TBT experience, but Few Good Men’s new pieces could be huge difference makers. Plenty of shooters and playmaking guards on both sides, so I’m looking at the battle in the paint to be the deciding factor.

 

 

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