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September 4, 2008

Notebook: Blessing or curse for Purdue?

The NIT Season Tip-Off has produced a list of champions that is a who's who among elite college programs.

Arizona, Duke and Kansas each have won it three times. Indiana, North Carolina and Syracuse have two titles apiece.

Surprisingly, only one NIT preseason champ (the Blue Devils in 2000) has gone on to win the national title. In fact, since 1996 only one team other than Duke in 2000 that won the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament has advanced beyond the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Two didn't even make the NCAAs, and two more were eliminated in the first round.

The 16-team field for the 2008 tournament was announced Aug. 19, and Purdue will carry the blessing and the curse of being the No. 1 seed. The Boilermakers return all five starters from a team that went 25-9 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"I was joking with one of our coaches that the people who selected us as the No. 1 seed obviously didn't see us play in Australia," Purdue coach Matt Painter told Rivals.com.

Painter was kidding, sort of. The Boilermakers went 2-3 on a recent trip Down Under, but the coach felt as if his team played well and gained valuable experience. All five games came against pro teams in Australia's top league.

Purdue played without point guard Keaton Grant, who is recovering from knee surgery. The incoming freshman class also was not allowed to make the trip per NCAA rules, meaning Painter took only six guys with significant playing experience Down Under.

Many of the Boilermakers were forced to play out of position. Painter said a couple of teams pressed, and the absence of Grant's ballhandling ability was evident.

"We didn't have a lot of dribblers on the floor at times," Painter said. "But it helped those guys to dribble and make decisions. We had some different lineups. It helped us make improvements."

Top returnees E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel stood out on the trip. Moore averaged 27 points per game (games were 48 minutes as opposed to the college game's 40 minutes) and knocked down 18 3-pointers. Hummel averaged 17 points and hit 15 3-pointers.

The surprise may have been JaJuan Johnson. Another member of the stellar 2007 recruiting class, Johnson averaged 12.2 points and 9.4 rebounds on the trip after averaging 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds last season.

The Boilermakers look loaded, but Grant obviously is a key ingredient. He had a procedure in the spring called a debriedment, which is the removal of a diseased portion of the patellar tendon. It's often referred to as "jumper's knee," and the average recovery time is around three months.

"Keaton is fine," Painter said. "I asked him if he could play if he had to (on the trip to Australia) and he said he could. But we're taking our time and being patient. By the start of practice he should be completely ready.

"Keaton played on it this year, and his other knee started to bother him because of compensating. So both knees were bothering him. He just needs to rest and rehab. When we have him and E'Twaun and (freshman) Lewis Jackson and (Chris) Kramer and Hummel and (Nemanja) Celasan and Johnson that's a very good nucleus."

Purdue isn't the only team in the Tip-Off crowd with high hopes this season. The field also includes 2008 Elite Eight team Davidson and Oklahoma, along with Arizona and UAB.

Painter was stunned to hear the tournament had produced only one team that went on to win the national championship and that recent winners haven't lasted long in March.

"You'd think winning it would give you confidence from playing in that venue and playing quality opponents in back-to-back games that it would help come March," Painter said. "That strikes me as odd."

Nonetheless, Painter wouldn't mind winning the NIT Season Tip-Off and taking his chances come NCAA Tournament time.

  • Who won the first Preseason NIT in 1985?

  • Kansas center Cole Aldrich averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds during the Jayhawks' three-game exhibition trip to Canada. He shot 60 percent (12 of 20) from the floor and a sparkling 92.3 percent (12 of 13) from the line as the Jayhawks went 3-0. Aldrich flashed his potential in the national semifinals last season against North Carolina when, in a season-high 17 minutes, he had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Kansas needs that kind of production from Aldrich to approach anything close to the heights it reached in 2008.

    There was a Brandon Costner sighting in Canada over the weekend. Costner, the N.C. State small forward, who began last season atop the Rivals.com Power Rankings at his position before struggling throughout his sophomore campaign, averaged 24.5 points and 11 rebounds as the Wolfpack went 2-0 north of the border. Costner was an unmitigated disappointment in 2007-08. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds, down from 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a redshirt freshman. Regardless of the reason for his major drop-off, coach Sidney Lowe needs him to be back to his earlier form. Someone will have to get the shots that left when freshman J.J. Hickson entered the NBA Draft, and it's a good bet Costner will see a lot of them.

    Tulsa, champion of the inaugural College Basketball Invitational postseason event last season and No. 43 in the Rivals.com top 65 preseason countdown, went 3-0 on its trip to Canada. Notably it played shooting guard Ben Uzoh, its leading scorer, at the point in one game. Three-star freshman Armond Battle saw plenty of action and had a 14-point effort in a win over Trinity Western University.

    Northeastern, No. 56 in the Rivals' top 65 countdown, is 5-1 on its extended trip to Canada. Junior guard Matt Janning is averaging about 20 points. He scored 30 in a victory over McGill University. The Huskies wrapped up their tour Wednesday night.

  • Duke defeated Kansas 92-86 to win the inaugural event. The teams met again that season in the Final Four. The Blue Devils won again but lost in the NCAA title game to Louisville, which had lost to the Jayhawks in the Preseason NIT semifinals.

    Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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